Archive for the ‘Environmentalism’ Category

Text of the booklets we handed out at Lincoln’s Earth Day celebration today.

The Air

Animal agriculture is by far the largest source of ammonia emissions in the United States.  Because of this, people living near large factory farms have higher levels of respiratory illness (Gurian-Sherman 4-5).  In some areas, this pollution becomes so intense that residents have to wear masks just to go outside (Barlett).

Ammonia contributes significantly to acid rain, and can acidify the soil and water supply.  This can kill plant species and the animals that rely on them, causing a decrease in biodiversity.  In many areas of the United States, ammonia levels have exceeded the “critical load” level recognized as being unhealthy for forests (Gurian-Sherman 4,5,55; Steinfeld xxi).

The Land

Animal agriculture is a huge factor in the destruction of native ecosystems.  Currently, 30% of the land surface of our planet is being used for animal agriculture.  About 20% of these areas have been degraded to some extent because of overgrazing, soil compaction, and erosion.  In South America, 70% of the land that used to be rainforest has been converted into pasture land for livestock (Steinfeld xxi).

Our planet is currently seeing massive levels of extinction, somewhere between 50 and 500 times the rate seen in the background fossil record.  According to the United Nations “the livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, over fishing, sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species” (Steinfeld xxiii).

The Water

By 2025, it is estimated that 64% of the human population will be living in water-stressed basins (Steinfeld 127).  Here in Nebraska the Ogallala aquifer, our main source of water, is quickly being used up and is at risk of being fully depleted (Pew 27).

Animal agriculture uses massive amounts of water.  It takes 420 gallons of fresh water to produce one pound of chicken (Pew 27).  It takes far more water to produce beef, milk, and pork.

Animal agriculture is likely the largest source of water pollution. Common pollutants include animal feces, heavy metals (added to animal feed), antibiotics and other pharmaceutical drugs (also added to animal feed), fertilizers and pesticides (used to grow animal feed), and eroded soil (Pew 24-25; Steinfeld xxii).

Perhaps the most drastic of these pollutants is the feces.  The USDA estimates that cows and chickens alone produce 500 million tones of feces every year, more than three times what the human population produces.  The processing of this waste is poorly regulated, and the feces often get into our water (Pew 23). When manure gets into the water, the high level of nutrients causes algae and bacteria to grow, which decreases oxygen levels and kills aquatic animals (Pew 23-25).  Large sewage spills have been responsible for the deaths of millions of fish in American waterways (Gurian-Sherman 4).  Feces, pesticides, and fertilizers from animal agriculture contribute greatly to “dead zones” –areas where little animal life can survive– which currently occupy about 173,000 square miles of American waterways (Pew 25).

This pollution can also hurt humans.  More than a million Americans get their drinking water from groundwater that is moderately to severely contaminated with nitrates from animal waste and fertilizers (Pew 29).  Nitrate consumption has been linked to certain types of cancer and to “blue baby syndrome”, which can be fatal (Gurian-Sherman 42).

The Climate

The United Nations recently called global climate change “the most serious challenge facing the human race”.  Animal agriculture is one of the largest causes of climate change, releasing more greenhouse gasses (measured in CO2 equivalence) than all of our cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, trains, boats, and ships put together (Steinfeld xxi).

 Animal agriculture produces 37% of our methane emissions and 65% of our nitrous oxide emissions.  Methane has 23 times the global warming potential of CO2; Nitrous oxide has 295 times the global warming potential of CO2 (Gurian-Sherman 56; Steinfeld xxi).

The Solution

On the bright side, it is easy for each of us to make a difference.  Every time you sit down to eat, you can choose to avoid animal products.  By doing so, you will be helping to create a more sustainable planet.  You will also be helping yourself; the consumption of meat, milk, and eggs has been linked to a variety of different diseases, from diabetes to cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer (Stenfield 269).  Furthermore, you’ll be helping the animals we share our planet with; even on the most humane farms, animals suffer needlessly and then die so that we can eat their bodies, their eggs, and their milk.

Please consider adopting a vegan or vegetarian diet.  For more information on how to eat a plant-based diet, or for a vegetarian starter kit, please contact Animal Rights Advocates of Nebraska at: contact@aranebraska.org

Works Cited

Barlett D, Steele J, Karmatz L, Labi A, Levinstein J (1998).  CorporateWelfare: The Empire Of The Pigs.  Time Magazine.  <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,989675,00.html&gt;

Gurian-Sherman D (2008).  CAFOs Uncovered – The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations.  Union of Concerned Scientists.

Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (2008).  Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America. The Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Steinfeld H, Gerber P, Wassenaar T, Rosales M, de Haan C (2006).  Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options.  Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Rome, Italy.


Read Full Post »