Let’s talk about meat: steak, burgers, samgyupsal, fried chicken. Delicious meat is such a normal part of our lives that we never really think more than just satisfying our cravings. But, what if I told you that that tender, perfectly cooked steak on your plate is one of the major causes of climate change?
I was an absolute meat lover. I grew up eating meat at almost every meal. If there wasn’t a meat dish at lunch or dinner I would feel empty. You would see me rejoice more over a meat dish, like a double cheeseburger at Five Guys or South African braai, than a green salad. But, it turns out this was not only the case for me.
Kaitlyn Lee, sophomore, expressed her strong love for meat and confessed her obsession for it. She couldn’t ever imagine herself living a life without it. Changmin Moon described meat in one word: love. He said it is one of the “best things in the world”.
When six non-vegetarian students were asked about their attachment towards meat on a scale of 1-10, the lowest rating was a 3 and the highest was 11. All of them eat meat at least once a week and at most twice a day.
I never thought I needed justification for eating my favorite type of food, because the reason was obvious: I felt satisfied when consuming delicious rich proteins.
But, it turns out my love for meat blinded me from the harsh urgent reality. About three months ago I watched a documentary called Cowspiracy, which ultimately challenged my diet and heavily altered my life. I realised I cannot live the same and pretend I did not hear all the facts that shocked me to the core. I never thought meat and the environment were so interconnected. How can this perfectly marinated bulgogi do so much harm? But, after 15 years of happily consuming animals, I finally learned the dark truth.
According to Cowspiracy.com they list the following facts about meat’s impact on the environment.
- Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the total exhaust from all transportation (13 percent).
There are methane extraction farms that capture and use methane released from manure and livestock waste to produce energy. However, the equipment needed for this process is too costly for most of the majority world to implement.
Most people, including the six students interviewed, stated that the main causes of climate change are transportation, greenhouse gases, burning of fossil fuels, and CO2 emissions. However, it turns out the food on our plate has more impact on the world than on our hunger.
- In the US, livestock and natural gas emit around the same amount of Methane. Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane every day. Methane, a chemical compound, is 25-100 times more lethal than CO2 on a 20 year time frame.
- 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions is from livestock and its byproducts. However, even if the whole world stops burning fossil fuels, scientists predict that we will exceed our 565 gigatons CO2e limit by 2030 due to animal agriculture.
- Emissions from agriculture is anticipated to increase 80% by 2050.
But, not only greenhouse gases, “animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction”.
- 91% of Amazon destruction is caused by animal agriculture
- About 137 plant, animal and insect species are destroyed daily from rainforest destruction, which is caused by the agriculture of livestock and feed crops
It is foolish that many don’t acknowledge the crucial role of rainforests, I never thought much about it either. Many say, rainforest are the “lungs of the Earth”. However, as we support animal agriculture by eating meat, we are taking our own breath away.
Water is a necessity that no living thing can live without. However, there are many places with severe droughts and too many people do not have access to clean water.
- In the US, “growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water”
- 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef.
- 5% of water consumed in the US is by private homes. 55% of water consumed in the US is for animal agriculture.
We were all taught that we need to save water by taking shorter showers and to turn the faucet off when we are brushing our teeth or washing our hands. But, all those efforts are useless if we use more water by simply eating a burger.
Meat does not only imply to typical farm animals, but includes the diverse marine species in the deep oceans.
- “Scientists estimate as many as 650,000 whales, dolphins and seals are killed every year by fishing vessels”
- “For every 1 pound of fish caught, up to 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill”
I used to think that since I wasn’t eating whales, dolphins, or sharks, I was doing no harm to animals of the ocean. However, I learned mass fishing does not only capture fish, but other marine life, like dolphins, get caught in the nets.
- “We could see fishless oceans by 2048”
What next? After I watched this documentary, I was left with an opened mouth of shock and a mountain of guilt. I realised I’ve never really thought about how every action I make affects the environment I rely on every day. I started questioning the causes I was supporting and what I was spending my money on. Every time I bought meat, I was directly supporting the demand for more livestock and harming the environment.
I had to make a choice: ignore the powerful knowledge I obtained that could help change the world, or use that knowledge to raise awareness and drastically change my lifestyle for the better. I chose the latter and it has honestly made me more happy about my life. Being more cautious about every action I make helped me to appreciate life and live it to the fullest, instead of carelessly living for tangible pleasures.
However, it was and still is very difficult for me to live without meat. Especially in the Korean culture, meat is so embedded into our society, like the all-time favorite Korean BBQ. But, every time I am tempted to order the burger or steak, I remind myself that my choice not only affects the present, but the future and the generations to come. If we could all join in to make this one sacrifice, we could save our environment. Instead of whining about bad air quality or grieving over endangered species, we could start making a positive impact on the world by taking a look at our lives and fixing what we can.