Why We Need an Earth-friendly Diet
Animal agriculture has devastating impacts on wildlife and the environment. Meat production is one of humanity’s most destructive and least efficient systems, accounting for astounding levels of wildlife losses, land and water pollution, deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.
World population has already surpassed 7.5 billion people and is heading toward 10 billion by mid-century. As our population and consumption continue to grow, so does meat production, which tripled between 1980 and 2010 and will likely double again by 2050 . Livestock already occupy more than 25 percent of the Earth’s land, with 70 percent of all agricultural land dedicated to feed and production . Every minute, seven football fields’ worth of land is bulldozed to create room for more livestock and feed crops — land that was once habitat for wild animals and biologically diverse ecosystems that play a key role in absorbing carbon dioxide and filtering water sources .
There are so many livestock on Earth that animals raised for food account for about 20 percent of terrestrial animal biomass . In the United States alone, about 10 billion land animals are raised for food each year. That’s about 32 animals per person, plus all the land and water needs, pollution and emissions that go with them.
Americans eat more meat per capita than almost any other country: 203 pounds per person, per year . If all Americans were to eliminate meat from their diets just one night a week, the emissions savings would be analogous to taking 30 to 40 million cars off the road for a year . If the average American reduced her meat and dairy consumption by one half, it would have the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 2,700 fewer miles  and saving 340,667 gallons of water per year .
Reducing your meat consumption is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your environmental footprint; it can have a greater impact than driving a fuel-efficient car or eating an entirely local diet. Every time you sit down to eat, you can choose a better future for wildlife, the planet and people.
Why meat reduction? What about just switching to grass-fed, local or an alternative meat source?
While “grass-fed” beef is arguably more humane for the livestock animals and doesn’t produce the concentrated manure and runoff found at factory farms, it isn’t as sustainable for wildlife or the planet as many people believe, especially in the context of a human population of billions that needs to be fed. By destroying vegetation, damaging wildlife habitats and disrupting natural processes, livestock grazing wreaks ecological havoc on riparian areas, rivers, deserts, grasslands and forests alike — causing significant harm to species and the ecosystems on which they depend.
In addition, the diets of many “grass-fed” herds are often supplemented with water-intensive crops like alfalfa. Studies have also shown that grass-fed cattle are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than those raised on grain feed — as much as 500 percent more — in addition to requiring more land and water per pound of beef . And while there are a lot of important reasons to support local agriculture, replacing meat one day per week with a plant-based meal saves more greenhouse gas emissions than eating an entirely local diet .
There are too many people eating too much meat for any form of meat production to be considered sustainable. Population and demand continue to grow as our natural resources dwindle, so the only way to protect the environment is to dramatically curb meat consumption.
When it comes to meat production, wildlife face threats from every angle. Livestock grazing and growing feed crops destroy habitat. Land degradation and intensive water use leave few resources for native species. Manure — 500 million tons of it per year in the United States alone — pollutes rivers, lakes, wetlands and groundwater. Methane emissions from production and digestion are a major contributor to climate change. From prairie dogs to elk to wolves, wild animals are targeted to protect livestock herds and profits.