Meat: An Environment Killer This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

October 30, 2009
We’ve all seen our share of scientists in white coats, explaining what global warming is, why it’s dangerous, and what we can do to stop it. We encounter protests against fossil fuels and auto emissions. But the one industry that produces more greenhouse gases than all the SUVs, cars, ships, planes, and trucks in the world combined, according to, has carefully avoided this scrutiny. The meat industry is an often-overlooked factor in environmental destruction, existing unnoticed as a major source of deforestation, wasted natural resources, and pollution.

Rainforests hold a wealth of plant and animal life. Trees are natural air filters, pulling harmful carbon dioxide from the air and converting it to oxygen. The meat industry, particularly cattle ranching, kills millions of acres of rainforest each year.

Just one quarter-pound hamburger requires the clearing of six yards of rainforest and the destruction of 165 pounds of living matter, including 20 to 30 plant species, 100 insect species, and dozens of birds, mammals, and reptiles, according to Small amounts of beef in an individual’s diet soon add up and do great harm to the environment.

Cattle farming turns fertile land into barren desert, threatening or eliminating more plant species in the U.S. than any other cause. Livestock grazing can be a huge threat to endangered species and may contribute to extinctions.

There is no doubt that the meat industry causes immense, irreversible harm to the earth’s rainforests. But this is not the only victim of the meat industry. Meat consumption also produces a massive amount of waste.

Four hundred and forty-one gallons of water is required for each pound of cattle raised, compared to just 14 gallons to grow a pound of grain, according to Three days of a typical non-vegetarian diet requires as much water as the average person uses showering for an entire year. An individual can save more than 3,700 gallons of water per day by eating a plant-based diet. Ogallala, the largest aquifer in America, is depleted by 12 trillion gallons a year, mostly due to soaring meat production. Besides draining our water supply, meat production leads to food shortages as well.

World hunger is a severe problem, with millions of men, women, and children going hungry each day. Most people do not realize that not eating meat could relieve starvation worldwide. Meat production takes up 70 percent of the world’s agricultural land. A single acre of farmland can, over a year, produce 250 pounds of beef or 40,000 potatoes. Yet it is not only land usage that prevents food from getting to the people who need it most. Twenty percent of the world’s population (1.4 billion people) could be fed with the grain and soy beans currently consumed by U.S. cattle alone. By adopting a vegetarian diet, individuals could cut the amount of land used to produce their food by a magnitude of ten.

Another unpleasant side effect of meat production is the pollution it produces. Animal agriculture creates five tons of waste per person over a typical lifetime in the U.S., according to That’s 87,000 pounds of waste each second. Animal waste from factory farms seeps into groundwater, contaminating it. Chicken, hog, and cattle manure has polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated water in 17 states. The EPA reports that pollution from livestock farming is a leading cause of water contamination in the U.S., killing marine life and making drinking water unsafe.

Meat production is also a major cause of global carbon dioxide and methane pollution. These greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Colossal amounts of fossil fuel are used to grow food for livestock, dispose of remains, and transport the meat. Cows are a major cause of methane pollution because their waste contains large amounts of the gas. In America, cattle have altered the environment more than all the highways, strip mines, dams, and power plants combined, according to

Producing a single pound of meat emits the same amount of greenhouse gases as driving an SUV 40 miles – 500 pounds of carbon dioxide for just a quarter-pound hamburger. Worldwide petroleum reserves would be exhausted in 11 years if the rest of the world started eating meat like the United States does. But if Americans skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted a vegetarian meal instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be equivalent to taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads (! Despite these undeniable statistics, some people ­defend eating meat and deny the impacts of an ­omnivorous diet on the environment.

There is no doubt that meat production harms the environment by contributing to deforestation, global warming, wasted resources, and pollution. The United Nations has said that going vegetarian is the greenest thing individuals can do to save the environment. The University of Chicago reports that going vegetarian is 50 percent more effective than switching to a hybrid car in reducing greenhouse emissions.

What did the great thinkers Aristotle, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Mohandas Gandhi, and John Lennon have in common? They were all vegetarians. But don’t worry, there is no need to swear off meat all at once! By simply reducing your meat consumption (especially beef) you can take steps to help save the environment and stop global warming. Cut down a little bit each week at a pace that suits you. Refrain from eating that hamburger – our earth will thank you for it!

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 240 comments. Post your own now!

NateM said...
Feb. 9, 2014 at 8:20 pm
Dear Secuaus Vidushi S.                         I’ve read your article “Meat: An environment killer.” and it was a very well explained article and it left me thinking about what would happen if the majority population did become vegetarian. After some research I found many advantages to this like what you said, the environmental benefits but, I also found some major... (more »)
SchrodingersCatisDead said...
Mar. 12, 2013 at 8:57 am
This comment is amazingly (and some might say horrifying) informative article, I feel that we as Americans should join and pick days out of the week to not eat meat like meatless Mondays, slowly but surely we can cut down our meat consumption and dependency.
BilbroSwaggins This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 6, 2012 at 11:02 pm
I'm proud to be an American, and one of the things that makes America so great is agriculture.  In your paper you shed a horrifying light on cattle farming.  However, the cattle industry is the leading portion in all of the United State's agricultural industry, and the agricultural industry is the backbone of the American economy.  You were cleverly inspecefic when mentioning problems like deforestation caused by cattle ranching, because in the U.S. no such problem exists.... (more »)
TheBlackCrow901 replied...
Mar. 8, 2013 at 6:36 pm
I would like to point out to you just as you can not bear to see a bad light shed upon American agriculture, they cannot bear to see the good light. So just as they doesn't tell you her opinion is the only way do not do so with yours.
anonymous said...
Oct. 4, 2011 at 10:30 pm
Fish farming or cultivating still cuts down trees, but not as much. The only problem with eating a lot of fish is that fish (all of them) have some mercury in them, which means that if you have to much fish (i.e. fish every night for a few weeks) you can get quite sick.
Clara said...
Aug. 3, 2011 at 9:47 am

Hooray for this one! I especially admire the connects you made so well. I was raised a vegetarian, not only for the animals and the environment, but also for my own safety. There are a lot of things in meat that can be hazardous (given there are hazards in anything you eat, of course) and it's expensive. I have never had any health problems, never been sick because I was 'malnourished' and it's no problem. I don't support the way it's made and I don't think, even if someone gave me a supply o... (more »)

Clara replied...
Aug. 3, 2011 at 9:50 am
Whoops, I meant 'disappoint'. And sorry for the weird spacing. :)
JustAnotherOwl said...
May 29, 2011 at 8:42 am

Well written article! (:

To everyone who is complaining that the facts aren't right: Why does it matter? Overall, meat is bad for the environment. It's true. Maybe a few facts were off, but the concept is the same and she is right about it in general.

And she is NOT asking everyone to become vegetarians. Everyone seems so hung up on that, but that isn't what she said. She said just to cut down. Just reduce your meat intake and you'd be helping.

With that said, I've been a... (more »)

kelsee727 said...
Apr. 19, 2011 at 6:03 pm
Although I'm not a vegetarian and may never be, I do like the having a vegetarian meal once a week. My family...they will never be vegetarians, but I'm going to keep this in mind. I will not give up meat, but I will consider the having a vegetarian type meal once a week. This article is well written. Lots of facts to support everything. I'm glad the entire world does not eat meat because for now we need that petroleum. Great article.
Britty(: said...
Apr. 18, 2011 at 7:41 pm
This article was great! Very informative. I used to be a vegatarian, I think its not eating meat that we need to change , Its the way we raise and slaughter the meat. We need to change alot in that manner. It'd very concerning and inhumane.
ninjadragon56 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 27, 2011 at 5:32 pm

i agree! its not the actual maet that is a problem but were we get it from, factory farms are wrong but if we switched to more wholesome methods (such as organic farming) then it would approve!

Someone understands what i'm saying!

ninjadragon56 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm

I think you have an interesting opinion for sure, but i would like to join the conversation.

As humans we are omnivores, we have the flat back teth for grinding up and chewing plants but we also have canines and sharper front teeth to tear at meat. Huams are also predators, with eyes set at the front of there head to hunt better and bi-pedalism to become more efficiant when we run we are evolved to hunt and eat plants and meat. Humans are ment to eat both plants and meat.

Being ... (more »)

theskeptist replied...
Apr. 27, 2011 at 11:11 am
Do you like the fact that you are a "predator", why can you not be a protecter. Pick and choose, your selfish need for meat, or thousands of people who have no food. 
ninjadragon56 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 27, 2011 at 5:30 pm

i don't believe it is a selfish need. I agreew that people everywere should have food, its awful that they dont.

as to the predator comment i think that saying being a protector is like asking a lion to defend zebras. Before you get going on how  that is innacurratre and not the same as humans i know, but it is simmilar. I think that being a vegitarian is fantastic, don't get me wrong there. I think that its a good choice. Predators are designed to eat meat and we havn't been evol... (more »)

LINDZ said...
Apr. 16, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Agreed. I also think evolutionarily and nutritionally speaking, humans need some meat in their diet in order to get enough protein. The protein in plants is just not enough for human needs.

I wonder if fish causes as much pollution. I think fish is one of the great ways to go because humans generally are better off eating fish, and I've never heard anything bad about fish farming or fish catching.  But I've never done research on it either. Anybody know anything about it?

ConstanceContraire replied...
Mar. 7, 2012 at 7:18 pm

Oatmeal has 6 grams of protein

Soymilk 7 grams 

5 oz of firm Tofu 11 grams

1 cup of cook lentil 18 grams 

add all of this up and it is 42 grams of protein and the amount of protein supposed to be consumed for a 150 pond person is 55 grams and that is just four different foods

ConstanceContraire replied...
Mar. 7, 2012 at 7:19 pm
sorry meant to say pound
lmd_4994 said...
Apr. 8, 2011 at 11:59 am
great job! i am not allowed to be a vegatarian until i move out but i am planning on it then :)
Vidushi S. said...
Mar. 31, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I appreciate your feedback, guys, and I agree that no one should take facts at face value. Here are some sources for the information I used.

2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture report: Meat produces more greenhouse gases than all the SUVs, cars, ships, planes, and trucks in the world combined.

Greenpeace: nearly 80 percent of deforested areas in Brazil are now used for pasture by massive cattle ranching businesses.

The EPA reports that pollution from livestock farmin... (more »)

TheKing This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 4, 2011 at 10:33 am

Im curious (and please notice, I'm not bashing either you or the artical) where you got two facts in particular.


The first is the "one quarter pound hamburger requires the clearing of... 100 insect species."


The other is "one quarter pound hamburger requires the clearing of six yards of rainforrest."


The two in particular caught my attention.  I did the calculations (pretty easy, it took me about 10 minutes) and found both th... (more »)

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