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!

ForevrQuanae said...
Mar. 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm
First of, God created meat for us to eat, so i don't know how we are killing the planet. It makes no sense . Studies show that meat gives us iron. Iron helps our blood. now think if we were to stop eating me . our blood would become weak. DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS? it means that we could catch viruses more faster.
DayofRain50 replied...
Jun. 7, 2010 at 4:00 pm
Im sorry, I jut hate it when people say the "God created animals for human consumption." I am not a vegetarian, I love meat, but that isn't true. First, no one knows if God is real or not real. Do not bring him in. Second, animals were on earth way before us. Just because we have opposable thumbs and can build cities, does not mean everything on earth was created just for our basic needs.
MisplacedTexan14 said...
Mar. 20, 2010 at 10:48 pm
I'm sorry, but my two favorite meals are baby-back ribs and a bacon cheeseburger. Humans are omnivores, meaning we are SUPPOSED to eat meat. What do you think our pointy canine teeth are for? Tearing lettuce? Meat is an essential part of your diet. Animal fats are good for you. If saving the planet means giving up meat, then it is so not worth it. (PS I don't belive we're killing the planet.)
destinee replied...
Mar. 24, 2010 at 4:26 pm
I agree with you, but cows are actually the number one source of methane. Which means that yes, they are indeed killing the environment.
On the other hand, I have no doubt that if the vegetable industry grew, they would use tons of water and pesticides that would harm the environment.
AnneOnnimous replied...
Mar. 29, 2010 at 6:15 pm
well, global warming is quite recent compared to the amount of time cows have existed, so clearly cows aren't realy the problem (it's probably what we're doing to them, with chemical sand such, that is causing this). And i agree that humans are meant to eat meat. We shouldn't have to give up food that we were meant to eat to save the environment
Alexis R. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 11, 2010 at 5:45 pm
So, instead of eating the cows, we're gonna kill them all off because they create methane? Excuse me if that doesn't sound right..
AnneOnnimous replied...
Apr. 11, 2010 at 7:42 pm
lol, good point
MisplacedTexan14 replied...
Apr. 12, 2010 at 1:53 pm

well, if we kill them off, why not eat them too? I mean, theyll be already dead, so why not make use of them.

Ps One head of lettuce is only about 20-30 calories. That is NOT a lot, considering you're supposed to have 1500-2000 calories a day. If we were herbivores, we would need to eat WAY MORE stuff to get the right number of calories and other essential stuff.

AnneOnnimous replied...
Apr. 12, 2010 at 2:35 pm
that's why humans are omnivores. We were built to be able to eat anything, and it's unnatural for us to only eat vegetables.
neonchandelier said...
Mar. 7, 2010 at 8:33 am
I'm an off again, on again vegetarian, and what actually made me quit was the vast amount of blowing things up peta was doing on their web site, they had no credibility. I just want straight facts; and you've provided some very important ones here. Thank-you.
xAllegria said...
Feb. 26, 2010 at 7:46 am
The most water we consumed is wasted on food, and probably most on meat. The statistics here are frightenning... good article.
i<3steven! said...
Feb. 25, 2010 at 3:25 pm
i recently turned vegetarian because of a pita video i saw on yutube, i think that you make a good point and i was wondering how many people who are vegetarians eat poultry or fish?
guinea_pig_girl replied...
Mar. 4, 2010 at 5:41 pm
Well, there are many opinions on this, but mine is that if you eat poultry and fish, you aren't a vegetarian. They are animals, too, right? However, it is better to eat only fish and poultry than all meat, of course. :)
i<3steven! replied...
Mar. 5, 2010 at 3:39 pm
yep yep yep!!
curlikap18 replied...
Mar. 28, 2010 at 11:14 am
I am 13 years old and i have been a vegetarian because of choice since i was four years old. I do not eat seafood. I am not vegan but i do consider seafood a meat.
i<3steven! replied...
Mar. 29, 2010 at 4:00 am
wow, what made you decide to become a vegetarian? and congrats!! i have been vegetarian for only a ew months, since dec 19th or something like that
curlikap18 replied...
Apr. 27, 2010 at 6:54 pm
good for you. it was just because i bit into some chicken and it had flubber and i didnt like it, so i just quit with meat. and i know it sounds kinda dumb, but...
i<3steven! replied...
Apr. 29, 2010 at 2:55 pm
it's not dumb. it's cool. i am the only one in my family that does that so yeah, it sucks...
Fingers_Stained_by_Ink_and_Paint replied...
May 25, 2010 at 3:49 pm

vegetarianism is not for me!

haha going vegi is probably a little healthier, but i eat meat and i'm fine.

plus, i think its delicious. humans have been eating ever since we've been around, and it hasn't killed us all off yet!

i<3steven! replied...
May 26, 2010 at 2:05 pm
well that's nice and all, but i just don't feel like eating meat right now and i don't think it's a permanent thing for's just something i am doing
Beatman said...
Feb. 18, 2010 at 11:25 am
I've been a vegetarian for many years, but I respect people who eat meat. It's their choice after all, and we can't say that the whole world should be vegetarian. It's too much of a personal choice.
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