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!

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.
curlikap18 replied...
Mar. 28, 2010 at 11:16 am
100% agreed. if people didnt eat meat then animals population would be off the charts and they would be getting killed for no good reason. so tht would be a huge waste i think.
DalekJast This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 18, 2010 at 7:54 am
Why are cows necessary for survival? Somehow lactose intolerant people and vegans survive without milk or meat. And the population of cattle would go down because of natural predators in the wild that ate some of them.
Vegetarian for life!
AnneOnnimous replied...
Feb. 25, 2010 at 7:17 pm
vegans may survive, but they're not as healthy. Humans were built to be omnivores; we disrupt the balance of life by not doing so.
maggermufin replied...
Feb. 26, 2010 at 7:58 am
Actually, that's not true. Vegetarians are much more healthy than omnivores because they get closer the the proper servings of everything. That means, not too much and not too little. We get the proper servings of vegetables, fruit, grain, fats and oils, dairy, and protein. For the last two, many of us take supplements to help but we're still a lot healthier. This is because in modern society, too much meat is consumed and it has become the focus of any dinner...even though it's a... (more »)
AnneOnnimous replied...
Feb. 26, 2010 at 4:20 pm
I never said that I like the modern way of making food; everything is processed, or else expensive. I agree with you on the technology ruining everything. And i suppose it is true that we have already disrupted the balance of nature; but is it right to make something worse just because it is already bad enough? I think it would be better if humans could go back to how we used to live, like aboriginal people, and eat what we ate then.
and, as for those studies you mentioned, that is just bi... (more »)
maggermufin replied...
Feb. 27, 2010 at 8:32 am
I never said that technology is ruining everything. You're using it right now. It's helps us learn what's in our foods so we can make wiser choices. It has allowed us to see that killing animals isnt necessary because we can get the same stuff from plants. By going vegetarian you're helping to correct the balance of life by taking out of the food chain the one species that is dominating the planet. As humans we are already destroying natural habitats, draining land for farmin... (more »)
AnneOnnimous replied...
Feb. 27, 2010 at 4:45 pm
but again, you are wrong. Just because I am using technology (a fact which i am perfectly aware of) does not mean that is a good thing. And just because it has allowed animals to not be killed (which it hasn't really; you overlook that they are killed all the time by other animals, hence the all important circle of life that is overlooked by many vegetarians), that does not mean that is a good thing either. It disrupts the balance of life; so no, you are laughably wrong, vegetarianism does... (more »)
maggermufin replied...
Feb. 27, 2010 at 5:50 pm
Wow. I'm not going to argue with you anymore because I really doubt you're over like 13-14 max. You obviously have no idea what you're talking about. You're logic is flawed. You haven't even considered poplulation growth over centuries, the fact that technology did allow for people to realize that animals don't need to die to provide people with healthy living. And if you are so into living like an aboriginal....why don't you go do that. Get rid of all you mode... (more »)
AquariusSun&Moon This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 11, 2010 at 7:45 pm

Oh wow. That is quite the discussion! :) Maggermufin: Did you know that the "witch doctor" you mentioned would be using plants to cure people? (in other words 'don't make fun of them') Also you have to drain the blood somehow so I really don't see your point.

AnneOnnimous: There is nothing but change so going back to live like the aboriginal people is not really possible. And by the way you can get most (if not all) the minerals and fats you need from fruits and vegetables. http://www.... (more »)

Bricheze This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 28, 2010 at 7:06 pm
As an agriculturalist and environmentalist I can tell you that while livestock production does release a large amount of green house gases, use a fair amount of resources, and otherwise pollute a large amount; it's also something we need.
Crop land is not the same as pasture land. Pasture land is not sustainable enough to produce crops, only to raise livestock. We don't have enough sustainable crop land to support a world of vegeterians.
So while, yes, we do need to find a... (more »)
pfgoldfish13 said...
Jan. 23, 2010 at 5:39 pm
I just wanted to say that according to the law of conservation of matter, matter cannot be created or destroyed. Your essay was proving a good number of points, though.
dancer123 said...
Jan. 20, 2010 at 2:04 pm
Valid points.. but you need to come from both sides.
babe892 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 13, 2010 at 9:09 pm
What a great piece. So many people do not know about the many harmful ways of the way our meat is produced today. And so well-written!
-Proud Vegetarian of 4 Years
Stina said...
Jan. 13, 2010 at 9:53 am
Great article! I agree with everything you have said, though I think most humans do need to eat at least some meat. Though nowadays I think most people eat FAR too much meat, and the way the raise many animals in farms is terrible. I was a vegetarian for some years but now I eat meat again though I try and only eat organic meat and mostly eat seafood. I think it would be good for you to also talk about other options. Because for example I know some people with the blood type "O" who ne... (more »)
AmnyR said...
Jan. 13, 2010 at 7:46 am
well written article. two things though... 1) try having at least one more source
2) disscuss the other side of the argument so that readers know why the whole world hasnt given up meat already! other than that, your article was very impressive!
sillyaardvarkabc said...
Jan. 6, 2010 at 4:23 pm
I'm a vegetarian and this is basically the reason why. I have only convinced 3 people to do it with me though. My whole family only eats meat twice a week and we haven't eaten red meat in a couple years. I'm doing all I can to help, but I don't think just a few people supporting vegetarianism will change the world. I do think, however, that we should try.
Miranda J. said...
Dec. 13, 2009 at 8:32 pm
I really like how your article includes citations, but I think more source variety would give it more creditability. Still, this proves it is more than just your opinion talking. Also I would like to point out that it would take a significant decrease in the consumption of meat to even change the supply a little. A few people who decrease the amount of meat they eat will not change the production of meat at all. I do realize, however, this is why people try to get the word out there, like this ... (more »)
tayamazing said...
Dec. 6, 2009 at 6:29 pm
Ok here's the thing. The article said that yes, cattle produce methane gas, but if we all turned to vegetarians, the population of cattle would increase severly, also causing MORE methane!!
Mary G. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 20, 2009 at 5:18 pm
No...the population of cattle would go down, because most are raised specifically for the purpose of eating. If there was less demand for beef, they would bring the supply down accordingly. This isn't like humans are going into the wild and keeping down the populations of herds -- these are human-created populations, and humans can adjust the number.
Hello!! replied...
Jan. 20, 2010 at 11:49 am
Does this mean giving up cows we have to give up milk?!?!? Cows are necessary to survival!!
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