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!

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!!
BillyBob replied...
Jan. 20, 2010 at 2:02 pm
Cows are necessary for survival!!! And if we stopped eating them they would keep producing more cows. Unless we had all you vegetarians castrate them all. But then they would become endangered.
destinee replied...
Mar. 24, 2010 at 4:29 pm
@ Mary G: When you say that humans can "adjust" the number, do you mean to say that we kill off all of the cows? Or do we just let them wander around loose because we won't eat them? Surely, by the time the cow population does dwindle, they would have done enough harm with their farting?
Alexis R. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 11, 2010 at 5:50 pm
Love it Destinee.  Agreed 100%.  The cows and methane has been around since the dawn of creation, unless you're an evolutionist, and then whenever the cow species popped up.  But for a very long time.  We are basically playing the world's hypochondriacts right here, putting the blame off on animals that were made for us to eat. 
ConstanceContraire replied...
May 8, 2012 at 12:01 pm
You guys do know that we have special farms dedicated to breeding cows, man did this not nature 
Sunshine said...
Dec. 5, 2009 at 11:01 am
This article really changed my mind and I am going to try eating less meat.
ninster900 said...
Dec. 3, 2009 at 9:10 pm
i know its true, i hope that by being a vegetarian i ve done something to help
SouthLakeFootball75 said...
Nov. 29, 2009 at 9:04 am
I think that even though this article did shed some light on the whole vegitarian thing, i think that you aso have to look at the flip side of the arguement. By eating more plants, we are eating the natural oxygen giving lifeforms in our ecosystem, and by eating meat, we are taking away more sources of carbon dioxide.
DalekJast This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 9, 2010 at 8:08 am
The only reason that there are so many livestock animals that produce carbon dioxide is because people eat them. If we reduced the consumption of meat drastically, in theory, the supply would go down, lowering the amount of carbon dioxide produced by livestock. If the demand increases, however, carbon dioxide levels produced by livestock go up because there are more animals being farmed.
karly2413 said...
Nov. 28, 2009 at 6:22 pm
I think your piece was totally wik(wiked). I've learned alot from it. I believe that I will be trying to cut down on my meat eating. I see that eating more meat is very problematic in ways to a very high extent. I'm impressed by your article.
Vidushi S. said...
Nov. 28, 2009 at 5:09 pm
I'm glad the article told you things you might not have known before! I always tell my friends that my goal is not to convert everyone to vegetarianism but to make them realize the impacts of their actions--and hopefully cut down on their meat consumption just a little bit afterwards.
TalktalkKC said...
Nov. 28, 2009 at 10:36 am
Excellent article, I went vegetarian a year ago last wednesday because of the animal lover in me, but now, you've reinforced my stance. Thanks a lot, there was a lot in that piece that I didn't know, but I'm glad I do now.
shoshone17 said...
Nov. 27, 2009 at 8:41 pm
Good point! You got me convinced.
veggieme said...
Nov. 26, 2009 at 10:53 pm
i think more people should go vegetarian so that we can save our planet !
An admirer replied...
Nov. 29, 2009 at 11:59 pm
I like the girl in photo.
Why does all "Go Veggie" ads come with HOT girls ?
any clue?
veggieme replied...
Nov. 30, 2009 at 5:59 pm
for your info. im a female and that was my first post to any of these articles okay!
veggieme replied...
Nov. 30, 2009 at 6:00 pm
nope i have no idea
dancer123 replied...
Jan. 20, 2010 at 1:57 pm
I think this makes a very valid point but I also thing cutting off meat completely is a bad idea.. what about cows for milk we still need to raise them? They'll over populate us if we don't eat them and take the vegetation. So what about that!
veggieme replied...
Jan. 20, 2010 at 10:26 pm
thats a really good point i dont know about that
guinea_pig_girl replied...
Mar. 4, 2010 at 5:48 pm
To dancer123, cows will not overpopulate us- the ones we use for meat are specifically raised for that purpose. And humans don't really need milk- I'm not saying it's bad, but we're drinking milk that was meant for calves. We are only "supposed" to drink milk as infants.
AquariusSun&Moon This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 11, 2010 at 7:54 pm
why does everyone seem to think that if we stop eating meat we will just have to let the cow free? ;)
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