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.

Join the Discussion

This article has 240 comments. Post your own now!

Morgan C. said...
Mar. 28, 2011 at 1:43 pm
We should definitely monitor our meat consumption and also the distrubition and killing of the live-stock. However, as previously said, abstaining from eating meat overall would, yes, in fact HURT the enviorment as a whole. We do breed animals in a larger amount than normally found in nature to meet our high consumer demands. However, if we...for say let all these animals go and everyone converted to vegan (because as you know vegitarians eat eggs and dairy produts) there would be an over popula... (more »)
Jamamama said...
Mar. 24, 2011 at 11:21 am
I was very intereseted in this article. I thought it was really interesting how "Just one quater-pounder hamburger requires the clearing of a six yard rainforest.." that part really shocked me! This has made me really consider the next burger i'm about to eat.
SecretBliss said...
Mar. 21, 2011 at 7:44 pm
I understand that meat industries are harming the envirionment but i see no effort to promote beter conditions, humans need a wide veriety of food to survive...(not a meat).
Pageasaurus_Rex said...
Mar. 18, 2011 at 8:26 am
To those of you who think these are fake facts, STFU! Its not only rude, you look like an arrogant idiot. Like, seriously! Show some curtiousy and shut your mouth when it is needed! I'm a vegetarian and I think vegetarians and vegans aren't nearly as egotistical as your meat heads. I am not one to have an outburst like this but I'm sick of people who eat meat being full of themselves. Get your head out of the clouds and look at reality!
TheKing This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 22, 2011 at 6:48 pm

On the contrary, the readers here SHOULD be critical of what they are reading. Constructive criticism is always helpful, and I HOPE that people read my writing point out inaccuracies so I can improve both my writing and my argument.


Now, read my post, then do your own math. I did the math myself and found that many "facts" in this article were simply ridiculous, and make no logical or mathematical sense.


What IS arrogant is taking the "facts" of thi... (more »)

Isaac V. said...
Mar. 3, 2011 at 1:44 pm
LOL nice fake facts , get em straight. How did this get in the magazine even?
Ironwoman said...
Jan. 19, 2011 at 9:33 pm

In my opinion as a person who not only works on a cattle farm, but believes profoundly in eating beef that your writing doesn't hold all the facts.

       How can you blame livestock for pollution when in response to using fuel it uses more to till crop and harvest then to raise a dairy cow. If we had no cows we'd have a more limited diet in calcuim which is important for bone health.

      Besides just cause you eat vegetab... (more »)

SecretBliss replied...
Mar. 21, 2011 at 7:45 pm
i agree with you completly!
TheKing This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Dec. 24, 2010 at 2:55 am
I have no idea if I'm reading you right, but if I am, you need to check your source... that or use some common-frickin-sense. A single quarter pound hamburger kills 100 insect species? In 2006, 28 BILLION pounds of beef were consumed in the United States alone. This means that the US killed off 11 trillion insect species that year. Even at the highest estimate, there are only 10 million species of insect worldwide, meaning in 2006 we killed off the entire worlds supply of insect species 1,12... (more »)
numbernine replied...
Jan. 1, 2011 at 12:11 pm
Haha, you tell them, King!
WithPenAndScript replied...
Jan. 16, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Hahah how is this a top rated article? 

Meat bashers, Tut tut. 

At least get the facts srtaight

suhaunah713 replied...
Jan. 20, 2011 at 9:07 pm
it doesnt matter, she's right about it in general. if you don't feel like helping the earth out a little bit, that's alright with me, but the least you could do is accept the reality.
TheKing This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 21, 2011 at 10:39 pm
It does matter, it casts doubt on the accuracy if many of the other statements made in the article. For example she states that world hunger could be relieved by going vegetarian. Many do not realize that the world currently OVER-produces food, that food is just unevenly distributed. Additionally, her "1 hamburger destroys 6 yds of rainforrest" statistic is also way off, casting further doubt on the piece
JaylaJ said...
Dec. 19, 2010 at 11:53 am
This is an awesome article! I am a vegetarian and meat is really bad for the environment. Go veg! :)
Jet_plane_number_5 replied...
Apr. 23, 2011 at 8:59 pm
I agree! :)
Sagee said...
Dec. 18, 2010 at 6:28 pm
Sitting here reading some of these comments that I honestly do NOT agree with.  If you do your research right, you'll find that more and more farms are skipping the part of sending their livestock to companies.  They feed sell them as organic meat.  Which, gives them more money and you a healthier diet.  Plus, if you don't kill animals, they will eventually over populate the Earth.  So, it is a mandatory thing, if you want to save the planet, to eat meat.
The Goat replied...
Dec. 23, 2010 at 11:45 pm

Look at humans, they're over populated.

I am a very fat goat

FancyFarrah replied...
Dec. 30, 2010 at 8:51 pm

Okay. First off, they have whole farms devoted solely for breeding cows, pigs, and chickens so that they can be killed for food. That is not preventing over-population of animals, that is producing them at a rapid rate, to feed the over-population of humans.

Second, if humans ate less meat, then these farms would go out of business, thus they would stop breeding the animals so much. This is not a natural process that we just monitor, this is someone that humans make happen. These anima... (more »)

Sagee replied...
Jan. 1, 2011 at 5:34 pm
Yes, but putting these farms out of business would just hurt our economy more.  They would get put on unemployment, which would everyone else pay more.  Farmers are already having problems as is.  And it's not just farmers.  It's nature.  Think about it a little.  If you just leave all the animals alone, and don't go hunting or anything, then deer, bear, rabits and tons more would DEFFINETLY OVERPOPULATE.  So in away you need to hunt and eat meat.  And the... (more »)
Jillian replied...
Jan. 5, 2011 at 4:51 pm
So we are choosing money over life and our environment? The world changes and people have to change also, if meat is a large contributor to harm on the environment, then we have to take some kind of action. Our economy would not collaspe because we put meat farmers out of business. They are trying to find alternative ways to take care of the garbage problem, but would you argue to keep a landfill owners pockets deep, rather than save the animals in the ocean from the island of building garbage? ... (more »)
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