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!

MangoMadness said...
Nov. 23, 2010 at 7:42 pm
You just are too lazy to save your own planet. Go and grumble somewhere else, like in Kazakhstan, where acid rain makes everyone's hair fall out, or North-Eastern China, where the toxic fumes cause asthma and other medical conditions.
chillifritoz said...
Nov. 27, 2010 at 4:55 pm
i agree with mango madness. quit denying this stuff im tired of people telling me to stop beleiving everything i hear its annoying! yesss knowledge is sadness, but only if you accept it.
Hey! Veg >.< said...
Nov. 20, 2010 at 7:52 am

I do like this article, in that it addresses the basic "meat is killing the Earth" topic.

However, I do believe that PETA isn't the best source to choose from if you want people to take you seriously. (GoVeg and ChooseVeg are the same people).

Beef is the meat that uses the most water, pork is the meat that generates huge particle-air pollution, and poultry meats pollute water with their nitrogenous feces. Fishing depletes the ocean and destroys ecosystems. These are basics, fou... (more »)

proudomnivore replied...
Nov. 27, 2010 at 12:27 pm
Honestly, I've read a lot of comments from the "meat eaters" and I don't think  any of them have been rude. And conversation killers? Uh huh. It's an opinion piece not a conversation. And actually they're conversation STARTERS. Do you see how many replies the "meat eaters" get? And really, the "meat eaters" are rude? I think the only reason they seem rude is because all the veg people attack them. They're really the rude people. What's so wrong about saying "I love meat"? What's so of... (more »)
FancyFarrah replied...
Dec. 30, 2010 at 9:00 pm
So if a serial killer goes to trial and says "I loved that look on her face right before she died" that should not be taking offensively? That should be taken as a joke, or an opinion?
BlackHoleHighAlumni This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 9, 2010 at 6:03 pm

I'm sorry, but I love meat. I would die without chicken noodle soup, pork chops, steak or chicken mcnuggets. I'm not stopping anytime soon.

And eating meat does not hurt the enviroment. I'm not sure where you got that, but it doesn't. Eating meat actually helps the enviroment. It keeps the animal population in check. If animals were left to themselves, they would be multiplying left and right which would, in the long run, be bad for the enviroment. Sorry, but I don't agree. :/

Caitlin D. replied...
Nov. 11, 2010 at 3:37 pm
HAHAHAHAHAH I actually want to slap you. I mean, sorry, but I do. You're so ignorant. Did you even do research before you stupidly said eating meat doesn't hurt the environment? Do you even KNOW where your meat comes from? Obviously not. Well let me tell you, every piece of meat you consume comes from a factory farm. Becoming a vegetarian is the single best way to help the environment. Go take a class on environmental science. 
BlackHoleHighAlumni This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Nov. 11, 2010 at 3:52 pm
HAHAHAHA! Actually, yes, I DO know where my meat comes from. It comes from my backyard. Did you ever stop to think that maybe I live on a farm? Maybe I should slap you for your own ignorance. Don't go making assumptions about people before you know the facts. I know exactly where my meat, veggies and eggs come from and what goes into the growing of them, thank you very much.
caitlin.d135 replied...
Nov. 11, 2010 at 7:09 pm
well aren't you so fancy. Now of course you're one out of a million. Everyone else in America gets their meat from a factory farm. 
BlackHoleHighAlumni This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Nov. 11, 2010 at 7:38 pm
Maybe you should do some research. More meat than you think comes from farms. But you know what w/e. I'm over this argument. Have a nice time with your veggies, I'm going to finish my ham pizza. Buh-bye.
Vidushi S. replied...
Nov. 19, 2010 at 7:30 pm
Animals are bred on factory farms for the sole purpose of being killed for food. Less demand for meat=less animals bred by artifical insemination on factory farms. Simple.
MangoMadness replied...
Nov. 23, 2010 at 7:47 pm
Whether or not you agree with the enviromental proof of damage to the earth, it's also simply healthier to go vegetarian. Way less parasites, and such. It's okay though, if you can't go completely veg. I personally suggest maybe just limiting your meat intake to only free-range meat, not injected with hormones. Even little changes help, so you needn't look at it as changing everything or nothing.
BlackHoleHighAlumni This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Nov. 24, 2010 at 7:35 am


I don't agree entirely with the statement that going veg is the healthier way to live. But I agree more with your comment than anyone else's. I agree that free-range anything is always healthier. I live on a farm and we raise our own meat. But a lot of people snub their noses to free-range meat because...well, I'm not sure why. But, no offence, I won't be giving up any of my meat anytime soon or going veg. :)

MangoMadness replied...
Nov. 26, 2010 at 9:50 pm
But of course. I still eat poultry, myself, though feel sllightly guilty about it as I'm an animal lover and it makes it difficult to explain my eating habits to friends. :)
BlackHoleHighAlumni This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Nov. 27, 2010 at 11:59 am
I'm an animal lover also. I think people often confuse omnivores as people that hate animals. That's a wrong assumption. I have over twenty rabbits, a dog, two goats, two snakes, a frog, two geckos and several other pets. I don't think to eat meat you have to hate animals. And it's wrong to assume that (I'm not saying you are, but other people do). I know where meat comes from and I don't fool myself into thinking it comes from somewhere else.
chillifritoz replied...
Nov. 27, 2010 at 5:02 pm

blackholehighalumni your so flippin lucky! im a vegetarian but thats only because i dont have a farm with my own personal milking cows, piglies and such. I live in a city with lots of ridicule and un open mindedness. but im going to boycott lol eating meat from giant azz companies untill they go in debt or whatever. sorry if i sound like i have no idea of what im talking about.


BlackHoleHighAlumni This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Nov. 28, 2010 at 1:32 pm
Well, I'm not sure what you're talking about either, but you made me laugh. But don't take that the wrong way. You just seem very outspoken like a lot of friends. :)
DNO414 said...
Oct. 28, 2010 at 12:01 pm
I eat meat everyday. I love my beef, pork, and poultry. I didn't know that when cattle was killed it harmed the environment. It hurts me to see an animal get slaughtered, but I have to get my nutrients. I'm not being harsh, but being a vegetarian is not for me. Beef and Pork are what I need to survive.
Corkyspaniel replied...
Dec. 3, 2010 at 11:56 am
I can respect your love of meat. :) There are no nutrients in meat that can't be found in a vitamin or in mock meat, but your input is appreciated. For some, it is just irresistable, even if it harms people in other places. You never have to meet those people.
kmd109 said...
Oct. 26, 2010 at 9:09 am
I personally eat meat everyday.  By reading this article, I learned about the effects of eating meat on the environment.  I have always heard about the effect of eating meat on your body, but never on how it affects the environment.  I believe that it is important to understand what happens when we make certain decisions.     
Site Feedback