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!

knd071 said...
Oct. 26, 2010 at 9:04 am

I understand the points of this topic, going vegetarian would be a great impact on the world...if the manufacturers would reduce production and land consumption. Sure, we might reduce some of the waste, but unless everyone pitches in, including those that make the meat millions in America eat, this movement will not move an inch. I'm not trying to sound negative, as I am sure that this article has at least caused change to one individual, though these are my views.

One point that did c... (more »)

Serendipity-Pen said...
Oct. 4, 2010 at 9:27 pm
Wow! It's really evident that you did your homework. And I completely agree with you. I also think that eating bi-products decreases ones lifespan, which is why many people in thae past lived much longer than 80 some years. Thanks for the information!!
Sleepswithslumber said...
Oct. 4, 2010 at 4:02 pm
Sorry, but really, I don't care. I'm all for the enviorment and you'll never see me have a single thought on hurting any animal but meat is jsut too yummy!!! I understand that there are downsides to meat, but until they come up with s bacon tree I'll have a steak medium rare!
kristina-marie replied...
Oct. 21, 2010 at 2:53 pm
oh my gah! you preach it! I totally agree. you could be like my long lost sister or something.
BlackHoleHighAlumni This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Nov. 9, 2010 at 6:04 pm
Haha, completely agree! But make mine well-done. ;)
MangoMadness replied...
Nov. 23, 2010 at 7:50 pm
Like i reply posted above, if you even just buy healthier meat (free-range, not injected with hormones) you'll be helping the planet and still enjoying your hotdogs. :)
fhocker7495 said...
Oct. 4, 2010 at 3:38 pm

This article was really well written!! Good job!!

I've been a vegetarian for just under two years, and I can tell that you've really done your research :)

I think that being a vegetarian is a beneficial thing not only for the environment, but also for your own personal health. Meat causes a lot of health problems (heart disease) and by eliminating you lower your chances for heart disease and high cholestroel.

Some people have said that its not possible to live w/o eating ... (more »)

ukloveslife said...
Oct. 4, 2010 at 3:47 am

oh im a vegetarian except fro some occasional eggs....its healthy being one....

but my sister complained that in US its hard to find vegetarian foods at any restaurant..she practically makes everything at even if one converts..its hard for them to keep up.

hplover123 replied...
Oct. 15, 2010 at 10:55 pm
Im a vegetarian. And I have searched so much, and found out that vegetarians CAN eat eggs, but still, I was eating a omelet today and i was so sad. I have a suggestion. When you by eggs at the store, make sure to by the ones that say 'unfertilized' it's better for you, and the chickens. :)
agricola said...
Oct. 2, 2010 at 3:17 pm

just because some people stop dosent mean the industry will stop or the same amount of live stock wount be made i know many people who benift from raising animals inculuding me plus you have to think many animals are raised for other perpases besides eating them to stop eating meat would be unbenifital


Caitlin D. replied...
Nov. 11, 2010 at 3:40 pm
False. Becoming a vegetarian is the single best way you could help the environment. And if you don't think that changing things you do would help the environment, then you are ignorant. 
KunaiNinjaFighter said...
Sept. 19, 2010 at 7:27 pm

I feel that this article for just vegetarians because I really like my burgers and steaks. Yes, the cattle industry is responsible for SOME of the greenhouse gasses output (mainly methane). BUT, there is one thing you failed to overlook. No one can live off of just veggies, beans, and nuts. I dont agree with the vegetarian POV, but I respect it. This article was well written, despite the lack of more than one source.


I didn't climb to the top of the foodchain to eat rabbit foo... (more »)

BlackHoleHighAlumni This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Nov. 9, 2010 at 6:06 pm
Dude I completely agree! And you're right, it's unhealthy and unnatural for humans to eat only veggies. And yeah, my rabbits food doesn't look too tastey. :)
ebony_and_irony replied...
Nov. 12, 2010 at 12:35 am

Most vegetarians do not simply eat veggies, beans, and nuts - we eat a lot of other things, too (grains, fruits, dairy, etc.)!

It is entirely possible to have a healthy (and delicious) meat-free diet. In fact, many health experts believe that following a vegetarian diet (or at least a diet free of anything but lean meat/and or fish) is the healthiest way to live.

rachelsmith replied...
Nov. 12, 2010 at 6:03 pm
Yup and they're all morons. Research side-affects of being a vegatarian. It may surprise you.
Corkyspaniel replied...
Dec. 3, 2010 at 11:57 am
Research the side effects of eating meat. Also, the vegetarians you speak of probably don't eat tofu or any other kind of mock meat.
KunaiNinjaFighter replied...
Dec. 3, 2010 at 12:56 pm
yeah, but the bad side affects of eating meat all pertain on how you COOK it
inspiredbylife replied...
Jan. 12, 2011 at 6:55 pm

 The American Dietetic Association said: “Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index and lower overall cancer rates. Vegetarian diets tend to be lower in saturated fat and cholesterol and have higher levels of dietary fiber, magnesium and potassium, vitamins C and E, folate, carotenoids, flavonoids and other phytochemicals. These nutritional differences may explain some of the health advantages of those following a varied, balanced vegetarian diet.”

This is ... (more »)

KunaiNinjaFighter replied...
Jan. 12, 2011 at 9:03 pm
Ah yes, but there are key fats that come from meats that you can't get from just fruits, nuts, and veggies. Omega-3's for one.
KunaiNinjaFighter replied...
Jan. 12, 2011 at 9:05 pm
and why does it always come back to weight?
Site Feedback