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!

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 »)

inspiredbylife replied...
Jan. 12, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Although it's true that it's not easy to get omega-3s when you stick to a vegetarian diet, there are supplements out there (made from algae, not fish) that can help. 

The point about the lower BMI was just one of the reasons listed; also in today's society it is an important issue in regards to the growing obesity rates.

KunaiNinjaFighter replied...
Jan. 13, 2011 at 1:22 pm
I understand that, but I don't think that there are enough benefits to go veg. I respect their choices, but I dont have to think that it's right.
JustAnotherOwl replied...
May 29, 2011 at 8:57 am
Vegetarians get plenty of protein from soy products. I eat tofu, black bean burgers, chick-pea patties, etc. There are actually many different options. And some vegetarians eat fish as well (that is a rule with my parents- that I eat fish), which provides me with other nutrients I need. So in reality, I am very healthy being a vegetarian.
Ben Dover said...
Sept. 16, 2010 at 9:12 am
Dude like OMG
wildheart said...
Sept. 4, 2010 at 9:04 pm
I think your suggestion at the end really wrapped up the end of your article well. You've really done your homework! A lot of the facts you have found are amazing in the future of the environment. What do you think we should do about the cattle, though? It doesn't seem right to just kill them off or set them free to eat up whatever land they find.
AsIAm This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 21, 2010 at 7:26 pm
I have NO idea why that posted twice, and also the "an" in the first paragraph is supposed to be an "and". ~AsIAm
AsIAm This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 21, 2010 at 7:24 pm

On You're Writing:  You're writing is inspired, persuasive, and fact-supported.  However, I noticed that you only cited one source, and that it was a source encouraging people to be vegetarian.  A good argument needs to have aspects from both sides of the spectrum, to counter any doubts your reader might have.  Also, it needs to have supporting research from many different places, to avoid bias an twisting of the facts.

On You're Argument:  I see what you mean ... (more »)

AnneOnnimous replied...
Aug. 21, 2010 at 7:37 pm
*Please note that "you're" means "you are", whereas "your" means "belonging to you." You made some really good points though :)
AsIAm This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 21, 2010 at 7:45 pm
Thanks for pointing that out, I spaced out a little bit. :) Sorry for that guys.  And I'm glad you thought my points were valid.  I hope to have some of my own work up here soon - I just joined and it is getting approved.  Thanks again! ~AsIAm
AnneOnnimous replied...
Aug. 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm
cool, what kind of stuff is it that you submitted?
AsIAm This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Sept. 12, 2010 at 1:09 pm
Fiction (romance reality and thriller), personal experience (friendships and moving), political opinion (Arizona Immigration Law)
inksplatters21 said...
Aug. 21, 2010 at 10:25 am
I've been experimenting with vegetarianism, and this article was very inspiring!  Have you seen FoodInc?  It's a great movie.  Thank you for your words, you definitely made a difference.
br123 said...
Aug. 15, 2010 at 10:15 pm
Your writing is great and very inspirational, and although I have done a lot to try and protect the environment, I believe that eating meat is a part of survival. Although there are alternatives such as tofu, eating meat is a part of culture all around the world. Instead, those who do eat a lot of meat can try eating organically. And maybe instead of cutting out meat, people can try and do other more simple tasks that won't change their entire lifestyles like carpooling or even biking or pl... (more »)
Caitlin D. replied...
Nov. 11, 2010 at 3:46 pm
I respect your POV but would like to let you know that eating "organic" meat isn't what you think it means. Organic meat still used to be a cow that was forced to eat meat (completely un-natural by the way) because it is cheaper than grass, and that was penned up in a factory farm and probably never saw daylight. And becoming a vegetarian is the single best way someone can help the environment. You should take an environmental science course, you would probably like it.
TommyOoOoO replied...
Nov. 27, 2010 at 12:29 pm
Where on earth did you hear that cows were forced to eat meat? "Organic" meat is raised on veggies. NOT meat. If you're saying that organic meat is raised on meat, then it's NOT organic.
ZoeJgirl said...
Aug. 10, 2010 at 11:17 pm
I am also a vegetarian, i would love to be a vegan. but I love dairy:( Im a dairy girl. i love animals, even more then i love people! This article is truly inspiring. amazing:)
Lucy(: This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 10, 2010 at 9:23 pm

i'm aslo a vegetarian.

i'm so glad someone is actually so aware of everyhting that goes on the in the world.

great work, its so azmaing that you bring people's attention to this.

fibonaccimathgenius said...
Jul. 30, 2010 at 8:56 pm

I'm 13, and have been a vegetarian by choice for over 7 years.  Great job with this article; I never knew how much of a positive impact vegetarianism has on the planet!


dare2dream said...
Jul. 30, 2010 at 4:11 pm
Man didn't climb to the top of the food chain to eat carrots.
Someone18230 said...
Jul. 25, 2010 at 4:25 pm
Very intresting article, although i do think that humans are designed to eat both meat and vegation and i personally love meat it can't hurt to take off a meal of meat every once a week or so.
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