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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kasey.camille said...
May 25, 2010 at 7:59 pm
I like this article. It's not the meat thats killing us, its the way we have chosen to 'farm' it, for lack of a better word. Encouraging environmental awareness is what counts, and I think you did that well.
Fingers_Stained_by_Ink_and_Paint said...
May 25, 2010 at 3:55 pm

Its well written, but the problems with this article are:

No. 1: Global warming is not man-made. Its a natural fluctuation of the Earth's has been going on since the Earth began. Plus, has anyone noticed how the ice caps haven't been melting, and there has been record cold throughout the world lately?

Hmmmm...of course its global warming! The heat is making it get colder!!!! Ahhhhhhh!!!!

How about we just leave the Earth alone?


No. 2:... (more »)

treegirl93 replied...
May 25, 2010 at 6:59 pm
It is true that cows have been around forever but people have not always eaten them (shock). They have been used for milk, cheese, and butter. Mow ranching is big business instead of small farming. The Meat Trust is a trillion dollar industry that exploits as much of the earth's resorces as it can not to mention the underpaid overworked meat factory workers who often have a plethera of injuries and often die. No one seems to realize that someone had to kill that cow skin it with large knives tha... (more »)
Shannon_Bananon replied...
May 25, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Fingers: Yes, global warming began naturally, however, at the rate we are polluting the atmosphere and warming the earth, it won't get colder.

Humans have also existed for a long while. That doesn't mean we have an equivalent impact to when we were a primitive species.

Ink_Stained_Fingers replied...
May 28, 2010 at 10:47 pm

yes; big industries are more concerned with making money than being good stewards of the earth...but that does not mean i will stop eating meat.

yes, our impact on the earth has grown...but actually, population is declining. europe and asia's reproduction rate is well below replacement level.

plus, the global warming occuring today is not man-made. nature, on its own, contributes billions of pounds of co2 into the atmopshere, while mankinds contribution is simply puny compared t... (more »)

TommyOoOoO replied...
Nov. 27, 2010 at 12:35 pm
InkStainedFingers, you are my hero! I completely agree with you! All of your points are completely valid and even though people continue to argue with you, there's no way to ignore the fact that your points make complete and total sense! :)
SashaLovesYOux3 said...
May 25, 2010 at 11:12 am
i really like this article i think more people should become vegetarian/vegan. i've been a vegetarian for over a year and i plan to stay vegetarian maybe turn vegan too :)
Not-my-name said...
May 15, 2010 at 7:42 am
I was a vegatarean but I can't go vegen
temerick said...
May 12, 2010 at 3:40 pm

SO excited to see this article, and you did a marvelous job of presenting the case in a persuasive and fully supported manner. 

I recently went back to meat due to weight loss but still avoid beef. I'm also big on free range. It amazes me how easily people turn a blind eye to such a major issue. It's beyond easy to cut back on a little bit of meat, and it makes a world of a difference. That tiny bit less is not tiny at all, when you look at how that small effort translates in the ... (more »)

Safeleo said...
May 11, 2010 at 11:29 pm
Plus, meat uses a lot of water to make. One pound of beef can use 3,000 gallons of water to make, from the begining of the cows life to the end, with shipping and packageing.
Tenthmuse said...
May 3, 2010 at 9:30 am
Nothing wrong with being a vegitarian (though personally, I couldn't go a week without a little steak and salmon). Never really thought of the meat industry as a source of pollution, but I guess it is! What I don't get is why vegatarians eat fish, because fish is the muscle of an animal, just like beef and chicken.
RachelSaysHi replied...
May 3, 2010 at 3:51 pm
Proper vegetarians don't eat fish, but some do. They aren't Vegetarians, they are Pesco-Vegetarians
SundanceKid replied...
May 3, 2010 at 4:05 pm
I watched the movie, Food Inc last two weeks ago. I never thought i would be a vegitarian, i love meat too much. But when i saw this movie, i gave it up cold blood. Even Shrimp which i love.
smilielizzie2 said...
May 2, 2010 at 8:21 pm
I agree with this! This is one reason I became a vegitarian. Also its a lot healthier! The human intestines are too long to digest meat and it rots in your intestines. I am very glad to see someone who shares my belief system. :)
Schism said...
Apr. 26, 2010 at 10:38 am

It seems like most of your sources come from extremely biased websites. I did a little research and found no evidence supporting that Charles Darwin was a vegetarian, and Einstein was only a vegetarian for the last year of his life.


I do support the idea of vegetarianism to a degree. But spreading the idea with sensationalist "facts" and appealing to our emotions is not the way to do it.

treegirl93 replied...
May 25, 2010 at 7:05 pm
That's usually the way things are done though. If the writer had simply said, "Be Vegetarian" without using any exaggerations the article wouldn't have been as persuasive. The media uses the same tactics to back wars and certain political polices. Uncle Tom's Cabin is an early example of a somewhat exaggerated book that got the North riled up. I think the writer did a great job of presenting the facts without much bias.
hootowl4 replied...
Jul. 8, 2010 at 11:14 am

I agree, though i'm a vegetarian, i don't think the author was biased,(I don't like that approch.) To be persasive enough they had to put a great deal of opinion, i don't think the author was too firm.

I see your point though, there is alot of biased info out there.

Thinker said...
Apr. 22, 2010 at 8:08 am
Aside from the ammout of wasted raw material, there are the ill health effects of eating a cow that ate a cow, that ate a pig in the grain it was given. Or the massive cost of growing corn for a more than 70% loss, by the goverments expense. If those facts disturb you, don't read the works of Temple Grandin, Ph.D. or watch the movie "Food Inc."
AquariusSun&Moon This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 11, 2010 at 7:58 pm

Good article but there are a few things everyone should consider. There are ways (such as rotational grazing) that a good sized heard of beef can be raised on a fairly small farm. Chickens are also EXTREAMLY easy to raise. Also, if you think about it, becoming a vegetarian isn't the perfect solution either. Fruits and vegetables are constantly being grown out of season meaning that fuel will be needed to transport those “fresh” strawberries in the middle of winter. However almost ... (more »)

treegirl93 replied...
May 25, 2010 at 7:13 pm
Most people don't go veggie the right way. There are toms of grains and beans that are good for you. A big bowl of rice and beans is a complete protien and is filling too. Most Americans get way more servings of meat than is necessary to live. I personally love pasta. You don't have to love vegetables to be vegetarian. Eating fruits and vegetables that are out of season actually does more damage to the environment. Ancient Civilizations like the Chinese and Hindus were vegetarian and many Americ... (more »)
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