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!

Alexis R. This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 11, 2010 at 5:43 pm
Yes, we know that the CATTLE INDUSTRY does these things, but try your hand at small farmers.  My family raises their own herds of beef, and we feed about six or seven families with it, not including our own.  It's higher quality beef, cheaper, and doesn't affect the environment.
Fingers_Stained_by_Ink_and_Paint replied...
May 25, 2010 at 3:56 pm
That's what my grandfather does! In fact, it's better for the Earth than just leaving the fields for nothing.
treegirl93 replied...
May 25, 2010 at 7:16 pm
And those small farmers will slowly be bought out by the Meat Trust. They are power hungry people. I wish your family all the luck then.
BrainsANDBeauty This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
May 26, 2010 at 8:13 pm
I know they will try, but we only sell to our local Iowa people.  Nowhere else.  We are safe.
Ink_Stained_Fingers replied...
May 28, 2010 at 10:48 pm whole family out west refuses to sell, and only passes their land down through the family.
BrainsANDBeauty This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
May 29, 2010 at 8:24 am
We don't sell, either.  It's a family tradition.
Vidushi S. replied...
Jul. 4, 2010 at 7:02 pm
I'm happy to hear that---it's actually really cool that you have your own farm! What you are doing is much better for the environment than eating from factory farms; eating local meat is one small step to take.
greystar said...
Apr. 11, 2010 at 3:09 pm
omg seriously? i do hope you are a vegetarian. anyway I LOOOVE steak, and bacon, and ham, and ribs......makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
treegirl93 replied...
May 25, 2010 at 7:14 pm
I'm sorry but that thought made me want to throw up. Well, it's your colon. Peace and Love.
Mirror_Of_You said...
Apr. 3, 2010 at 12:22 am
Everything in this - 'fact file' - is correct scientifically and morally. I don't mean to go shoving religion in other people's faces but God says that vegetarianism (?) is the 'right' way to go. Now I even though I agree with this notion, sadly I just can't see myself becoming a vegetarian. It's not the way I've been raised. Also it would take a lot less space to grow food for vegetarians than for non-vegetarians. But yeah. So I guess you're a vegetarian? ;]
curlikap18 said...
Mar. 29, 2010 at 9:32 pm
Well its kinda a funny story. When I was four i bit into a mcdonalds chicken nugget and it had flubber (fat) in it. I hated that so much i stopped eating meat all and all. My mom has always told me that i didnt really like meat from the start though. I mean when i was a baby i always spit it out or spent forever chewing it so that i wouldnt have to swallow. But now i really want to ahev meat but i am afraid to. I think i am probably lackign red blood cells, and i am lacking a lot of protein but ... (more »)
BeautifulXWallflower replied...
Apr. 11, 2010 at 11:23 am
I'm a vegetarian and have been for almost 3 years. Depending on how strict you are, you shouldn't have to take pills or supplements. I eat fish and dairy products. No meat. Period. But fish is kinda  border line kinda meat, and my dad's deal with me was that if I was going to be vegetarian, fish was a must for protein and iron. So I suggest eating fish and dairy products. Beans and nuts are also great sources of protein.
greystar replied...
Apr. 11, 2010 at 3:10 pm
OH my! what did the por fish and veggies ever do to you?
curlikap18 replied...
Apr. 13, 2010 at 2:50 pm
uhhh... well thanks anyway, but i will not eat seafood. I just dont like it, and am afraid to try it. but i do eat nuts and i put cheese on everything and i do eat dairy, but i am a very picky eatter if you cant tell, but thats the only way i again my protein.
lauraea23 said...
Mar. 29, 2010 at 9:06 pm
this is all so true. global warming & factory farming are directly related and they both are serious problems that need to be resolved. thanks for writing this and pleaseee keep on expressing your opinions about this subject!!!
ForevrQuanae said...
Mar. 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm
First of, God created meat for us to eat, so i don't know how we are killing the planet. It makes no sense . Studies show that meat gives us iron. Iron helps our blood. now think if we were to stop eating me . our blood would become weak. DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS? it means that we could catch viruses more faster.
meg4life replied...
Mar. 31, 2010 at 8:44 pm
ya i agree with everything you just about said! haha you are actually the first one to mention God in this :) thanx
Lanier42 replied...
Apr. 1, 2010 at 8:52 pm
True, but there are other ways to get protien. Tofu, for instance
greystar replied...
May 26, 2010 at 7:43 pm
that is exactly right; )
Ink_Stained_Fingers replied...
May 28, 2010 at 10:51 pm

yes, but meat is much more natural than tofu. and much better tasting, might i add ;)

i am anemic, and i need to eat as much meat and other iron-supplying foods as possible, or i simply cannot function.

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