Tag Archives: environment

10 ways vegetarianism can help save the planet | Life and style | The Observer

If we really want to reduce the human impact on the environment, the simplest and cheapest thing anyone can do is to eat less meat. Behind most of the joints of beef or chicken on our plates is a phenomenally wasteful, land- and energy-hungry system of farming that devastates forests, pollutes oceans, rivers, seas and air, depends on oil and coal, and is significantly responsible for climate change. The way we breed animals is now recognised by the UN, scientists, economists and politicians as giving rise to many interlinked human and ecological problems, but with 1 billion people already not having enough to eat and 3 billion more mouths to feed within 50 years, the urgency to rethink our relationship with animals is extreme.

1 Overheating the planet

We humans eat about 230m tonnes of animals a year, twice as much as we did 30 years ago. We mostly breed four species ??? chickens, cows, sheep and pigs ??? all of which need vast amounts of food and water, emit methane and other greenhouse gases and produce mountains of physical waste.

But how much stress does our meat-eating put on ecological systems? The answer is a lot but the figures are imprecise and disputed. In 2006, the UN calculated that the combined climate change emissions of animals bred for their meat were about 18% of the global total ??? more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.

The authors of the report, called Livestock’s Long Shadow, did not just count the methane from the belching, farting cattle, but the gases released from the manures that they produce, the oil burned taking their carcasses to markets often thousands of miles away, the electricity needed to keep the meat cool, the gas used to cook it, the energy needed to plough and harvest the fields that grow the crops that the animals eat, even pumping the water that the cattle need.

The figure was revised upward in 2009 by two World Bank scientists to more than 51%, but attempts to fully account for meat-eating are condemned as simplistic. Should the studies have been based on giant US factory farms, or on more sustainable breeding in Europe? Should you include all the knock-on emissions from clearing forests? What about the fertiliser used to grow the crops to feed to the animals, or the emissions from the steel needed to build the boats that transport the cattle; or the “default” emissions ??? the greenhouse gases that would be released by substitute activities to grow food if we were to give up meat? And is it fair to count animals used for multiple purposes, as they mostly are in developing countries, from providing draught power to shoe leather or transport, and which only become meat once they reach the end of their economic lives?

It’s an accounting nightmare but depending on how it’s done, livestock’s contribution to climate change can be calculated as low as 5-10% of global emissions or as high as 50%. Last year, a Food Climate Research Network report concluded that UK meat and dairy consumption was responsible for 8% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. But however it’s counted, livestock farming ranks as one of the three greatest sources of climate changing emissions and one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation.

2 Eating up land

A human population expected to grow by 3 billion, a shift in developing countries to eating more meat, and global consumption on track to double in 40 years point to the mother of all food crises down the road. How much food we grow is not just limited by the amount of available land but meat-eaters need far more space than vegetarians. A Bangladeshi family living off rice, beans, vegetables and fruit may live on an acre of land or less, while the average American, who consumes around 270 pounds of meat a year, needs 20 times that.

Nearly 30% of the available ice-free surface area of the planet is now used by livestock, or for growing food for those animals. One billion people go hungry every day, but livestock now consumes the majority of the world’s crops. A Cornell University study in 1997 found that around 13m hectares of land in the US were used to grow vegetables, rice, fruit, potatoes and beans, but 302m were used for livestock. The problem is that farm animals are inefficient converters of food to flesh. Broiler chickens are the best, needing around 3.4kg to produce 1kg of flesh, but pigs need 8.4kg for that kilo.

Other academics have calculated that if the grain fed to animals in western countries were consumed directly by people instead of animals, we could feed at least twice as many people ??? and possibly far more ??? as we do now.

To make matters worse, our hunger to eat animals has led to overstocking of fragile lands and massive soil erosion and desertification. Overgrazing, from the downlands of southern England to the uplands of Ethiopia and mountains of Nepal, causes great loss of fertility, as well as flooding.

But the figures must be treated with caution. Animal manures can revitalise the soil and millions of animals live on marginal land that is quite unsuitable for crops.

But before we leap to conclusions and lump all livestock rearing together, consider this: in western countries animals are bred and reared to put on as much meat as possible in the shortest time after which they are slaughtered. But in poorer regions, cattle ??? especially in dry areas ??? are central to human life and culture and often the only source of food and income for many millions of pastoralists. The ceaseless movement of these nomadic herders over vast areas is the backbone of many African economies and, a major new study from the International Institute for Environment and Development suggests, a far more ecologically efficient method of farming than the way cattle are reared in Australia or the US.

3 Drinking too much water

Eat a steak or a chicken and you are effectively consuming the water that the animal has needed to live and grow. Vegetarian author John Robbins calculates it takes 60, 108, 168, and 229 pounds of water to produce one pound of potatoes, wheat, maize and rice respectively. But a pound of beef needs around 9,000 litres ??? or more than 20,000lbs of water. Equally, it takes nearly 1,000 litres of water to produce one litre of milk. A broiler chicken, by contrast, is far more efficient, producing the same amount of meat as a cow on just 1,500 litres.

Pigs are some of the thirstiest animals. An average-sized north American pig farm with 80,000 pigs needs nearly 75m gallons of fresh water a year. A large one, which might have one million or more pigs, may need as much as a city.

Farming, which uses 70% of water available to humans, is already in direct competition for water with cities. But as demand for meat increases, so there will be less available for both crops and drinking. Rich but water-stressed countries such as Saudi Arabia, Libya, the Gulf states and South Africa say it makes sense to grow food in poorer countries to conserve their water resources, and are now buying or leasing millions of hectares of Ethiopia and elsewhere to provide their food. Every cow fattened in Gambella state in southern Ethiopia and exported to Abu Dhabi or Britain is taking the pressure off water supplies back home but increasing it elsewhere.

4 Causing deforestation

Global agribusiness has for 30 years turned to tropical rainforests ??? not for their timber but for the land that can be used to graze cattle or grow palm oil and soya. Millions of hectares of trees have been felled to provide burgers for the US and more recently animal feed for farms for Europe, China and Japan.

In its latest food report What’s Feeding Our Food? Friends of the Earth estimates that around 6m hectares of forest land a year ??? an area equivalent to Latvia or twice the size of Belgium ??? and a similar acreage of peat and wetlands elsewhere, is converted to farmland a year. Of that, it says, most goes to livestock or to grow the crops to feed the cattle.

As soya becomes the world’s major crop for chicken feed, so the industry is driving cattle ranching deeper into the forests.

5 Poisoning the earth

Industrial-scale agriculture now dominates the western livestock and poultry industries, and a single farm can now generate as much waste as a city. A cow excretes around 40kg of manure for every kilogram of edible beef it puts on and when you have many thousands crowded into a small area the effect can be dramatic. Their manure and urine is funnelled into massive waste lagoons sometimes holding as many as 40m gallons. These cesspools often break, leak or overflow, polluting underground water supplies and rivers with nitrogen, phosphorus and nitrates.

Tens of thousands of miles of rivers in the US, Europe and Asia are polluted each year. A single spill of millions of gallons of waste from a North Carolina pig factory lagoon in 1995 killed about 10 million fish and forced the closure of 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands to shellfishing.

The sheer quantity of animals now being raised for humans to eat now threatens the earth’s biodiversity. More than one third of the world’s 825 “ecoregions” identified by conservation group WWF are said to be threatened by livestock and giant US group Conservation International reckons that 23 out of 40-odd global “biodiversity hotspots” ??? the places considered most valuable for life ??? are now seriously affected by livestock production.

6 Spoiling the oceans

The present oil pollution disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is not the only problem that the region faces. Most summers between 13,000-20,000 sq km of sea at the mouth of the Mississippi become a “dead zone”, caused when vast quantities of excess nutrients from animal waste, factory farms, sewage, nitrogen compounds and fertiliser are swept down the mighty river. This causes algal blooms which take up all the oxygen in the water to the point where little can live.

Nearly 400 dead zones ranging in size from one to over 70,000sq km have now been identified, from the Scandinavian fjords to the South China Sea. Animal farming is not the only culprit, but it is one of the worst.

7 Ruining the air

Anyone who has lived close to a large factory farm knows the smells can be extreme. Aside from greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, cows and pigs produce many other polluting gases. Global figures are unavailable but in the US, livestock and animal feed crops are responsible for 37% of pesticide use, more than half of all the antibiotics manufactured and a third of the nitrogen and phosphorous in fresh water. Nearly two thirds of the manmade ammonia ??? a major contributor to acid rain ??? is also generated by livestock. In addition, concentrated factory farming of animals contributes to ozone pollution.

8 Making us prone to disease

Animal waste contains many pathogens including salmonella, E coli, cryptosporidium, and fecal coliform, which can transfer to humans through water run-off or manure or touch. In addition, millions of pounds of antibiotics is added to animal feed a year to speed the growth of cattle. But this contributes to the rise of resistant bacteria, and so makes it harder to treat human illnesses.

9 Draining the world’s oil

The western animal farming economy is based on oil, which is why there were food riots in 23 countries when the oil price peaked in 2008. Every link in the chain of events that brings meat to the table demands electricity, from the production of the fertiliser put on the land to grow the animal feed, to pumping the water they need from the rivers or deep underground, to the fuel needed to transport the meat in giant refrigerated ships and the supermarket shelves. According to some studies, as much as one-third of all fossil fuels produced in the United States now go towards animal agriculture.

10 Meat’s costly, in many ways

Polls suggest that 5-6% of the population eats no meat at all, with many millions of others consciously reducing the amount of meat they eat or only eating it occasionally. This is backed by new government figures which show that last year we ate 5% less meat by weight than in 2005.

But the quantities are still staggering: according to the Vegetarian Society, the average British carnivore eats over 11,000 animals in a lifetime: 1 goose, 1 rabbit, 4 cattle, 18 pigs, 23 sheep and lambs, 28 ducks, 39 turkeys, 1,158 chickens, 3,593 shellfish and 6,182 fish.

For this, say the vegetarians, the meat eaters get increased chances of obesity, cancers, heart diseases and other illnesses as well as a hole in the pocket. A meat diet is generally considered twice as expensive as a vegetarian one.

I was staggered by the numbers in this article – I will eat eleven thousand animal in my lifetime. THe impact of this consumption on the environment is worth thinking about.

Top 10 green living myths | Duncan Clark |

Carbon footprint

A closer look at some of the commandments of green living could greatly reduce your carbon footprint. Photograph: Getty

1. What they tell you: Turning off the lights saves CO2

What they don’t tell you: It makes sense for individuals to use less electricity to help reduce the emissions of British power stations. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the total amount of CO2 that can be released by power plants and other industrial facilities across the EU between now and 2012 is fixed by the European Emissions Trading Scheme. This means that if the UK power sector reduces its emissions, extra carbon permits get freed up for use elsewhere, such as German power stations or French cement plants. In other words, the same amount of CO2 will be released, just from different sources. If you want to ensure that your electricity savings do make a real environmental difference, join Sandbag, a charity that will remove CO2 permits from the EU scheme to stop your good work being traded away on the carbon markets.

2. What they tell you: Buy a greener car

What they don’t tell you: If you definitely need a new car, it makes perfect sense to buy a small, super-efficient model with low CO2 emissions. However, making a new car ??? including mining and processing the metals and manufacturing and assembling the components ??? takes a huge amount of energy. According to an expert at the Stockholm Environment Institute, the production of a typical modern car causes around 8 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to driving 23,000 miles. Because of this, unless you currently drive a lot in a highly inefficient car, it will often be greener to stick to your existing vehicle than to sell it and buy a new one.

3. What they tell you: Going veggie cuts emissions

What they don’t tell you: It’s true that animal products tend to have much higher carbon footprint than food produced from plants. Hence vegetarianism tends to be a good idea from an environmental point of view. The devil is in the detail, however, because certain dairy products are more “carbon intensive” than some meats. In particular hard cheese, which takes a lot of milk to produce, can have a bigger footprint per kilo than chicken. So while cutting out meat ??? especially beef and lamb ??? definitely makes ecological sense, the benefit will be reduced if you make up the calories by consuming more dairy. The most effective way to reduce the emissions of your diet is to go vegan ??? or as close as you can get.

4. What they tell you: Don’t overfill the kettle

What they don’t tell you: It’s not just how much water you boil that determines the carbon footprint of your tea or coffee, but also the type of kettle you use. Jug kettles are fast and convenient, but their fuel ??? electricity from the national grid ??? produces almost three times more greenhouse gas for each unit of heat than burning gas in the home does. Hence switching to a stove-top kettle on a gas cooker will usually reduce emissions ??? especially in colder months when any heat from the flames that escapes around the side of the kettle will warm the room, reducing the burden on the central heating system.

5. What they tell you: Use more efficient appliances

What they don’t tell you: Choosing highly energy-efficient appliances is one good way to ensure that routine tasks such as dishwashing and laundry don’t create more carbon pollution than necessary. But there are other ways, too, such as simply running your machines at night. In the daytime, when electricity consumption is at its highest, the dirtiest, least efficient power stations are rolled out to help meet peak demand. At night, when demand is lower, these power stations can be switched off, which means that each unit of electricity has a lower carbon footprint. Turning your washing machine and dishwasher on before you go to bed therefore shaves a little off your carbon footprint by “spreading the load” on the electricity grid ??? though the difference isn’t as huge as some websites have claimed.

6. What they tell you: Sign up with us, we provide 100% renewable electricity

What they don’t tell you: Various electricity companies promise to provide customers with power from renewable sources. This gives the impression that by signing up you’ll be increasing the amount of clean electricity being produced. The truth is rather more complex. The government requires a certain proportion of UK electricity to come from renewable sources. If an electricity company exceeds this target by generating most or all of its power from renewables it can sell its extra green electricity credits to other companies which in turn can avoid producing any green power themselves. The net effect is that not very much changes. That’s not to say don’t sign up, but if you do use a green power supplier don’t expect your electricity to suddenly be carbon-neutral, no matter what the adverts suggest.

7. What they tell you: Wood fires are green

What they don’t tell you: If you burn the wood in an open fire, the majority of the energy in the wood will be lost up the chimney. Assuming it comes from properly managed forests, however, wood is a green fuel because the CO2 released when it gets burned will be sucked from the air by the trees planted to replace the felled ones. The inefficient burning typical in a fireplace also creates plenty of soot. Like CO2, soot warms the atmosphere by absorbing heat from the sun ??? and it can also travel thousands of miles to settle on Arctic ice, where it accelerates melting by darkening the surface. A much better option environmentally is a log-burning stove. These capture most of the heat from the fuel, greatly reducing the amount of wood required, and they slash soot emissions too. Some modern stoves are so clean-burning that they can even be used in smoke-free zones.

8. What they tell you: Use eco detergents

What they don’t tell you: “Ecological” washing up liquids and clothes detergents offer an environmental benefit by favouring rapidly biodegradable, low-toxicity, plant-based ingredients over harsher synthetic ones. However, when it comes to climate change, most of the footprint of washing up or cleaning clothes is not caused by producing the detergent but by heating the water. Hence the most effective way to cut emissions is simply to be sparing with hot water when washing up and to use low temperature cycles for laundry. If you find a 30-degree wash sufficient with an ecological powder, then that’s ideal; if not, then arguably it would be better to use a more powerful detergent rather than turn up the temperature dial.

9. What they tell you: Reusable nappies are better for the planet

What they don’t tell you: It’s true that disposable nappies occupy a lot of space in landfill sites and consume a fairly large amount of oil in their production. However, an in-depth study from the Environment Agency (pdf) found that the total impact on global warming could be slightly higher for washables than for disposables. Washables can have a lower carbon footprint, but only if you have an energy-efficient washing machine, use a 60-degree wash cycle, limit yourself to 24 nappies, and don’t tumble dry or iron them. Nappy washing services have the highest footprint of all.

10. What they tell you: Buy local

What they don’t tell you: The transport of goods accounts for a small but significant proportion of the human impact on the climate. It generally makes environmental sense, therefore, to favour local food and other products. However, it’s not always true that local is best. One study suggested that lamb from New Zealand, with its clean energy and rich pastures, has a lower footprint when consumed in the UK than locally produced lamb, despite the long-distance shipping. Another study showed that cut flowers sold in Britain that had been grown in distant but sunny Kenya had a smaller carbon footprint than those grown in heated greenhouses in Holland. So while transport is important, it’s not the only factor to consider.

??? The examples above are all drawn from the Rough Guide to Green Living, which was published this month.

I’m a luke warm (for the sake of the environment you understand) green campaigner. I hope these myth busters don’t put you off doing “your bit” but make you wiser in the way you do it.

The Age of Stupid

Last night I watched The Age of Stupid. Set in the future it has everyone living in the present firmly in its sights. The premise is that we are the only people who can turn the environmental tide and there’s not much time left to do it. Generations before us either didn’t know or act and it will be too late for our children to do it. My grandchildren could face a bleak future if we ignore these warnings.
As I looked at my daily prayer plan this morning I realised that The Earth didn’t feature – anywhere. As a believer in prayer and “doing my bit for the environment” I was surprised with myself for this omission.
To me, prayer is about being willing to work together with God and others to bring answers and solutions to problems. It’s when I align myself with what I believe is God’s purpose that I can then both trust and act.
If you have the chance – perhaps I could urge you to make the opportunity – watch this film and then act in whatever way you find possible.
We (the inhabitants of Earth) have to change things – doing nothing is not an option.