Earth Day is a celebration of this amazing planet that we have been blessed to inhabit. Humans have had an impact of unprecedented proportions on Earth’s environment. We have made great strides in our technology to improve our daily lives but the processes we use to make these strides have resulted in severe consequences on the long term health of our planet. Today we should reflect on what has happened and what can be done to help preserve this beautiful place we all call home.
The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22nd 1970. It was the result of channeling the anti-Vietnam War movement’s energy towards a cause who’s intent was to raise public awareness and concern for all living organisms, the environment and links between pollution and public health. Today, Earth Day is celebrated in more than 193 countries and offers an opportunity for us to reflect on how our environment has gotten to where it is today.
The Industrial Revolution of the late 1700’s and early 1800’s put our species on a path of unprecedented progress. Our ability to consume resources and produce goods changed the way we think and act as a society. We have benefited from countless inventions and improvements as a result of this process but we have also caused massive amounts of change to the environment:
- Our most popular method of transportation involves the burning of fossil fuels which releases pollutants into our atmosphere.
- Our factories and power plants have consumed massive amounts of energy and resources while pumping out enormous quantities of pollutants.
- Industrial farms have transformed the natural landscape to create fields for crops and animals. Additionally, the waste from the animals and the pesticides used on crops produce toxic runoff that washes into our streams, rivers and oceans.
As you can tell, the impact humans have had on the Earth is substantial. The results of our species altering the natural environment are starting to take their toll:
- More than 2 million people globally die prematurely every year due to outdoor and indoor air pollution. United Nations Environment Programme, 2007. Global Environment Outlook 4: Summary for Decision Makers
- Half the world’s tropical and temperate forests are now gone. U.S. EPA, 2009. Sustainable Materials Management: The Road Ahead.
- 75% of marine fisheries are now overfished or fished to capacity. U.S. EPA, 2009. Sustainable Materials Management: The Road Ahead.
And more recently, a series of scientific studies has shown that the Great Barrier Reef has experienced a significant bleaching event which can be attributed to unusually warm water temperatures.
So with all of these drastic changes taking place we must ask ourselves: “What can be done to reverse this trend?”
Well it turns out that one of the most significant contributors to environmental decay and global warming is related to a decision that each and every one of us makes every day. Meat consumption.
Eating meat has a substantial and widely unknown impact on the climate and the environment. The Meat Lifecycle shows the source of these impacts at each step in the process of producing and consuming meat products:
- Transport – The animals and the supplies needed to raise them are transported long distances before ever reaching your table.
- Water – Large amounts of water are used to grow the feed for animals and to quench their thirst.
- Pesticides – Used to grow animal feed, they require large amounts of energy to produce. They also contaminate air, water and soil.
- Fertilizers – The use of fertilizers in feed production results in emission of greenhouse gases and contaminated runoff water.
- Feed Production – Half of all U.S. cropland is used to grow feed for animal production.
- Grazing – An area seven times the size of California is devoted to animal grazing.
- Confined Feedlots – Animals packed into feedlots produce 500 million tons of manure a year causing water and air pollution emitting two potent greenhouse gases (nitrous dioxide and methane).
- Slaughterhouses – 55 million pounds of toxic pollutants produced by 32 slaughterhouses were dumped into America’s waterways in 2009.
- Meat Consumption – The US produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009, 60 percent more than Europe.
- Waste – 20 percent of all meat sold ends up in the trash.
The amount of meat Americans eat began to greatly increase in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s until just recently as we have become more aware of the environmental, ethical and health issues related to meat consumption.
There’s no easier way for individuals to make such a positive impact on the environment then by simply choosing to reduce the amount of meat we eat on a daily basis.
Our species has evolved to become the undisputed ruler of the planet Earth. Let’s take today to reflect on just how rare a planet like ours is, the harsh realities of what we have contributed to the deterioration of it’s environment and what we can do as individuals and as a species to help preserve our only home.