Vegetarianism and the Environment: How a Diet Can Shape the World

Vegetarianism and the environment are strongly related, indicating that vegetarianism nurtures the idea of keeping the environment safe. Eating less meat will help humans reduce their impact on the environment. The farming system which consumes a lot of energy destroys forests, pollutes seas, rivers, and air. Furthermore, every farm depends on coal and oil, becoming responsible for climate change.

The planet is overheating

Statistics indicate that we consume approximately 230m tons of animals per year. This is twice as much as the situation was 30 years back. The meat comes from animals like pigs, sheep, cows, and chicken that need enormous amounts of water and food. Furthermore, they produce massive quantities of physical waste and greenhouse gases.

Apparently, in 2006, the mixed climate change emissions coming from animals bred represented 18% of the global total. This percentage indicates that animals’ contribution is greater than that of plans, cars or other means of transport altogether.

Air pollution

Living near a farm factory can be a nightmare when it comes to air pollution. Besides the usual greenhouse gas emissions, pigs and cows also produce other polluting gases. In the US, animal feed crops and livestock are to be blamed for 37% of pesticide use. Furthermore, livestock also contributes with approximately two-thirds of the humanmade ammonia.

Drinking too much water

Whenever you eat a chicken or steak, think about the fact that you have already engulfed the amount of water the respective animal consumed during its life. While a pound of potatoes needs 60 pounds of water to grow, a pound of beef may need as much as 9,000 liters of water. Furthermore, it takes 1,000 liters of water to make 1 liter of milk.

Apparently, a chicken is more efficient than a cow, producing the same amount of meat for only 1,500 liters of water. If you did not know this already, pigs seem to drink a lot more water. A pig farm with more than 80,000 pigs will consume more than 75m gallons of water per year. Therefore, the farming industry reaches to consume 70% of water meant for humans.

Numerous diseases

The exposure to all sorts of pollution makes people prone to contract many diseases. Animal waste features numerous pathogens like E coli, fecal coliform, cryptosporidium, and salmonella. These are just a few of the dangers it may pose. These pathogens may transfer to humans via manure, touch or water run-off.

A plate, a fork and a knife made out of vegetables on a white background

Eating fresh vegetables and fruits will teach you that there is a correlation between vegetarianism and the environment.

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Devouring lands

Specialists indicate that in 40 years from now the human population is expected to increase by 3 billion, while there will also be a ship in developing countries to consume more meat. Therefore, global consumption as we know it will most likely double and a food crisis might affect the world. Apparently, studies show that meat-eaters need more space compared to vegetarians. Therefore, the amount of food people grow does not limit to the amount of available land. The average American who eats 270 pounds of meat per year will occupy 20 times the space of a family who only feeds on fruit, vegetables, beans, and rice.

Researchers argue that over 30% of the ice-free surface area is currently used by livestock. Even if one billion people are starving, livestock consumes most of the world’s crops. A study from 1997 at Cornell University indicates that the US uses about 13m hectares of land to grow fruit and vegetables while they waste 302m for livestock. Pigs need to eat 8.4kg to provide 1kg of meat while broiler chickens receive 3.4kg of food to provide 1kg of flesh.

Furthermore, another study indicates that if the grain fed to animals were fed to people instead, approximately twice as many people would get food. What is even worse is that meat lovers led to massive soil erosion, desertification and overstocking of lands. Therefore, the lands are more exposed to infertility and flooding.


Worldwide agricultural businesses became interested in exploiting tropical rainforests 40 years ago. They use the land to grow soy or palm oil. Furthermore, they may also use it to graze cattle. Those from the agricultural sector have used millions of hectares of trees to feed animals from farms in Japan, China, and Europe. Statistics estimate that over 6m hectares of forest land per year turn into farmland.

Polluting the ocean

Everywhere around the world, specialists registered massive oil spills in oceans. The Mississippi River is another example. Every summer pollution affected between 13,000-20,000 square kilometers of the sea right at the mouth of the river Mississippi. This area transforms into a ‘dead zone’ due to massive loads of nutrients coming from factory farms, nitrogen compounds, fertilizers, sewage and animal waste.

This water pollution triggers algal blooms, taking up all the oxygen in the water. Up to 2006, researchers spotted about 400 dead zones of different sizes, some reaching over 70,000 square kilometers. Therefore, animal farming represents one of the worst factors.

Poisoning the land

The poultry industries and the western livestock are now dominated by industrial-scale agriculture. Therefore, only one farm can generate as much waste as a city. For every kilogram of edible beef, the beef defecates about 40 kg of manure. Hence, when you have numerous such cows in a single area, you know the results can be catastrophic.

Farmers take care that the urine and manure from livestock goes into big waste lagoons which may sometimes measure 40m gallons. Unfortunately, when these lagoons leak or break, they pollute the water supplies underground. Furthermore, they also pollute rivers with nitrates, phosphorus, and nitrogen.

Every year, livestock waste pollutes over tens of thousands of miles of rivers in Asia, Europe, and the US. The massive number of animals which are raised to become food reached to threaten the biodiversity of our planet. Most of the 825 ecoregions on the planet are currently in danger due to livestock production.

Summing up

Consuming less meat and concentrating on vegetables and fruits will not only benefit your body, but also the planet. Vegetarianism and the environment are strongly connected, preventing air, water, and soil pollution. If we were to reduce meat consumption, we would also reduce the risk of contracting many diseases.

Image Source: Matador Network

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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