Meat eating is a key contributor to the present Anthropocene epoch, forcing tremendous change in our climate systems and geophysical processes on earth. The love for meat is destroying our fragile biosphere one bloody bite at a time.
Modern industrial farming is a major cause of high carbon emissions. However, some scientists suggest our Neolithic farming activities may have increased carbon gas levels earlier in our history. About 12,000 years ago humans began growing crops and farming animals, badly affecting land and water systems, and in the process causing rapid animal and plant extinctions. Professor William Ruddiman believes that the clearing of forests for crop farming and rice cultivation around 5,000 to 8,000 years ago, released enough CO2 and methane into the atmosphere to forestall the next ice age.
The theory that the early adoption of agriculture warmed the climate, the Ruddiman hypothesis, is not widely accepted by scientists. The prevailing view is that the Anthropocene epoch started with the Industrial Revolution, an era of mechanization, steam power, and increased fossil fuel burning, the perfect blueprint for the factory farm. With the development of The Haber process in the early 20th century enabled the production of commercial quantities of fertilizers like ammonia, ammonium nitrate, and urea. By the 1950s, aided by cheap artificial nitrogen-based fertilizers, intensive factory farming was truly underway. The first factory farm may have started in 1926 with chicken farming in the US.
Factory farming is a very inefficient business in terms of water consumption and produces almost a fifth of the world's total greenhouse gas emissions. The production of one kilogram of beef requires roughly 15kL of water, mutton almost 10 kL, pig meat nearly 6kL, chicken 4.5kL, and vegetables a mere 322 liters. Intact, uncleared natural pastures trap carbon and support a variety of plant and animal life. The conversion of forests and savannahs for farmland damages the land and reduces biodiversity. Burned forests and drained marshes further accelerate global warming as trapped carbon is released as carbon dioxide and methane gas.
Manure and effluent discharge from intensive livestock farming include poisonous gases like ammonia and hydrogen sulphide that increases soil nitrogen and phosphorus levels, polluting waterways and creating enormous environmental hazards. Beef production produces more manure than mutton, pork or chicken, and the higher the use of fodder, the higher the amount of manure. Heating, air conditioning, plastic, metal, concrete in factory farms and transportation of slaughtered animals rely on fossil fuels, contributing to climate change. Intensive animal farming would not be possible without agricultural inputs. Eighty percent of farmland is devoted to animal agriculture, and the demand for animal feed is responsible for rampant deforestation in South America, Africa, and Indonesia as forests are razed to grow corn, soy, and palm nut. Growing crops for livestock contributes 40% more to global warming than all transportation in the world combined.
Meat, poultry, and dairy production drives the Anthropocene and feeds an entire value chain of production, processing, packaging, and storage, none of which could function without an infrastructure of power, water, and transport networks. The human impact of meat consumption is far reaching and include effluent runoffs, increased carbon gas emissions, polluted land and water resources, disrupted ecosystems, accelerated animal and plant extinctions, land subsidence, diverted waterways, increased ocean acidity, and plummeting marine biodiversity.
The world is obsessed with carnism, and worldwide three animals feature prominently at mealtime: chicken, beef, and pork. Over 60 billion chickens are murdered every year, with nearly one billion chickens bought by KFC annually. The USA, Australia, Argentina, and Brazil are the biggest consumers of chicken. Each year about one billion pigs are grown for meat in horrific conditions. The citizens of China eat pig meat the most, followed by the European Union, United States, Russia, and Brazil. Hong Kong consumes the most beef per person than any other country in the world, trailed by Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and United States. Americans eat over a billion pounds of beef at McDonald’s each year, and that means the death of 5.5 million cattle annually.
Meat eaters believe many falsehoods to justify eating animal flesh. Some animals are less than intelligent and can be eaten. We evolved to eat meat and to stop would make us sick. Meat is an excellent, ready source of protein and minerals. How can people refuse to eat meat when it tastes so delicious? These are some of the dangerous and stupid assumptions that drive our insatiable hunger for meat. We don’t need meat to survive but we may not survive the present carnist-driven Anthropocene epoch.
Picture Source: US Government