This Earth Day, Save the Planet: Eat More Plants!

April 22, 2019, will mark the United States’ 49th anniversary of Earth Day—an annual celebration of the planet’s natural beauty and a call to action for environmental conservation. While publications and news reports continue to warn us about the vital importance of governments addressing global climate change, you might be wondering how best to approach environmental conservation as an individual. This Earth Day, we invite you to learn more about the benefits of plant-based diets.

Raising livestock = bad news for the environment

Did you know that animal agriculture is a leading driver of deforestation, habitat loss, ocean acidification, species extinction, water pollution, water use, topsoil erosion, and desertification? Industrialized agriculture, which is central to the world economy, has resulted in such large-scale environmental degradation and unsustainable resource use that former Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Chu has deemed it “worse for the climate than dirty energy.” In a recent talk at the University of Chicago, Chu argued, “If cattle and dairy cows were a country, they would have more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire EU 28.” Indeed, estimates have shown that 51% of the world’s carbon emissions are attributed to livestock.

If you aren’t familiar with this information already, it might seem somewhat difficult to believe. How can animal agriculture be worse for the environment than everything else? The answer is that the processes required to sustain agricultural production on an industrial scale are extensive and extremely resource-intensive. For example, 80-90% of the water consumed in the United States is used for animal agriculture, and researchers at Cornell University have shown that producing one pound of animal protein is actually 100 times more water intensive than producing one pound of vegetable protein. For reference, one pound of beef requires 1,800 gallons of water!

Animal agriculture has also resulted in large-scale land conversion, including the clearing of forests to grow feed crops and to provide grazing land for livestock. The widespread use of pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers used mainly to grow feed for animals only adds to the damage. These processes disrupt natural ecosystems and contribute to habitat destruction, species extinction, and waste production on a massive scale. According to one of the authors of a recent UN report, “animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.”

Plant-based diets can help save the planet

The push amongst the scientific community for a global shift towards a vegan diet is also reflective of the world’s rapidly growing population, which is set to reach over 9 billion people by 2050. Scientists warn that ‘western’ diets rich in meat and dairy are inherently unsustainable—so much so that a “global shift towards a vegan diet” is necessary to prevent imminent threats such as world hunger, poverty, and some of the major impacts of climate change.

Keegan Kuhn, filmmaker and co-director of “Cowspiracy,” says, “Nothing short of a global shift to a vegan diet will work. The idea that we as a human population can continue to eat animals in any real capacity simply isn’t looking at the whole picture of global depletion.” So this Earth Day, use your power as a consumer to affect real, positive environmental change.

Interested in learning more about environmental conservation, veganism, and population dynamics? Join Population Connection at Berkeley’s Vegan Earth Day celebration on April 21! We will be hosting an informational table from 10AM-5PM, and PHE Specialist Hannah Evans will be presenting on the connections between population growth, access to health care, and environmental sustainability. More details can be found here. We hope you can make it!

Not local to the Bay Area? Click here for a list of Population Connection Earth Day events in your area.


2 thoughts on “This Earth Day, Save the Planet: Eat More Plants!

  1. If we could ever get our world population to a sustainable level we would not have to focus so much on what we eat but could live in balance with nature, which we more or less did for eons before our population exploded. Anything else we do is a stopgap, bandaid measure which will accomplish nothing except perhaps to make us feel righteous.
    Please just focus on trying to educate and push the over-population issue.

  2. Hi, thank you for your comment! As an environmental organization focused in population, of course we are interested in understanding and educating the public about the different ways that humans affect the planet. One of the most important contributors is industrialized agriculture, which is incredibly resource-intensive and wasteful – much unlike the agricultural systems used by our ancestors. Additionally, it’s important to remember that population pressures alone are not to blame for large-scale environmental degradation, as everyone on the planet consumes resources differently. For example, per capita resource use, waste production, and consumption rates are drastically higher in the United States than in a lower-income country such as Mali, despite the fact that the U.S.’s total fertility rate is below replacement level. In this way, we are hoping to structure education so that it is more reflective of humanity’s varied and complex interactions with the environment. That said, population is certainly at the forefront of our focus!

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