by Steve Boyan, PhD
The Union of Concerned Scientists says there are two things people can do to most help the environment. The first is to drive a fuel-efficient automobile (that means, not an SUV or a truck) and live near where we work. The second is to not eat beef. IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m going to go one step farther than UCS: I suggest that you refuse to eat any animal or animal product produced on a factory farm. And IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢m going to tell you why.
In 1990, when I first read that 10 people could be fed with the grain that you would feed a cow that would be turned into food for one person, I was impressed. But I was not moved. The reason: If 10 people would be fed because I gave up meat, IÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d give it up. But, I thought, if I give up meat, it wonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t have that impact: it probably wonÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t have any impact on anything at all, except me.
I was wrong. If I had known that for every pound of beef I did not eat, I would save anywhere from 2,500 to 5,000 gallons of water, I would have been moved. ItÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s a good idea to save water; we are depleting our underground aquifers faster than we are replenishing them. The largest one, the Ogallala, which covers a vast part of the country from the Midwest to the mountain states, is being depleted by 13 trillion gallons a year. It is going to run out. Northwest Texas is already dry. They canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t get any water from their wells.
John Robbins points out that in the 1980s and 1990s, to conserve water, most of us went to low-flow showerheads. If you take a daily seven-minute shower, he says, and you have a 2-gallon-per-minute low-flow showerhead, you use about 100 gallons of water per week, or 5,200 gallons of water per year. If you had used the old-fashioned 3-gallon-per-minute showerhead, I calculate you would have used 7,644 gallons of water per year. So by going low flow, you saved almost 2,500 gallons of water per year. Wonderful. But by giving up one pound of beef that year, youÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d save maybe double that. YouÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d save more water than you would by not showering at all for six months! And thatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s just one of the environmental impacts youÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢d have.
The modern factory farming system is a prolific consumer of fossil fuel and a prolific producer of poisonous wastes. Up to 100,000 animals are herded together on huge feedlots. These animals do not graze on grass, as picture books tell us; they canÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t graze at all. Feedlots are crowded, filthy, stinking places with open sewers, unpaved roads and choking air. The animals would not survive at all but for the fact that they are fed huge amounts of antibiotics. It is now conceded that the antibiotics fed to cattle are the main cause of antibiotic resistance in people, as the bacteria constantly in these environments evolve to survive them. The cattle are fed prodigious quantities of corn. At a feedlot of a mere 37,000 cows, 25 tons of corn are dumped every hour. It takes 1.2 gallons of oil to make the fertilizer used for each bushel of that corn. Before a cow is slaughtered, she will eat 25 pounds of corn a day; by the time she is slaughtered she will weigh more than 1,200 pounds. In her lifetime she will have consumed, in effect, 284 gallons of oil. TodayÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s factory-raised cow is not a solar-powered ruminant but another fossil fuel machine.
- save massive amounts of water ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of water for every pound of beef you avoid,
- avoid polluting our streams and rivers better than any other single recycling effort you do,
- avoid the destruction of topsoil,
- avoid the destruction of tropical forest,
- avoid the production of carbon dioxide. (Your average car produces 3 kg/day of CO2. To clear rainforest to produce beef for one hamburger produces 75 kg of CO2. Eating one pound of hamburger does the same damage as driving your car for more than three weeks);
- reduce the amount of methane gas produced. (I imagine the next bumper sticker: stop farts, donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t eat beef);
- reduce the destruction of wildlife habitat, and
- help to save endangered species.
ThatÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s a pretty good dayÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s work, for just what you donÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢t put in your mouth.