Feeling helpless to stop our ever-faster rush toward
habitat destruction and loss of diversity?
There is something we all can do
that will make a difference immediately.
STOP EATING BEEF!
- Beef is incredibly inefficient. Only 1 percent of the plant-based energy used to raise a cow is recovered in the beef people eat. That is criminally wasteful.
- Cows fart 5.5 tons of methane per year – a worse greenhouse gas than CO2 .
- Land used to grow cattle feed and graze is almost 1/3 of the decreasing amount of arable land we have on earth.
- Producing beef uses way too much of our precious water.
- To meet the growing world-wide demand for beef, more fertilizer, herbicide/pesticides are despoiling our soil and seas.
- The less productive grazing land eats up what could be natural refuges for many wild animals and habitats we want to protect.
Read on for facts that support these claims from two separate research groups.
An August 2, 2017, article in The Atlantic by James Hamblin reports on the research of Helen Harwatt, trained in environmental nutrition. She knows a sustainable national nutritional policy could help turn things around, but how likely is that?
Clearly, we can’t look to our government for help here. The only recourse is for a groundswell of individuals to take a stand and make the difference.
Harwatt and colleagues from Oregon State University, Bard College and Loma Linda University calculated what would happen if every American made one dietary change:
Substituting Beans for Beef
If people were willing to make this one change for the future of the world – the research team calculated that the U.S. could come very close to meeting the 2020 greenhouse-gas emission goals pledged by President Obama in 2009.
This one food substitution could accomplish 46 to 74% of the emission reductions we would need to achieve our national share of this Global goal.
“I think there’s genuinely a lack of awareness about how much impact this sort of change can have,” Harwatt told Atlantic readers. This reduction would occur even though people kept eating pork, chicken, eggs and cheese because beef is the elephant in the room.
What makes beef the baddie?
The Atlantic article explains that a single feed lot of 38,000 cattle in Brazil, the largest beef exporter, feeds those cows 900 metric tons of feed per day. Hamblin says, “The cows will emit much greenhouse gas, and they will consume far more calories in beans than they will yield in meat, meaning far more clearcutting of forests to farm cattle feed than would be necessary if the beans were simply eaten by people.”
According to the United Nations, 33 percent of arable land on Earth is used to grow feed for livestock. Even more – 26 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface of Earth is used for grazing livestock. In all, almost a third of the land on Earth is used to produce meat and animal products.
I came across similar information being gathered by another source. Doug and I love to attend the Weston Roundtable presentations. Lectures on sustainability science, engineering, and policy take place every Thursday co-sponsored by the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE), Environmental Engineering and the Office of Sustainability You can join them from 4:15-5:15 PM in 1153 Mechanical Engineering, 1513 University Avenue, Madison, WI. They are free and open to the public. You can also watch them online.
October 7, Gidon Eshel spoke. He works with the Harvard University Center for Environment, and is a research professor of environmental physics at Bard College and also runs the website environmentalCalculations.com Check out this video of Eshel talking about this topic.
Eshel is best known for his work quantifying the geophysical consequences of agriculture and diet. Most recently, he has compared various livestock in terms of land and water use, fertilizer-based water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions per unit product and compared the global-warming consequences of different beef-production strategies.
His focus is sustainably feeding the world. Arable land is disappearing world wide, chemical fertilizer and herbicide/pesticide use are rising. Then there is the eutrification of water bodies caused by too much fertilizer washing into the lakes, rivers and oceans.
And speaking of water, huge areas of land that used to be productive in the U.S. are becoming too dry to produce food. The Central Valley in California is facing water shortages right now. Iowa and Illinois are no longer soybean and corn heaven.
According to Eshel, the southern great plains that used to be the wheat basket to the world are getting less and less rain – well below the threshold for wheat. They are headed for permanent Dust Bowl conditions – not just for a decade like the Dust Bowl, but year after year, essentially forever.
We can turn this around by cutting out beef.
Plant-based diets use much less land to feed the same number of people. Eshel is a mathematician. He explains it like this. It takes 36 units of protein fed to a cow over its lifetime to create 1 unit of protein for human consumption. 96% of the potential nutrition that was grown is lost by running it through a cow. (This doesn’t even include the environmental devastation wrought by this inefficient process.)
Eshel calculates that with a plant-based replacement to beef, 161 million more Americans could be sustained at our current 3800 calories per person per day. (Nutritionists say that we actually only need 2,200 calories, but that is another issue.)
He also calculated that eggs and poultry have much better numbers than beef. They provide just over 30% of protein that went into producing them. So even if you eliminate beef, but keep on eating poultry – 142 additional million Americans could join the feast. That’s half again our population.
He also noted that there is a direct competition out west between cattle range and natural habitat. Beef cattle have basically been tearing up that environment since they were introduced.
These two separate research groups are approaching ways to grow sustainable food and lower greenhouse gases from two different directions, and they are reaching the same conclusions.
CUTTING BEEF FROM OUR DIET
IS AN IMMEDIATE AND SIGNIFICANT WAY TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
“The real beauty of this kind of thing is that climate impact doesn’t have to be policy-driven,” said Harwatt. “It can just be a positive, empowering thing for consumers to see that they can make a significant impact by doing something as simple as eating beans instead of beef.”
Eshel said his next paper will be examining the quality of different proteins. His findings indicate that beef is not the highest quality of protien. So, dropping beef does not mean sacrificing health benefits.
If you want to give eating less beef a try, check out these soybean recipes .
And sleep better than you have in a long time,
knowing that YOU actually made the world a better place today.