It’s Earth Day, and we rightly hear exhortations on recycling, responsible energy use, and lightening our step on the planet. This year’s celebration of Earth Day is dominated by discussions of climate change, and the personal and public policy responses to the crisis. Indeed, the matter has become a top tier public policy matter, since the effects of climate change may have life-altering implications for animals, human settlement, business, and the global economy. But still, there is a nagging lack of attention on one of the primary generators of greenhouse gases: farm animal agriculture (cartoonist and animal advocate Dan Piraro dedicated today’s strip of his popular comic, Bizarro, to the subject, and it’s worth a look).
I’ve asked one of our specialists, Danielle Nierenberg, to offer some comments on the issues. I also urge every HSUS supporter to study the issue, to modify your own consumption habits appropriately, and to spread the word, whether through conversation, letters to the editor, or other means. Also, please make a donation to our campaign to run the advertisement you see on this page and support our other efforts on behalf of farm animals. Danielle’s thoughts follow:
Recently I attended two meetings that made me more hopeful about agriculture, and particularly the state of the world’s farm animals. They focused on how agriculture can feed the world in the face of threats from population growth and climate change, while also reducing poverty and environmental degradation.
The important nexus of the two gatherings was the acknowledgment that past policies promoting agricultural “productivity” have come at huge environmental and social costs, including extraordinary contributions to climate change. According to a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the animal agriculture sector contributes a larger share of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation combined, and farm animals are “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.” And, of course, the billions of animals raised and killed each year for milk, meat, and eggs—increasingly confined intensively in barren factory farms—suffer enormously.
We cannot continue to support today’s animal agricultural practices, which are increasingly degrading the land and the water, and harming citizens. For the Earth, the people, and the animals, we must address the harrowing consequences of factory farming.
This Earth Day, in addition to celebrating the planet and pledging to improve your individual efforts to live more lightly, each one of us can—and must—also commit to making more environmentally sustainable and animal welfare-friendly food choices. It is one of the best ways to lessen your individual environmental footprint.
For comparison, as reported by the New York Times, a 6 oz. beef steak requires about 16 times more fossil fuel energy to produce than a dish of vegetables and rice, and generates 24 times more greenhouse gases. And an article published last year in The Lancet, one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, advocates a 10-percent reduction in meat consumption—to 90 grams (or about 3 ounces) per person, per day—in order to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions from this sector. The authors write, "For the world’s higher-income populations, greenhouse-gas emissions from meat eating warrant the same scrutiny as do those from driving and flying."
Please make a personal pledge to reduce your consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs. If each American cut back on animal consumption by just 10 percent, approximately 1 billion fewer animals would be raised for food. Our online guide to reducing, refining, and replacing animal products can get you started.