OPINION: One change you must make this World Environment Day

DO YOU consider yourself a conservationist? If you aren't doing this one easy thing every day, you are nowhere near as green as you thought.

For years I have considered myself an environmentalist. I sold my car and bought a bike, I take fabric bags to the grocery store and I have solar panels on my roof.

But it wasn't until recently I realised I was missing something: caring about the environment starts with what you put on your plate.

So I cut meat, dairy and eggs out of my diet.

A report by the United Nations found that 18% of all greenhouse gases produced globally are caused by animal agriculture. But an estimate by respected US thinktank, the Worldwatch Institute, puts the figure as high as 51%.

The UN report also sited animal agriculture as the leading cause of resource consumption (water etc) and environmental degradation on the planet (ocean dead zones, deforestation etc). 

Australian based studies show 15% of greenhouse gas emissions created by agriculture and of that amount, 67% is methane. Notably, this figure does not include deforestation (another 5%) or 'waste' (3%).

So unless you can figure out a way to stop cows from farting, we have a problem. A problem that is bigger than cars, trains, planes and boats combined.

Yet all we hear about is cutting fossil fuels.

When I brought this to the attention of some colleagues, their immediate reaction was 'but if we all ate vegetarian or vegan, there would be a food shortage!'

Wrong. The reality would be the opposite.

Data taken from the United States Department of Agriculture and Economic Research Service shows it takes 14.6 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of beef.

But 14.6 kilograms of grain could feed 20 people. One kilo of beef feeds 2/3 of a person (numbers adjusted to metric).

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Further, the land required to feed one person for one year a vegan diet is 1/6th of an acre and for a vegetarian, half an acre.

On the other hand, a meat-lover uses three acres of land per year.

It's obvious to say, as a plant muncher your emissions are lower too.

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And what about the millions of tons of soy and sorgum crops grown specifically to feed livestock? Imagine if all that cropping land was used to grow food for humans instead?

Meat is undeniably the least efficient food source for humans.

And for the record, we only have 1.5 billion cows on this planet because we breed them this way (often via IVF). Stop force breeding the poor beasts and we won't have to feed so many. 


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So I guess my point is all this talk about mining, fracking and dumping doesn't mean anything if you're sitting down to a hearty chunk of meat three times a day.

People are so keen to put the blame on big business and on government that they forget to check themselves.

So before you start talking about what policies, funding and taxes will make a difference this World Environment Day, make the biggest change in your own life.

Change what's on your plate.

You don't need to become a kale juicing, chia seed swilling, tempeh tossing hippy. You just need to incorporate more plant foods and less animal products into your daily routine.

If you consider yourself someone who cares about the environment but you can't do this… then you're about as green as lump of burning coal.

Happy World Environment Day!

Topics:  agriculture editors picks environment green meat industry vegan vegetarian world environment day

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