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Eat Vegetarian to Save the Planet! - How Eating Vegetarian Helps the Environment

written by: knsinger•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 7/6/2011

Eating vegetarian is good for the environment: a vegetarian diet reduces your personal contribution to air and water pollution, and slows the process of deforestation.

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    Paul McCartney Wants You to Eat Vegetarian

    So far, most people know about simple things they can do around the house to reduce their personal greenhouse emissions and save the planet: change out old light bulbs for compact fluorescents, trade in that Range Rover for a Toyota Prius, and recycle those water bottles. But how many people know that the leftover steak dinner inside their refrigerator is at least as harmful for the environment as their Range Rover?

    In a letter penned jointly by Paul McCartney and Dr. Rajendra Pachauri (who was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), they stated that “vegetarianism is… a very attractive option for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and stabilizing the Earth’s climate and ensuring global food security” (Connor).

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    Why is Being Vegetarian Good for the Environment?

    Eating vegetarian might very well save the planet, because it turns out that it’s methane, rather than carbon dioxide, that is having the biggest impact on short-term global climate change. Carbon dioxide, which is produced by aerosols, power plants, cars, and deforestation, will indeed heat up the planet over the next several decades and centuries. However, it will take some time for carbon dioxide to take its toll on the environment.

    According to a recent EarthSave report which cites the work of Dr. James Hansen (one of Al Gore’s favorite scientists to quote), methane is twenty-one times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. What produces methane gas? To put it politely, digestion creates methane gas. According to EarthSave, while landfills and strip mines are responsible for some production of methane, the biggest global producer of methane is animal agriculture – in fact, animal agriculture produces 100 million tons of methane gas per year.

    Vegetarianism, therefore, reduces the demand for animal agriculture, which in turn reduces the harmful production of methane gas, which in turn has a positive impact on our environment.

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    Being Vegetarian Preserves the Land and the Water

    In addition to saving the planet’s atmosphere and reducing global warming, a vegetarian or primarily vegetarian diet also slows the process of deforestation and saves potable water for humans.

    The production of meat uses much more land than the production of crops. A 2007 study by Cornell University discovered that if everyone in the state of New York maintained a low-fat vegetarian diet, the state could support 50% more people, or 32% of its total population. Today, with a mostly meat-eating diet, the state can only directly supply 22% of its population’s food (ScienceDaily). The study further concluded that an even more efficient diet in terms of land use is a mixed diet, which is mostly vegetarian with “modest” amounts of meat.

    Meanwhile, the same animal waste that produces methane gas is also to blame for water pollution. Massive factory farms that keep thousands of animals in inhumane conditions must find something to do with all that animal waste. Their solution? Animal waste is stored in massive “lagoons” of animal urine and manure, but these lagoons often leak and pollute the surrounding water supply. Another solution is “sprayfields”, large fields where animal waste is sprayed over land as “fertilizer”, but the “fertilizer” often runs into local streams and lakes when it rains. Off the coast of North Carolina, the deaths of over one billion fish have been blamed on sprayfields (Natural Resource Defense Council).

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    Be Responsible - Eat Vegetarian

    Considering the air pollution, land use issues, and water pollution that a meat-based diet contributes to, it’s reasonable to say that one really can eat vegetarian to save the planet. If Paul McCartney and Dr. Pachauri are right, eating a vegetarian or mostly vegetarian diet will become an environmental necessity as the world’s population increases. Agriculture, like everything else in our world, reflects the economic law of supply and demand. Considering this basic fact, animal agriculture cannot be expected to change until consumers change. When more consumers eat vegetarian or reduce their meat consumption, and when the meat they do buy comes from old-fashioned farms rather than factory farms, then and only then will the agricultural industry begin to change in order to save our planet.


    Connor, Steve. “Turn Veggie to Save the Planet, Says Sir Paul.” The Independent, 11/29/08.

    "Diet with a Little Meat Uses Less Land than Many Vegetarian Diets." ScienceDaily, 10/10/07.

    Mohr, Naomi. “A New Global Warming Strategy: How Environmentalists are Overlooking Vegetarianism as the Most Effective Tool Against Climate Change in Our Lifetimes.” EarthSave Report, August 2005.

    “Pollution from Giant Livestock Farms Threatens Public Health.” Natural Resources Defense Council, 7/15/05.