As a skeptic, you should want to know the truth about something; and as moral person, you should give a shit. Changing your diet is one of the number one ways that you can benefit environmentalism - even more than cutting down on your driving.
OK, don’t navigate away from this post just because I’m going to try to convince you to change your eating habits, and don’t get offended when I say that what you’re doing is bad. This is a post about why you should have an appropriate amount of skepticism about your lifestyle and the way it affects the environment, and how you can make some changes to be a better steward to our environment.
As a non-believer you can’t use the “dominion over animals” argument, and you can’t use “the apocalypse is coming, so saving the environment doesn’t matter.” It’s true, humans are at the top of the food chain, but this isn’t a moral argument about why you shouldn’t eat animals, this is an argument about why you should change your diet because you should care about the future of the one place in the universe that supports human life, and the people all over the world who are suffering from starvation while you eat your $1 McDouble.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the 2009-2010 assessment of meat consumption by country, the United States ranks #1 worldwide in consumption of beef and poultry, and #3 in consumption of pork. That ranking is based on the total of thousands of metric tons consumed, not per person per year, which means that as a nation with a population of 308,745,538 in 2010, we are consuming more meat total than China, with a population of 1,370,536,875.
Here’s an easy ecology lesson that explains why animal farming is an unsustainable practice for Earth’s growing population:
First, there’s a basic energy pyramid that you may remember from your high school biology class that shows how energy is distributed among trophic levels (the position an organism occupies in a food chain). There’s a Rule of Ten which describes the 90% energy loss at each trophic level, meaning that if we’re eating an animal that ate bunch of grass or corn, we’re only consuming 10% of the energy that would be available to us if we ate that grass or corn. We don’t want to and can’t only eat grass, but the point is that by eating on that first trophic level that contains plants, we’re consuming the maximum amount of energy available to us by the wonderful sun.
Additionally, about half of our corn production in the United States (and the majority of our soy production as well) goes toward feeding livestock (which lose 90% of the energy available), and it appalls me that we put that much of our resources into growing meat to put on our plates three times a day when that amount of corn (and the land being used to grow it) could go toward feeding the 870 million starving people in the world (1/8th of the world’s population), according to the World Food Programme, a United Nations organization.
Finally, it’s just not sustainable to keep cutting down complex ecosystems like forests and prairies to turn into more farmland when most of the food being produced on that land is not going toward feeding humans directly.
Many people hearing these facts for the first time may come up with kneejerk defenses of an omnivorous lifestyle because let’s face it, changing is hard. However you should be skeptical about the idea that future technology can save us, because you should do as much as you can right now.
While it’s true that meat is an easy source of protein, you can easily replace it in your diet with beans or nuts. There are vegan marathon runners, so although it requires more diligence, it’s entirely possible to lead a healthy lifestyle with a vegan diet.
Now I know that I probably won’t have much success asking you to become a vegan. Many of the same arguments against eating meat apply to using any of the animal products ubiquitous to life in the developed world. Instead, I just ask you to consider cutting down your animal product consumption. Look up some delicious vegan recipes and start by eating meat one meal a day, then maybe only three times a week. Make a difference by making a personal change. We all have to take responsibility for our own actions if we’re to see a cultural shift towards sustainability.