How do we feed the world – without destroying our planet?

Globally, we consume around 350 million tons of meat every year. However, there is a limit to our current diet in western countries. With unchanged eating habits, the world population could be too big to feed itself by 2050, when we reach a global population of almost 10 billion people.

WATER USE

Today you have already wasted a hundred liters of water without even realizing it. Where does that virtual water come from, you might ask? Well, it takes around 2400 liters of water to produce a single hamburger. That is the equivalent of showering for two months. Peter Hanlon, Deputy Director at GRACE Communications Foundation, explains why that number is so large:

”It takes a lot of grains or grasses to produce and grow these larger animals for meat. And all those grains and grasses take water to grow in turn. So the water footprint of meat is greater because you’re using products from lower on the food chain to grow something larger.”

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that by 2050, 1 in 5 developing countries will face water shortages. Tensions are expected to increase, as water scarcity becomes a reality for more people.

water drops on water base

DEFORESTATION

You are probably familiar with pictures of empty areas in rainforests. In order to make the land for livestock, animal agriculture is responsible for around 80% of the Amazon destruction. Cutting down the rainforest begets species extinction. The UN is reporting an estimate of up to 100 plant and animal species lost every day.

“Since 2016, an average of 28 million hectares have been cut down every year”, states The World Counts. “That’s one football field of forest lost every single second around the clock.”

aerial photo of forest

FISHERIES

Fisheries are not only killing fish but also marine mammals, sea turtles, sea birds, and sharks. For every 1-pound of fish caught, 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill. Bycatch is usually thrown back dead or dying.

man in yellow jacket and yellow pants standing on boat dock during daytime

CLIMATE CHANGE

Greenhouse gases increase the heat in the atmosphere. They are responsible for the greenhouse effect, which ultimately leads to global warming. But where do they come from?

The emission from livestock is responsible for about 14.5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

“One reason for this high level of emissions is that cows and sheep produce large quantities of methane,” writes Forbes.  “As a greenhouse gas, methane is up to 34 times more potent than CO2.”

A stronger greenhouse effect will warm the ocean and partially melt glaciers and ice sheets, increasing the sea level. Ocean water also will expand if it warms, contributing further to sea-level rise.

CULTURAL IMBALANCE

While one person in Bangladesh is estimated to eat 4kg of meat every year, in America, it is 124kg. When asked about the connection between diet and wealth, science journalist Marta Zaraska comments:

“Over human history, meat symbolized wealth. Meat in human history was always something very hard to obtain, something that the rich were eating. Today, there is another layer. For many developing countries, in Asia, for example, a meat-based diet symbolizes the West. People are aspiring to that lifestyle.”

But if everyone shared the meat-heavy diet of the average American or European, we would face even stronger nutrition struggles globally.

white and black ship on sea under white clouds

THE BIGGER PICTURE

The background of our eating habits is concerning – but keep in mind that you can make a small change. Reducing your meat, egg, and dairy consumption can strongly cut down your carbon footprint. Our restaurant order and our grocery shopping make an impact. Whenever we go into a restaurant or a store, we make a decision. What is yours?

Clarissa Leute

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