Global warming essay

With global warming, climate change, and sustainability hitting the headlines, fingers are being pointed at a surprising suspect. Meat. Some say that cutting out all meat from our diets could be our saving grace, our answer to our environmental ailments. However, I agree with Nicolette Niman, an environmental attorney, whose contradictory belief is that purely avoiding meat will not save our planet. I believe that one can be an environmentally conscious meat eater without a mass contribution to global warming. I defend her opinion that the issue lies not solely in meat but in the practices behind all food production. Being a consciously sustainable eater is considerably more complex than simply eliminating meat. 

It is undeniable that global warming is a ticking time bomb for the Earth. Additionally, we do know that food production does contribute to this issue. The production of meat, in particular, has been pinpointed and condemned for its environmental impact. However, the relationship between meat and Earth has been poorly distorted. As another article, Yes, eating meat affects the environment, but cows are not killing the climate cites research done by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, saying that“total direct greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. livestock have declined 11.3 percent since 1961, while production of livestock meat has more than doubled.'' This shows the unreliable connection between meat and climate change. The environmental impact meat does have, Niman explains, is because of “the prevailing methods of producing meat-that is, crowding animals together in factory farms, storing their waste in lagoons and cutting down forests to feed them-cause substantial greenhouse gases”(973). This quote seems to put all the blame on meat, however, Niman believes the blame should be shared. I defend Niman’s belief because not one product such as meat is at fault for climate change, but instead, the production processes behind food items are to blame. There are three harmful issues behind food production that support Niman’s belief, including deforestation, the international transportation of products, and factory farming. As a more well known environmental issue, deforestation is more common in developing countries, as undeveloped forests are converted to cropland. Deforestation has been responsible for up to 35 percent of global fossil fuel emissions in the past years. One crop that has contributed to global warming because of its relation to deforestation is soybeans. Soy production is a driving factor for deforestation, particularly in Brazil, where “as much as 70 percent of areas cleared for agriculture in Mato Grosso State in Brazil is being used to grow soybeans” (973). This means that to grow soybeans, deforestation must occur, producing greenhouse gases. So by purchasing soybeans, you are indirectly supporting the continuation of deforestation. Sadly soy’s environmental impact doesn’t end after deforestation, as soy must be shipped internationally to other countries where it is used in food products and to feed animals (Niman). This shows that a non-meat product can have an equal if not more of an environmental impact than meat, as it involves overseas shipping. This long-distance transportation is another flawed process in food production as it produces mass emissions. One last environmentally harmful process is factory farming, which has developed because of the advancement of technology, allowing greater mechanical use. As Niman states, factory farms “keep animals in buildings with mechanized systems for feeding, lighting, sewage flushing, ventilation, heating, and cooling, all of which generate emissions. These factory farms are also soy guzzlers and acquire much of their feed overseas” (974). As the text says, these farms create an abundance of emissions and produce both meat and dairy products. Niman’s argument is once again supported as it shows that dairy products contributed to global warming as well, so it's not just meat. In addition to being highly mechanized, farms may rely on fertilizers for their crops which they feed their livestock. This leads to disrupt in livestock, specifically cattle’s diets, causing them to produce methane, a greenhouse gas. While it may be true that cattle is meat, and they are the ones producing the gas, this production could be reduced if their diets were changed. I continue to defend Niman in her argument that meat is not the issue here, it is our systems, our way of producing food that contributes to global warming. 

This means meat-eaters don’t have to worry, as avoiding all meat is not our climate change solution. However, as with any food product, there are more sustainable and less sustainable meat options to consume. As Niman’s case cited, meat’s negative relation to the environment lies in its production, with factory farming, etc. Luckily, these industrial-type farms are not the only source for meat. From my experience, my family has found sustainably sourced meat from smaller farms to be reasonably accessible. We purchase a portion of a grass-fed cow from a local traditional farm. This means that for most American’s, more environmentally friendly meat options aren’t too hard to find. In doing so, purchasing meat from traditional, smaller, and more local family farms makes meat consumption more sustainable in almost every aspect. Niman is a smaller scale rancher and has seen first hand the healthier conditions and sustainability of these more traditional livestock operations. Firstly, when farms are local there is no long-distance shipping, with no emissions of gases. Besides that, when livestock is raised outside or organically, methane emissions are significantly lower. Another plus of traditional farming is that their pastures often act as carbon sinks, removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil. These pastures prevent erosion, improving water quality as well. Besides that, livestock grazing “reduces the need for the fertilizers and fuel used by farm machinery in crop cultivation, things that aggravate climate change” (975). These benefits of traditional farming accumulate to demonstrate the sustainability of this type of food production. This means that as Niman has explained, one can eat meat with low environmental impact. With any food product, one simply must be conscious of how it has been produced and attempt to eat organically and local when possible. Keeping these things in mind, as we can all be sustainable consumers and reduce our global impact. 

After exploring Niman’s claim thoroughly, I defend her viewpoint that avoiding meat is not our only answer to reducing our environmental impact. Despite the recent movement against meat-eating, the actual issue lies in the production of animal-based products like meat. Our flawed production systems include deforestation, long-distance shipping, and mechanized factory farms that all give off massive amounts of greenhouse gases. As Niman argued, this means that the consumption of more than meat products, like soy or dairy, all support these environmentally harmful practices. Luckily, there is a sustainable way to have these products, by purchasing from local, smaller and traditional farms. Therefore, this means meat is not the main culprit to our climate change predicament. It’s sourcing and the production of food as a whole is what is having a poor effect on the environment, not meat. Consequently, I carry on in my agreement with Niman in her argument that we do not have to give up meat to be environmentally conscious. So don’t boycott your burgers yet.