Saving the Cows, and Ourselves

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently published a report that implies the fact that if we don’t act in a mere 12 years, we’re all doomed. These findings insinuate a looming apocalyptic climate in the near future, yet no one is talking about it. This should have been enough to set off a wave of innovative new options to combat the damage that’s been done, but all we got was a splash. Perhaps that’s even too far; people seem to think that they’re single-handedly beating climate change by bringing a metal straw to the club.

This report remains somewhat in the dark for most of the United States as the one agency with the power to make a difference is run by an ex-coal lobbyist who is a climate change skeptic. An EPA spokesperson even replied to the findings by saying that governments do not formally endorse specific findings presented by the authors. Keep in mind that by authors, I mean 33 climate change experts. Fake news though.  

So, with this incoming death sentence that could possibly be the equivalent of when an asteroid killed all the dinosaurs, what is one to do? As kids, we got the words “reduce, reuse recycle” engraved in our minds, but I feel as though all that did was remind us to shut the water off when we’re brushing our teeth. Having been taught these kinds of lessons at such a young age has subsequently made a large scale of us grow up with the mentality that we’re limited to helping out the Earth by throwing plastic bottles in the recycling bin and calling it a day.

These basic lessons might’ve been enough at the time, but why did they leave out the part about how the food we’re eating is changing our landscape? People might often be led by the misconception that others cut off meat because of PETA-motivated reasons, like the fact that cows suffer as much as humans do and bleed out a slow painful death. There’s a lot more to it than sad animals.

The IPCC report stated that climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C. These risks are partly due to rising levels of greenhouses gases, amongst other anthropogenic activity. The birthplace of hamburgers, the US has been forced to meet such a high demand for meat. This has led to industries exploiting farms and using resources that damage the environment and enforce provisions that impede upon the global initiative to lower temperatures.

Farms using more cattle to meet such demands entail more methane being released into the atmosphere. This problem might not be so urgent if cattle didn’t pass so much gas, but they do. Cow farts hurting the environment is a thing, surprisingly enough. Livestock accounts for 14. % of all greenhouse gas emissions, cattle are responsible for more than half of number. The show’s not over once the cattle are packaged and sealed, however. The phosphorus and nitrogen in cow manure, after it’s applied to farmland as fertilizer, can and usually does run off into local waterways. Runoff from factory farms and livestock grazing are one of the leading causes of pollution in our rivers and lakes.

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) examined EPA records for 98 largest meat-processing plants across the country that released more than 250,000 gallons of wastewater per day into waterways. These investigations go into detail about the horrors behind the scenes and found that 74 of the plants had exceeded their permit limits for nitrogen, fecal bacteria, or other pollutants at least once. Three-quarters of large U.S. meat processing plants that discharge their wastewater directly into streams and rivers violated their pollution control permits over the last two years, with some dumping as much nitrogen pollution as small cities.

Meat-processing plants like these are most frustrating when they are government-backed. EIP’s research found that many of the plants that are not violating their permits are discharging more pollution than those breaking the law. In these cases, EPA and state agencies are setting permit limits that allow this discharge to flow with no penalty. Corporations like this allow poison to ooze into streams of oppressed communities knowing that it will do nothing to them personally except put a check in their pocket.

With water already being a problem due to the contamination, the urgency has become much more critical as nearly half of all the water used in the U.S. goes to raising animals for food. It takes more than 2000 gallons of water to produce just 1 pound of meat, but it takes just 25 gallons to grow 1 pound of wheat. Conserving water would protect dry areas around the world. Trump said that raking the floors of the forests in California could’ve prevented the mass fire that just occurred, but maybe he should’ve taken into consideration how much water was used to put out these fires instead.

It’s evident that the people in power aren’t going to take the initiatives we need to save the land they’re exploiting themselves, so matters have shifted from their hands to ours. We’re at a pivotal moment in time where every footprint that we leave behind have the potential to harm generations to come.  Trump pulled out of the one treaty keeping the US within the community of those proposing a change, the Paris Climate Accords, so hoping for others to enact regulations is no longer viable. It doesn’t take going as far as becoming vegan to contribute your part. Buying less meat or only eating meat while eating out of the house is a start that could go a long way. The slightest shift in lifestyle can help at this point, and the argument that just one person not buying chicken is not going to make a difference cannot be tolerated. If everyone has that mindset we’re going to be underwater sooner than we think.

Author: Ignacia Araya 
University: Florida State University

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