The biggest environmental act you can do is to become a vegetarian, preferably a Vegan. Did you know that more than 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from meat production? This is more than all the traffic in the world combined. A kilo of beef has up to 50 times more climate emissions than a kilo of potatoes. As a third of the world’s climate emissions come from meat production, it is therefore the single most important factor affecting climate change. Meat production is also the cause of numerous other environmental problems. Along with the climate, meat production is connected to water shortages, deforestation, the depletion of biodiversity and loss of nature, the destruction of habitats due to land use, the pollution and eutrophication of water bodies, famine and pandemics caused by zoonoses, including the corona pandemic. The environmental disadvantages of meat production are considerable, and the intensive production of animals is cruel and unethical. All this for nothing, because we could get all our nutrition from vegetarian food, and this would be even healthier for us. Humans do not need food of animal origin. We were created as vegetarians, let’s take a look at our our blunt teeth and nails. We don’t look like predators. The primates we are descended from ate mostly fruits and vegetables. Our only close relative that occasionally hunts is the chimpanzee.
The reason people eat meat is protein. Humans acquired protein by hunting and fishing for a long time, so the environmental impact remained small. About 10,000 years ago, humans invented agriculture. This allowed the production of plant protein: grains, seeds, beans, peas, lentils. However, man also began to keep livestock in case of loss of crops in the uncertain world of that time. However, people ate very little meat, usually a couple of times a month. The first widespread environmental problems, such as water shortages, deforestation and erosion, were created by agriculture. Many early civilizations already suffered from these and these were the cause of the destruction of many of them. Many infectious diseases were related to livestock and unhygienic conditions. Meat production brought with it many problems and today it is the single biggest cause of environmental problems.
Globally, humans cultivate about a third of the earth’s land surface. Agriculture covers half of the area that is fertile and productive. The rest of this productive area is mostly forest, one third, and the last third is, for example, uncultivable mountains, glaciers, tundra and deserts. Up to 80% of the global cultivated area is used to produce feed grain for beef cattle (cattle, pigs, poultry). Here, a huge amount of energy and resources, such as water, are wasted: only 1/10 of the energy contained in the grain, soy, etc. feed eaten by the cattle is recovered, as well as a very small part of the protein. The rest is spent by livestock mainly on movement, vital functions and heat production. Meat production can be called waste protein production, because it wastes huge amounts of protein compared to plant protein production. Vegetable protein is much healthier than meat protein and soy has more protein than meat. As a vegetable protein, soy is the most ecological, contrary to what some people think. Its water consumption is very small, as are climate emissions. Soy in Finland is still often European organic soy. Vegetarians don’t destroy rainforests. 99% of the soy is fed to livestock and this is always the cheapest possible intensively produced exploitation soy. Of course, domestic broad beans are even more ecological than soy. The phytoestrogen contained in soy is different from the female hormone estrogen, and phytoestrogen is not harmful to a man’s health. A lot of things about veganism are completely myth.
Meat production therefore wastes land, water, nutrients, protein and energy. If that 80% of the agricultural land used for meat production was used directly to produce human food, we would have about 3 times the amount of food that we currently have, i.e. global food production would increase by 300%. This would largely solve the famine, all the hungry in the world could be fed and there would be plenty of food. One of the saddest environmental harms related to meat is that forests are cleared and burned to make way for farmland required for livestock farms and meat production. Sometimes indigenous people still live in these forests. At least a lot of wild animals die. In Brazil, for example, a huge amount of tropical forest has been lost due to forage soy plantations. Often behind are unscrupulous Western multinational companies. In Africa, for example, in Madagascar, 80% of the unique natural forests have been lost due to grazing. In Asia, forests are dwindling due to beef cattle. Overgrazing worsens erosion, destroys the soil and causes desertification, for example in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region. In Australia, Africa and the USA, groundwater has run out in many places due to the procurement of drinking water for beef cattle or has been contaminated by their manure. Sometimes the cattle farms are so big that you have to observe them from an airplane, millions of cattle in the pens. It is harsh that there are ten times more farm animals than wild animals in the world. Wild animal populations have collapsed by 70% in a few decades. The biggest reasons for this are land use, most notably agriculture, and climate change. Meat production therefore greatly increases the loss of nature and the reduction of biodiversity.
Fields are cultivated mostly with intensive cultivation and using fertilizers. Most of the fertilizers go into meat production/fodder grain cultivation, and these pollute and eutrophicate waterways. Many lakes are largely dead as a result of eutrophication, oxygen depletion at the bottom. The Baltic Sea is sick, as evidenced by, for example, the huge blue-green algae rafts and the lack of oxygen. The biggest single reason for the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea is the production of feed grain in Finland. You wouldn’t really need fertilizers at all, as they are not used in organic farming, except for green manure/plant parts. Farming is not dependent on animal manure as is sometimes claimed. Soil-saving cultivation, green manuring, crop rotation and nitrogen-fixing weeds in the field, such as clovers, are enough to keep the soil fertile. In Africa, agroecological farming that follows the normal cycles of nature has even doubled or tripled yields.
At its best, agroecological farming can turn the field into a carbon-negative carbon sink, which binds carbon to the soil instead of emitting carbon. In this case, for example, plant parts are left in the field and crop rotation or field salt farming is used. Agroecological farming also increases pollinators such as bees, saves water and increases biodiversity. Ecosystem services as a whole are improving tremendously. Improving biodiversity and ecosystem services also improves yields. For example, when there are more pollinators or water circulates normally, the yield increases.
Beef cattle spoil the quality of surface and groundwater, especially in the Global South. Bacteria and viruses end up in drinking water from manure and the unhygienic conditions of livestock farms. In Asia’s endless poultry markets, influenzas and pandemics arise. In fact, all annual seasonal influenzas are originally zoonoses and originate from markets in Asia. If we gave up animal production, the vast majority of respiratory infections and flu would also disappear.
There are also very serious ethical problems associated with meat production. In current intensive production, pigs are often kept in pens so small that they cannot turn around. When stressed, they often chew each other’s tails off. Piglets are castrated by tearing and cattle are dehorned, i.e. their horns are blunted without pain relief. Chickens’ beaks may be blunted by burning. In egg production, the chicks are thrown alive onto a conveyor belt after birth and chopped to death with a shredder or killed by gas. Often, slaughterhouse workers torture animals for fun, beating them with shovels and burning them. They dump in them to smoke. The animals scream and cry in panic and terror. Sounds like a horror story. There are no happy chickens or organic pigs. The everyday life of animal production is cruel and harsh, and the animals suffer. There are billions of livestock and they are slaughtered every year. This is immense suffering.
Animals are conscious and sentient beings. A pig is just like a pet dog or cat. They are not meant to suffer or be eaten by humans, but to live their own species-typical life. Did you know that a pig really needs a very large habitat, which it can explore and look for its food, soil for digging and mud, and straw for making a nest. A pig is as intelligent and emotional an animal as a dog and needs a lot of company and stimulation. The natural habitat of pigs is a vast forest where they live in herds.
Animal ethics or environmental ethics is not a new phenomenon, but an ancient one. The first vegan association was founded already in the 19th century in England. Many religious movements such as Adventist Christians and Theosophists spoke about animal rights in the 19th century. In the Bible, man was appointed to cultivate and protect Eden, and in fact, according to the Bible, man was created as a vegetarian, whose food was to be ”grasses that bear the seed of the earth (cereals, legumes, etc.) and trees that bear fruit.” A Christian who does not care about creation and its well-being does not live as a Christian should. Judaism taught to help suffering animals. Buddhism and Harekrishnaism have had an ancient tradition of not harming or killing living beings. The situation and status of animals can be compared to slaves: already a couple of hundred years ago, the rights of animals were seen in the eyes of progressive people as just as defensible as the rights of slaves, and the liberation of animals and slaves was demanded. Oppression of animals is all about speciesism, species oppression. There are many famous vegetarians, including scientists, writers, artists, actors, musicians and athletes: Buddha, Zarathustra, apostles John, James and Peter, Pythagoras, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Darwin, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Einstein, Kellog, Paavo Nurmi, John Lennon, Natalie Portman, Chris Martin, Billie Eilish… Vegetarianism seems to unite talented, intelligent, empathetic and emotional people. An empathetic and intelligent person cannot watch from the sidelines the suffering of animals and their yelling.
I’m not saying that people who eat meat are always evil, cruel or uncaring: often when a person eats meat, it’s out of lack of knowledge/awarness and cultural habit. Already a child usually loves animals and most people admit that animals are at least in some way valuable, however, they are often unable to see the similarity between a dog, a songbird, a hedgehog, a chicken and a pig. This is about the way of thinking of otherness. Often people are also unaware of the horrors associated with power generation, or cognitive dissonance limits their awareness. However, because of this, the animals have to suffer and live in hell on earth. There is also a large group of people who simply do not care at all about the suffering of animals or even enjoy it. These people are totally evil. Thinking about otherness and denying the value of others is very common in the world, and it gives birth to racism, trampling on the rights of the poor, homophobia, hatred towards refugees and speciesism, species oppression. These structures and ways of thinking rooted in society should be overthrown and uprooted. They are harmful and maintain separation, oppression and violence. Regarding speciesism, the key to breaking down the fence or wall of otherness is to see the animal as a conscious and sentient being, like me and you and all of us humans, and to see them as valuable subjects of their own lives. Animals have all the same basic emotions as humans, they feel joy, sadness, fear, curiosity, love. Animals are also very intelligenr, although their value is not in this foundation. Chained circus elephants have been known to cry. Great tits are known to have more than 170 different sounds, which they combine into sentences. Biologists studying dolphins even discovered that they give each other names.
The liberation of animals requires similar efforts and social movements as the liberation of slaves once required. When we see the value of another, we learn to empathize and love. It is the only way we can break the wall of otherness and oppression. If only all people could see animals through the eyes of a child, how a child sees his important teddy bear or dinosaur stuffed toy or beloved pet.