Plant-based for the Planet 3: Water, Climate Change, and Oceans

We’ve already talked about the impact of livestock required for our current eating choices on our planet. There are many other reasons why a plant-based way of eating is best for the environment and that’s today’s topic! Again, I’ll just touch briefly on each of the aspects to give you an idea of the scope of things, but if you want more information you’re welcome to check out any of the great references that were mentioned in the last post.

You could be forgiven, especially in New Zealand, for thinking fresh water is a resource we enjoy in abundance. Indeed this appears to have been the prevailing attitude here, only now starting to be questioned as we’re realising allowing companies to bottle and sell it without paying for it mightn’t be sensible! Actually, water is very precious. Only 2.5% of all water on the planet is fresh, and of that 70% isn’t available, leaving just 0.4%. It’s believed that almost 40% of the world’s population will be facing severe water stress by 2020.

It takes huge amounts of water to produce food from animals. While we are being encouraged to take shorter showers (I’ve even come across suggestions from a council that peeing in the shower would be a good idea to conserve water!), turn off the tap while we brush our teeth, and refrain from watering our gardens and lawns, the impact of these changes is minimal. You could take a 7 minute shower every day for about 6 MONTHS and use the same amount of water that it can take to produce just 500g of beef! A litre of milk takes about 880 litres of water to produce, so even the change to plant-based milk alone can have a massive impact on water use. Even chicken, which many people feel has less environmental impact, takes over 3500 litres to produce a kilogram. That’s over 10 times more the maximum amount it takes to produce a kilogram of healthier plant-based protein sources like peas or beans. Finally, and as we should be especially aware of in New Zealand, livestock are the leading cause of pollution of waterways.

I believe that choosing to eat plant-based is the single biggest impact we can choose to have on a personal level for avoiding and reversing climate change. Raising animals for food has a huge carbon footprint, and even if we decide to go somewhere in between the various estimates of animal agricultures impact on all global greenhouse gas emissions, we end up with it being responsible for about a THIRD of these. That’s HUGE, especially for something that’s simply unnecessary and doing absolutely nothing to improve how we look and feel.

We know for certain that animal agriculture is responsible for more emissions than every car, truck, plane, train, and super yacht on the planet. In fact, it’s been estimated that simply cutting beef consumption by 20% would result in the equivalent reduction in emissions as the ENTIRE WORLD switching to electric cars! Keep in mind also that about 20% of the world’s oxygen production comes from the Amazon rainforest. Since the 1970s, over a quarter of the forest has been cut down, and 91% of this land is used to raise livestock. So the good news is that we can fight climate change just by changing what we decide to eat (and looking and feeling better into the bargain).

Perhaps because we’re land-dwellers ourselves, it’s easy to forget about the impact our eating choices are having on our oceans. People often ask me if fish is a healthy alternative to other meat, as it has been advertised as such. However, fish is not a good option for helping you look and feel your best nor is it at all sustainable. In the last 60 years, already 90% of all large fish have been caught, so we’re currently looking at 1 large fish left out of every 10 that used to exist. Scientists have predicted that by 2050, 90% of every single species of wild-caught seafood will be gone, with devastating consequences for marine ecosystems.

The fish that eventually ends up on your plate comes at the expense of the lives of countless other marine animals as well.  Every year the fishing industry catches and kills over 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises, and 250,000 endangered leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles as ‘bycatch’. Farmed fish are actually fed anywhere from 1.5-8kg of wild fish for every kilogram of meat they become. They’re also fed antibiotics and, ironically, omega 3 supplements, and produce huge amounts of waste. A conventional salmon farm of 100,000 fish will produce waste equal to 32,000 people. Meanwhile runoff from land-based animal agriculture operations is creating massive oxygen-depleted areas of the ocean unable to sustain life called ‘dead zones’.

While this might all seem rather disheartening, it’s not, because the solution is very simple. All we need to do is simply change to a plant-based way of eating and we can kickstart the healing process for our planet. That’s something you could decide to start as soon as your very next meal!

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