Why You Should Continue Meatless Meals After Lent
The Environmental Impacts of the Meat Industry
The return to campus after Easter break marks the end of meatless Fridays in observance of Lent. From an environmental perspective, eliminating meat on Fridays at Providence College has a positive impact on our planet. Annually, an average American diet produces 2,000 kilograms of greenhouse gasses. However, by eliminating meat from your diet for just one day a week, you can decrease this amount by 400 kilograms. Switching to a plant-based diet is arguably one of the best things we can do to live sustainably and help our planet. While this lifestyle might not be something everyone is able to adopt, the next best thing we can do is avoid eating meat for one day, one week, or even for one meal.
About one-third of greenhouse gasses emitted into our atmosphere are from food production. Of this number, about 60 percent can be attributed to meat production, while 29 percent is attributed to the production of plant-based foods. Animals raised for meat, specifically cows, also release a greenhouse gas called methane, which is 26 percent stronger and better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. It’s estimated that these animals are responsible for one-third of our global methane emissions. Plant-based meat, however, releases about 90 percent fewer emissions.
Additionally, around 70 percent of our world’s deforestation is due to agriculture, most notably meat production. As meat consumption continues to increase over the years, deforestation and the loss of trees to meet demand will make it even more difficult to remove carbon dioxide emissions from our atmosphere and mitigate climate change. On the other hand, plant-based meat uses up to 95 percent less land according to the United Nations Environment Assembly.
Meat production also has a significant water footprint. 15,000 liters of water are required to produce just 1 kilogram of beef. Pork and chicken similarly require a lot of water, using about 6,000 and 4,300 liters of water respectively per kilogram of meat. More specifically, the UN Environment Assembly estimates that 2,500 liters of water are used to produce one beef burger, and just three slices of bacon require 408 liters. Think of all the water you can save by choosing to skip a burger for one day, as well as how much water we’ve preserved by not serving them on campus during Lent. The UN also estimates that plant-based meat substitutes use 75-95 percent less water.
Meat consumption has a significant environmental impact, requiring copious amounts of resources. By making small dietary changes to exclude meat partially or entirely, it’s possible to help preserve these resources, as well as minimize our greenhouse gas emissions. Adopting a plant-based diet in some form is one of the best ways we as individuals can help do our part in mitigating climate change.
Making Earth Day Every Day
Why We Need to Celebrate This Holiday Year-round
The 1960s was a critical decade for environmental policy in the United States, serving as the first time politicians began to recognize how humans play a large role in environmental destruction. Fortunately, this led to important policy changes and legislation to protect our planet. However, this relationship between human activity and ecological degradation was something already well-known among environmentalists prior to the 1960s.
Environmentalists including Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and Gaylord Nelson were essential figures in the environmental movement. Carson’s Silent Spring is arguably one of the most influential texts of the movement. Published in 1962, it revealed the dangers of D.D.T. and pesticide use on both human and wildlife health, accusing chemical companies of hiding these dangerous side effects from the public. The publication resulted in the ban of D.D.T. across the country. With his Sand County Almanac published in 1949, Leopold introduced the term “land ethic” for the first time, an idea that humans need to coexist with nature, rather than continue to dominate and exploit it. This message is still prevalent today, as decades later, it seems as though we still have yet to adopt such a vision.
In 1969, environmentalist and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea for Earth Day, and in 1970, it was celebrated for the first time on April 22. Earth Day was a turning point for environmental awareness and advocacy in the U.S. The same year in 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was formed, as well as the National Environmental Education Act and the Clean Air Act. In the next three years, the U.S. would also go on to establish the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. The first Earth Day was an environmental breakthrough, resulting in some of the most important environmental legislation we have to date.
Still, just over 50 years later, it seems as though we have forgotten the importance of Earth Day and what it means as we continue to act in unsustainable ways that harm our planet. Every year, over one billion people in over 193 countries celebrate Earth Day. Imagine how much of an impact we could make if this many people treated every day like Earth Day.
From what the March 2023 I.P.C.C. report explains, it’s clear that we need people advocating for environmental change year-round. According to the report, we have already caused our planet to warm an additional 1.1 degrees Celsius, dangerously nearing the 1.5 degrees Celsius scientists constantly warn is the tipping point.
What happens if temperatures increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius? In terms of biodiversity, 14 percent of species could be threatened with extinction, and a loss of up to 90 percent of coral reefs is also expected. Additionally, 950 million people could start experiencing drought as well as extreme temperatures, with 45–58 days of the year likely to surpass 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Flooding is also expected to affect 24 percent more people with this increase.
We need to change our habits every day of the year, not just on Earth Day. We cannot combat climate change and other environmental issues by reflecting on our lifestyles and advocating for the planet only one day a year. It’s our responsibility to not only make sustainable choices each day but to push for environmental policy that is crucial for mitigating climate change. If we want to live on a planet that is equitable, sustainable, just, and habitable, this is something we have to do all year.