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Be mindful of your environment
We live in a world of consumer convenience. Plastic bottles of water make hydrating on-the-go easier than ever. Coffee pods make single-serve cups of joe a snap. Meal kits arrive at our door making cooking a delicious meal a cinch. Almost anything we want is available with a swipe and a click. Yes, the on-demand world is ostensibly convenient. But while that convenience has undoubtedly given us added efficiency and efficacy, it has also made us more disconnected in some respects.
Bottled water has become so prevalent in our society, a lot of us don’t give it a second thought. Every single second, Americans go through about 1500 plastic water bottles. That’s a staggering 50 billion water bottles a year. And out of the 50 billion bottles of water being bought each year, the vast majority still end up in a landfill — where they take over 1,000 years to bio-degrade, and if incinerated, they produce toxic fumes. And it’s not just plastic water bottles, it’s also plastic straws, plastic bags, plastic cartons, diapers, lighters – the list goes on and on.
Food, namely animal protein, also poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet. Start to take note of how much meat you consume and where it comes from.
Over the past several decades, the global consumption of animal protein has doubled, and is expected to nearly double again by 2050, when the global population reaches at least 9 billion. The reason for this surge can largely be attributed to the economic growth in developing countries. People can afford more animal protein. And while less poverty is obviously a good thing, it takes a lot more resources to meet the growing demand.
The World Health Organization estimates that annual meat production will increase from 218 million tons in 1997-1999 to 376 million tons by 2030. That’s an increase of roughly 72%.
Right now, most of the global demand for animal products is being met by concentrated animal feeding operations, more commonly known as factory farms. Factory farms rely on commercial breeds of livestock that have been bred to put on weight quickly. They also confine the animals closely together, using gestation crates, battery-cage facilities and veal crates, to minimize their costs. This model, however, is not only cruel, but completely unsustainable.
Humanitarian issues aside, factory farms create a host of other problems, particularly concerning the environment. Livestock account for 18% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which is higher than the portion of GHG emissions created by transportation. Livestock also produce 35% of the world’s methane, which has more than 20 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of carbon dioxide, and generate 65% of the world’s nitrous oxide, which has 23 times the GWP of carbon dioxide.
Another environmental problem with increasing the number of animals for consumption is water use. The irrigation of feed crops accounts for nearly 8% of the world’s human water use.
Livestock operations are also major polluters. Manure, mortality, wash water from animal operations, as well as wastes from processing operations all contain pollutants that can seep into groundwater or surface water, threatening public health. It is estimated that in the United States alone, livestock is responsible for a third of the nitrogen and phosphorus into freshwater resources.
Animal protein is also causing significant health issues, especially for those right here in the United States. At 200 pounds of meat per person per year, the average consumption of meat in America is higher than anywhere else in the world. And it’s hurting our national health. We spend more on our health care than any other country, yet Americans have twice the obesity rate, twice the diabetes rate, and nearly three times the cancer rate as the rest of the world.
This is why the need for change is as urgent as ever. Granted, many will be reluctant to go against popular opinion, which values animal-based proteins as the purest and highest-quality proteins, but the science and statistics should be reason enough to doubt the status quo. Nutrition undoubtedly has a very strong effect on our health and arguably, our likelihood of developing chronic disease. And the China Study, as comprehensive in its design as it was in its findings, delivered a very clear message — that we can maximize our health and well-being simply by choosing to eat the right foods.
So start small. Start to take notice of how you go through each day. How often do you use plastic? What foods do you consume regularly? By becoming more aware, you can take small steps in the right direction. And when we all take those steps together, the world becomes a much better place for all of us to live.