We are depleting the lungs of our planet and extinguishing a massive amount of land and water species at a really, really scary rate.
The rainforests produce 20% of the World’s oxygen supply. They provide an essential environmental task of pulling CO2 out of the air, while putting O2 back into it. So, with every acre lost to support the meat industry, the earth loses part of its lungs and the ability to breathe and produce a fresh supply of oxygen (1).
Think about this; when fires occur it’s broadcasted in all the news. For example in 2007 approximately 190,000 acres in California were lost due to a fire, and it was broadcasted non stop in the news. The very same year, over 30 million acres of rainforest were lost with no news coverage whatsoever. Is one circumstance really less devastating than the other?
According to the United Nations Environment Program report of 2009, 34 million acres of rainforest on earth are lost each year. Since the 1970s, over 30 millions acres of rainforest per year have been lost. As much as 80% of it slashed and burned, and turn it into grazing for cattle or crops for livestock (cattle, chicken, turkeys and pigs),(2). Over 70% of the amazonian rainforest has been destroyed (lost forever) due to cattle ranching (3), and 95% of Brazil’s Atlantic coast rainforest has been slashed or burned, the vast majority of it to raise cattle (4).
In the mid 1980s, 15% of our planet was composed of rainforest. By 2012 this has been reduced to less than 2% (5).
Our oceans produce over 50% of our planet’s supply of oxygen, buffer extreme temperatures, absorb 70% of the CO2 from our atmosphere, harbor 80% of all life on earth, while serving quietly as the foundation for 100% of all life on earth. Our oceans are actually a global ocean, which holds 97,5% of all water found on earth, and functions as the circulatory system of our planet, pulsing with nutrients and energy, transporting water masses, driving weather systems and other natural forces to maintain life on our planet. Without healthy oceans, our planet cannot be healthy, and when our oceans die, we die with them (6).
Raising livestock on land negatively affects our oceans by way of increased greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, as well as by creating massive amounts of surface pollutant runoffs that eventually make their way into the ocean. Nitrogen runoff from livestock operations on land has created expansive “dead zones” (oxygen depleted areas in oceans where there is no life). There are now over 400 hundred oxygen depleted areas worldwide, affecting 95,000 square miles in our oceans. Dead zones have grown eight fold in size since the 1960s. A dead zone in the gulf of Mexico has doubled, just in the last twenty years, and is now almost the size of the Netherlands. The world’s largest dead zone is in the Baltic Sea, where deeper waters now lack of oxygen year round. The number of dead zones in the world is doubling every ten years (7).
On the fishing side, in 2011, 165 million ton of fish were harvested, 98 million tons were wild caught (taken from our oceans) and 67 million tons from aquaculture. In addition, between 26 and 78 million tons of additional fish are killed each year incidentally as bycatch and thrown overboard (8). There are currently 4 million fishing vessels that catch fish at a rate and amount that is almost three times that to be considered sustainable (9). The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that across all our oceans 70% of the world’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted (10), and scientist predict world fisheries could collapse entirely by 2050, if fishing continues at current levels (11-14).
A future where our rainforests are completely destroyed and our oceans depleted sounds terrifying. If we, as consumers, reduce our demand for animal foods, we could not only slow down, but also stop this unnecessary destruction, and who knows, after some time even regenerate rainforests and give life back to dead zones.