Everyone has their own reason for going vegetarian. Some people do it for health reasons, as the vegetarian diet offers all sorts of proven health benefits. Others go vegetarian for ethical reasons, for the treatment of most animals in food production is treated terribly, being reduced to mere units of production rather than life forms. There is a large number of people who are vegetarian for religious reasons, although this is more common in the East, including some sects of Hinduism and Buddhism.
As more and more citizens became concerned with the environmental effects of our actions, though, so do the number of those who become vegetarian for environmental reasons. The effects of animal production on our resources is significant and palpable – take a drive through animal production countryside's and you can smell it. Animals raised properly should produce no odors whatever, as their waste should be properly reincorporated into the soil. The vast majority of meat consumed in the world does not come from sustainable, environmentally conscious producers, though, and this is often reflected in the price – the cheaper it is, the worse, in most cases.
Meat Production and Global Warming
The small minority of naysayers aside, global warming is a serious issue. There are the main culprits to blame – cars, air travel, energy production, etc. – but one of the largest emitters is animal meat production. The UN estimated in 2006 that 18% of all greenhouse gases emitted in that year came directly from the production of animal meat. This includes cattle, hogs, dairy, poultry, lamb, and all the rest.
How, exactly, does meat production create greenhouse gases? Well, at the most basic level, it's inefficient. Animals need food to grow. They consume mostly grains to bulk up in size – every calorie of meat needs about 16 calories of input. This grain is grown by farmers from thousands of miles away typically, which needs to be shipped to the meat production plant. The animals live in energy intensive Shelters that are often heated in cooler climates. The meat then needs to be processed, and is then shipped off to other places where it's consumed. Cattle also emit ethane gas, which is many times more potent than the more common Carbon dioxide that fuel for cars creates. All of these adds up, creating an extremely dirty business model that pollutes our air, and causes irreversible harm to our atmosphere, and then, the world as a whole.
Meat Production and Water
Animal waste is a potent, natural fertilizer. When applied to fields intended for crops, the dose nitrogen and ammonia can give plants that extra boost they need to grow into a beautiful, strong, nutritionally weak food source. This, unfortunately, is not the case when animals production is centralized into large production houses. There can be thousands of cattle, hogs, and chickens in a single building. There is no way to spread the waste that animals produce thinly enough to reincorporate it into the soil in a healthy way. What typically results, is that animal producers create huge lagoons of water mixed with animal waste, sitting out in open fields. This, in itself, can leach out into community ground water, polluting it to toxic levels – ammonia and nitrates become toxic when there is too much present in a single source. This can ever run into rivers, as well, polluting people's water source downstream. A more disastrous scenario is when these lagoons overflow due to flooding, and massive amounts of animal waste pollute a clean water source in one large surge. This can create serious health problems for large communities of people.
These are just two examples of how livestock can affect the environment. There are plenty more. This should provide any reader with a little fodder to work over in their minds, and consider how animal production can negatively affect the environment we all share.
There are many reasons to become vegetarian – for the environment is just one.