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Reverence for the planet is yet another important component to the vegetarian lifestyle. And while I realize that many of us aren't exactly banner-waving environmental activists, we all have to live here, and it is, therefore, important that we take into account how our actions may be wasting or harming our earthly resources.

One lesser-known way in which our environment is deeply affected is by our choices of food, clothing and other consumer goods. Both the factory farming procedures and modern "mega-volume" fishing methods involved in producing animal products, are creating some staggering environmental repercussions. Let's take a closer look...

Here's what we'll be covering in this For the Planet section (Click on the Go link to skip ahead to that particular topic.):

1. What's the real cost of animal products? Go
2. Some frightening numbers.... Go
Understanding the vicious cycle of planetary destruction Go
How is ocean life affected? Go
5. Messing with perfection Go

What's the real cost of animal products?

To grasp the magnitude of this environmental situation, you have to understand the enormity of the factory farm world. Let's take the beef and dairy industries as an example. There are, conservatively, two cows per human being in this country. (That's right: we are all outnumbered two-to-one by cattle.) These animals are fattened up with tremendous amounts of grain. Where does the grain come from? Usually, from land that has been cleared of its trees for the sole purpose of growing this grain. So, right off the bat, we're losing thousands of acres of beautiful forests which, if you've ever heard of the greenhouse effect on our ozone layer, you know that trees are our biggest allies.

How is the grain grown? It's grown with water that, in most cases, has to be irrigated into these fields. The amount of water expended for this is mind-boggling, as I'll illustrate in a moment. How else is the grain grown? It's grown with poisonous, fat-soluble herbicides and pesticides that are ingested first by the animals, then by the consumer. Also, as a natural result of eating these massive amounts of grain, the cows leave us with tons of highly-toxic excrement. These mountains of manure (quite literally) are not only a detriment to our drinking water, as the rain washes the nitrates and poisons from the manure into the ground where they infiltrate our water supplies, but they also release tremendous amounts of toxic emissions into the air, much like the exhaust from automobiles. (Gives new meaning to the word "bullshit," doesn't it?) Even chickens and pigs contribute their fair share to this waste problem. An egg factory with 60,000 hens will generate over 80 tons of excrement every week, while a single pig is good for around 4 pounds of excrement and 5 pounds of urine...every day. All told, the factory farm industry delivers to our world 86,600 pounds of excrement per second! This is 130 times more than all the humans on earth, combined.

Some Frightening Numbers....

Now, ecologically speaking, how do these figures translate into, let's say, a quarter-pound hamburger? In his groundbreaking work, Diet For a New America, John Robbins provides us with some hard numbers that illustrate exactly how wasteful and outrageous this situation really is. Through meticulous research, he was able to calculate how much of our resources are utilized and/or affected by a feedlot steer in terms of what that steer yields in actual beef. Let's take a peek at a few figures:

One quarter-pound of beef:

A) Utilizes 66 square feet of land (versus, for example, the same amount of land yielding 5,000 pounds of potatoes).

B) Represents the total amount of water the average person uses around the house (i.e. shower, sink, toilet, kitchen use, etc.) for an entire month, or the total amount of fossil fuel you would use to drive a small car 20 miles down the road.

C) Causes the emission of the same amount of toxins as about 7 1/2 weeks of automobile exhaust.

D) Requires four pounds of grain, which could represent a day's worth of food for four starving people.

On a larger scale, take a look at a few more stats that further illustrate the devastating effects of animal agriculture on our world:

Land Issues: 87% of all agricultural land in the United States is used to raise animals for food.
Pollution Issues: The standard factory farm environment for pigs is responsible for the same amount of raw waste as that of a 12,000-person city.
Energy Issues: It takes more than one third of all fossil fuels and raw materials used in the U.S. to raise animals in the factory farm environment.
Water Issues: More than half of all the water used in the U.S. is utilized in the process of raising animals for food.
Deforestation Issues: To create the space to raise food animals, we are destroying our rain forests to the tune of 125,000 square miles per year. (This represents the combined land mass of all six states of New England!)
Global Warming Issues: Methane is 21 times more potent than carbon monoxide as a greenhouse effect gas, making it one of the primary proponents of global warming in our world today. Animal agriculture is the number one source of methane output, as it produces an astounding 100 million tons per year through various “digestive byproducts.” Specifically, the livestock sector is responsible for about 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This is nearly 5% more than the transportation sector!

Understanding the Vicious Cycle of Planetary Destruction

These are just the tangible numbers. But how do we put a price on the 260 million acres of forest that have been converted into crop land in the U.S.? Or the 6 billion tons of topsoil that is lost from American farms every year as a direct result of the deforestation? How do we put a price on the outlandish use of energy in animal agriculture when we consider: a) the fossil fuel for all the tractors and trucks used to grow and transport the grain and hay, b) the factory farm buildings that must be warmed in the winter and cooled in the summer, c) the transportation and refrigeration of the meat and, d) the thousands of meat lockers and freezers required for storage?

And what about the consequences of burning all of these fuels? What about the carbon monoxide that's released into the air, which then keeps the heat in and contributes to the global warming phenomenon? Or how about all the irrigation pumps? In the Pacific Northwest, so much water has been taken from the rivers for irrigation that the rivers actually provide less power for the electrical turbines. As a result, the hydra-electric capability of these turbines is lessened, which causes a demand for nuclear plants in order to compensate for this energy deficit. I'm telling you, this cycle is so far-reaching and destructive on so many levels.

How is ocean life affected?

Tragically, the pillaging of our resources isn't restricted to our land; it's devastating our oceans, as well. Again, as an industry responds to an insatiable supply and demand scenario, we have an inconceivable number of sea creatures that are being eaten every year. And, we're not just talking about a bunch of fishermen "reeling 'em in" one at a time from the side of a fishing boat. We're talking about over 35,000 fully-staffed, state-of-the-art fishing vessels that scour our oceans with cutting edge sonar technologies and fishing nets so massive they could literally engulf 12 jumbo jets in one swoop. And in the process of raping the waters of up to 90% of a given species of fish per year, their indiscriminate methodologies for procuring large quantities of consumer favorites is wreaking havoc on other ocean life.

This "blanketing the waters" approach winds up killing many other sea creatures like smaller fish, turtles, dolphins and even sea birds. It's also bringing certain species to the brink of extinction. This, in turn, upsets the delicate eco-balance of ocean life and creates a domino effect throughout the seas.

Additionally, the agricultural pollutants resulting from the above-mentioned factory farming systems are poisoning our oceans, as well as other bodies of water. Here we see another ominous cycle unfold.

1. Soil erodes, due to the unnatural demands placed on it throughout the factory farming process.

2. The manure, fertilizer and various chemical residues are washed into our waters, which include everything from rivers to oceans to lakes, eventually even filtering down into our underground water supplies.

3. These same toxic sediments that wind up in our waters have an indisputably destructive effect on aquatic organisms, including millions of fish.

4. As farmers attempt to replenish their depleted soil with more chemicals, the weakened topsoil gives way to further runoff, and the water pollution continues.

5. Soil productivity takes a nose-dive, which precipitates even more chemical fertilizer treatments, and the cycle continues.

Messing with perfection

There is an inherent perfection in how things work here on earth. Ecosystems, food chains, optimum oxygen/carbon monoxide ratios and so forth, are all divinely balanced to insure that all living things - we humans, our fellow creatures and the seemingly infinite varieties of trees and vegetation - may participate in an abundant and healthy existence.

However, when our food choices are products of any of these harmful processes, we are contributing to a profound imbalance in our planetary ecology. And while it may seem inconsequential at first glance...let's not fool ourselves. We are making a mess of the earth and, to the extent that we continue to perpetuate the consumption of animal products, this dire condition will continue to spiral downward. And this is an especially poignant injustice for the generations to follow, isn't it?

At the same time, the opportunity exists for an ecological atonement, where the earth will heal and every aspect of this divine balance will be restored. Our magnificent planet is capable of healing herself. All she needs is for us to stop conspiring against her! So, as we choose plant-based foods, we are making a profound and significant contribution to this healing process.

"Nothing will benefit human health
and increase chances for survival of
life on earth as much as the evolution
to a vegetarian diet."

Albert Einstein


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