We see finished dairy products colourfully and enticingly labelled with pictures of happy cows in fields on supermarket shelves yet just as the cruelty is kept behind the scenes, so is the enormous environmental damage its production creates.
The damage caused by the dairy industry does not stop at cruelty. The destruction to the environment from keeping this horrendously cruel industry churning is enormous. At any given moment, there are approximately 264 million dairy cows living on dairy farms around the world. Animal farming is playing a major role in the accelerated heating of our planet but is often ignored or barely talked about in climate discussions and mainstream media.
The global livestock and dairy industry have created an unsustainable demand on our natural resources. They are, in fact, a very inefficient way of feeding the world and the environment is paying a staggering price for our food choices. Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.
Shifting from animal protein to vegetable protein is one of the most powerful measures someone can take to reduce their impact on our climate
When the well is dry we know the cost of waterWater is abundant on our planet, but fresh water is only 1% of the worlds water supply and is a finite resource. There are endless suggestions about ways we can save water as individuals: turn off the tap whilst brushing teeth, shower instead of bath and so on however we are never told about the impact our dairy consuming diet has on water use. In fact, many water saving suggestions pale into insignificance when compared to the water an individual could save by reducing or eliminating their dairy consumption. The water involved in dairy production is colossal. Animal agriculture accounts for roughly 25% of the worlds water footprint and dairy is one quarter of that. Water is needed for hydrating cows (88% of milk is water so lactating cows need a lot of water), just one glass of cow’s milk takes 114 litres of water to produce. Water is needed for cleaning dairy facilities to remove the waste the cows produce not to mention all the water required to grow their feed crops, dairy cows need to eat a LOT! Constantly producing milk is a huge drain on a dairy cow’s metabolism, and they need to replenish that energy through their food. Taking all these water elements into account the average dairy cow uses close to 22,700 litres of water PER DAY, considering there are around 270 million dairy cows at one time in the world the water usage is astronomical.
Greenhouse GassesWe have all heard that cows produce methane from burping and farting and that this is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming but many people when asked about the main drivers of climate change still think about cars, planes and factories. However, not only does agricultural farming produce more greenhouse gasses than all the worlds transport, 18% compared to 13%, the methane gas produced in large quantities by cattle is a particularly potent greenhouse gas. Factories and industry produce high volumes of greenhouse emissions but mostly carbon dioxide which is a far less potent greenhouse gas than methane. Methane is 80 times more potent in fact and so contributes much more to the heating effect of the planet. Although more potent it survives and is stable in the atmosphere for a far shorter time than carbon dioxide, just 10 years as opposed to 100 or more, so by focusing on reducing methane emissions, we could see a cooling effect on the Earth feasibly within our lifetimes.
As animal agriculture accounts for 40% of the global methane budget and dairy is a quarter of that, eliminating the production of methane from animal farming would have a direct effect on climate change.
Global warming is a very real threat and more frequent droughts, fires, floods and storms are a direct consequence of this warming. Unless we can change our practices and radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions the not too far off future does not look bright. Scientists predict some parts of the world will be uninhabitable by 2050 if the world continues to warm. Climate change is real, the ship is sinking, and we should fix the biggest holes first.
We are accustomed to farming animals for food but there are so many alternatives and switching to largely plant-based farming and diet will not only require no sacrifice in living standards, it could ultimately be our only hope for a sustainable future.
Depleting the Lungs of our Planet
Coupled with the methane emitted by animal farming cows breathe out carbon dioxide which alone is not so terrible, however in order to feed and house them the forests which are literally the lungs of our planet are being cut down at an alarming rate.
Land use and habitat destruction
Rainforests are being destroyed at a terrifying rate, 34 million acres a year, and the main driver is animal agriculture. 80% of the world’s rainforest loss is turned into grazing for cattle or crops for livestock. Species of animals and plants are being destroyed forever.
With over 270 million dairy cows in the world at any one time and the intensification of dairy production growing with large scale dairy farms, dairy cow welfare has declined along with natural wildlife habitats and natural ecosystems. Dairy farms pollute soil, river systems, and shallow aquifers, damaging ecosystems and decreasing the quality of freshwater in the process of housing and feeding cows for our exploitation.
It is estimated that moving from current dietary patterns to plant-based diets on a global scale would drastically improve the environmental impact of food production by
- Reducing land use by 76% (including 19% reduced land use for crop growth, as additional crops are needed to feed cattle)
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 49%
- Reducing damage to water supply – with a 50% reduction in acidification eutrophication
Dairy production is a highly inefficient and damaging way to feed ourselves. Efforts to make dairy production more sustainable are attempted but with the cost always falling on the already suffering cows. In the end dairy is baby calves’ growth food and there is no good way to do a bad thing.
Adopting a vegan diet is the only way to truly save our planet
Hamilton said a flourishing meat and dairy industry led to “deforestation, animal cruelty”, and “our seas and climate decaying on a daily basis”.
Mother to Mother
What we eat is killing us and our planetWe as individuals right now have all the power- purchasing power, voting power, power of knowledge, power to speak up and influence, positive peer pressure. It’s not farfetched to foresee a world in 30 years or less crippled by climate change- countries heating up to become uninhabitable (mass immigration), homes and cities wrecked by flooding and storms, droughts, wildfires political chaos and instability, hunger and refugee problems. Problem-solving by governments will become a thing of the past- literally our children’s future. …and I only wish I was exaggerating.