5280 The Denver Magazine recently featured an article on “Everyday Environmentalists,” presenting over 40 ways to live greener. Pointing out that Coloradans are not as environmentally virtuous as we may think we are, the article featured excellent advice on such topics as home insulation, composting, gardening, biking–the usual and more. Some items were very detailed, such as the advice to buy a live Christmas tree instead of an artificial one, and then plant it outside. Readers who hike popular mountain trails were encouraged to go during the week so as to increase the likelihood that they will stay on the trail and minimize trail deterioration. Yes, yes, yes, I’m saying to myself as I read, but when do we get to the huge environmental impact of meat consumption?
Livestock agriculture is responsible for over half of greenhouse gas emissions–contrary to the article’s assertion that electricity is the largest source–and uses far more water than anything else humans do. You could save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you could save by not showering for a year. Not to mention the tons of manure livestock produce: have the 5280 staff ever driven past the feedlots in northeastern Colorado? According to “A Life Connected,” livestock agriculture nationwide creates enough manure to rebuild the entire Denver skyline out of poop every 24 hours.
In the 5280 article–a full eight pages of (mostly) small-print–meat gets exactly one sentence, about grass-fed beef. One sentence! Easily the most important thing Coloradans and everybody else can do to clean up the environment is to reduce–or ideally eliminate–the consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy products. Every meatless meal makes a measurable difference. Furthermore, making these dietary changes doesn’t require some new product or major political or corporate change. Individuals can do it one choice at a time in their own homes or at restaurants with nothing more complex than their forks.
While I don’t fault anyone for wanting to replace their Windex with vinegar and cornstarch, or renting a baler for their recyclables, let’s get real: livestock agriculture dwarfs every other human activity in terms of its destructive environmental impact. Changing our diet is far and away the “greenest” thing each of us can do.