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We have a bone to pick with industrial animal agriculture. You might be thinking that the inhumane practices and incredibly unsanitary conditions on factory farms is our only qualm with the livestock production world, but these are merely additional logs on the fire that fuels our disdain. Increasingly, the animal agriculture industry has become more than an insanely cruel and gross entity, it is also causing major damage to our environment.

Now, when you start messing with BOTH animals and the planet, you are just asking to have a Green Monster unleashed on your behalf. While the direct connection between animal cruelty and factory farming might be readily apparent, the impact that factory farm has on the planet is less so. Since we all eat, every day, multiple times a day, understanding the impact of our food choices (and not just on our waistlines) can be pretty important.

To aptly explain the issue, we really need someone who knows everything to enlighten us … someone like, Ted Mosby.

Explain Like I'm 5: How Eating Meat Harms the Environment

Your mind is about to be figuratively blown.

1. The Majority of the Animals in the U.S. are Raised on Factory Farms.

To understand the overwhelming impact of livestock on the planet, first we have to establish that factory farming is the rule when it comes to producing meat, dairy and eggs.  In the U.S., 99.9 percent of chickens for meat, 97 percent of laying hens, 99 percent of turkeys, 95 percent of pigs, and 78 percent of cattle are raised in factory farms. So, the debate over the efficacy of small-scale, organic farms is pretty much moot considering that the vast majority of livestock exist as part of the factory farming conglomerate.

Explain Like I'm 5: How Eating Animal Products Harms the Environment

2. Livestock Take Up a lot of Space.

Grazing cattle pose a particularly large threat to the planet as it takes about one acre of land to sustain a single cow. Around 26 percent of land, worldwide, is allotted for grazing cattle. In the U.S. alone, 88 percent of agricultural land is devoted to producing beef calories. Since the planet doesn’t have a wealth of wide open spaces (sometimes pesky trees get in the way), deforestation to make room for cattle has become the norm. At our current rates of deforestation, National Geographic estimates we have about 100 years left before the world’s rainforests vanish completely.

Explain Like I'm 5: How Eating Animal Products Harms the Environment

3. Livestock Eat a Ton.

Trying to fatten up animals as quickly as possible to get them to reach market weight requires a lot of animal feed. On a global scale, 85 percent of the soy beans we grow are crushed to make livestock feed. Again, to meet the demand for crops that feed animals, we have to turn to convert forest land into cropland … which means more deforestation. It is estimated that worldwide, an area the size of Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands, has been converted to soy plantations. A staggering one-third of the world’s land mass is designated for growing livestock feed.

Explain Like I'm 5: How Eating Animal Products Harms the Environment

4. Animals Produce More Greenhouse Gases and Air Pollution Than Your Car.

Simply put, livestock are like walking methane machines. Between the carbon dioxide the BILLIONS of animals we’ve mass produced exhale, to the gases released when they all “pass gas” … The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while other organizations like the Worldwatch Institute have estimated it could be as much as 51 percent. The waste lagoons used to store the excrement from the thousands of animals who reside in factory farms contribute an enormous amount of air pollution. Not only is the foul smell an issue, but these lagoons contain highly concentrated levels of ammonia that mix with bacteria to form nitric acid. When it rains near factory farm, it is literally nitric acid rain. Hydrogen sulfide and endotoxins also get mixed into the air as particular matter from these lagoons which can cause serious upper respiratory conditions. Oh, and in case that didn’t gross you out enough … Swine Flu and Avian Flu are transferable via air currents coming off these massive cesspools.

Explain Like I'm 5: How Eating Animal Products Harms the Environment

5. Running a Factory Farm Requires a TON of Water 

It takes roughly 1,799 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. Sound crazy? Well, consider the fact that agriculture uses 70 percent of the world’s fresh water resources and one-third of that is allocated solely for growing feed for livestock. See, the majority of water involved in livestock production does not even go towards hydrating animals. In a dairy operation, for example, the cows not only need water to drink and consume virtual water in the form of their feed, but in order to keep the cement floor of the milking parlor clean (from cow manure, milk residue, etc.) they use automatic flushing systems. On average, these systems can used 150 gallons of water per day, PER COW. In total, a single dairy operation that hold 700 cows uses 3.4 million gallons of water everyday … and we’re not getting that back.

Explain Like I'm 5: How Eating Animal Products Harms the Environment


As Our Love for Meat and Dairy Grows, so Does the Impact on the Planet. 

At our current rate of livestock production and consumption, scientists predict that we are set to exceed global targets for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. And these targets are supposed to take into account every single anthropogenic source of greenhouse gases – but we’re going to exceed targets from just livestock alone. Taking into account the roughly two billion more people who will be on the planet by 2050, to meet demands for meat, dairy and eggs, we are going to need 42 percent more land to grow livestock feed, and all the additional animals needed are projected to spew an astounding 58,615 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

So, if you are anything like Ted Mosby, now that you know these facts … you’re going to happily spread this knowledge to anyone who is willing to listen (or not willing either). But please, now that you know, consider what you can do to change your diet to prevent the livestock industry from wreaking literal havoc on the planet. Even a small reduction in your consumption of meat and dairy can make a difference!

Lead image source: Reddit

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20 comments on “Explain Like I’m 5: How Does Eating Animals Harm the Environment?”

Click to add comment
Eugene Ingram Jr.
2 Years Ago

You must get this all the time, One Green Planet. Amazing you don't lose your patience.

Liz Tanner
2 Years Ago

Cruel + ignorant. It also takes up land & wildlands for wildlife, to feed the over-populated multitude of sub-humans who don't care about curbing THEIR OWN species.

Jeffrey Koontz
2 Years Ago


Dulcicleia Tavares De Almeida Tavares
2 Years Ago

Aqui na Amazônia fico quase impotente com tanta crueldade contra os animais, alguem pode me ajudar. Animais e vegetais são cruelmente maltratados, pois a Amazonia pede socorro))):)----->

Epatrick Hayden Harding
2 Years Ago

compassionate, intelligent, sensitive, people; people who shares a one on one relationship with animals; animals who experiences human karmas and vice versa, would realize that meat eating of any kind including water bourne animals is tantamount to cannibalism. Animals like cats, chickens, cows, dogs, goats, hogs, river/sea animals etc experiences joy when we fondle, play, smile at them or even like the pigeons are non threatening to them like to be around us. So how can we turn around and eat their flesh? Ignorant, indigenous, tradition bound people those having raised of carnivore diets eat meat out of habit and being bound by their traditions. Out of their fears of not being satisfied without eating flesh must have such fares. Education would probably make them into vegetarians. But the meat industry is a major economic engine of society so that even when they know how unhealthy it is to eat meat their livelihood depends on the slaughtered product so encouraging people to abstain from flesh eating is heretic. Look at how barbaric humans are when they go to a seafood restaurant and order live lobsters, for instance, watching the cook plunging that innocent, live, protesting crustacean in the boiling hot pot. How would we like it if the roles were turned and the lobsters were the ones plunging us into this steaming water? How crude and primal we are as if we are bumbling fools lacking intelligence and acting like vigilants reeking punishment on another/something?

Kristofer R. Madden
19 Dec 2014

...Im a chef, not a cook.

19 Dec 2014

this is not an effective argument to equate humans eating animals to cannibalism. It is going to turn a lot of people off to veganism. I am sorry for critiqiing your idea; you are an incredible person, I want you to convert thousands of people to veganism. Just keep it simple. It is kind to the animals, good for your health, and will save the environment. That is all you need. Equating it to cannibalism is going to turn a lot of people off. I understand how you feel, but I think this argument can be hurtful to the spread of veganism.

Patricia Anne Franczyk
2 Years Ago

sane people would never even contemplate killing

Kurt Lowder
19 Dec 2014

it is not insane to eat meat. Unkind, unwise, unnecessary, uncaring. If you call meat eaters insane, they will not listen to you. If you want to be an effective advocate for veganism you have to control your emotions and not judge meat eaters. encourage them, love them, forgive them, listen to them, be an attractive, positive example of a vegan. Otherwise, you are helping to hurt animals. You need to find a way to improve your thinking

Frank Beck
2 Years Ago

so its ok to have pets that eat animals for food ...?

Maggie Donovan
2 Years Ago

Will Bennett

Tony Feller
2 Years Ago


Ethel Dobbin
2 Years Ago

What will you do when the plant life is fouled up with chemicals gmo and the water is unfit to drink from cracking then what

Olivia Sumner
18 Dec 2014

Do you only live on animal products now? You do realize the foods fed to animals are 100% Gmo right?

Laura Newton
18 Dec 2014

Nearly all GMO Soy and Corn that they tear down the rainforests to grow is fed to animals.

Jayme Calhoun
18 Dec 2014

THis is why we need to speak up and FOURCE our governments to change the way we gorw plants. This CANNOT be allowed to continue.

Char Ross
19 Dec 2014

Aside from everyone's polite answers....why are we addressing the "but what if you were on a desert island!?" question? You can choose to abstain from eating animals as well as supporting other causes

Marie Josée Michaud
19 Dec 2014

Veganism is about nonviolence. First and foremost, it’s about nonviolence to other sentient beings. But it’s also about nonviolence to the earth and nonviolence to yourself. www.abolitionistapproach.com

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