There are many causes of habitat destruction, including leveling land for development and deforestation resulting from the logging industry. In total, about 18 million acres of forest are lost worldwide every year. This loss of habitat, along with degradation resulting from the environmental impact of pollution and climate change, is causing species to go extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than they would if humans weren’t in the picture.
And while we certainly need to pay attention to these causes and do our part to lessen their impact on the environment, the often-overlooked threat to animal habitats and our environment is agriculture, which is draining our world of its biodiversity through habitat destruction.
According to the World Wildlife Fund, “around 50 percent of the world’s habitable land has been converted to farming land.” But when we think about agriculture, we need to look beyond the grasslands used for grazing livestock and the acres of land dedicated to massive farming operations, or even the land used to grow vegetables and grains for human consumption. Why? Because 33 percent of agricultural land worldwide is used solely for livestock feed production. And when you combine that with the amount of land used for grazing and housing animals, you’ll realize that we have a huge problem.
Most of Our Grain is Being Consumed by Animals, Not Humans
Approximately 70 billion farm animals are being raised for food annually. In 2015, people in the U.S. consumed 24.8 billion pounds of beef, with the majority of that cattle being raised in massive feedlots. Those cattle, in addition to other feedlot animals like chickens and pigs, are consuming 70 percent of the grain grown in the U.S.
According to the USDA’s website, corn, barley, oats, and sorghum are used as major feed grains in the U.S., with corn “accounting for more than 95 percent of total feed grain and production use.” In the U.S., 36 percent of corn crops being used to feed livestock. Soy is also commonly used in feed, with 75 percent of global soybean crops being fed to livestock. To support these crops, one-third of arable land being used for feed production globally, using vast amounts of land and water resources.
Forests Are Being Cleared at an Alarming Rate
The world’s tropical rainforests are home to over 13 million species — or, around two-thirds of all plants and animals. The Amazon Rainforest alone is home to more than 2,000 known species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. It also houses 40,000 known plant species, some of which play an important role in the treatment of diseases like cancer. Worldwide, forests serve as the habitat for over 80 percent of the world’s animals, and an estimated 1.6 billion people rely on forests for everything from food and water, to shelter.
Agriculture is responsible for a staggering 80 percent of deforestation, causing humans and animals to lose their homes, and throwing entire ecosystems — as well as our planet — off balance. Soy production is one major culprit, destroying four million hectares of forest in South America every year. But before you go blaming tofu, remember that the vast majority of soy is being used to feed livestock, not humans.
Pesticides and Fertilizers Are Poisoning Aquatic Habitats
Crop production also poses a serious threat to marine life and freshwater species. Since most crops are maintained using nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides, both of which contribute to the pollution of our land, these pollutants are contaminating nearby lakes, rivers, and streams — and eventually, the ocean.
Excessive amounts of nutrients in the water can result in algal blooms and deplete oxygen levels in lakes and oceans, resulting in dead zones where fish, turtles, and other animals are unable to survive. When this happens, the animals either leave the area or die. The Gulf of Mexico has the second-largest dead zone due to the pollution that’s emptied into it after being carried downstream from as far as Canada. There are currently around 400 dead zones in the world’s oceans. As a result, over 130 federally protected species are in danger of extinction.
What You Can Do
With the world’s population estimated to reach over nine billion people by 2050, we need to take a serious look at our food choices. It takes one acre of land to produce 250 pounds of beef, where that same amount of land can produce 30,000 pounds of carrots or 53,000 pounds of potatoes. By eating less meat, we can also help fight climate change, reduce our water footprint, reduce pollution, and prevent further habitat destruction and species extinction. It’s a simple way to make a big impact for humans and the environment.
You can #EatForThePlanet starting today. Just follow the three simple steps below.
1. Replace: Try to swap animal-based products in your daily diet with vegan alternatives (milk, butter, mayo, cheese, grilled chicken, beef crumbles, sausages, cold cuts, etc.)
2. Embrace: Add plant-based whole foods (local and organic when possible) to your diet like greens, fresh fruits, and vegetables, whole grains, plant proteins like lentils, nuts/seeds, beans, tofu, etc.
3. Moderate: Limit consumption of your favorite meats like beef, lamb, pork, etc.
“The #EatForThePlanet Way is not about restricting your diet, but about changing the way you think about your food choices,” says Zacharias. “When you Eat for the Planet, you make the conscious decision to reduce your negative impact on the world around you.”
We all have the power to create a better future for our children, and the countless animals we share the planet with, by making one easy swap. If you’re ready to start doing this in your own life, check out One Green Planet’s #EatForThePlanet campaign.
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