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How a hamburger is contributing to climate change

Updated: Nov 11, 2022

Lisaury Diaz

Opinions Editor

Photo via Pexels

Throughout the past few years, climate change and global warming has been a big topic of conversation in environmental science and the general public. This evolving conversation is about how we should be going about our everyday life to both save the environment, and slow down climate change. We have been told to recycle, make our showers shorter, take the bus, switch to an electric car, use less fuel and produce less carbon emissions. A law here in Rhode Island was passed to ban the use of plastic bags at grocery stores and switch to paper. Another law passed in Rhode Island now mandates businesses to use paper straws unless a customer asks for a plastic straw. All of this is helpful, relevant and great initiatives to save our planet and slow down global warming.

But there is one thing all of these conversations are missing: The hamburger you eat every once in a while, the steak you have for dinner or the nice fish or shrimp you consume for lunch. As a reader, you might be asking yourself, “What does she mean? How does the hamburger I eat or the fish sandwich I like so much affect climate change?” Well, there are plenty of things that affect our environment. Among them are rainforest destruction, water consumption, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

We all know those things, but what we have not been told is that animal agriculture's role in climate change.

According to the documentary "COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret," 18% of greenhouse gas comes from animal agriculture, which is higher than the total amount of exhaust that comes from cars and planes. Another alarming statistic the film cites is how much water consumption comes with animal agriculture. The film says every year the figure is in the trillions, which is all but 10-20% of the United States' water consumption, and over 1/5 of earth's freshwater use.

The number of animals dragged out of the ocean each year is over two trillion. The film's website cites another alarming fact, which states, "For every one pound of fish caught, up to five pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill." This could mean, that before 2050, the oceans will have little to no fish.

It’s not only that, but it takes so many gallons of water in order to make a single hamburger. For example, according to a 2019 Denver Water article written by Kristi Delynko, "It takes approximately 1,847 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef."

Alongside those figures, The Philadelphia Water Department states that, "the average person uses 101.5 gallons of water per day." To simply put, a hamburger takes way more water to make than what one person uses in any given day.

I know all of these numbers seem big and scary, and you might think, “How did we not know this, how isn't this all over the news?” The answer is pretty simple: industries involved in this area brings in a lot of profit, as does the fishing industry, too. They both take care of a human need and are deeply ingrained in our cultural ideologies behind food. This means these big corporations would never run out of profit.

Another thing is the cultural aspect behind the consumption of meat and animal products. The thought that we need animal protein may be unfounded when considering how much more is in plants compared to beef.

I’m not telling you all of this scary information to shame those who are not vegans or vegetarians, but to bring up the conversation that our eating habits can destroy our planet. Even though it might be hard to change them, to adapt to something else it is worth the try. This planet is our home, and even though it may be hard to switch the hamburger for a plant based one, it’s worth trying.

Our likings and preferences are not as important as the well being of this floating sphere we call home. Protecting it is protecting ourselves and our future generations. Switching habits isn’t easy and sometimes not desired, but understanding that our planet needs us is.

If becoming vegan or vegetarian is a non-starter, at least be conscious to not waste the meat that is produced, or be conscious of how often it’s purchased and how it will continue to affect our environment. A small change can take us a long way and one small adjustment at a time can give us more years of continuing to enjoy this earth, also known as our home.


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