Eat Wild in 2016

Five ways your diet resolutions can help wildlife, save the planet

(Photo Credit: Lukas Vermeer)

By the middle of January, about 25 percent of New Year’s resolutions have already been broken. Maybe that’s why it seems that fewer people are making them these days. But before you give up on those diet-related resolutions, consider this: Eating less meat and more veggies doesn’t just affect your waistline, it has an impact on the entire planet. Choosing beans over beef can help save wolves and polar bears; and chickpeas over chicken can protect rivers and streams.

Our personal choices — our resolutions to eat Earth-friendly meals once, twice or three times a day — help influence whether the livestock industry continues to threaten endangered species and destroy the environment, or whether we move toward a more sustainable, wildlife-friendly food system. Here are five ways your diet resolution can also help take extinction off your plate:

1. Save More Wild Animals

Wild animals are regularly targeted by the meat industry to make room for livestock. At the behest of ranchers, a federal killing program known as Wildlife Services brutally traps, shoots and poisons millions of animals every year. This includes hundreds of wolves, coyotes, foxes and bears, but also prairie dogs that are targeted because their burrows create potential hazards for cattle. Even grasshoppers have been targeted by the government for the crime of eating grass in their native habitat. You can provide a real ‘service’ for wildlife by eating less meat to avoid contributing to these deadly, destructive programs.

2. Fight Climate Change

Climate change presents the gravest threat to life on Earth. Meat production is responsible for at least 14.5 percent — and, according to some studies, as much as 51 percent — of human-induced global greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock contribute to climate change at every turn — in addition to the emissions that come from the feeding, digestion and transportation involved in raising livestock, the staggering amount of land used for feed crops and grazing multiplies the carbon hoofprint of meat. In the United States cattle emit about 5.5 million metric tons of methane — a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide — which makes up 20 percent of the country’s methane emissions. All around the world people are going “green” and uniting in the fight against climate change. Eating less meat — taking meat out of the equation at least one meal per day — is a powerful and immediate way to fight climate change. In fact, reducing your meat and dairy consumption by one-third could save the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 2,700 fewer miles per year.

3. Protect Our Public Lands

More than 175 threatened or endangered species are imperiled by the presence of livestock on federal lands where livestock grazing is promoted and subsidized. Cattle grazing alone — not including other forms of meat production — is among the greatest direct threats to imperiled species, affecting 14 percent of threatened or endangered animals and 33 percent of threatened or endangered plants. By destroying vegetation, damaging wildlife habitats and disrupting natural processes, grazing wreaks ecological havoc on rivers, deserts, grasslands and forests alike — causing significant harm to native species and the ecosystems on which they depend. Protecting public lands can start on your plate by skipping meat at least one meal per day.

4. Wasting Less Water By Eating Green

You can take shorter showers, fix leaky toilets, use native, drought-adapted plants in your yard instead of water-intensive grass and choose low-flow appliance options to put less pressure on our nation’s water sources. But you can also save water every time you eat: Cutting just one-third of the meat from your diet can save as much as 340,667 gallons of water per year. It takes thousands of gallons of water just to produce one pound of beef. In fact, nearly half of the water used in the United States goes toward meat production.

5. Less Meat Means Less Pollution

Think about all the water and feed that go into raising livestock. Now think about what comes out of them. Livestock produce 500 million metric tons of manure per year, making animal agriculture a leading source of water-quality problems, with factory farms polluting 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminating groundwater in 17 states, in addition to impairing wetlands, lakes and estuaries. Meat production is also responsible for 80 percent of antibiotic use and 37 percent of pesticide use, contributing to human and wildlife health risks.

Take the Pledge

Here’s a resolution to stick with: Eat less meat, save more wildlife. Start by taking the pledge to eat an Earth-friendly diet, then ask your friends and family to think about sustainability in their New Year’s resolutions — and throughout the year. An Earth-friendly diet lower in meat and higher in plants and vegetables is better for us, better for wildlife and better for the planet.

Jennifer Molidor is a senior food campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity.