Cattle ranch on former Amazon rainforest land in Brazil. Photo by Daniel Beltrá.

Humans make up only about 0.01 percent of all life on Earth. While our planet is 4.5 billion years old, we have been around for a mere speck — 200,000 years or so. Yet in our short time here, we have managed to set in motion the worst era of mass extinction since the dinosaurs. In the past 50 years alone, we have caused wildlife populations to decline by a catastrophic 60 percent.

Through entirely avoidable activities, we are destroying our planet’s complex ecosystem, upon which humanity itself depends for survival.

The biggest cause of wildlife loss is the destruction of natural habitats to create farmland, a staggering 83% of which is taken up by animal agriculture despite it providing only 18% of calories. Today we raise over 56 billion land animals worldwide in various forms of confinement (yes, vertical factory farms are now a thing), and Americans’ meat consumption is at an all time high of 218 pounds annually per person.

Factory Farm Earth Day

Pig gestation crate. Photo by JoAnne McArthur/WeAnimals.

All this flesh-eating comes at a high cost. The environmental footprint of animal agriculture is massive — it produces more CO2 emissions than all land transportation combined. The top three meat corporations – JBS, Cargill and Tyson – emitted more greenhouse gases in 2016 than all of France. And the nearly half a million dairy cows on factory farms in Tulare County, California, for example, produce five times as much waste as New York City and carry antibiotic resistant E. coli.

Humans have consumed natural resources at a colossal level. Global emissions have been accelerating like a “speeding train,” according to a recent study published by the Global Carbon Project. Average global temperatures have risen 1 °C above pre-industrial levels and are projected to reach 1.5 °C within two decades. The effects of that warming were evident last year across the United States, from the raging wildfires in California to the intensifying hurricanes and flooding in the Southeast.

Factory Farm Earth Day

Flooded factory farm after Hurricane Florence in North Carolina’s Duplin County. Photo by JoAnne McArthur/WeAnimals

Last October, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change rang the alarm: To avoid an unimaginable climate catastrophe, we must reduce CO2 emissions by 45 percent by 2030. That’s just 11 years from now. If we dare continue down the same destructive path, emissions would reach levels “beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity,” warned a recent study published by Nature.

In his new book The Uninhabitable Earth, journalist and climate columnist David Wallace-Wells paints a grim picture of the cataclysmic storms, droughts, heat deaths, plagues, migration in the hundreds of millions, wars and economic collapse that could await.“We have all the tools we need, today, to stop it all: a carbon tax and the political apparatus to aggressively phase out dirty energy, a new approach to agricultural practices and a shift away from beef and dairy in the global diet; and public investment in green energy and carbon capture,” writes Wallace-Wells.

Last year, the journal Science published the most extensive analysis on the impacts of animal agriculture to date. The study, led by University of Oxford’s Joseph Poore, concluded that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable farming.

Poore, who initially undertook the research in order to find out if sustainable animal agriculture was possible, eventually stopped eating animal products as a result of his findings. His research team’s final recommendation? Not reduction or “humane” alternatives, but an altogether elimination. “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth,” Poore asserted.

Considering how animals raised, transported and killed for food are treated, this is a no-brainer.

So as you decide what to have for your next meal, or as you peruse grocery store aisles, know how much power your plate and your shopping cart holds. The steaks, pun intended, have never been higher. Make the conscious choice and omit animal products.

by Julie Gueraseva