As conservationists we cannot deal with all of the world’s environmental problems so sometimes, we must choose specific problems that we can contribute to resolving. How then do we decide which issues to address and which to ignore? Our general interests often play a role, as does our own experience, or how convenient a particular topic is to our current situation. However if a conservation issue is so critically important, and its impact is so obviously evident, can we really ignore it because it doesn’t align with our interests, or it is inconvenient? The impact that cattle farming has on our climate and on the environment demands that conservationists ask themselves this uncomfortable question.
A report by the FAO found that methane production from cattle is largely responsible for the 18% of greenhouse gas emissions produced by animal agriculture. This is higher than all forms of transportation combined. Furthermore, the USDA claims that agriculture takes up at least 80% of the water consumption in the United States. We can buy “grass-fed” beef in an attempt to be more sustainable, but these farms require vast tracts of land, which is often converted from untouched wilderness. If we were to assume the demand for beef remains constant even with an increasing global population, then the amount of land required for this industry simply does not equal the land available.
We pick up trash on our beaches and preach how essential marine protected areas are, but all of these individual efforts are completely undermined when we buy just 1lb of beef which consequentially requires 2,500 gallons of water to be produced. We yell about how we should respect the marine environment but then fund a system that contributes greatly to the dead zones in our oceans. When we are presented with this information and stay stuck in our ways, we must ask ourselves what are we really attempting to accomplish as conservationists? Do we have the audacity to ask others to change their habits and practice sustainability when we ourselves will not?