What we eat matters — for our health, for farmed animals and the planet. Raising animals for food is widely considered by experts to be a leading cause of climate change, pollution and resource depletion.

The good news is that one simple way we can each minimize our negative impact on the environment is to leave animals off our plates.

A Warming Planet

The United Nations (UN) has warned that animal agriculture “plays a major role in climate change,” contributing 14.5% of global human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

Intensive farming of billions of animals around the world releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the air. The UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) has found that animal agriculture accounts for 37% of emissions of methane, a gas with 20 times more harmful global warming impact than carbon dioxide.

Many environmental experts agree that the best way to fight climate change is to reduce our consumption of meat and other animal products, and putting plants on our plates.

Researchers from the University of Chicago even found that the average American can do more to reduce global warming emissions by not eating meat, eggs and dairy than by switching to a hybrid car.

Depleting Resources

There are more than seven billion people on the planet – that’s twice as many as 50 years ago. We’re already straining our planet’s resources at dangerously unsustainable levels, and it’s predicted that in another 50 years, there’ll be 10 billion of us walking the Earth. Where are our resources going?

Globally, agriculture accounts for about 70% of all freshwater use. Meat production requires, on average, eight to 10 times as much water as grain production. That’s because it takes significantly more water to grow the crops needed to feed billions of farmed animals compared to eating plants directly – a grossly inefficient process.

Animal agriculture also requires more land – for crop production as well as for grazing. In fact, meat production is responsible for 80% of the continuing destruction of the Amazon rainforest, often referred to as the lungs of our planet.

Polluting the Planet

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, the amount of manure produced on American factory farms is three times greater than the amount of waste produced by Americans. And to make matters worse, unlike human waste that goes through a sewage treatment plant, farmed animal waste is virtually always untreated. It’s often just stored in massive hazardous manure “lagoons” or dispersed on surrounding fields, which can often cause water, land and air pollution.

These are just some of the reasons the United Nations implores us that one of the key actions to produce more food with less pollution involves lowering personal consumption of animal protein as well as a shift from animal based protein to plant based protein.