This post is by contributor Christine Jackson, LICSW*
A troubling trend has emerged in recent discussions I’ve read and heard about climate change. The words that concern me are not coming from climate change deniers, but from people who, like me, are deeply worried about the far-reaching and tragic effects of the build-up of global carbon emissions and other environmental problems. What I’m hearing is this: that only governments and major corporations can have a big enough impact to help our suffering planet, and that addressing individuals’ behaviors isn’t worth pursuing. What rubbish!
The companies that profit from wreaking havoc on the environment want people to believe that their individual actions won’t matter. Swallowing that lie can contribute to a sense of helplessness and heightened anxiety. Taking actions that reflect one’s beliefs can make a difference not only in one’s attitude, but also in protecting the planet. Not everyone is in a position to buy a hybrid car, bike to work, or install solar panels at home, but nearly all of us control what we put into our mouths.
A study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, reprinted in a report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) Nutrition Action Health letter (March 2019), compared a variety of foods in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases released in their production. Rated per serving, beef and lamb required more than five pounds of carbon each; shellfish, pork, and poultry required between one and three pounds each. For a serving of milk, cheese, or eggs—like for fruit juice and bananas—the cost ran to about half to three quarters of a pound of carbon. On the other hand, beans, citrus fruit, tomatoes, strawberries, nuts, and broccoli barely budged a tenth of a pound. One of the reasons beef is so high on the list is that cows emit methane—a highly powerful greenhouse gas—through burps and flatulence.
Global warming is just one of many ways the production of meat, eggs, and dairy products places a burden on the environment. Few commodities are as vital to existence as clean water. With the long-running drought in California, some have wondered if they should quit consuming one of the state’s most popular crops, almonds. But California is also a big dairy producer. A gallon of almond milk requires roughly half the water it takes to produce a gallon of cow’s milk, and you can pour almost ten times the soy milk as cow’s milk for each gallon of water you put in.
If you feel guilty about your morning shower, consider this: A typical chicken “processing plant”—industry speak for a blood-drenched, feces-slimed slaughterhouse–uses one to two million gallons of water a day. Depending on the facility, that works out to an average of around 5 gallons—or as much as 17 gallons–per bird. As kill rates rev up—a near certainty thanks to the way the scissors-happy Trump administration views regulations designed to protect human health–and killers try to cut costs by using less water, all of us will pay the price in more polluted rivers and streams.
Most slaughterhouses and major chicken and pig facilities—using the word “farm” might bring to mind images of Dorothy’s Kansas and other fictions—are located close to communities with people of color and people with lower or moderate incomes. Folks living near pig warehouses often keep their windows closed because of the stench. It takes a lot of feed to make pigs grow fast, and the animals produce a lot of excrement. That waste is channeled into huge “lagoons” next to the massive buildings the pigs are crammed into. According to National Public Radio, at least 50 such lagoons in North Carolina overflowed during Hurricane Florence in September 2018.
On normal weather days, when the lagoons get too full, machines spray the muck out into the air in droplets, spreading a foul smell far from the facility. As shown in the documentary What the Health, it may look like the spray from a suburban lawn sprinkler, but it is filth, spewed into the air like there’s no tomorrow. Indeed, if our society continues to support the birth, fattening, and slaughter of billions of animals a year for food, our tomorrows will disappear.
* This post is by contributor Christine Jackson, LICSW
Christine Jackson has been a therapist for fifteen years and maintains a private practice in Washington, D.C. She has been an animal advocate for over four decades.