Just in time for Earth Day, April 22, European scientists released a groundbreaking report linking meat consumption to nitrogen pollution. Nitrogen pollution? What on earth is nitrogen pollution?
Nitrogen is commonly used to fertilize crops. Between 70 and 80 percent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, including nitrous oxide, comes from the production and use of nitrogen fertilizers, which cause nitrogen pollution.
So there's one more form of pollution -- big deal, right? Sadly, this one is a very big deal. The Telegraph of London explains, "the ground-breaking European Nitrogen Assessment by more than 200 scientists from 21 countries concludes that nitrogen pollution poses an even greater threat to humankind than carbon."
Honestly, I didn't think anything other than nuclear meltdown posed more of a threat to humankind than carbon. But sure enough: "[Nitrogen] leaks into the surrounding environment rather than feeding plants. This causes algae slimes to grow in water and on trees, suffocating wildlife and disturbing delicate ecosystems." As if all that weren't bad enough, nitrous oxide is about 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to causing climate change.
While this study focused on Europe, the results are even more relevant in the U.S., where farmers rely heavily on nitrogen-based fertilizers. According to Grist senior food and agriculture writer Tom Philpott, the U.S. burns more nitrogen fertilizer per capita than any other country.
The solution is simple really. Because more than half of the world's crops are grown to feed farmed animals -- and because animal manure contains nitrogen -- cutting down on our consumption of chickens, pigs, and other farmed animals will significantly reduce nitrogen pollution. Dr. Mark Sutton, a British scientist, says people can control the problem simply by eating less meat. He and the other scientists involved in the nitrogen assessment study have pledged to be "demitarians," or to eat half as much meat as they do now.
"It is about cutting down the amount from an environmental perspective," Dr. Sutton says. When you factor in climate change and the other environmental problems that I wrote about in my blog about taxing meat, you'll see why it's wise to go meatless on Mondays, on Earth Day, and on every other day of the year.
And when you look at things from the perspective of animals or your own health, as well as from an environmental one, you'll see that it only makes sense to stop eating meat, eggs, and dairy products entirely.