There are a lot of ways to talk about meat and the environment. I could start with the clown shoe-sized carbon footprint of meat. Or how so much land is used and abused by the meat industry that it almost makes Walmart parking lots look eco-friendly. Or the 500 million disgusting tons of manure produced by the U.S. meat industry every year. Or even about the potential risks to your health from eating too much meat.
But let's talk about polar bears.
Polar bears are incredible animals. People love polar bears -- they're adorable and strong and... What does this have to do with your hamburger? That carbon footprint of meat production is more than just a big number. For polar bears, it's a factor in whether or not they'll live to see the end of this century.
Most people don't think about polar bears when they sit down to dinner. No more than they think about grizzly bears or prairie dogs or salamanders or the hundreds of other species threatened by the emissions, pollution, water use and land degradation of the livestock industry. But all those statistics about the incredible amount of resources that go into -- and waste that comes out of -- raising cows, chickens, pigs and other animals for food represent consequences for wildlife. Serious ones.
On public lands -- where the federal government promotes, protects and subsidizes cattle grazing -- 175 endangered species are further threatened by livestock. Wolves were nearly driven extinct in the lower 48 states by the industry. Countless others have lost their habitat to feed crops, grazing and pollution.
For many people, the cost of meat to the farm animals themselves is enough. Once you add in the cost to wildlife and the environment we all need to survive, then multiply it by the growing demand for meat in a world of seven billion people, the price is too high for any of us.
That's why the Center for Biological Diversity, where I work, just launched a new campaign asking people to "take extinction off your plate." Reducing your meat consumption is one of the most important ways that you can save wildlife and the environment, especially in the U.S., where we eat more meat per person than almost anyone else in the world.
By cutting just one-third of meat from their diet, the average American can save more water in a year than flushing the toilet 64,800 times. They'll also use less land than almost two average-sized homes and emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions than a family taking a road trip along the entire Route 66 highway, from Chicago to Santa Monica. Bill Maher said, "If you care about the planet, it's actually better to eat a salad in a Hummer than a cheeseburger in a Prius."
Take the pledge to start your Earth-friendly Diet today. If not for the planet or yourself, do it for the polar bear.