According to this article in Salon, livestock accounts for 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emission, more than the entire transportation sector. (via)
This happens in two ways. First, a lot of forest cover is cleared for pasture for livestock. Second, cattle emit methane, which causes 21 times more damage to the environment than CO2.
Much of the livestock is meant for meat production. So, for those interested in stopping climate change, is vegetarianism the best answer?
No. People who eat poultry, dairy and eggs, but not red meat, are responsible for fewer greenhouse gases than those who consume a vegetarian diet that includes dairy and eggs. "Astonishingly enough," says study co-author Gidon Eshel, a Bard College geophysicist, "the poultry diet is actually better than lacto-ovo vegetarian." In other words, a roast chicken dinner is better for the planet than a cheese pizza.
So, either turn vegan and avoid milk and eggs, or, the next best, take to poultry. A strict vegetarian but who consumes generous doses of milk, butter, curd and pastries is not good enough.
If climate change doesn’t concern you so much and you seek moral answers, look up philosopher Stephen Law’s post in which he tries to answer the question, “ Why are we morally permitted to treat the members of other species so very differently to our own?"
Stephen Law refers to a 1975 book Animal Liberation, in which the author Peter Singer presents us with precisely this challenge: to morally justify the way in which we discriminate between our own species and others. His conclusion, shocking to many, is that this discrimination cannot, in fact, be morally justified. Indeed, Singer believes that the vast majority of human beings are currently guilty of what Singer terms “speciesism” (an expression first coined by Richard Ryder) – a form of bigotry against other species comparable to sexism and racism.
Lower intelligence cannot be the justification, for we do not think of eating the mentally impaired among us or the babies. The proposition that animals don’t feel pain the way we do is simply not convincing. After all, we know, do we not, that animals suffer? They are also, to differing degrees, capable of enjoying pleasurable experiences as well
Singer argues that there is no moral justification for the way in which we currently discriminate. Discriminating solely on the basis of species is no more justified than was our earlier discrimination on the basis of sex and race. So far as justifying our current practices is concerned, whether or not sentient beings have feathers or fur, a beak or teeth, two legs or four, is simply irrelevant - as irrelevant as skin colour or sex.
When we now look back a few hundred years to how white people discriminated against black, and men discriminated against women, many of us are shocked. With hindsight, it can be difficult to understand how those who were engaged in these practices were unable to recognise that what they were doing was wrong. “How could they not see?” we ask.
“The day may come when the human race looks back on the way we currently treat other species – raising and slaughtering five billion a year, in many cases under the most horrific conditions, simply to satisfy our taste for their flesh – and ask that same question” Stephen Law quotes Singer.