HIGHLAWNAIR-2

Jersey heifers gather near a pond near the carriage barn at High Lawn Farm in Lee, Aug. 2018. 

I open my mouth and take a huge bite of a farmer’s burger from the Brick House Pub in Housatonic. Crispy bacon and fried egg and beef — aka all things delicious — this burger is my go-to meal every time I eat at the Brick House.

Now I am not a vegetarian. The thought of fully giving up meat is almost comical. However, as much as I love greasy, crispy bacon and juicy hamburgers, I love our beautiful planet more.

According to The Washington Post, if cows were their own country, they would be the third-biggest greenhouse-gas emitter in the world. Cows are ruminants. This means that their stomachs digest food by fermenting it. This produces methane, which is released into the atmosphere when cows burp. In short, cows are ruining the environment, and we are helping them to do it.

Cows and other livestock have to be fed something. Usually they are fed corn, soybean meal and other grains, which use a lot of fertilizers, fuel, pesticides and land. The fertilizers are made with a greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The land is taken from cutting down trees.

Huge forests like the Amazon are really suffering. The Amazon Rainforest is a huge carbon sink; carbon put into the air is absorbed by the forest and the forest also cools global temperatures down. However, rates of deforestation have been rising. Unless stopped, deforestation could turn the rainforest into a desert and more than 50 billion tons of carbon would be released into the atmosphere in 30 to 50 years says the scientific journal Nature.

Now, stop to think about that. In 50 years the global population will be an estimated 10 billion. That means every person in the world is producing about five tons of carbon per year. That’s approximately 27 pounds of carbon per person per day. That is an insane amount and if we don’t reduce this carbon production, it will only worsen the climate problem.

Those 27 pounds of carbon are in part from all the meat we eat. Places like Germany have very meat-heavy diets, yet the U.S. eats 40 to 50 percent more per person, according to NPR. We have large portions with restaurants advertising amounts of meat that are unhealthy for one person to consume. Humans need protein, but we don’t need to get it all from meat. There are a lot of ways that we can get the protein we need without eating beef: quinoa, mushrooms, cottage cheese, chickpeas and lentils are all meat replacements. If you are looking for a meat substitute that tastes more like meat, Quorn, Soyrizo, seitan, jackfruit and Beyond Meat are all pretty good choices that mimic the taste of meat.

You would think that changing your diet is a small thing, and that it won’t change much, but it really does. At the current rate we are eating meat, Scientific American predicts that global meat production will have doubled by 2050, bringing it to about 1.2 trillion pounds per year. For that much meat we will need to cut down more trees to make more space for all the animals. Scientists also estimate that by 2050, much of our carbon budget will be used just to feed everyone.

Researchers predict that if Earth’s biggest meat-eaters limit their consumption to the equivalent of 1.5 hamburgers a week, the planet could support 10 million people without turning any more forests into farm lands, according to The Washington Post. Eating too much meat can also lead to heart disease and obesity, so it’s better for human health if we cut back on our meat intake.

We can also work to support local, organic, farmers with grass-fed cows. This helps the local economy, as well as helping out a farmer close to you. Another possible solution is that farmers make their cows more “climate-friendly” changing their cows’ diets. Including ingredients like seaweed in their feed could reduce cows’ methane emissions by almost 50 percent, according to The Washington Post.

Earth is an awesome place to live, and I want my grandkids to be able to experience it. I love the blue skies, the trees, grass, living in a place that has four distinct seasons, the sun, the rain, the beach, the lakes. I love our planet. And so, along with anyone else out there who wants our grandkids to have a shot at experiencing the outdoors, I am going to be limiting my meat consumption. My family and I are going to be pulling our vegetarian cookbook off the shelf more, and when we buy meat, it will be from North Plain Farm, five minutes down the road from our house.

We are going to make a difference.

Lily Haskins-Vaughan is an eighth grader at W.E.B. Du Bois Regional Middle School in Great Barrington.