Regardless of where you stand on the issue of global warming or climate change, you, like most people, probably recognize humans as the single greatest threat to the environment. We are far from alone though, and cattle give us a good run for our money. Other livestock, including sheep and goats, caused many of the same problems but cattle are the worst offenders (and the most numerous). Cows are essentially walking methane factories, and many of us are aware of this. What we don't realize is that methane has over 20 times the ability of CO2 to trap heat. A single cow is capable of belching upwards of 100 gallons of methane per day.

According to the UN, livestock are responsible for roughly 1/5 of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, more than all of the planes, trains, and automobiles on the planet. Livestock may not have caught up to volcanoes just yet, but the problem is going to get worse before it gets better as the developing world increases its meat and dairy production and consumption.

But the cows themselves are only a part of the problem. The real problem lies in the effects of raising so many of the animals. Rampant deforestation, soil erosion, water pollution, and the loss of biodiversity are just some of the results of creating pastureland and eliminating the manure does produce. All of these negative effects, and we haven't even looked at the cost of actually eating the meat.

As with most foods, eating meat in moderation poses no real health risk. No, the problem is that every time you eat a piece of meat, you are consuming natural resources twice. The same land we use to raise animals, package, process, transport, and store them is also used for the production of grain. You may be tempted to think that this is not significant until you consider the fact that a vegetarian consumes roughly 400 pounds of grain in a year, while a meat eater consumes about 2000. The extra 1600 pounds is fed to livestock. With over one third of the world's grain production being fed to livestock, we could actually feed every human on the planet if we redistributed these resources efficiently. Even if our goals were more modest, and we reduced meat consumption by 50%, which I think people would see as being more reasonable than completely cutting meat out of their diets, we could essentially eradicate starvation/malnutrition deaths worldwide.

It is likely beyond the ability of governments to effect change in where the beef industry is concerned. There is just too much money and too many potential votes involved. But we, as individuals, can affect change by consciously cutting back on meat consumption. Even reducing portion sizes will make a difference to our health, the environment, and people around the globe.