(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Sasha Keenan
Naperville North

You’re in the McDonald’s drive-thru line, impatiently waiting to satiate your quarter-pounder craving. As you roll down the window, you catch a whiff of salted greasiness; you reach for the white bag, heavy with a cheddar-slathered meat patty.

On the surface, your meal was made from ingredients. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover that the production of one juicy, 4oz. meat patty had a substantial environmental impact. The documentary “Cowspiracy” (now streaming on Netflix) unveils the destructive nature of animal agriculture in terms of water consumption, deforestation and pollution.

1. Not eating a hamburger saves more water than not showering for two months

If you ever feel like an environmental rock star for cutting your shower time by few minutes, hold on a second. On average, a shower uses two gallons per minute. Producing a pound of beef, on the other hand, can take up to 2,400 gallons water.

2. Growing food for livestock consumes 56 percent of U.S freshwater

Only 6 percent of U.S. freshwater is used domestically. The majority of U.S. freshwater goes towards our turkey sandwiches and Sunday morning bacon. If we continue to use such large amounts of the water supply on animal agriculture, our entire food supply may be at risk, according to Propublica.

3. The diet of an average American requires roughly 4,200 gallons of water per day on average, while a vegan diet requires about 300 gallons

Our water diets are much different, and much more resource-intensive, than our daily water consumption in terms of hygiene, hydration and cooking. According to Huffington Post, the production of many everyday animal products requires hundreds of gallons of water, because mass amounts of livestock feed must be cultivated first. Steak, pork, cheese, milk and eggs are a few common but particularly resource-exhausting goods.

4. 91 percent of rainforest destruction is the result of animal agriculture

Rainforests are the most diverse, life-abundant ecosystems on the planet. Nevertheless, many rainforests are destroyed to make room for the livestock industry. If you ask me, demolishing the home of thousands of unique species of plants and animals to make room for a homogenous field of cattle sounds like a bit of a downgrade, not to mention a threat to the world.

5. An acre of rainforest is cleared every second for grazing

1… 2… 3. As you read that, three acres of rainforest were destroyed. While I’m perplexed how that’s even possible, I’m more confused as to why we’re chopping down pristine, precious land to make room for our industries.

6. As many as 137 species of organisms become extinct every day as a direct result of deforestation

If we don’t act upon the harmful nature of animal agriculture, we could be saying goodbye to orangutans and toucans. Biodiversity is diminishing at an alarming rate—well over 100 species per day—as a result of rainforest destruction for livestock industry use.

7. Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all emissions from transportation combined

The notion that our car emissions are burning a hole in the atmosphere isn’t untrue, but certainly incomplete. Greenhouse gas emissions from all transportation combined is only 13 percent, while greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture is 18 percent. In other words, blaming global warming on people who don’t ride their bike to work is unfair.

8. In the next 35 years, emissions from animal agriculture sources are expected to increase by 80 percent

If you thought 18 percent of gas emissions coming from animal agriculture was bad, just wait until 2050. With the constant expansion of cattle and animal product industries, the only place for that percentage to go is up—and dramatically. With an increase in gas emissions, temperatures will rise and ice caps will melt—a circumstance that would pose several problems to mankind, according to NASA.

Several organizations such as the Environmental Working Group, Environmental Protection Agency, Sustainable Table and One Green Planet encourage reducing meat consumption, whether it’s by cutting out animal products completely or simply limiting your Chipotle order to a half scoop of steak. If we don’t start acting, our planet might be doomed; if we do start acting, there will be blue oceans and green grass for years to come.

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The Mash is the Chicago Tribune's newspaper and website written for teens, by teens. The paper is distributed for free every other Thursday at Chicago-area high schools and is written largely by high school students.

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