Can being vegetarian help the environment?
Yes. The livestock industry is one of the biggest contributors to environmental degradation worldwide.
It is highly inefficient to use land for growing crops and then feed these to animals so as to produce meat. Cows and sheep waste approximately 90% of the plant material needed to feed them. This is because they use up large amounts of energy through growing, moving about, reproducing, defecating, and so on. An estimated 70% of the entire production of wheat, corn, and other grains is fed to farmed animals.
Meat-eating is causing destruction of natural habitats. A “slash-and-burn” policy clears huge areas of South American rainforest, for example, making way for cattle grazing to produce cheap beef but at a high environmental cost. In central Queensland, Australia, the native brigalow vegetation has been extensively “pulled” - again, to facilitate cattle grazing - contributing to the severe decline of the critically endangered bridled nailtail wallaby. A staggering 25% of the planet’s land surface is used for the grazing of domestic livestock.
Due to human overpopulation, we have already taken far too much space on our planet from nature. A vegetarian diet means that less land is needed for food production. This can then be set aside for wildlife.
From an environmental perspective, it doesn’t matter if you are a strict vegetarian. You could alternatively choose to greatly reduce your intake of meat. There is effectively no difference; eating meat very occasionally (such as a bit of turkey on Christmas Day) will have little impact on the environment compared to the effect of regular meat-eating. Vegetarians who claim otherwise are missing or exaggerating the point. However, the ethical argument in favour of being vegetarian for reasons of combating cruelty to animals remains persuasive and coherent in itself.