As the debate over how to mitigate the most devastating impacts of climate change swirl, one potential solution remains largely ignored. Unlike calls to implement governmental programs to cut the use of fossil fuels or implement carbon taxes, this solution is one that we can all make happen every single day in the form of what we choose to put on our plates.

Animal agriculture is the leading cause of global greenhouse gas emissions, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that livestock production is responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while other organizations like the Worldwatch Institute have estimated it could be as much as 51 percent. But it is also the source of mass deforestation, air and water pollution, in addition to species extinction. So when we choose to consume meat — on a global scale — we have an enormous impact on the world around us.

Given the current predicament we are in that stems from our appetite for meat, we have to stop and wonder if the animal agriculture system is really the most sustainable option.

The Failing of the Livestock System

The FAO projects that by 2080, 577 million tons of meat will be consumed as opposed to the consumption in 2010 of over 300 million tons of meat worldwide. At current rates, we are using one and half Earth’s worth of resources to produce food for the world’s population of seven billion … and around 850 million people still suffer from hunger globally.

Animal agriculture has turned into an industrialized system with the express purpose of feeding more people in a more efficient manner. Factory farms where hundreds of thousands of animals are raised for food are becoming the norm across the world. As of 2007, three-quarters of the world’s chicken supply, half of the pork supply, and two-thirds of eggs came from industrial agricultural settings, or factory farms.

While raising this large number of livestock in a concentrated area may be a more efficient way to use land and space resources, it is only one small part of the problem.

Land Use for Livestock Feed

An estimated 26 percent of land worldwide is used for grazing livestock and 33 percent of land worldwide is used to grow livestock feed. That equals out to about two-thirds of crop land that is used to grow food…