2022 convinced me we are in a climate emergency, including how overwhelmed I felt (and feel) seeing flooding in Pakistan displace a third of the country.1
Pakistan floods. Image: EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock via BBC
The emergency is already here, but we still have the potential to make things substantially less bad.2 Climate change is not binary: every emission we avoid now keeps the world that much more liveable.
The urgency—but also tractability—of addressing climate change has inspired me to donate 60% of my income in 2023. (As disclosed in that blog post, this is possible due to privileges like a high income as a software engineer.)
In this blog, I explain why I am allocating 40% of my donations to ending animal agriculture as a promising and still neglected strategy to mitigate the climate emergency.
Animal Agriculture’s Damage
Food production makes up a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.3
One reason animal agriculture is so inefficient: trophic levels and energy flow. All the energy we use starts with the sun, which plants convert through photosynthesis. When animals eat plants, about 80%–90% of the original energy from the sun is lost due to the plant using it to live and inefficiencies like heat loss.6 When an animal eats another animal, yet another 80%–90% of the energy is lost. And so on. So, it’s far more efficient for us to eat plants directly than animals.
An example marine food pyramid. Image: Tim Gunther via National Geographic
Given this inefficient loss of energy:
- Animal agriculture takes up 77% of global farmland, both for the animals themselves and all the food they need to live.7
- 77% of soy is used for animal feed.8
- Animal agriculture is responsible for 72% of the Amazon’s deforestation.9
- Cow milk requires 1.7x more water than almond milk and 13x more than oat milk.10
Amazon deforestation for cattle grazing. Image: Nigel Dickinson / WWF-Canon
In addition to how much land, food, and water it requires, animal agriculture causes 37% of methane emissions, primarily due to cow burps.11 Methane is 80x more potent than carbon dioxide over 20 years, and many scientists agree we must tackle methane emissions for any chance of keeping emissions at 1.5°C.12
“Regenerative” animal agriculture—grazing cattle to stimulate the soil to absorb carbon—is not the solution; cows fed on grass release more greenhouse gas emissions than they offset via sequestration.13
Techno-Fixes Are Not Enough
Rather than shifting to a plant-based agriculture system, some have proposed techno-fixes to keep the current system but make it less harmful, like changing cow feed so that cow burps emit less methane.14
While we should pursue an all-of-the-above strategy for the climate emergency, small fixes like this are not enough to fix how foundationally inefficient animal agriculture is.
Crucially, these techno-fixes also maintain a system of horrible animal suffering, which the documentary Dominion made clear to me. I donate to end animal agriculture to address the climate emergency and end the moral catastrophe of factory farming.
Me at an animal sanctuary with a recently rescued three-month-old goat. A more compassionate and joyful world is possible! Image: Eric Arellano
The Climate Emergency Impacts Animals
The climate emergency is already making life even worse for animals, both farmed and wild.
Farmed animals are victim to the same natural disasters we are, such as a 2022 heat wave in Kansas that killed thousands of cows,15 or the 2022 floods in Pakistan that killed 794,000 farmed animals.16
For wild animals, animal agriculture directly worsens their lives through habitat loss, such as causing 72% of deforestation in the Amazon.17 Indirectly, animal agriculture also hurts wild animals by contributing to climate change. For example, climate change will result in the spread of new diseases.18 Likewise, natural disasters like wildfires directly harm wildlife.
This reality motivates me to do all I can to tackle the climate emergency: Every emission I help divert results in a more liveable world for both humans and nonhuman animals.
Will My Donations Actually Have an Impact?
It’s impossible for me alone to end animal agriculture. So why try? I think of this story:
After a storm, thousands and thousands of starfish are stranded and suffocating on the beach.
Someone sees an old man throwing a single starfish back into the sea, followed by another. They ask him, “Why are you doing that? Don’t you realize you can’t make a difference? There are thousands of them!”
The man picks up and throws another. “I made a difference to that one.”
My favorite book, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, gives me similar inspiration:
My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?19
Animal exploitation and climate change are not binary. Every animal we save from factory farms matters. Every pound of CO2 and methane we avoid matters.
Social change is complex, and it will take many interventions for us to end animal agriculture. For example, I needed several interventions in my journey from a heavily meat-consuming family to becoming an animal rights activist and donor, such as:
- Leafleting on my college campus
- A podcast describing factory farms
- Visiting my first animal sanctuary
- Vegan cookbooks
- New plant-based products to ease the transition
Fortunately, many of these interventions are relatively inexpensive to kickstart. For example, Animal Charity Evaluators’ Movement Grants program gives grants of $5,000—$50,000 to help build a pluralized and resilient movement. Some of my favorite grants:
- $8,500 to Vegan Derneği Turkiye to introduce vegan options into Turkish institutions, like university cafes and the military
- $6,000 to provide scholarships for students to attend India’s NALSAR University of Law to pursue animal law
- $48,000 to help kickstart Climate Refarm to offer carbon credits for transitioning to plant-based food
It’s motivating to know I can help pay for one of these grants (and double it thanks to donation matching).
Outside of Movement Grants, other relatively low-cost opportunities exist to help animals. For example, it only costs Dharma Voices For Animals about $30 to give a presentation in Sri Lanka that, on average, reaches 63 people.
As I shared in my post on donating my income, donating and volunteering as an animal rights activist has reduced my eco-anxiety from climate change.
Rather than my prior despair, fighting to end animal agriculture represents rebellious hope that we can meaningfully impact animal suffering and the climate emergency. If you agree, consider donating or volunteering.
For all works cited in this article, please see the reference list.