Bill Gates knows the world loves meat, and evolutionary pressures make moderation difficult. Still, meat production poses big problems for the environment and water conservation. Gates recently explored the conflict in a blog post called “Is There Enough Meat For Everyone?”
The former CEO founder and noted philanthropist started off saying that he once tried becoming a vegetarian. He managed for a year, but in the end found eating meat too tempting. Bill Gates isn’t alone, the Huffington Post reports that 84 percent of vegetarians and vegans go back to meat eventually.
Nevertheless, eating meat is inefficient (both in terms of water use and feed) and environmentally damaging.
The recent drought in California has prompted a media review of the state’s water usage. As Gates explains, livestock raising is the largest single agricultural use, by far.
To produce one ton of beef requires about four million gallons of water according to the New York Times. In comparison, vegetables take about 85,000 gallons per ton and starchy roots require about 102,200 gallons.
Bill Gates believes the water picture might not be so dire as the analysts say, at least it shouldn’t be so bad. Citing scientist and policy analyst Vaclav Smil, the Microsoft founder explains that about 90 percent of water used for livestock is “green water,” water that is used for things like growing grass that largely evaporates and moves on to other productive uses.
“In most places, all but a tiny fraction of green water comes from rain, and because most green water eventually evaporates back into the atmosphere, it’s not really consumed.”
Estimates that include green water considerations show livestock watering is actually much lower.
Still, Bill Gates doesn’t shy away from the meat’s many other problems, including the inefficient amount of feed required to produce it. Jared Diamond wrote in Guns, Germs, and Steel, it takes about 10,000 pounds of corn feed to make 1,000 pounds of cow.
Likewise, meat production aggravates global warming pressures. Massive swathes of CO2 consuming forests have been cleared in places like Brazil to make room for more livestock. Gates points out in his blog that nearly a quarter of the world’s non-iced over land is using for livestock.
Despite all the problems with meat, and its tempting deliciousness, there are reasons to be positive according to Bill Gates.
“Cheaper energy and better crop varieties will drive up agricultural productivity, especially in Africa, so we won’t have to choose as often between feeding animals and feeding people.”
Furthermore, meat consumption in the developed world does seem to be leveling off – which might be healthy as well as environment-friendly.
Gates is also hopeful for meat substitutes – and says he’s invested in a few promising companies in the field.
Bill Gates’ full blog post can be found here.