Anyone attending college probably realizes that the environmental crisis we are currently experiencing is not a myth. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that the global surface temperature is likely to rise up to 11.5°F by the year 2100, setting into motion a slew of catastrophic consequences for our planet, such as a rise in sea level, increasingly frequent heat waves and periods of heavy precipitation and more severe tropical cyclones. Numerous species will become extinct, which will wreak havoc on our ecosystem.
And if you're dumb enough to think this won't affect you, then perhaps give some thought to the impact global warming will have on the economy. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, the banking, transport and agricultural industries will all likely suffer due to climate change.
And you thought the global financial crisis was bad now.
So what can we do? For the average college student, financial viability takes precedence over environmentally friendly alternatives to their lifestyle and this is completely understandable. Installing solar panels on your home and buying a Toyota Prius are simply not feasible ways to reduce your carbon footprint for most people. But there is a way to minimize the detrimental impact that you personally are having on our environment without having to make a radical change to your lifestyle or budget.
The answer is semi-vegetarianism.
A 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization stated that the meat industry accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than those cumulatively produced by all the SUVs, cars, trucks, planes and ships in the world. The report also found that the industry is ""one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.""
Animal farming accounts for the highest levels of methane and nitrous oxide emissions, and these gases, along with carbon dioxide (which is also produced by the meat, egg and dairy industries in alarming quantities), are the most potent causes of global warming. The devastation that is resulting from our overconsumption of meat products is a problem we can no longer ignore.
Ideally, I would like for all of you to become vegetarians instantaneously. However, I realize that encouraging this tends to polarize people's views on how much meat they should ethically be consuming, and such a suggestion is usually met with the assertion that the other person cannot or will not give up any meat.
Food is a major source of pleasure and socializing for many people, but meals incorporating meat should be the exception, not the rule. However, with the tendency of on-campus food outlets to provide so few vegetarian options, it's no wonder that people wouldn't elect to cut meat out of their meals.
Undeclared freshman — and the only vegan I have met in Arizona — Marcea Decker prefers to contend with regular battles for cooking equipment in her dorm than to shuffle over to the student unions and choose between having a salad at the Cactus Grill and a salad at Core.
""All of the food outlets on campus follow the fast-paced convenience of our society,"" Decker said. ""I feel that if there were more choices for healthy eating and ethical restaurants then people would be inclined to become more conscientious of the way that they consume, behave and treat other living beings.""
And yet the reason she does it is to try to offset the average American's consumption of meat, around 271 pounds a year, the world's highest rate, according to the UN.
More people should be vegetarians and the food outlets on campus should be offering a greater variety of options to cater to people who take responsibility for their carbon footprint. The reduced environmental impact of using recyclable bags or taking short showers, while admirable, is nothing compared to the difference you can make by simply decreasing your meat consumption.
According to the Environmental Defense Fund, if every American resisted meat consumption just one day per week, the environmental advantage would be the same as having 8 million fewer cars off the roads. There are plenty of interesting and tasty ways to adapt your favorite meals to be meatless; the meals available on campus are a truly poor representation of this.
It doesn't matter whether you consider yourself to be environmentally conscious or not. We are all equally responsible for allowing the health of our earth to continue to deteriorate. We can no longer afford to be ignorant of the devastating effects that cultivating livestock has on global warming. You have no excuse.
— Dunja Nedic is an Australian exchange student. She can be reached at email@example.com.