Killing the planet, one steak at a time

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For my catalyst conference project, I’ve chosen to work on Goal 12 – to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. There is no doubt that the world is dying – in my opinion, that’s due mostly to overproduction, and overconsumption. The meat industry in a nutshell. In the United States, and in a lot of countries around the world, cattle farming is subsidized unlike anything else. Hopefully, this document will convince you why, economically, health-wise, and for the sake of our planet, meat subsidies should be reduced.

So…first off, how is cattle farming harmful?


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In Central America alone, 40% of the original forests have been cleared to make way for feeding grounds for cattle- and that’s only since the 80s. This isn’t only terrible in terms of tree preservation on a planet that already has too few trees, but is also a terrible waste of land – for reasons explained below.


Take a look at this following graphic:

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Not only is cattle farming much more expensive than farming edible crops, but it wastes so many more resources.

It’s estimated that if we instead used all that land for crops for human consumption instead of for cattle feed, we’d be able to feed 7 billion people daily. That’s almost the entirety of the world – only using South American farmland.

But it doesn’t end here…


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Cattle farming wastes an absurd amount of water. From watering the grass to keeping the cows hydrated it’s estimated that the average meat-loving milk-drinking American’s diet involves over 4000 tons of water a year. If Americans were to switch to a vegan diet, that number would drop to around 300 tons.

Killing our Seas

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Oceans are getting extremely polluted, and there’s a huge imbalance in seawater minerals due to the leakage of filthy farm water into the oceans. Corals can’t grow anymore because they can’t find the minerals in the water they need since they’ve bonded to the nitrates coming into the ocean from the runoff cow poop.

Global Warming

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Finally, the reason we hear of the most: global warming. Cows fart methane; lots of it. Methane is one of the worst gases for the atmosphere, completely destroying the ozone layer. A lot of people don’t know this about cattle, but if you were to look up statistical comparisons between the things we normally hear are bad for the atmosphere and how bad cow farts are for the environment – you may be surprised by what you see.

My GOA class was game theory this year, and our assignment was to construct a hypothetical matrix model of the catalyst topic of our choice. Here is mine:


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Lets begin by introducing the two players, their goals, and some of the possible strategies:

  • Players:
    • Meat and Dairy Producers
      • This just represents everyone involved in the production and distribution of meat and dairy products – processing, shipping, farming, slaughtering, selling…etc etc. It could also include consumers when I make my actual matrix for the project, but in this case, it doesn’t.
    • Hypothetical Meat and Dairy Production Regulatory Organization. HMPRO
      • This is a hypothetical organization created to ensure that meat and dairy production is sustainable, or at least doesn’t hurt the environment any more than it has up to this point – even if that means getting rid of meat altogether.
  • Goals:
    • Meat Producer’s Goal:
      • Make as much profit as possible, through whatever means necessary.
    • HMPRO’s Goal:
      • Make meat production as sustainable as possible, even if that means getting rid of meat production altogether.
  • Strategies (these don’t represent ALL the strategies-just for this hypothetical Game-Theory model):
    • Meat Producers:
      • Attempt to expand further into forested land. A
      • Build massive pipes that deliver waste directly into the ocean. B.
      • Produce everything locally and depend less on international sellers for materials. C
      • Switch to producing vegetarian alternatives to meat, and selling those instead. D
    • HMPR’s strategies:
      • Add more regulations on the land that farmers can take over to try and combat deforestation. A
      • Enforce cleaner waste disposal. B
      • Buy out grasslands and prairies from farmers. C
      • Convince the government to stop subsidizing meat. D

Now let’s build the matrix!

  • The Matrix
    • Payoffs are written as (Row, Columns) and can range from -3 to 3.


  • Row A
    • Column A
      • Since the deforestation laws directly counter an attempt to expand further into the rainforests, the payoff for the farmers is very negative. However, since there is too much farming as of now, the payoff for the regulation organization isn’t SUPER positive.
    • Column B
      • Deforestation laws didn’t do anything to counter the pollution of the oceans. It’s cheaper than safe waste disposal for the farmers
    • Column C
      • Producing locally would help most farms – cheaper, and less overhead costs in transportation, etc. Deforestation laws are still helpful.
    • Column D
      • I honestly believe that if farms focused on producing vegetarian alternatives, it would be cheaper and less wasteful. Cows take up SOOOO much water and food, it’s ridiculous.
  • Row B  – Enforce cleaner waste disposal
    • Column A
      • The payoff for meat producers is zero because meat is already being overproduced – cutting down more trees isn’t getting them more profit.
    • Column B
      • A direct counter of the meat producer’s strategy and waste is one of the biggest problems.
    • Column C
      • Producing locally would help most farms – cheaper, and less overhead costs in transportation, etc. Coupled with harsher waste disposal laws would be a huge boost to the environment
  • Row C
    • Column A
      • The payoff for meat producers is zero because meat is already being overproduced – cutting down more trees isn’t getting them more profit. Buying out the grasslands won’t help if the farmers are cutting down all the trees.
    • Column C
      • Producing locally would help most farms – cheaper, and less overhead costs in transportation, etc.
  • Row D:
    • I think convincing the government to stop subsidizing meat so much would be the greatest solution, regardless of what the farmers do. The first three columns would correspond to negative payoffs for the farmers – since meat is being overproduced, the real solution is for them to produce less. That’s why I think the last column, having some producers switch to producing vegetarian alternatives, would be helpful to both.
  • Other things we haven’t considered:
    • Costs to implement a lot of these strategies
    • The time it takes to implement a lot of these strategies
    • Consumer’s opinion on vegetarian options and the importance of the environment
    • Long term consequences of more profit are less profit in the long run if it means killing the world.

Can we solve the game?

For the conservation group, their best bet is convincing the government to stop subsidizing meat. In that case, the meat producers have no choice BUT to start selling vegetarian alternatives. And thus, leading us to the Pareto Optimal solution.

The solution seems simple…but of course, I’m making many assumptions, and I understand if you’re not convinced. Give me one more chance to convince you that the government should stop subsidizing meat:

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If you knew you were paying thousands of dollars every year to increase your risk of getting cancer, destroy the planet, and most likely die younger than you would’ve otherwise, would you agree to it?

Well, here’s the thing – you already have.

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The US government subsidizes food production like crazy. Those subsidies come from YOUR TAX DOLLARS.

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More Tax money goes to Food and Agriculture than to the environment. We are paying for the death of our planet.

Now, this isn’t necessarilly a bad thing. It keeps food cheap and makes sure that no one in the US goes hungry. In theory, it should be good for us. But it isn’t.

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Subsidies don’t work – they don’t lead to less hunger. Do a quick search on google for “hunger in the united states” and you’ll see. There will be posts saying things like “1 in 7 people in the US miss meals daily due to financial insecurity” or “Millions hungry in the country of excess.”  Subsidizing food production has decreased its price, but it hasn’t led to an end to hunger – it’s just led to a LOT of waste. According to the United States Department of Agriculture: “In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30-40 percent of the food supply. ” It doesn’t take a statistician or a game theory master to see that’s absolutely ridiculous.

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Subsidies don’t end hunger

But, that’s not where the problem ends.

Let’s take a look for a second where these food subsidies are going:

“Sixty-three percent of the U.S. government food subsidies go directly or indirectly to subsidize the meat and dairy industries. Less than 1 percent goes to fruit and vegetable cultivation. Less than 2 percent goes to nut and legume cultivation”

Why do you think the hamburger at McDonald’s is a dollar, while the bag of “fancy” almonds at Costco costs almost 20 dollars? Subsidies. They’re split super unevenly.

Around  $38 billion goes to subsidize the meat and dairy industries every year. That’s insane – not only is meat and milk proven to increase the chances of getting cancer, but its production is destroying our planet! Why make it so cheap at the cost of making other delicious alternatives expensive?

Besides, you aren’t really paying a dollar for that hamburger at McDonald’s – let’s do the math really quickly. If you divide the amount of money that goes into meat and dairy subsidies each year by the number of people in the United States, you get that the average American citizen is ending up paying 116 dollars and 20 cents a year in meat subsidies!

Subsidies may have lowered the price of meat and dairy. But, at what cost?

If we stopped subsidizing meat, and instead subsidized other foods, not only would it become easier to be healthy, but less food would be wasted, and our dying world would perhaps last a little longer.

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Thank you for reading!

Links to further reading

And finally, a short survey:

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