We've developed electric cars, found alternative sources of energy, and observed ways to conserve water over the last twenty years. Yet while we are working so hard to conserve the limited resources that we have, we continue to pour money into an industry that continues to destroy the environment at an alarmingly rapid rate: the dairy industry.

Now, you may be thinking, "How does my cheese pull Instagram or milk with cereal every morning contribute to the destruction of the Earth?" After some extensive research for a school project, I want to share some of the knowledge that I acquired through the process. 

The Impact

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Aakanksha Joshi

So how exactly does your consumption of dairy affect the planet? Well, for the average dairy farm containing 700 cows, they use 3.4 million gallons of water every day. This water goes to a lot of things: cleaning the facilities, feeding, and hydrating the cows themselves.

But at what cost is it to the environment? If you think about it in simple terms, 21% of our dairy products come from California. Considering the drought going on in California right now and the amount of water the dairy industry located there is using on a daily basis, 21% is a lot. 

In addition, dairy production contributes heavily to the global greenhouse gas emissions. According to a report put out by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the dairy sector contributes to 4% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

It is estimated that cows produce between 250 and 500 liters of methane per day. If you think back to our dairy farm with 700 cows, that's a maximum of 350,000 liters or 325,000 pounds of methane per day. To put that into perspective for you even more, a single oil fracking well is responsible for about 30,680 pounds of methane per day.

It's a Money Game

It's easy to wonder how this happened in the first place, but it's actually very simple to understand after a little digging for information. The dairy industry began heavily advertising after a dairy surplus during World War I. They advertised the benefits of drinking milk and consuming other dairy products: calcium leads to strong bones, vitamins and minerals are essential to everyday life, you've heard all the reasons.

The dairy industry became incredibly profitable and powerful seemingly overnight. In 2013, dairy producers spent over $8 million on lobbying alone. In addition, the United States Department of Agriculture spends an average of $550 million per year on advertising for dairy products. For each dollar that the USDA spends on advertising, they make an $8 profit. Not a bad way for the government to make a little extra cash, huh?

So what?

While the dairy industry continues to bombard us with the health benefits of their products and the USDA proceeds to endorse food items whose production is damaging to the global environment, there is something we can do about it. The first step is awareness. By even reading this article and sharing it on social media, you are furthering your knowledge on the topic and encouraging others to do the same. 

While it may seem impossible to go completely dairy-free (I know I can't!), there are tiny ways you can make changes in your diet to help this cause. Try to reduce your intake of dairy by one item per day.

Find alternatives such as coconut milk and almond milk. Use substitutes for butter while baking. Try Ben & Jerry's new line of dairy-free "ice cream." Thinking of going completely dairy- free? Read our guide to being dairy-free in college without sacrificing your social life here.