Saying that “veganism can save the world” may be a little bit of an exaggeration, but according to a study published by the University of Oxford, switching to a vegan diet is “the single biggest way” to reduce your environmental impact on Earth. Less air pollution, less water used and naturally less animals killed.
When most current vegans explain that the main reason why they decided to become plant based is ethical, there is no doubt, that this kind of lifestyle has plenty of environmental benefits. Raising animals for food requires massive amounts of land, food, energy, and water. Not to mention, the byproducts of animal agriculture pollute the air we breath in and and the water we drink. As the global population increases and the world’s appetite for meat is growing, the environmental reasons to go vegan are becoming more and more vital.
Researchers at the University of Oxford found that cutting meat and dairy products from your diet could reduce an individual’s carbon footprint from food by up to 73%. Meanwhile, if everyone stopped eating these foods, global farmland use could be reduced by 75%. This is an area equivalent to the size of the US, China, Australia and the EU combined. Not only would this result in a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions, it would also free up wild land lost to agriculture, one of the primary causes for mass wildlife extinction.
Ok, but let’s take it piece by piece.
What are the environmental reasons to go vegan?
As I already mentioned, switching to a plant based diet is often touted as the most impactful thing you can do to minimise your environmental impact. Even more than cutting down on flights or switching to a renewable energy supplier. But how are you helping exactly? Let me tell you.
By becoming vegan:
You cut greenhouse gas emissions.
There are 3 main gases involved in meat production that contribute to global warming: carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.
While carbon dioxide has long been mentioned as one of the main culprits of global warming, the methane produced from animal farming is also having a significant effect. Methane might not stay as long in the atmosphere as CO2 does, but while it is there it is more powerful as it absorbs more heat. 20x times more powerful at trapping heat than CO2 to be exact. The excessive quantities of methane produced by the flatulence and burping of cattle, known as “enteric fermentation”, is just a part of the problem. Another greenhouse gas, that is also released into the atmosphere as a result of animal farming is nitrous oxide. It is 300x times more powerful at trapping heat than CO2. It’s also proven that the meat, egg and dairy industries account for 65% of the world’s nitrous oxide emissions.
If one person switches to vegan diet, they’ll reduce CO2 emissions by 1,5 tons per year. It’s the same amount of CO2 emissions as taking 500.000 cars off road.
You save water.
Did you know that by not eating one pound of meat you’re saving more water than by not taking a shower for 6 months? Or that it takes between 5000 and 20000 litres of water to produce 1kg of meat? Compared to 500-4000 litres to produce 1kg of wheat!
So yes, not eating meat and dairy saves water, which still comes in short supply in some parts of the world. According to water.org 785 million people – that’s 1 in 9, lack access to safe water. Yet agriculture uses 70% of the global freshwater that is available and livestock guzzle more fresh water than just about anything else.
Moreover, livestock is also one of the biggest polluters of fresh water. High doses of chemicals, fertilisers and antibiotics used to grow the animals are often released into the surrounding areas, lakes and rivers. This excess waste and water pollution and threatens the safety of drinking water and the other species living in those areas.
We obviously need food to eat. But we also need water to drink. If there are ways to use less water and still grow food – that’s clearly a better solution!
You save the land.
Raising animals for food, including the sufficient grazing land and cropland to grow food for animals, uses 30% of the Earth’s land mass. That’s the same size as Asia.
From tropical rain forests in Brazil to ancient pine forests in China, entire ecosystems are being destroyed to fuel humans’ addiction to meat. According to scientists at the Smithsonian Institution the equivalent of 7 football fields are bulldozed every minute to create more room for farm animals. This land could be used to produce various plants which could be consumed by people, not by farm animals.
If more farmland was used to grow crops for humans, then more people could be fed at less of an expense to the planet. So in the long term, you being a vegan helps fight world hunger.
This issue is becoming more and more urgent as the global population will hit or surpass 9.1 billion by 2050. There’s simply not enough land on the planet to raise enough meat to feed everyone!
You help protect rainforests and endangered species.
With acres of rainforests being cleared up to rear and graze animals, their inhabitants struggle for survival.
Although it’s difficult to accurately measure the effect of farming animals on biodiversity, the expansion of farmland negatively affects more biodiverse environments and the species that live in them. Of course similar things can be said about non-meat farming products, like palm oil. But in the case of meat production, the combination of water and air pollution and land usage, has undoubtedly negative consequences. Many of the estimated million of animal and plants species currently threatened with extinction are certainly not being helped by farming in general and animal farming in particular.
Wild animals are being squeezed into smaller and smaller areas where it’s hard for them to survive. Moreover, as their habitat is overtaken by farming, they are forced into contact with humans. This is often harmful to both humans and animals, but it definitely comes off worse for animals.
You save the oceans and…oxygen.
While oceans’ plastic pollution is a serious threat, ocean acidification, caused by an increased uptake of carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmosphere, is far more deadly. As ocean acidity increases, creatures with calcium carbonate in their shells, such as molluscs, crabs and coral reefs, find it harder to grow and reproduce.
By switching to a vegan diet, you can reduce the amount of agricultural carbon being pumped into the atmosphere and help ocean ecosystems re-stabilise.
I think those environmental reasons to go vegan speak for themselves.
Excluding moral and ethical reasons raising animals for food is simply very inefficient!
Animals eat large quantities of grain, soybeans, oats and corn, however they only produce a comparatively small amount of meat, dairy, products or eggs in return!
Luckily more and more people realize the problem and try to change their food habits by either going vegan or vegetarian, or by cutting their intake of meat. Whether it’s because of environmental reasons to go vegan or they simply don’t want to participate in animal cruelty, it’s simply the best thing you can do for the planet. Because there is no doubt that eating plants rather than meat is better when it comes to the issue of climate change!
For me personally, switching to a plant based “diet” was the best decision in my life! Also, because I get to eat such delicacies. If you’re looking for inspiration for plant based recipes, check out my personal chef’s new blog. Kidding of course, he’s just my boyfriend.
And if you’re looking for other ways to help our planet, find out how you can easily minimise plastic usage in your daily life.
If you have any thoughts or questions about veganism, drop them in the comments or hit me up on Instagram.
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