More than 50% of Grains Produced in the World is Fed to Livestock. Cattle and Livestock contribute 73% of Greenhouse Emissions caused by Production of Foods.
Is Veganism the Answer to Save the Planet?
Climate change is a complicated reality. There are multiple causal factors and there is a plethora of consequences. Any one step is unlikely to prevent climate change or global warming. Veganism is not the answer to save the planet. It is one of the many answers. You cannot go vegan and keep using as much or more plastic, hoping to save the planet. You cannot go vegan and increase consumption of fossil fuels. There has to be a holistic response to climate change and it has to be a global movement. Having laid out the caveat, veganism can play an important role in saving the planet and also in protecting humans and many species of wildlife.
Benefits of Veganism in the Context of Climate Change
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A study was recently conducted at the University of Oxford. Researchers concluded that eliminating meat & dairy from our diet can reduce the carbon footprint of an individual by as much as 73%. The reduction in carbon footprint pertains to only food. It does not include the other factors that contribute to the carbon footprint of an individual, such as driving, using plastic and consumption of various other goods.
The researchers also stated that eliminating meat & dairy from our diet will reduce farmland use by as much as 75% around the world. This is an area or landmass equivalent to the combined size of the United States, Australia, the European Union and China. The positive effect is not limited to carbon footprint in general but also a substantial reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases. The switch to veganism will free up the land presently in use to raise cattle and other livestock. Loss of wild lands to cultivation and agriculture is one of the major causes for mass extinction of different species of wildlife.
Adverse Effects of Cattle, Livestock and Dairy
Around 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture is due to cattle and livestock, including production of meat and dairy. Meat, dairy and other animal products provide only 18% of calories and just 37% of proteins but they account for more pollution and have a ripple effect on global warming, eventually climate change.
Cattle and livestock lead to more acidification. They use more water and land. Many people think that switching to sustainable dairy and meat is an alternative. There is no empirical evidence suggesting that such a switch has any positive chain reaction. These choices are still inferior and nearly inconsequential compared to going vegan in the context of climate change.
Let us consider the simple fact that it takes around fifteen hundred liters to produce or grow one kilogram or just over two pounds of wheat. One kilogram or just over two pounds of beef requires around fifteen thousand liters of water. One egg needs almost two hundred liters of water. Only two hundred and fifty milliliters of milk requires two hundred and fifty five liters of water. This is an input of a thousand and an output of one if we take solely the unit. In comparison, one kilogram of bananas requires nearly eight hundred liters.
Beef is not the worst offender when it comes to water consumption. Chocolate tops the unpleasant list. One kilogram of chocolate requires around seventeen thousand liters of water. One kilogram beef needs around fifteen thousand and five hundred liters. One kilogram of sheep meat requires ten thousand and five hundred liters of water. One kilogram of pork requires six thousand liters of water. One kilogram of butter requires five thousand and five hundred liters of water. One kilogram of chicken meat requires more than four thousand liters of water. One kilogram of cheese needs over three thousand liters of water.
In comparison with the fifteen thousand liters needed for one kilogram of beef, one kilogram of rice needs around two thousand and five hundred liters of water, dry pasta needs less than two thousand liters, bread needs around sixteen hundred liters, apples need less than a thousand liters, potatoes need less than three hundred liters, cabbage and tomatoes need just over two hundred liters.
Raising animals for meat, dairy and other products leads to an exponential rise in methane emissions, a greenhouse gas that is much more harmful than carbon dioxide. Many reports in the first decade of this century actually underreported the facts about methane emissions from livestock. Corrective measures in recent years, purely in the realm of research and scientific studies, have inferred that the actual methane emissions are much higher than what was estimated earlier. Whether livestock is reared on feeds or grass, every animal is basically converting the food source to energy and this is a massive process with significant carbon footprint. We do not normally realize the resulting impact. There are nearly twenty billion chickens in the world at a given point in time. There are nearly one and a half billion cattle. Pigs and sheep account for another billion.
A Brief History of Veganism
Veganism is the modern replacement for vegetarianism. Veganism is a little stricter as a diet than vegetarianism. Many vegetarians consume milk and other dairy products. Veganism excludes dairy. The term was coined in 1944 by Donald Watson. The practice of veganism or vegetarianism is not a twentieth century phenomenon. It is an age old practice. Ancient India was largely vegetarian. Significant percent of Indian population is still vegetarian. It was not as much of a religious or cultural practice as it was spiritual and realistic. Ancient Indian civilization had championed many beliefs and philosophies that have been proven to be morally sound over the centuries.
Veganism simply implies that you should consume what is found in nature and what the planet provides you. There are ample sources of essential nutrition available in nature and one does not have to resort to aggressive production of foods that the environment cannot support. Modern veganism is more about compassion for some. It is about pragmatism for others. Many people switch to veganism because there is enough scientific evidence inferring the correlation of many modern diseases with a largely meat based diet. The production of meat and dairy is replete with use of medications, cramped conditions, experiments and biological engineering, processing that relies on chemicals and the further adulteration of the products to make them palatable for the consumers.
The Movement of Veganism
Presently, there is a worldwide movement in favor of veganism. Many celebrities and influential personalities from various walks of life have joined the movement and aired their advocacy on public platforms. Veganism is not being pitched today as a healthier alternative. Mahatma Gandhi was a vegetarian. He advocated nonviolence, not just against fellow humans but also animals and our planet. Pythagoras was a vegetarian. He eschewed fish and meat. St. Anthony of Egypt, Leonardo da Vinci, Franz Kafka, Mary Shelley, John Harvey Kellogg and Leo Tolstoy were vegetarians.
There are scores of contemporary celebrities who are verified vegans. Ellen Page, Jessica Chastain, James Cromwell, Alicia Silverstone, Ariana Grande, Ellen DeGeneres, Joaquin Phoenix, Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Mayim Bialik, Joan Jett, Bellamy Young, Casey Affleck, Daniella Monet, Moby, Dawn Richard, Morrissey, Russell Simmons, Sia, Stevie Wonder, Pamela Anderson, Peter Dinklage, James Cameron, Kate Mara, Rooney Mara, Al Gore, Evanna Lynch, Wacka Flocka Flame, Travis Barker and Mya are vegans and they are quite vocal about their support for climate change and prevention of cruelty to animals.
It is not necessary for anyone to be an environmentalist, animal rights activist or a scientist to know the adverse effects of a non vegetarian diet. A switch will easily establish why a plant or cereals, vegetables and fruits based diet is much better. One does not have to know the facts about greenhouse emissions, global warming, pollution or climate change. One visit to an animal or dairy farm will be more than enough for any person to understand the adverse effects of such widespread cattle and livestock rearing, production and processing.
The air at intensive farms is not breathable. Someone who has never been familiar with alarming levels of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases will suffocate and even choke at such farms. Many farms use efficient ventilation systems and create hygienic conditions for the livestock. But the emissions are eventually getting dispersed in the atmosphere. It is not as if the farms are neutralizing the emissions, compensating for the water that is being used or accounting for the foods being used as feeds for the animals. Over one billion metric tons of feeds are used by the cattle, livestock and dairy industry. These feeds are made of foods that are grown extensively so the impact is not just on environment but also on agriculture. When you imagine the quantum of feed being produced and used by the industry, remember that the world is yet to win the war against hunger and poverty.
However, with that being said, each individual has every right to follow their preferred diet. But please do spare a thought for the planet.
On a lighter note, here are some Mouthwatering Homestyle Vegan Desserts
Cover Photo by Artem Bulbfish from Pexels