Eat less meat, save the world

Eating a vegan diet can help fight climate change dramatically

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WIkimedia Commons/Vaarok Dairy Cattle
Agriculture is responsible for between 14 and 18 percent of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, a majority of which comes from cattle production.

If the reality of climate change frightens you, there is something you can do right now: Change your diet.

According to a recent study from the Oxford Martin School’s Future of Food program, if everyone in the world went vegan, we could cut food-related emissions by 70 percent.

Analyses by the World Resources Institute and the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimate that agriculture is responsible for between 14 and 18 percent of all heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The vast majority of this comes from animal agriculture, particular cattle production.

While this number may seem low, a 2014 study from the University of Minnesota, St. Paul found that the growing worldwide demand for meat is expected to be a major contributor to a roughly 80 percent increase in global greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector and global land clearing.

In the last four decades, meat consumption has increased at a rapid rate in the United States. According to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation (OECD), the average American consumed around 198 pounds of meat in 2014. By 2024, these numbers are expected to surge to nearly 208 pounds. That is a lot of meat, especially when compared to the rest of the world at an average of 78 pounds per person. But Americans may simply be unaware of the power of veganism.

In a recent study conducted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, a group of 500 Americans were asked about certain individual actions they were willing to make to combat climate change. Only 6 percent of them recognized the effectiveness of switching to a plant-based diet — even though that transition could reduce the costs of climate change mitigation by as much as 50 percent by 2050.

Animal rights attorney and long-time vegan Larry Weiss says the reason Americans are unwilling to switch their diet is simply because it demands a drastic change in their lifestyle. So, people tend to shift the blame.

“It’s not just, ‘They did it over there — the industrialized companies are ruining our air.’ No, it’s us,” Weiss says. “And this is hard for people to hear sometimes because it calls for a very radical change in their lifestyle.”

Of course, not everyone agrees.

KD Traegner
A full list of sources for the graphic above can be found at: www.yourdailyvegan.com/environment

According to Shawn Archibeque, a cattle nutrition expert at Colorado State University, although the average American should certainly be weary of over-consuming animal products in their diet, he thinks they play a critical role in sustainability and human health.

“Do we need to have a prime rib steak at every dinner? Absolutely not,” he says. “Do I think that animal protein is a key component of a good, healthy lifestyle, and sustainable use of the resources we do have? Yes I do.”

Archibeque says the climate change issue we are facing right now has nothing at all to do with diet.

“I don’t see that veganism or high animal protein diets, either one of them, is going to completely solve the problem,” he says. “The best [solution] is somewhere in the middle.”

But agriculture is a big business in the United States — one of which Archibeque, as a cattle expert, is a part of.

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 935,000 U.S. farms had cattle. Of these farms, 62,500 were dairies.

“The value of production for cattle and calves was roughly $37.0 billion. In addition, the value of milk production was about $31.5 billion,” the report reads.

In the same year poultry industries were valued at around $34.7 billion.

For some billion impoverished people around the world, the growing demand for meat represents an opportunity to make money through livestock farming.

Climate change is one of the dangers we all face on the planet today, and the science backing up animal agriculture’s role in the acceleration of climate change is undeniable.

So are we as human beings denying the individual power we have to reverse it because we prefer to have more meat on our plates?

According to Weiss, not only can everyone make the switch to a vegan diet and help the planet in doing so, it can be extremely empowering.

“It’s within their own power. You don’t have to pass it to Congress. You don’t have to win a court decision. You can do it.”

The term “veganism” has become trendy and popular in modern culture, but according to Weiss, it shouldn’t be looked at as a trend at all. Flaunting your veganism is sort of like flaunting your self-righteousness these days. But underneath the label, there seems to be a pragmatic reason for the switch, a reason that is embedded in a compassion for animals and the world around us.

“This is not a fad diet,” Weiss says. “It’s a change in outlook about our relationship to our world.”

As Weiss glares off into the middle of his yard, watching the squirrels and birds interact with an eco-system that may not exist in the years to come, his voice grows tender. His hope is that the American population rejects the idea that what we eat on our plates is more important than the health of our planet.

“The main thing is to get people in touch with [their] compassion. There’s something deeper in life than just eating a bunch of food and living high and then dying,” he says.

“Kindness is a beautiful thing. And that kindness will spread from animals to people, and from people back to animals.”

As a recent article in Scientific American quite accurately said: “Behaviors may inform knowledge as much as knowledge informs behavior.” People who tend to eat meat may be defending their bias. And the very same can be said about vegans and vegetarians. Biases aside, the science is clear: Eat less meat.

A full list of sources for the graphic above can be found at: www.yourdailyvegan.com/environment