Every piece of food we eat and every product we use unquestionably has an impact on the environment. However, some can have a much greater impact than others. We know how single-use plastics, exhaust fumes from vehicles, and the rapid turnover of fast fashion clothing contribute to polluting our planet. The United Nations' 2021 report on climate change is a red alert: the climate crisis is not a future catastrophe; it is ongoing today. If we don't take action soon, frequent natural disasters and rising sea levels will adversely affect millions of people and creatures. What if we knew that taking action and reducing our impact on the planet is much easier than we think? The UN identifies veganism as a significant opportunity to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It recommends that governments adopt policies to reduce meat consumption in their countries and regions. In this article, we will briefly summarize the potential effects of veganism on our planet.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Each of us has a "carbon footprint," which is the net total of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from our actions. It's possible to measure the carbon footprint of many things, from the food we consume to the energy we use at home. Studies show that in the United States, consumption habits lead to an average of 16 tons of carbon emissions per person per year. So, if everyone on Earth consumed resources at the rate of the United States, we would need five Earths to sustain everyone's lifestyle! Research conducted at Oxford University identified veganism as the single biggest way to reduce our carbon footprint, potentially lowering it by up to 73%. Plant-based meat production emits up to 90% less greenhouse gases compared to traditional meat production. If one meal can have such an impact, it's not surprising that veganism's effect on the carbon footprint is substantial. If more individuals embrace veganism, this impact will create significant changes across industries (food, clothing, health, cosmetics, etc.), reducing greenhouse gas emissions and helping slow down climate change.
While discussions about carbon emissions are common in climate change conversations, there's another greenhouse gas that plays a crucial role in heating our atmosphere: methane. Methane is 80 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide and accounts for 30% of the reasons for global warming since pre-industrial times. Most of the human-generated methane emissions come from livestock activities. Veganism is estimated to reduce human-generated methane emissions by 45%, making it crucial for slowing down global warming. Without such measures, reaching the critical goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius seems increasingly unlikely for the world to continue as a safe place.
Energy Consumption and Resource Use
The concept of Earth Overshoot Day, which was determined to be August 2nd this year, demonstrates that we are using the resources of a second Earth to sustain our current energy consumption and resource demands. This means that as of the date of this article, we have already started consuming resources that future generations will need. This situation highlights the critical importance of energy use for our future. Livestock farming is one of the most energy-intensive sectors. The processing required to make meat suitable for human consumption is an energy-intensive process. Producing half a kilogram of beef requires approximately 31.5 kilowatt-hours of energy, equivalent to the energy your refrigerator uses in nearly a month! In contrast, plant-based protein sources like beans and nuts require much less processing and contribute to energy savings.
The transformation of animal skin into wearable material is not a natural or effortless process, as one might assume. Even if we assume that the leather industry has no impact on animal farming (which is an argument unsupported by any credible source), plant-based and even synthetic materials have a significantly lower emissions footprint throughout their lifecycle. Nearly 40% of apple-based leather comes from apple waste, reducing the need for additional agricultural resources. This approach reduces energy usage and contributes to a more sustainable future.
Water Use and Pollution
One of today's most significant challenges is the global water crisis. Excessive and unplanned water use, along with contamination of freshwater basins by human activities, threatens our planet's future. Agriculture is one of the most water-intensive industries, accounting for an estimated 70% of the water we consume. However, research shows that 41% of the water used in agriculture goes toward producing animal feed for the livestock industry. Veganism not only helps reduce animal use but also lowers individual water footprints by up to 55%. This reduction is crucial for future generations' access to clean water.
In previous blog articles, we discussed the chemicals used in the production of animal leather and how these chemicals end up in clean water sources every day. Factory wastewater mixing with clean water basins and oceans creates dead zones where oxygen levels are too low for most life forms except algae. For example, about 6,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico in the Mississippi River basin are dead due to chemical waste. This leads to the depletion of clean water sources and ecological imbalances, contributing to species extinction. Plant-based materials like apple leather, cupro, and bamboo involve processes with fewer chemicals and are crucial steps in conserving water and reducing water pollution.
We know that the world's population is rapidly increasing, and as environmental activist George Monbiot has pointed out, "What makes the livestock industry so destructive is the amount of land it needs." To meet the needs of the growing population for food and clothing, the livestock industry continues to destroy green spaces. Over the last 50 years, 70% of the Amazon rainforest has been cleared for grazing land and growing animal feed crops. This deforestation is rapidly leading to the extinction of various plant, animal, and insect species—137 different ones every day, to be precise.Moreover, the destruction of rainforests, often referred to as the Earth's lungs, is a significant contributor to climate change. If the entire world could transition to veganism, we could save up to 75% of global agricultural land, potentially addressing global hunger. According to researchers at Oxford University, the saved land would be equivalent in size to the combined land areas of the United States, China, Australia, and the EU. This means that choosing veganism isn't just about the lives of animals; it's also a matter of vital importance for our own lives.
Another consequence of extensive livestock grazing and deforestation for animal feed production is the degradation of the topsoil layer, which is rich in nutrients and crucial for plant growth. Farmers who grow corn and soy as animal feed often overwork the soil in their quest to produce more products as cheaply as possible. Additionally, producing meat requires vast amounts of land. To produce just 3 kilograms of meat, 100 square meters of agricultural land are used. With the same amount of agricultural land, 270 kilograms of vegetables can be produced.
An individual who consumes meat annually requires 12,500 square meters of land. In contrast, a vegan only requires 675 square meters of land per year.
Transitioning to plant-based foods allows for soil recovery by freeing up previously used land, facilitating the "rewilding" process. This, in turn, allows the environment to return to its natural cycle and overcome degradation. It also helps prevent species extinction and the disruption of ecological balance by reducing the use of animals.
In conclusion, the path to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future begins with the choices we make in our lifestyles. Veganism has emerged not only as a means to combat speciesism but also as a powerful tool in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation. Choosing to adopt this lifestyle goes beyond personal preference; it can be seen as an expression of our commitment to the well-being of our planet. Veganism is a call to action for cleaner air, healthier oceans, and greater biodiversity—a way to make a positive impact with the products we eat, use, and wear. Together, we can nourish our bodies, create stylish combinations without sacrificing fashion, and leave a legacy of environmental stewardship for future generations. The choice is yours, and the world thanks you in advance!
- Oppenlander, Richard A. Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. Minneapolis, MN : Langdon Street, 2013