The true impact of a vegan diet on the planet

More and more people are switching to a vegan diet. Did you know that in 2020, the number of vegans in the UK increased by 40 per cent?

Many have decided to embrace this cruelty-free lifestyle for ethical reasons, while others have made the change to enjoy the health benefits.

But there are other good reasons to adopt a vegan diet. 

Going vegan is good for the environment!

The impact of animal agriculture

Back in 2006 when the United National Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released a landmark study, Livestock's Long Shadow, linking animal agriculture to climate change, few people paid attention.

In the same year, Al Gore released his much lauded documentary 'An Inconvenient Truth' tackling the topic of climate change, which won him the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the documentary didn't mention how a vegan diet can benefit the environment at all. And neither did his 2017 sequel, 'An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power', despite the fact that Gore finally went vegan in 2012.

The FAO's subsequent 2013 report 'Tackling climate change through livestock' confirmed that “the livestock sector plays an important role in climate change”. The report estimated that the livestock industry produces 7.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, which adds up to 14.5 per cent of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. The majority of these emissions are the result of beef and milk production.

the impact of a vegan diet on agriculture

It's only in the past few years that people have finally been sitting up and paying more attention to the undeniable facts as more and more studies point out the link between animal agriculture and climate change.

A 2015 Chatham House report 'Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat Consumption' is explicit in its message:

“Our appetite for meat is a major driver of climate change. Reducing global meat consumption will be critical to keeping global warming below the ‘danger level’ of two degrees Celsius. The livestock sector accounts for 15 per cent of global emissions, equivalent to exhaust emissions from all the vehicles in the world.”

Another important report that provided a much-needed wake-up call was the 2019 study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body that studies climate change, which confirmed that a plant-based diet can fight climate change.

Here are the hard facts:

  • One quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions come from food production, with more than half (58 per cent) of these caused by the production of animal products, according to a 2018 Oxford University study
  • The same study points out that an individual's carbon footprint can be cut by two thirds by removing meat and dairy from their diet. 
  • Cattle raised for beef and leather is responsible for nearly 80 per cent of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, which comes to 14 per cent of annual global deforestation, according to reports by the World Bank and Greenpeace. This makes the cattle industry the biggest cause of deforestation on the globe!
  • Beef production uses one third of the total global water resources required for animal agriculture, while the dairy industry uses 19 per cent. 98 per cent of these resources are used to produce animal feed, according to Water Footprint.
  • Waste and chemical residues from the meat industry pollute water bodies and harm marine life.
  • In order to reach the goal set by the Paris Agreement on climate change to limit the increase of world temperatures to under two degrees Celsius, the reduction of global meat production is “critical”, according to the 2015 Chatham House report mentioned above.

The impact of a vegan diet

There's no longer denying that a vegan diet benefits the environment and that it's the most sustainable diet for our planet.

Plants foods reduce the emission of harmful greenhouse gas emissions into the environment. They also save water resources and use a lot less agricultural land than the meat industry. We also know that raising animals for food is inefficient because they need to be fed vast quantities of grains, corn, soybeans and oats, and require a huge amount of water. Finally, the meat industry and its byproducts cause the pollution of our air and water.

This infographic sums up the numbers of how a vegan diet has a positive effect on the environment: 

veganism environmental impacts

Graphic by CulinarySchools.org

Simply by choosing a plant-based diet, vegans are doing their bit for the environment every day!

Read about the benefits of the humble fava bean for the environment


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