Since animal farming is a leading driver of climate change, deforestation and species loss, as well as being a significant cause of pollution, moving towards a plant-based diet has a profound and positive effect on our environment.
Climate change is the defining global challenge of our time. It is something that will impact every animal and plant, every ecosystem, the wellbeing and health of billions of people, and ultimately our ability to survive. This is a challenge we absolutely must overcome.
In 2017, 15,000 scientists issued a ‘warning to humanity’ about climate change.1 In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report which said that urgent and unprecedented changes were needed if we are to avoid a global catastrophe2.
These are changes we all must make.
Fight Climate Change with Diet Change
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions3 – more than all of the emissions from fuel used in every car, plane, train and ship on the planet.
Emissions from the animals themselves play a part, but every step in the production of meat, milk, and eggs is carbon-intensive, from the clearing of land for grazing or to grow feed, to the transportation of animals to slaughter, and from the creation of plastic packaging to the refrigerated shipping of the products worldwide.
It’s little wonder then that when climate researchers discuss the best ways we can all minimize our climate impact, reducing – or preferably ending – our consumption of animal products is right up there at the top of the list alongside reducing our use of fossil fuels like coal and oil.4
And we must start now. The IPCC warns that we may have only until 2030 to limit climate catastrophe.5
Trees play a vital role in our survival by removing about 25 percent of harmful carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from our atmosphere, but as global demand for meat increases, so too does the amount of land we need to graze animals or to grow their feed. This is because it takes a lot more land to produce meat than it does to produce plant foods. In fact, animal farming uses 83 percent of agricultural land but provides just 18 percent of calories.6 Growing demand for meat means ancient forests are razed to the ground, and the environmental damage continues long after the trees are felled. Without the canopy overhead to protect it from sun and wind, the soil becomes fragile and can be washed away during periods of rain. Deforestation can render once-rich landscapes utterly barren and animal agriculture is one of the leading causes.7
As forests are felled, entire populations of animals are killed or displaced, with an estimated 135 species becoming extinct due to deforestation every single day.8
Oceans are also being decimated. More than 30 percent of the world’s fisheries have been pushed beyond their biological limits and are in need of dramatic action to restore them,9 and whole populations are on the verge of collapse.10 It’s not just the fish we eat directly that are at risk, although that is a major concern, but also the fish we kill and feed to farmed animals, including farmed fish.
Globally, there has been a 60 percent decline in animal populations since 197011 and with
such overwhelming losses, scientists now talk of ‘biological annihilation’,12 as we enter the
world’s sixth mass extinction event. As worldwide demand for animal products increases, so
does the destruction.
There are billions of farmed animals on the planet,13 each producing waste. In former times, where local, small-scale farming fed local populations, the slurry could be spread on the land as fertilizer, but the earth can no longer absorb the gargantuan amounts that are currently produced. Instead, slurry is stored in specially-built ‘lagoons’ and tanks, from which it all too often leaks out, threatening drinking supplies and causing widespread destruction to aquatic wildlife.14 Tens of thousands of miles of rivers across the United States, Asia and Europe are polluted with slurry each year, with one single spill in North Carolina killing about 10 million fish.15
Vegan for the Planet
We have presided over the decimation of forests, the pollution of land and earth, and the extinction of countless species. We have witnessed record-breaking storms, raging forest fires, water shortages, coral bleaching, ocean dead zones, heat waves, rising waters, melting ice caps, and devastating floods.
Driving this devastation is our consumption of animal products.Sign me up
1 Andrew Griffen, ’15,000 scientists give catastrophic warning about the fate of the world in new “letter to humanity”’, The Independent, 13 Nov 2017 [https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/letter-to-humanity-warning-climate-change-global-warming-scientists-union-concerned-a8052481.html]
2 Jonathan Watts, ‘We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN’, The Guardian, 8 Oct 2018 [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report]
3 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, ‘Tackling climate change through livestock: a global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities’, 2013 [http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3437e.pdf]
4 ‘A blanket around the Earth’, Earth Science Team, NASA [https://climate.nasa.gov/causes/]
5 Jonathan Watts, ‘We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN’, The Guardian, 8 Oct 2018 [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report]
6 Damian Carrington, ‘Reducing meat and dairy is “single biggest way” to reduce your impact on Earth’, The Guardian, 31 May 2018 [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth]
7 James Cameron and Suzy Amis Cameron, ‘Animal agriculture is choking the Earth and making us sick. We must act now,’ The Guardian, 4 Dec 2017 [https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/04/animal-agriculture-choking-earth-making-sick-climate-food-environmental-impact-james-cameron-suzy-amis-cameron]
8 ‘Measuring the daily destruction of the world’s rainforests’, Scientific American [https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talks-daily-destruction/]
9 World Wildlife Fund, ‘Overfishing’ [https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/overfishing]
10 World Wildlife Fund, ‘Living Blue Planet Report’, 2015 [https://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/living_blue_planet_report_2015.pdf]
11 Damian Carrington, ‘Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, report finds’, The Guardian, 30 Oct 2018 [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/30/humanity-wiped-out-animals-since-1970-major-report-finds]
12 Damian Carrington, ‘Earth’s sixth mass extinction event under way, scientists warn’, The Guardian, 10 Jul 2017 [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/10/earths-sixth-mass-extinction-event-already-underway-scientists-warn]
13 ‘Strategic Plan 2013-17: For kinder fairer farming worldwide’, Compassion in World Farming [https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/3640540/ciwf_strategic_plan_20132017.pdf]
14 George Monbiot, ‘Toothless Environment Agency is allowing the living world to be wrecked with impunity’, The Guardian, 12 Nov 2015 [https://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2015/nov/12/toothless-environment-agency-is-allowing-the-living-world-to-be-wrecked-with-impunity]
15 John Vidal, ‘10 ways vegetarianism can help save the planet’, The Guardian, 18 Jul 2010 [https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jul/18/vegetarianism-save-planet-environment]