The planet needs us more than ever right now. Sea levels are rising, temperatures are becoming more extreme, storms and disasters are more severe and more often, and a growing number of people are feeling the effects of climate change.
A lot of the public are eager to help however they can. Many are pushing for a ban on straws and bringing their own shopping bags to the supermarket to fight plastic pollution. Some take shorter showers and others bike to work. And as a growing amount of research links animal agriculture to a myriad of environmental issues, people look to their plates for an avenue to change.
Research indicates a vegan diet could be the best in terms of environmental impact and this is inspiring many to ditch meat, dairy, and eggs in favor of plant-based products.
Impossible Foods, known for its beefy but plant-based Impossible Burger, recently commissioned a third-party research firm to survey people in the U.S. about their opinions on vegan meat. The research unveiled the public’s heightened attention on the environment, especially among younger generations. More people are buying plant-based meat for the good of the planet, with people aged 37 and under the most likely to do so.
In 2016, concern for the environment didn’t even make it in the top 10 reasons for buying plant-based meat. This year, the environment is the third most popular motivator, showing the public’s rising interest in eating eco-friendly food.
The research also concluded that Millennial parents are more likely than older groups to teach their children about environmental issues and the link between diet and the planet, indicating that this trend will continue as these children grow up, become active consumers in the food market, and eventually have children of their own.
Twelve percent of people (of all ages) that took part in this year’s Veganuary named the environment as their number one reason for participating. So how exactly does what we eat impact the planet and why is a vegan diet better for the environment?
This Is Why a Vegan Diet Is Better for the Environment
1. Save the Oceans
Our oceans are struggling. A 2018 report published in the journal Current Biology discovered that 87 percent of the world’s oceans are dying. The lead researcher of the study Kendall Jones of the University of Queensland, Australia, told the Guardian, “We were astonished by just how little marine wilderness remains.” Jones added, “The ocean is immense, covering over 70 percent of our planet, but we’ve managed to significantly impact almost all of this vast ecosystem.”
The ocean’s declining health — as well as the consumption of seafood — is depleting fish stocks at a rapid rate. Some experts have said that the world’s oceans could be empty of fish by 2048.
More people are avoiding single-use plastics like straws due to their longevity and consequent impact on animals and the ocean. However, half of the plastic found in the ocean comes from fishing nets, not straws. A rising number of plant-based seafood options — including everything from vegan crab and shrimp to fillets and tuna — helps people enjoy the foods they love without harming marine life or their habitats.
Even meat sourced from land animals could be hurting the ocean. The widespread application of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers used to produce feed crops can enter and pollute waterways. Runoff from factory farms and livestock grazing is a major contributor to the pollution of rivers and lakes. Seventy to 90 percent of freshwater pollution in western countries is linked to animal agriculture, Cowspiracy points out on its website.
2. Clean Up the Land
Raising animals for food also impacts our land. The practice has been linked to desertification, deforestation, and poor soil quality. Animal agriculture requires a vast amount of land. Research published by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition outlined that a meat-eater’s diet requires 17 times more land than a vegetarian’s.
A study published in the journal Science analyzed land use and food production. Oxford University researchers looked at data from approximately 40,000 farms in 119 countries, making it the most comprehensive analysis of farming’s impact on the planet ever completed. The researchers concluded that 80 percent of the planet’s total farmland is used to rear livestock. Beef production requires 36 times more land — and generates six times more greenhouse gas emissions — than the production of peas. The researchers stated that if everyone went vegan, global farmland use would drop by 75 percent. This decline would free up land mass the size of Australia, China, the EU, and the U.S. combined.
3. Save Water
The research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also said that a meat-based diet requires 14 times more water than a meat-free one. This is notable given the water shortages occurring around the world. Experts told the Guardian in March that England could run out of water within 25 years. “Around 25 years from now, where those [demand and supply] lines cross is known by some as the ‘jaws of death’ – the point at which we will not have enough water to supply our needs, unless we take action to change things,” the chief executive of the Environment Agency Sir James Bevan said.
The most effective thing any one person can do to lower their water footprint is to change what they eat, according to website Water Calculator. The website said that ditching meat is “the best way to lower dietary water footprints.”
Research by the European Commission Joint Research Centre, which is the most detailed study on the impact of nationwide food consumption on water footprints ever, uncovered that plant-based food carries the smallest water footprint. In fact, a vegan diet uses five times less water than a meat-based diet.
4. Fight Climate Change
The severity and urgency of climate change is beginning to be recognized. Several Australian cities including Melbourne and Sydney as well as the Welsh and UK governments have declared a climate emergency. The boosted focus on the crisis is inspiring many to ditch animal products due to their high count of carbon emissions which worsen global warming and other climate change factors.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) named meat “the world’s most urgent problem” in September. “Our use of animals as a food-production technology has brought us to the verge of catastrophe,” UNEP said in a statement. “The greenhouse gas footprint of animal agriculture rivals that that of every car, truck, bus, ship, airplane, and rocket ship combined.”
Vegan food is responsible for far fewer emissions. The emissions generated to produce half a pound of potatoes equates to driving a car 0.17 miles, according to Scientific American. To produce half a pound of beef, the emission amount is equal to driving the same car 9.8 miles.
The planet’s food-related emissions would drop by 70 percent by 2050 if everyone decided to go vegan, a 2016 report states.
The aforementioned farming analysis conducted by Oxford University researchers concluded that going vegan is the most influential thing one can do to fight climate change. Lead researcher Joseph Poore said adopting a vegan diet is “the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use.”
5. Help Endangered Species
It’s not just the animals we eat that suffer at the hands of the meat, dairy, and egg industries. Wild animal populations are struggling more than ever before. A review published in the journal Science said that species extinction rates are up to a thousand times higher than before humans existed.
The chief cause of the mass extinction of wildlife is habitat destruction caused by the agriculture sector, the Guardian has said. The World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) said in its Appetite for Destruction summary report that humankind’s appetite for meat places an “enormous strain on our natural resources and is a driving force behind wide-scale biodiversity loss,” especially thanks to the production of feed crops for livestock. The report claimed that animal product consumption is the reason behind 60 percent of all biodiversity loss.
Wild animals including wolves, horses, mountain lions, kangaroos, owls, foxes, koalas, and otters are harmed and often killed when land is cleared to make room for the animals raised for human consumption.
In the fishing industry, billions of marine animals including endangered fish, whales, sea turtles, dolphins, and seals are caught and killed unintentionally. These animals are known as bycatch and they make up 40 percent of the world’s total catch, equating to 63 billion pounds a year, according to a report released by Oceana in March 2014.
PNAS research estimates that wild animals make up just 4 percent of life on Earth, with livestock accounting for 60 percent of all life. The study blamed the human race for causing the loss of 83 percent of all wild animals and 50 percent of all plants.
Ditching animal products to go vegan could give wild animal populations the chance to rebalance and their habitats the opportunity to thrive.