going vegan is the single most effective thing an individual can do to reduce climate change

Vegan Dogs

Active Member
Joined
Mar 1, 2016
Messages
189
Reaction score
63
Age
60
Lifestyle
Vegan
Climate Change...the easiest most effective thing an individual can do is go vegan.

There are many impacts of farming animals for food – not just greenhouse gases, but land use, water use and global acidification. As Joseph Poore who led the research of a new study by Oxford University said, “Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”

You can find out more about the impacts of global warming in our six scary facts about climate change.

So could going vegan save the planet?
According to the WWF's Livewell report, switching to a vegan diet is one of the biggest ways you can cut your personal carbon emissions - with vegans having the lowest carbon emissions of all dietary types.

If everyone in the world went vegetarian, we could cut our emissions by 60% - this rises to 70% if everyone went vegan.

Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth
This article is more than 10 months old
Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock - it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.

The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.

The study, published in the journal Science, created a huge dataset based on almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries and covering 40 food products that represent 90% of all that is eaten. It assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use and water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification).

Advertisement

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study
Read more
“Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems,” he said. “Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”

The analysis also revealed a huge variability between different ways of producing the same food. For example, beef cattle raised on deforested land result in 12 times more greenhouse gases and use 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture. But the comparison of beef with plant protein such as peas is stark, with even the lowest impact beef responsible for six times more greenhouse gases and 36 times more land.

The large variability in environmental impact from different farms does present an opportunity for reducing the harm, Poore said, without needing the global population to become vegan. If the most harmful half of meat and dairy production was replaced by plant-based food, this still delivers about two-thirds of the benefits of getting rid of all meat and dairy production.

Cutting the environmental impact of farming is not easy, Poore warned: “There are over 570m farms all of which need slightly different ways to reduce their impact. It is an [environmental] challenge like no other sector of the economy.” But he said at least $500bn is spent every year on agricultural subsidies, and probably much more: “There is a lot of money there to do something really good with.”

Labels that reveal the impact of products would be a good start, so consumers could choose the least damaging options, he said, but subsidies for sustainable and healthy foods and taxes on meat and dairy will probably also be necessary.

One surprise from the work was the large impact of freshwater fish farming, which provides two-thirds of such fish in Asia and 96% in Europe, and was thought to be relatively environmentally friendly. “You get all these fish depositing excreta and unconsumed feed down to the bottom of the pond, where there is barely any oxygen, making it the perfect environment for methane production,” a potent greenhouse gas, Poore said.

The research also found grass-fed beef, thought to be relatively low impact, was still responsible for much higher impacts than plant-based food. “Converting grass into [meat] is like converting coal to energy. It comes with an immense cost in emissions,” Poore said.

The new research has received strong praise from other food experts. Prof Gidon Eshel, at Bard College, US, said: “I was awestruck. It is really important, sound, ambitious, revealing and beautifully done.”

He said previous work on quantifying farming’s impacts, including his own, had taken a top-down approach using national level data, but the new work used a bottom-up approach, with farm-by-farm data. “It is very reassuring to see they yield essentially the same results. But the new work has very many important details that are profoundly revealing.”

Giving up beef will reduce carbon footprint more than cars, says expert
Read more
Prof Tim Benton, at the University of Leeds, UK, said: “This is an immensely useful study. It brings together a huge amount of data and that makes its conclusions much more robust. The way we produce food, consume and waste food is unsustainable from a planetary perspective. Given the global obesity crisis, changing diets – eating less livestock produce and more vegetables and fruit – has the potential to make both us and the planet healthier.”

Dr Peter Alexander, at the University of Edinburgh, UK, was also impressed but noted: “There may be environmental benefits, eg for biodiversity, from sustainably managed grazing and increasing animal product consumption may improve nutrition for some of the poorest globally. My personal opinion is we should interpret these results not as the need to become vegan overnight, but rather to moderate our [meat] consumption.”

Poore said: “The reason I started this project was to understand if there were sustainable animal producers out there. But I have stopped consuming animal products over the last four years of this project. These impacts are not necessary to sustain our current way of life. The question is how much can we reduce them and the answer is a lot.”

 

TofuRobot

Active Member
Joined
Nov 20, 2018
Messages
721
Reaction score
687
Location
Southern California, USA
Lifestyle
Vegan
...And the "news" hardly ever mentions it.
 

Jamie in Chile

Active Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2016
Messages
594
Reaction score
288
Age
39
Lifestyle
Vegetarian
True - although somewhat preaching to the choir. I hope vegans don't use this an excuse not to cut their emissions in other areas.

For the comment "If everyone in the world went vegetarian, we could cut our emissions by 60% - this rises to 70% if everyone went vegan. " I assume that means the cut in food emissions. For those of us developed countries, where meat consumption, is more common, the typical number might be slightly above that even.

Depending on your specific case, how much meat you eat and how much other emissions you have, going vegan typically cuts your TOTAL carbon footprint by more like 20-30%. So let's all not forget to deal with the other 70%-80%.

The statement "going vegan is the single most effective thing an an individual can do to reduce climate change" isn't strictly speaking true. You could become a campaigner and activist or influencer and have a bigger impact. Even just deciding to do your best to influence all your family and friends might have a bigger impact over a sustained period of time.

But I think what you really mean is "going vegan is the single most effective thing an an individual can do to reduce one's own personal emissions". I suspect that statement is probably true for most people although for anyone that flies long haul twice or more per year giving up flights would have a bigger impact (although that's a minority of people). Also for some people giving up their car and vowing to cycle, walk or take public transport everywhere might have a similar effect - could be higher or lower - depends how many miles you drive and what type of car you have.
 

Lou

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jun 8, 2018
Messages
2,086
Reaction score
1,917
Age
64
Location
San Mateo, Ca
Lifestyle
Vegan
True - although somewhat preaching to the choir. I hope vegans don't use this an excuse not to cut their emissions in other areas.

The statement "going vegan is the single most effective thing an an individual can do to reduce climate change" isn't strictly speaking true. You could become a campaigner and activist or influencer and have a bigger impact. Even just deciding to do your best to influence all your family and friends might have a bigger impact over a sustained period of time.
I agree. Leonardo DiCaprio is not vegan but I think he has done more for climate change than I will ever succeed in doing with my lifestyle.

We have discussed this here before without any consensus but there are those who believe that to be "truly vegan" you also have to be an activist.
 

Forest Nymph

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 18, 2017
Messages
1,426
Reaction score
1,086
Age
37
Location
Northern California
Lifestyle
Vegan
Oh gosh. I went to a town council meeting about climate change planning, where several people tried to counter argue with me that there is a "sustainable" way to raise cattle and when I caught them in their lie (they started talking about climate refugees and how we would deal with them in our county, and I was like oh well we certainly can't feed all of them with beef....) they said "well we can't just mandate that people stop eating meat."

Why not? We mandate against single use water bottles being sold on campus, entire towns are mandating renewable energy, but we can't mandate against meat, or at least not against beef in particular?

This is part of the focus on my grad school project (I was accepted, yay). I also found out that part of my coursework will be a week long camping trip in a rural part of my county where I learn about different aspects of agriculture and Native American cultural impacts that are related to environment/community. But I also have to meet with ranchers. I'm going to have to brace myself for the entire summer for that, and it's still not going to go well.
 

Forest Nymph

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 18, 2017
Messages
1,426
Reaction score
1,086
Age
37
Location
Northern California
Lifestyle
Vegan
True - although somewhat preaching to the choir. I hope vegans don't use this an excuse not to cut their emissions in other areas.

For the comment "If everyone in the world went vegetarian, we could cut our emissions by 60% - this rises to 70% if everyone went vegan. " I assume that means the cut in food emissions. For those of us developed countries, where meat consumption, is more common, the typical number might be slightly above that even.

Depending on your specific case, how much meat you eat and how much other emissions you have, going vegan typically cuts your TOTAL carbon footprint by more like 20-30%. So let's all not forget to deal with the other 70%-80%.

The statement "going vegan is the single most effective thing an an individual can do to reduce climate change" isn't strictly speaking true. You could become a campaigner and activist or influencer and have a bigger impact. Even just deciding to do your best to influence all your family and friends might have a bigger impact over a sustained period of time.

But I think what you really mean is "going vegan is the single most effective thing an an individual can do to reduce one's own personal emissions". I suspect that statement is probably true for most people although for anyone that flies long haul twice or more per year giving up flights would have a bigger impact (although that's a minority of people). Also for some people giving up their car and vowing to cycle, walk or take public transport everywhere might have a similar effect - could be higher or lower - depends how many miles you drive and what type of car you have.
Not exactly. Going vegan or lacto-vegetarian is the most effective thing you can do as an individual. It's a fact. There are studies that show it's even more sustainable than buying "local meat."

The other factors are obviously necessary, I don't advocate that vegans buy SUVs or that they drink Aquafina bottled water, but your argument is actually a reductionist's false comparison.
 

Jamie in Chile

Active Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2016
Messages
594
Reaction score
288
Age
39
Lifestyle
Vegetarian
Arguing against sustainable, grass fed cattle is a difficult mess of an argument - I'd be tempted to focus the argument on the fact that most cattle are not raised sustainably today, therefore it is a moot point for now and vegetarian/vegan is the most sustainable choice for now. Also politely stick in an ethical argument about unnecessary killing, mention about the inevitability of global warming from cow farts.

Getting into a long argument about grass fed cows with a person that knows what they are talking about it tricky. It is one of the best ways than someone biased can have a debate that results in a draw to most people listening and therefore maintains the status quo.
 

Forest Nymph

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 18, 2017
Messages
1,426
Reaction score
1,086
Age
37
Location
Northern California
Lifestyle
Vegan
Arguing against sustainable, grass fed cattle is a difficult mess of an argument - I'd be tempted to focus the argument on the fact that most cattle are not raised sustainably today, therefore it is a moot point for now and vegetarian/vegan is the most sustainable choice for now. Also politely stick in an ethical argument about unnecessary killing, mention about the inevitability of global warming from cow farts.

Getting into a long argument about grass fed cows with a person that knows what they are talking about it tricky. It is one of the best ways than someone biased can have a debate that results in a draw to most people listening and therefore maintains the status quo.
Actually no Jaime, it's not a "difficult mess of an argument." It's quite straight forward and simple. Grass fed cattle are actually WORSE for the environment because they use more space/land and still emit methane, and still use obscene amounts of water. Even the Native American fisheries take issue with our "humane" grass fed dairy cattle in my county, because they divert water away from the salmon streams.

This is the entire problem with talking to people in those kinds of scenarios. Since it was a short town hall meeting, there was no way to stand up and give these people a power point on why cattle actually can't be raised sustainably, especially for beef, unless it for an elite few (we're talking mainly upper class people would be able to eat beef, no one else).

I think there are lots of compromisers on my campus, we have a strong handful of vegans in the Environmental Science and Environmental Studies departments, as well as some ethical and/or environmental vegetarians. There's enough of those people. And really all they do is make the meat eaters feel smug and secure in their "personal choice." That's why I opted in for a Masters program where I could do an entire project on plant based diets for environmental reasons.

It's like your post where you think people can do as much for the environment, as individuals, without going vegan or at least lacto-vegetarian. It's extremely unlikely. Around 50% of someone's footprint is from things like manufacturing materials and heating their homes and taking baths. While people can take less showers or try to go lower waste, it's not going to impact the overall structure of modern life. Transportation and diet/agriculture are the primary problems that can be tackled on an individual level, but unless someone is a hermit, they're going to use a vehicle at some point. Even those who walk and bike sometimes or half time or even most of the time might need to take busses and trains and carpools to work, and flights or trains to visit other places. Vegans on the other hand, can always eliminate animal products entirely, and I'm happy to provide numerous scientific studies on the exact reasons why dietary choices are so important.

That being said, there is also an argument for local lacto-vegetarianism that I consider academically valid for my grad school research purposes.
 

Jamie in Chile

Active Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2016
Messages
594
Reaction score
288
Age
39
Lifestyle
Vegetarian
There was a report today in the BBC that "Climate change can't be halted if we carry on degrading the soil" which cites advance findings from a report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services due to be published Monday 6th May.

"Hurting the soil affects the climate in two ways: it compromises the growth of plants taking in carbon from the atmosphere, and it releases soil carbon previously stored by worms taking leaf matter underground."

This is interesting, because the BBC unsurprisingly neglects to point out that meat eating will cause far more soil erosion than plant growth due to the simple reason that you have to grow more plants to feed animals, than if you ate plant foods directly. Therefore it seems reasonable to state that meat reduction will probably have a soil erosion, and hence climate change, benefit. This benefit may not even have been included in some estimates of the global warming benefit of cutting out meat. It's not something I've given thought to before either.

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-48043134 (the new story today and source of quotations above)
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/25/treating-soil-like-dirt-fatal-mistake-human-life (old article)

Unfortunately, calculating the carbon/global warming impact of going vegan is very difficult because it involves looking at the extent to which veganism affects deforestation and the extent to which deforestation causes climate change, and other land use issues, as well as even arbitrary questions like on what timescale we correlate methane emissions (which are shorter lasting) vs CO2. It's much easier to calculate the impact of something like changing a lightbulb to LED or buying an electric car or heating a house with gas.

So the statement that I made above that "for anyone that flies long haul twice or more per year giving up flights would have a bigger impact [than going vegan]" that's really just a best estimate. The margin for error is quite large.
 

Jamie in Chile

Active Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2016
Messages
594
Reaction score
288
Age
39
Lifestyle
Vegetarian
The other point that I wanted to mention is that even though veganism might only be on a par with no flying or an electric car in terms of global warming benefit, it is probably more beneficial to ecology overall when we consider other issues like land use, forests, rewilding, water use etc.

A vegan world is also a world where it would be easier to move away from pesticides and fertilizers since there would be more land free to grow organic foods even if they need more land to grow the same food amount.
 

Jamie in Chile

Active Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2016
Messages
594
Reaction score
288
Age
39
Lifestyle
Vegetarian
One last comment - "Climate Change...the easiest most effective thing an individual can do is go vegan" is very likely true for poorer people in developed countries who have a high foodprint but don't have the money for big cars, regular flights, and excessive consumption.

However for richer people, it is just one piece of the puzzle. As you get richer, you don't eat more food - the number of calories we need is a constant. But your consumption does shoot up in every other area - bigger houses, more shopping, more travel.
 

Forest Nymph

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 18, 2017
Messages
1,426
Reaction score
1,086
Age
37
Location
Northern California
Lifestyle
Vegan
The other point that I wanted to mention is that even though veganism might only be on a par with no flying or an electric car in terms of global warming benefit, it is probably more beneficial to ecology overall when we consider other issues like land use, forests, rewilding, water use etc.

A vegan world is also a world where it would be easier to move away from pesticides and fertilizers since there would be more land free to grow organic foods even if they need more land to grow the same food amount.
There are literally multiple studies out there where you can see that veganism does more overall for the environment than even eating local or not using packaging. The fact that you've bought into the propaganda that there's even still a "debate" baffles me.

Cattle who are grass fed may sequester more carbon, but they also use up more land and water, so it cancels itself out. It's very difficult to have permaculture or a food forest with an animal larger than a chicken or maybe a goat.

I can actually post the studies for you later if you want. There's also a ton of lies peddled by the meat industry. I talked to a meat farmer the other day who looked me right in the eye and said soy doesn't grow here, but in the Midwest. But then I looked it up, and the local tofu company also grows their own soy here organically..sooo....

I met another meat farmer who was complaining that her pigs have to be taken to a factory farm to be slaughtered under USDA law. Aside from her shocking hypocrisy and blind cruelty towards animals she seemed to treat as pets (they were very sweet, I petted two of the pigs, they were hairy little kuni kuni's) ...what I gleaned from the conversation is that there really isn't any "humane" meat. Even animals raised in a less cruel and more natural pasture environment are being trucked out and hauled into factory farm style slaughterhouses to die.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Lou

Jamie in Chile

Active Member
Joined
Jul 2, 2016
Messages
594
Reaction score
288
Age
39
Lifestyle
Vegetarian
I agree that veganism does more for the environment than eating local or using less packaging. In fact, this statement is more or less without doubt correct according to virtually every opinion or data point or analysis or study or calculation I've ever seen. There is a decent analysis on food in Mike Berners Lee's How Bad Are Bananas which agrees with this.

I actually agree with you that grass-fed cattle farming is bad for the environment. I was only talking about whether arguing on that issue is strategic or not, but we can agree to disagree on that.
 

Forest Nymph

Well-Known Member
Joined
Nov 18, 2017
Messages
1,426
Reaction score
1,086
Age
37
Location
Northern California
Lifestyle
Vegan
I agree that veganism does more for the environment than eating local or using less packaging. In fact, this statement is more or less without doubt correct according to virtually every opinion or data point or analysis or study or calculation I've ever seen. There is a decent analysis on food in Mike Berners Lee's How Bad Are Bananas which agrees with this.

I actually agree with you that grass-fed cattle farming is bad for the environment. I was only talking about whether arguing on that issue is strategic or not, but we can agree to disagree on that.
It may not be strategic in brief individual interactions. Lord knows I wasn't arguing with those local farmers this past weekend while they were talking about permaculture, growing local fruits and veggies, and how sad it is they have to take their pigs to a factory farm to slaughter them. It would have not been appropriate because I was at a May Day celebration/conference, and all of the food there was actually vegetarian (and around 95% vegan/plant-based; the few vegetarian items were things like cheese slices, ranch dressing, and one actual dish made of eggs and vegetables, like a quiche thing, while there were many, many vegan breads, sauces, salads, soups, casseroles, desserts, and flavored tofu for sandwiches). No one there was trying to shove meat down my throat, so to speak.

On the other hand, I'm dismayed they're misleading some of my university peers and fellow adult community members by presenting this idea of "pasture raised" - even for meat animals, not just for egg-laying chickens or milking/lawn-mowing goats. I've actually made peace with the cooperation of chickens and goats in local permaculture, as long as the animals aren't slaughtered to be sold for meat, because I do know environmentally it is pretty sustainable, and the people seem to love and care for the animals, who also organically fertilize vegetable, nut and fruit crops. But there are people raising pigs and even cattle here for meat and spinning it as "sustainable" because it's "local" and "pasture."

That's where my grad school project comes in. I'm entirely devoted to this idea of phasing out the meat in my county. I don't know how realistic that is, but I do one of my responsibilities I'll have after the agricultural meetings with people like ranchers in August will be to present a tentative thesis built upon my initial application idea for a project.

One of the arguments they make is that it's not economical to raise cattle for dairy then not slaughter them or sell them for meat when they can't give milk anymore. And my opposition to this is taken as hostility towards farmers or working class people in my community, when I'm supposed to be a democratic socialist/left libertarian.

It's tricky here because this county was built on timber and dairy, and well they're both facing trial at the moment. Timber can be collected sustainably and used for biofuels locally, but I just don't believe we can ever compromise on cattle, and I can't just sit idly by and watch it happen.