Saviours of the world – Vegans?
Sure, there are some extreme vegans out there who will swear that “veganism” is the only way to sustainably and ethically live on Earth. Undeniably, it is true that the state of our environment and climate will improve if we cut down on meat and animal products. Animal agriculture generates significant amounts of greenhouse gas, expends tremendous amounts of water and is extremely polluting.
Knowing the actual extent of environment harm is one issue. Finding nuances between different agricultural methods, type of livestock and balancing that with the upsides of animal consumption and agriculture is complicated.
Estimates of how animal agriculture contributes to greenhouse gas emissions range from 14% to 50% of total global emissions. In general, agriculture worsens climate change in a variety of ways. Making space to grow food by clearing out forests results in a net increase in greenhouse gases. On an industrial scale, farming requires fossil fuel powered machinery, including processing and transporting agricultural products.
It is even harder to determine the overall addition as livestock agriculture makes up 9% of human-caused CO2 emissions and even greater amounts of other greenhouse gases that might be even worse. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation reveals that livestock farming generates 65% of human-related nitrous oxide – 296 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide, 37% of methane – 23 times more warming and 64% ammonia – a prime contributor to acid rain. While methane stays in the atmosphere for 12 years, nitrous oxide for 114, carbon dioxide remains for millennia.
The effects of global warming: melting ice caps.
Livestock also matters. Pork and poultry makeup 10% of global agricultural emissions but provide three times more meat than cattle. Beef is responsible for 40% of emissions and uses less feed. Plant agriculture is not free from guilt; wetland rice cultivation generates methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Differing agricultural methods will likewise have different effects on climate change.
The crux is that reducing or eliminating meat and other animal products is necessary for protecting humanity from uncontrolled climate change and many other environmental consequences such as water shortage, degraded ecosystems and polluted waterways and oceans. If nothing is done to counter our rapid consumption, the FAO warns that global demand for livestock produce can increase by 70% by 2050.
There is room to curtail meat consumption in developed countries, where an average of 95.7kg is consumed in 2015. The global average is 41.3kg, 31.6 in developing countries and 7.6kg for South Asia.
According to scientists at the Oxford Martin School, global agriculture-related emissions could drop by one-third by 2050 if people adhere to simple health guidelines on meat consumption. For example, adopting a vegetarian diet can decrease consumption by 63% and a vegan diet can reach 70%. Eating healthier can also lower health-care costs by $1 billion each year.
Considering the health and environmental benefits by cutting down on meat, it should encourage more people to adopt such habits. The implications would mean a better world to live in, and a better lifestyle.