Eating green to go green - is a plant based diet really better for the planet?

Eating green to go green - is a plant based diet really better for the planet?

October 1, 2019

We are in the midst of an ecological crisis. In 2019 alone; we have caused the amazon to burn, the first mammal species (the Bramble Cay melomys) to be recognized as extinct due to climate change, and the UK not only had its hottest day on record, it also had a heat wave in February… if that isn’t a cause for concern, then I don’t know what is.

One fact we see published time and time again is that animal agriculture is the leading cause of the climate crisis and ecological collapse, but just how true is that?

 

Is ditching meat and going vegan really going to save the word?

 

I mean, what about all the animals killed during the harvest of grains or soy fields that are using up all the land just so they can replace meat with tofu and don’t even get me started on the almonds, which you definitely can’t ‘milk’ or the problems with avocados. Sadly, the truth is that no current diet is going to be a single perfect solution to the world’s environmental problems. However, drastically reducing our intake of meat and dairy must be adopted on a global scale if we are to avoid an ecological breakdown and here’s why: 

Raising animals for food is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The impact of raising livestock goes beyond cows releasing methane gas. Producing meat requires a vast amount of energy. From transporting the animals to growing their food, altogether animal agriculture accounts for 51% of annual global GHG emissions. So by eating a plant based diet, your emissions can be half that of someone that eats meat. At current emissions levels, the GHG budget which limits global temperature rise to 1.5°C will be completely used up within the next 8 years, therefore, there needs to be a global shift to reducing meat eating in order to prevent a more catastrophic temperature Increase. It’s not just emissions related to animal agriculture which is impacting our environment.

 

The issue of land use and the clearing of important habitats such as the Amazon rainforest, in order to create space to grow crops and raise livestock, are also having devastating ecological effects. In fact, a study published by the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University states that meat production accounts for 39% of all land use related to human diet. Some people have argued that if everyone in the world stopped consuming meat, more animals will be killed when you harvest plants for human consumption. Although some wild animals will be caught up in this process, this also happens when you harvest grains to feed to livestock. Seeing as 50% of all grain produced is to feed to animals, far less wild animals would die if crops were grown to feed humans directly, as it takes less energy to feed us and therefore would also take up less space. So the number of animals and their habitats lost would drastically reduce. The deforestation of the Amazon rainforest is a prime example of this, where 91% of it has been cleared to make way for animal agriculture. What is even more alarming is that the rainforest acts as a huge carbon sink and now a huge proportion of it has been converted into something that instead acts as a source of GHG emissions.

Overall, the production of plant-based foods is a more efficient use of our natural resources, it uses less energy, releases less GHG and uses less land and water, all of which prevent further contribution to the ecological breakdown and climate collapse.

 

So this World Vegetarian Day, try committing to reducing your meat consumption, try a new recipe with meat free substitutes or switch the dairy milk for a plant based alternative. Small changes can make a massive difference and together we can make a positive impact, one green meal at a time.

 

Written by ELP 18/19 alumni, Claudia Allen

Twitter handle is @ClaudiaJAllen

Sources

Pimentel, D.; Pimentel, M. Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2003, 78, 660–663.