Why adopting a plant-based diet is the best thing you can do...for the environment

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A plant-based diet the biggest impact an individual can have to stop climate change? Really?

Yes, really. Adopting a plant-based diet has been recommended by global climate change scientists. 23 of them, at the top of their field who produced the IPCC report in October 2018, which reports on climate change annually and now 103 of them who contributed to the UN report published last week. October’s IPCC report was the first time such a recommendation has been made by the scientists themselves and yet since then it has been interpreted by many media outlets, governments and other interested parties to suggest that a flexitarian approach is what is needed.

Here’s why that is simply not enough, and why we all have to change to a plant-based diet NOW!

  1. TIME

We are running out of it. The scientists have suggested that we have 12 years to limit “devastating global warming” if we take action NOW (then Oct 2018). One such effect predicted is that with no change to behaviour or consumption habits, we will face fish-less oceans by 2048. Unimaginable, but with warming now occurring at an even faster rate, it’s likely to be even sooner than that.

2. OVER POPULATION

The planet is groaning under the weight of all us humans. By 2050, there will be 9 billion of us. But that pales in comparison to the number of farm animals with over 70 billion raised for food per year globally (CIWF, 2017). Another way to reduce your environmental impact is to be like Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and limit the number of children you have.

3. INEFFICIENCY

With 7 billion mouths to feed, it’s not surprising that there are people in the world who are left hungry. It doesn’t need to be this way as we grow enough fruit and vegetables to end world hunger. The problem is where, as is the case for soybeans, we feed 92% of them to animals. This is a tremendously inefficient food system and is a human injustice. We fatten up pigs with food that could feed someone who is starving. When we become 9 billion in 2050, where will all the extra food come from?

4. PLANTS VS ANIMAL PRODUCTS

This inefficiency is exactly why plant-based products are so much more environmentally friendly. Imagine the volume of water and food it takes to raise a dairy cow. I can tell you since this lovely table was made to do just that, and illustrate the carbon emissions from our milk choices:

No brainer! Even the much maligned almond milk is a significantly better option than dairy milk.

No brainer! Even the much maligned almond milk is a significantly better option than dairy milk.

5. INTENSIVE ANIMAL FARMING

Animal agriculture has changed a lot in the last 50 years. The rise of intensive animal farming is a direct result of increased demand, and the rise of supermarkets, convenience products and the price pressures. In order to make farming economically viable, given its inefficiencies, government subsidies prop up the farmers to keep them producing goods on a scale and a price which is politically acceptable; no government wants to be responsible for a rise in the Basket of Goods. Yet, by supporting the meat, fish and dairy industries in this way, governments are preventing a broken system from much needed change.

6. LAND USE

Deforestation has been being talked about since the 1980’s and yet it still goes on, with Brazil’s PM the latest to be openly tearing down great swathes of rainforest to make way for cattle farming or soy production. Forests are the lungs of the planet - they take in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen so when we tear them down to make way for soy fields, we don’t just release centuries of carbon locked in the soil beneath; we also lose an important air filtration system that is crucial to support the earth.

From the same Poore and Nemecek environmental study, 2018.

From the same Poore and Nemecek environmental study, 2018.

Yes, you read that correctly. Cheese is worse than pork. Food for thought (excuse the pun!).

7. SOIL DEGRADATION

The Global World Outlook Study, 2017, found that animal agriculture is the single biggest contributor for soil depletion, ahead of urbanisation, erosion and forest loss. With two thirds of animals being farmed intensively currently, this needs to stop before we run out of fertile land (desertification). This is a massive threat in places like Ethiopia where they are only now planting forests to try and offset the damage that intensive farming has wreaked on their land.

8. POLLUTION

It is no secret that methane gas is a huge contributor to climate change, and cow farts are potent with it. Beans are also unfairly represented with many jokes about vegans as contributors! The joke will be on all of us as this is not the only threatening pollutant to arise from huge volumes of animals raised for food. Ever heard of the term “agriculture runoff”. For some communities in the US, they are all too familiar…

What actually happens is that potentially toxic chemicals, drugs and bacteria in untreated animal waste, either drain off or leach through the soil, making their way into the nation’s rivers, streams, groundwater and drinking water at alarming rates, directly impacting communities. Iowa’s largest municipal water utility provider, for example, recently sued a number of upstream drainage districts for excessive drinking water nitrate levels caused by farmland runoff. Someone get them Erin Brockovich on the phone!

9. THE FISH IN THE SEA

We know that as the temperature of our planet changes, this impacts sea levels and temperatures. Some of our ocean and sea dwelling creatures cannot survive in high temperature. Fish and seafood both play an important part in our eco-system and they rely on the organisms which live on coral and the coral itself to survive. Without the krill, sardines, whitebait and smaller fish available as food for the bigger fish such as tuna, mahi mahi and swordfish, and sharks won’t survive either and this will throw out the rest of the food chain - birds, crustaceans, etc.

10. A FINE BALANCE

Nature is an extraordinary thing - we only need look at our own bodies and wonder at our ability to heal to appreciate the miracles that can happen. As we reach nature’s tipping point we must recognise the signals of impending devastation and take whatever steps we can to avoid it. Just last week, the ice sheets in the Artic which were supposed to last until 2070, melted. We don’t yet know what impact that will have on our weather, sea levels, etc but the water has to go somewhere….

At the rate we are going, we will need everyone to get on board with this - to cast aside meat, fish and dairy in preference for plant-based alternatives and join the vegan revolution! Our future - for us, our children, their children, and beyond; depends on it.