Veganism and Global Sustainability: the Key to Healing our Environmental Woes

by Julie Wayne

(originally published on 22 October 2019 on Vegan India!)

Okay, I know: we are Vegan for the animals. We understand that although humans have normalized enslaving, exploiting and slaughtering non-human animals since the beginning of time, because we no longer need to eat (or use in any manner) animals to aspire to optimal health or well-being, we’ve made a conscious decision to align our actions with our values and thus to stop participating in this horrendous injustice towards the non-human individuals with whom we share this planet.

As Vegans, we speak for the animals. But I do believe it’s time, as Vegans, to speak for “this planet” and to say loudly, unequivocally and proudly that veganism is our best bet for mitigating climate change and environmental ruin. Indeed, last year researchers at the University of Oxford declared that veganism is the single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact on planet Earth. Meanwhile, the most recent report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) states in no uncertain terms that switching to a plant-based diet can help fight climate change. Let’s examine just a few of the reasons that veganism and sustainability are so intertwined as to be metaphorical synonyms.

I’ll begin with greenhouse gas emissions, since GHGs are one of the primary causes of global warming. Here are some numbers: Animal agriculture generates approximately 51% of GHG emissions, much more than has been stated in the past. Of those GHGs, I’d like to focus on one in particular, methane, for it is both extremely powerful (between 20-84 times stronger than CO2, depending on the time-frame) but also has a much shorter half life (7-8 years compared to the 100 years of CO2), which means reducing methane emissions has an immediate and positive impact on temperature rise. Since ruminants account for 37% of human-related methane production, ceasing their breeding is the simplest and quickest way to keep global warming at bay.

Global warming is a real threat and must be tackled: rising temperatures and the climate chaos that results (increasing frequency and force of droughts, floods, hurricanes, etc) create many problems, not the least of which is drastically altering what can be grown for food and where, thus putting into peril food security and sovereignty, especially in “developing countries.”  But warming is merely the tip of our quickly melting global iceberg. The list of animal agriculture’s other environmental evils is so long (air and water pollution, freshwater depletion, land degradation, soil erosion, desertification, biodiversity and habitat loss, species extinction, deforestation, acidification of the oceans and ocean dead-zones…just to name a few) and their consequences so rampant and so destructive, that sustainability will only be obtained by AA’s eradication.

There is probably no greater inefficient use of our precious resources, whether they be renewable or not, than breeding, raising, using and killing animals for food. Again, let’s look at some numbers. Currently, there are about 7 ½ billion humans who inhabit the Earth. Every year, we kill about 75 billion land animals for food. During their short life, all of those animals must eat food and drink water. About 25% of all our freshwater and 36% of our global crop production are given to the animals we eat. Aside from a terrible moral price we pay as a global community (more than 80% of the world’s starving children live in countries where grain is fed to animals who will be eaten by individuals in richer countries), by continuing this food system, we are not doing our math: animals consume far more food than they produce! The very basics of sustainable food production clearly point to one conclusion only, and that is to rid ourselves of the “middleman”, in this case animals, and grow crops uniquely for human consumption.

Once we take domesticated animals out of the equation, we will free up tremendous areas of arable land – land that in most instances was cleared and is currently used for grazing, farming or growing crops to feed animals. The recent wildfires in Brazil were a tragic case in point: the World Bank estimates that 91% of the cleared land in the Amazon is used either for cattle ranching or for growing crops (soya, corn…) to feed to animals globally. But let us remember that though razing of the Amazon is horrific, the same thing is happening all over the world, with no or little media coverage. This is what deforestation is all about.

Imagine this, then: the world goes Vegan. Deforestation ceases. Global farmland use could be reduced by 75 percent, freeing up land mass the size of Australia, China, the EU and the US combined. On this freed up land, we plant trees, we grow food forests, we let vast tracts of land rejuvenate without the intervention of the human hand. By doing this, we foster sustainability and the natural balance that allows all life of Earth to thrive.

I am Vegan for the animals. I am Vegan to heal the Earth. Please do join me.