“Shifting from animal protein to vegetable protein is one of the most powerful measures someone can take to reduce their impact on our climate”Leonardo DiCaprio
There tend to be three main reasons why people transition to a plant-based diet: for health reasons, due to animal ethics and to promote a more sustainable environment. Quite often it’s the former two that lead people to adopt this lifestyle. However, with accessible plant-based protein options hitting the mainstream, such as Beyond Meat, a multibillion dollar company that has been endorsed by environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio, the necessity of mainstream adoption of a plant-based diet is being called to protect the climate and environment – and we think that it is gaining momentum.
How does animal agriculture affect the environment?
An estimated 70 billion land animals are raised every year to produce meat, eggs and dairy, which does not account for the trillions of fish that are farmed each year. In the US alone, 99 percent of these animals are raised in factory farms. Animal agriculture, especially live-stock has been attributed as a major player in global environmental issues responsible for an estimated 18 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to the reputable Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Livestock also accounts for up to 40 percent of global human-caused methane emissions and 65 percent of global human-caused nitrous oxide emissions, which also happen to be two of the most potent greenhouse gases on Earth. Such greenhouse gases are incredibly dangerous because they prevent heat from escaping the planet, remaining in the atmosphere and ultimately proliferating climate change, as described by another reputable source, NASA.
Livestock causes greenhouse gasses through animal waste, primarily coming from cows, which releases methane into the air and feces drained into waterways, polluting local communities. To add to the strain on our resources, approximately 16 percent of the planet’s freshwater, on top of a third of global grain production is used to feed livestock. To grow such grains to keep up with the demand requires fertilizer and pesticides in excess, which have environmental impacts in their own right, not to mention the negative health impacts. To put this oxymoron and amount into perspective, this is enough food to solve world hunger.
Taking into account all of these considerations, it is not surprising that researchers from The University of Oxford suggested that “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on the environment” when reporting on their results of studies measuring the environmental footprint of livestock. They also suggested that “it is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car” which only target the greenhouse emissions problem (still an important one).
What are some of the markers of climate change?
It only takes a few short scans of online commentary to know that there are still many people who do not take climate change seriously, who appear to believe that it is merely a fallacy of the next apocalypse. Although it would be relieving if this was one big scam, unfortunately NASA have broken down some visuals demonstrating markers that reflect climate change in action, of which they have called The Climate Time Machine, which is, sadly, very real.
#1. A decrease in evidence of Arctic sea ice. At the end of each summer, the sea ice cover reaches its minimum extent, leaving what is called the perennial ice cover. The area of the perennial ice has been steadily decreasing, or melting, since the satellite record began in 1979.
#2. Rising sea levels. NASA’s recent satellite observations have detected a thinning of parts of the Greenland ice sheet at lower elevations. A partial melting of this ice sheet would cause a 1-meter (3-foot) rise. If melted completely, the Greenland ice sheet contains enough water to raise sea level by 5-7 meters (16-23 feet) which would have serious implications (the flooding of major cities).
#3. Increases in carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is a greenhouse gas, known to contribute to climate change. With continual increases, we would need to rely on very progressive technologies to remove it from the air. Although a viable solution, it is certainly no quick fix.
#4. Changing global surface temperatures, that are warming the planet. Consistent warming results in short-term problems (increases in insect pests, more natural disasters) and long-term catastrophe leaving the vulnerable in the most danger.
Where do I start?
We would never fuel the fear of climate change without offering some achievable options to reduce your environmental impact. If you are not ready to adopt an entirely plant-based diet, a small step is still worthwhile. You may start with Meatless Mondays, Meatless Lunches, or if you’re really game, Meatless Weekdays. Your body might thank you for it too.
To help you get started, you may consider joining a challenge such as The 30-Day Vegan Challenge, Challenge 22 or Veganuary to add more plant-based meals and less meals that are environmentally hazardous. The team at Plantd love making our childhood favourite meals plant-based, such as lentil or mushroom Spag Bol, plant-based hearty roasts and a weekend burger and chips.
Be sure to enjoy some transition comfort foods, such as vegan cheese, chocolate, dip platters, wine and tacos – you will soon realise that this whole plant-based life is not as boring as it sounds! The more cookbooks the more fun. Some of our favourites are Vegan Bowls (biased), Thug Kitchen (eat like you give a f**k), Vegan on a Budget (for
tight savers), Vegan Comfort Classics (for emotional eaters) and How Not To Die (for nutrition geeks).
We absolutely love hearing your plant-based stories so please don’t hesitate to reach out @plantd.co.