How Going Vegan Can Help Reduce Your Environmental Impact

Iva Dimitrova
Sustainability Content Writer | LinkedIn

Iva is a certified content writer and sustainability impact analyst. Her focus is conservation of environment and biodiversity, clean technology, climate change, vegan lifestyle and active living. Additionally, she is a certified aerobics instructor.

Scientists at the United Nations say that switching to a plant-based diet could help fight climate change. According to a report on the link between the use of natural resources and climate change, prepared by 107 UN scientists, high consumption of meat and dairy products acts as a fuel for global warming1.

The special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds that deforestation, agriculture and other human activities threaten the world’s ability to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C, the goal of the 2015 Paris climate agreement2. The findings describe the plant-based diet as a major opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

Here are 3 ways going vegan reduces your environmental impact

1. Water Conservation

Agriculture uses about 70% of the world's fresh water supply3.The total amount of water needed to produce one pound of beef is 1,799 gallons. To compare, the water footprint of a pound of soybeans is 216 gallons4. Considering freshwater preservation, it is more efficient to obtain protein, calories and fat through crop products than animal products5

What is more, the main source of water pollution is industrial livestock. As a result of improper storage and disposal of animal waste and manure, they seep into water bodies. Also, manure is spread on the fields, but the soil can absorb only part of it. Once this limit is reached, the excess remains undigested and seeps into the water basins, thus contaminating them. The widespread use of toxic pesticides in inorganic agriculture also contributes significantly to soil and water pollution6.

How going vegan can reduce environmental impact

2. Decrease in Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs)

Livestock is considered to be responsible for up to 14% of all greenhouse emissions from human activities. Besides carbon dioxide, farming generates two other gases in large quantities - nitrous oxide from the addition of fertilizers and wastes to the soil, and methane.

Methane accounts for more than a third of the total emissions from agriculture. Globally, livestock is responsible for emitting the methane equivalent of 3.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually7.

A study from University of Michigan proves that cutting the intake of all animal-based foods by 50% and replacing them with plant-based foods results in 35% decrease in diet–related GHGE in the US and leads to the reduction of roughly 224 metric tons of emissions annually8.

Environmental benefits of veganism

3. Decrease deforestation, preserve habitats and species

Around 50% of the world habitable land is used for agriculture. 77% of this land is used for animal farming. That leads to huge areas of forests burned or cleared to make space for crops and livestock, causing around 80% of global deforestation9.

As the wilderness and natural habitats are destroyed, agriculture is listed as a threat for 24,000 species extinction on the IUCN Red List10. Despite the fact that livestock takes up the majority of the world’s agricultural land, it only produces 18% of the world's calories and 37% of total protein10.

Researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison also found that an area of land that could produce 100g of edible protein from plants could produce only 60g of edible protein from eggs, 50g of protein from chickens, 25g of protein from dairy, 10g of protein from pigs, and just 4g of protein from beef11; fig.3.

The study also proves that replacing all animal-based products could sustain 350 million additional people11

sustainable vegan diet

Conclusion: 

Science proves that being vegan not only helps you significantly reduce the diet-related negative effects on the environment and global warming, but also gives you the chance to make a positive impact on the world with your daily actions.  

References:

  1. https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/
  2. https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement 
  3. https://www.oecd.org/agriculture/topics/water-and-agriculture/
  4. https://muse.union.edu/mth-063-01-f18/2018/09/16/the-water-footprint-of-livestock/
  5. https://waterfootprint.org/en/water-footprint/product-water-footprint/water-footprint-crop-and-animal-products/
  6. https://www.watercalculator.org/footprint/water-footprint-beef-industrial-pasture/ 
  7. https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190806-how-vaccines-could-fix-our-problem-with-cow-emissions 
  8. http://css.umich.edu/publication/implications-future-us-diet-scenarios-greenhouse-gas-emissions 
  9. https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/forests/issues/agribusiness/
  10. https://ourworldindata.org/global-land-for-agriculture
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5899434/ , ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5899434/ (fig. 3)

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