Veganism: Humanity's Future Depends On It
The relationship between animal agriculture and climate change.
Our planet’s climate crisis is at the forefront of many people’s minds since David Attenborough’s latest documentary was released. I watched “A Life on our Planet” on Netflix a few weeks ago and it was brilliant. The realities of our planet’s degradation are bitter and terrifying, but Attenborough conveys a sense of hope and purpose; “there is a path to sustainability” he says. “We are all set to win this future.”
One of the ways in which Attenborough claims we can achieve this, is to “modify our diet”. “We can’t go on eating meat at the rate we have been,” he says. “We simply can’t destroy the forests and plains of the world in order to feed ourselves.”
I’ve been vegetarian for just over 5 years and have been gradually transitioning to a vegan diet over the past 6 months. In addition to this, I’ve been putting more of my energy into finding sustainable solutions in my daily life. I do all this because I feel guilty about what our species does to the environment and I feel a moral duty to do my best for our planet. In saying that, I’m not perfect. No one is. But that’s not what’s important.
Being imperfectly sustainable, imperfectly vegan, imperfectly zero waste. All these small, conscious changes are better than none at all.
According to climatenexus.org, animal agriculture is the second largest contributor of human-made greenhouse gas emissions in the world. This is caused by the loss of carbon in forests and soils due to land-use change and intensive clearing of trees for agricultural expansion. Additionally, methane is released from the digestive processes of livestock, and fossil fuels are burned to produce mineral fertilisers for feed production.
Animal agriculture is also responsible for 75% of historic deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. Nearly a third of global biodiversity loss has been linked to the livestock sector.
The livestock industry is also the largest contributor to global water pollution. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) claims that farms discharge large quantities of agrochemicals, organic matter, drug residues, sediments and saline drainage into water bodies. Increasing demand for food with high environmental footprints, such as meat from industrial farms, is contributing to unsustainable agricultural growth and to water-quality degradation; chemical fertilisers and pesticides end up in our water bodies.
A report by Brian Machovina, Kenneth J. Feeley, and William J. Ripple, entitled ‘Biodiversity conservation: The key is reducing meat consumption’, claims that “the consumption of animal-sourced food products by humans is one of the most powerful negative forces affecting the conservation of terrestrial ecosystems and biological diversity.” They state that “the projected land required by 2050 to support livestock production in several megadiverse countries exceeds 30–50% of their current agricultural areas.”
In Australia, according to veganaustralia.org.au’s report, entitled ‘Impact of a vegan agricultural system on land use’, 54% of our continent is used for livestock grazing. In comparison, a mere 3.8% of our land is taken up by plant foods grown for humans.
Farmed animals consume twice as many crops as humans, and two-thirds of crop production for domestic markets are consumed as animal feed. The good news is that we could convert tens of millions of hectares currently used for animal production into plant production for humans, as explained in detail in this report on Vegan Australia’s website.
The only way we’re going to decrease Australia’s demand for animal products in the livestock sector is if more people decrease their consumption of these foods. We can’t sit by and balk at the devastation of our planet while eating a cheeseburger and claiming there’s nothing we can do. We don’t have to be perfect, but we must try. A cheat day here and there is infinitely better than making no attempt at all.
Now, I know for a lot of people, the concern about finding food to eat is definitely there. Sometimes I literally get asked the question, “but what do you eat?” Thankfully, food in our society is advanced enough that I don’t have to go out to the paddocks and just munch on some grass, as much as some people close to me just love to joke. Pasta, stir-fry, soup, veggie burgers, wraps and burritos and other tortilla-enclosed deliciousness, pizza, pastries, vegetables and legumes in all sorts of yummy dishes. I love food and I love cooking, and my love for both of those things has only grown since choosing a plant-based diet. And with a small amount of money-conscious thinking this diet is no more expensive than that of a meat eater.
You don’t have to buy all of the expensive fake meat alternatives, although some of them replicate the taste of meat remarkably well, because the vegan world is actually already full of flavour and all the nutrients you could ever need without that stuff. A plant-based lifestyle is actually healthier for you, if done right.
Like I said, you don’t have to be perfect at it. If you have food allergies, try and use as few animal products as you can. Try a meat-free Monday or ease yourself in with a few meals a week. Have a look online at all the delicious vegetarian and vegan food that people are making and try one new plant-based alternative a week until you’ve found what you like.
If we all made a conscious effort to start reducing our animal product consumption, we could begin to decrease the demand for these products and move towards a more plant-based society. You don’t have to go around shouting about being a vegan. This is about the environment, not some label you have to take up.
This is our planet. It’s our home. And we’re destroying it.
We owe it to Mother Earth. Start making more environmentally conscious choices, for the sake of our future on this planet. Our lives depend on it.