Veganism and sustainability
Impact of lifestyle alternatives on the environment
Earth Matters: Veganism for Sustainability
In the present day, there is gradual yet noticeable gravitation towards plant-based lifestyles. Through veganism, vegetarianism, and other applied concepts that have sprouted, we aim to arrive at a more reasonable and balanced existence on Earth.
Veganism is an organized reaction in resistance to the prevailing culture of consumption rooted in maximalist, extravagant, and hedonistic principles. Dietary and lifestyle alternatives are a proposed solution to various threats to the environment, human health, and moral codes.
Veganism is a way to sustain a symbiotic relationship between the rate of expanding needs on the planet and its innate ability to offer natural or derivable resources. Through mindfulness, we must accept the exhaustibility of free resources provided by nature and take responsible action to restore equilibrium. The first step would be to curtail overconsumption and give adequate time and opportunity for recovery.
The Vegan Society coined a definition that states:
"Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any purpose."
("and by extension promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms, it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.")
Industrialization, Exploitative Use, And Ecosphere Exhaustion
Long story short. All the fancy words you read in the above sentence mean: With the increase in the human population on the planet, more needs manifest. Therefore, more industries arise to meet the demands of higher consumption. The nature of human needs is endless, recurring, and craving for instant gratification in today's context.
This unregulated increase in consumption leads to several adverse effects on the immediate environment that further snowball onto a global scale. Some of these effects are:
• Climate change
• Extensive deforestation
• Exploitation of freshwater
• Chemical pollution
• Ocean acidification
• Marine and Aquatic dead zones
• Bio-diversity loss
• Increase in waste and landfills
The living systems on Earth follow an interconnectedness. The impact we create is the impact we face. Losses through degradation, human health problems, reduction of freshwater sources, economic losses, and declining crop production lead to natural and social calamities like droughts and famines.
To avoid a complete and systematic shutdown of society, we need to redesign the social, economic, and political systems to create a sustainable global community.
Exploitative Practices, Their Impact and Mitigation Channels
The three significant impacts of disrupted ecosphere are:
3)Nitrogen cycle disruption
o Impact of Agriculture On: Forest Cover and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
The primary factor contributing to disruption is essential for human existence, the industry of food production through agriculture, and correlated harvesting activities. Research states that 92% of global freshwater footprint and 18%-21% of global Green House Gas (GHG) emissions are due to agriculture and land-use change.
Lowering the environmental impact and improving food security needs the engagement of the supply (i.e., efficiently increasing agricultural yields) as well as the demand function (i.e., dietary alternatives and decreasing food waste). However, studies conclude a higher impact of animal agriculture on the environment vs. crop agriculture. They further suggested that opting for an alternative diet can create a sizeable reduction in adversities and restore equilibrium. The switch successively reduces deforestation and allows land to revert to its natural wilderness.
Animal agriculture contributes more GHGs than the entire transportation sector globally, taking responsibility for 14.5% of global emissions. Animal agriculture is more carbon-intensive than crop agriculture. Veganism made a notable reduction in dietary GHG emissions - by 51%, the most substantial discount compared to other diets or lifestyle choices.
Global warming potential (GWP) is a measure of energy added to the climate by different greenhouse gases keeping carbon dioxide as a standard. Factors such as methane emissions caused by animal agriculture account for more damage in the first 20 years of radiation. Other GHGs that are still present long after their radiation, is assessed for impact over 100 years.
Deforestation is the practice of mass clearance of forest cover around the world to prepare the land for agriculture, housing, and industrial set up. Forest cover plays a crucial role in the water cycle, temperature balance, and carbon sink (Anything in nature that holds-in carbon and other GHGs without releasing it, like trees). They also hold global reserves of oil, coal, and gas, serve as a natural habitat for several species of flora and fauna and prevent extinction. Loss of forests would lead to displacement and disruption of the food chain, reduced water quality, and livelihood loss. August of 2019, witnessed the "lungs of the planet"- Amazon rainforest incurred considerable losses to fires due to slash and burn agriculture and climate change.
o Butterfly Effect in Degradation: Inter-Related Impact of Land, Sea and Air Systems
Nitrogen pollution or nitrogen cycle disruption isn't discussed much in the context of environmental effects as climate change or biodiversity depletion. Agriculture is a significant contributor of nitrogen pollution. Extensive crop cultivation without allowing natural nitrogen levels to restore in the soil, instead substituting it with nitrogen fertilizers, only meets the short-term needs of the land. One particular study in the UK indicated that a 50% lower consumption of animal products reduced nitrate inputs to surface and groundwater by 40%. Climate change, biodiversity loss, stratospheric ozone depletion, marine dead zones, and various human health problems are rooted in Nitrogen pollution.
Aquatic dead zones are losses experienced in coastal marine systems due to a significant reduction of dissolved oxygen caused by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. Strict measures to prevent nutrients from flowing into oceanic zones, such as thick riparian buffers, are beneficial mitigation practices. (Vegetation along the water banks to reduce run-offs, erosion, pollution, nutrient input, and provide habitat)
In the current scenario, an increase in the use of plastic has inundated the marine zone like no other waste. Every bit of plastic used and discarded on land reaches the ocean surface, seeps in, and adversely impacts the marine ecosystems. There is a reduction in dissolved oxygen, large scale coral depletion, and damages due to mismanaged waste disposal on land. Images of ocean pollution have surfaced on social media, exposing the amount of plastic accumulation in the ocean, videos of marine life suffering due to the ingestion of plastic and mass death of marine species due to pollution.
All spheres of the environment are interrelated, causing resources from all-terrains to suffer degradation due to plastic pollution in the ocean. Thus, it highlights the importance of every chosen action, as it sets off a butterfly effect on our planet. Even the smallest step taken on an individual level marks a drastic change in the bigger picture.
The term water footprint refers to the use and pollution of freshwater by humans. The foremost contributor to this is the production of animal products that account for 27% of the global water footprint. The quality of watershed under animal product production shows severe pollution and degradation, such as elevated levels of fecal bacteria, Chlorophyll a, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), and nutrient pollution from orthophosphate, ammonia, and nitrate. These pollutants lead to a modification in water chemistry, harm marine life, human health, and overall ecology. It is also important to note the chronic nature of degradation - it is not only limited to the time of a polluting activity. Studies observe a 36% reduction in the water footprint by just swapping over to a vegetarian diet.
o Role of Veganism in Social Justice
There is much debate around the relevance of veganism in developing countries when viewed as scrutinizing socio-economic imbalances. A sizeable sector of the population cannot afford to switch to a fully vegan diet immediately because non-plant food is a convenient source of nutrition at a lower cost, and livelihoods thrive on the livestock industry.
It is important to note that veganism emphasizes the practicality of the movement. To whatever extent possible, an individual or society needs to transition towards a less intensive approach, to avoid the inescapable backfire of the system we feed.
Personal food choices and global hunger may seem unrelated at first, but hunger, starvation, and poverty are affected by our decisions. Animal agriculture impacts world hunger in the following ways:
• Large amounts of resource allocation and depletion caused by this sector need more efficient planning to avoid global food shortages.
• Most of the edible grain crops grown are used to feed livestock. The efficient use of protein is switching to plant-based diets. Industrialized meat and dairy production currently feed on 34% of human-edible crop calories, which is highly inefficient compared to the provision of human nutrition. (source: yourvegandaily)
Veganism and Sustainability: A Summary
Veganism cannot be viewed simply from a scientific lens as a set of factually relevant choices. It is fundamentally an anti-exploitation philosophy. It is essential to explore the ethical and social tone that the idea of veganism campaigns. The principled approach highlights an undeniable and fundamental connection between animal ethics, environmental ethics, feminism, anti-racism, anti-capitalism, and other anti-oppression systems.
The connection between veganism and the moral code highlights concepts like basic respect for all living beings that can experience love, care, harm, suffering, and pain. It allows for the advocacy of veganism from a perspective of experiential welfare. Animals are sentient beings, deserving of fundamental rights, and we cannot consider them as a commodity or the property of humans.
The definition of veganism at the beginning of this article refers to the inevitability of all animal exploitation in our current society, either by direct or indirect means. Vegans aim to be as reasonable as possible when it comes to their production, distribution, and purchase decisions to reach the ideology's closest achievable goals.
Sustainability is a concept that aims to create a society where the current needs can manifest while allowing for other non-human living beings to continue flourishing. A community free from exploitation and obstructive social norms while keeping in mind the ethical responsibilities to non-human life, infants, and those with mental disabilities.
Veganism is not restrictive practice but a choice stemming from awareness, reasonability, and sufficiency. It is a way of life that aims at creating minimal impact over ourselves, other living beings, and the environment. It is not merely "a dietary restriction" but rooted in the understanding of the choices made by an individual. By assessing impact through self-reflection and taking reformative measures, the alleviation of problems arising from human consumption is a possible outcome.
Just like all other systems, this lifestyle is not 100% efficient.
The aim isn't to achieve a 100% ideal lifestyle or claim any perceived "moral superiority" over another. The focus is to take a big step towards creating an effective remedy for the environmental damage caused. The global pandemic: COVID 19, led to the disruption of day-to-day human activity. Though the economy took a hit, a significant improvement in ecology was observable globally. Thus further highlighting the cause-and-effect relationship between human actions and environmental disasters.
Despite awareness of ecological impact and education around zero waste lifestyle, there is a gap in proactive action. The lack of action is due to latent ignorance, social conditioning, lack of accountability, and perhaps a distorted perception of the harm caused by our choices. As human beings, we have a higher ability to think, perceive, reason, and behave with sensitivity and responsibility. We need to lend a hand at resetting the damage our habits have birthed.
Nature will always find a way to restore the required balance in systems and sustain the planet for survival against all the odds: The Earth will not cease to exist, our species would not be able to survive and face extinction. These warning signs of destruction are disastrous only if ignored. Louder the warning signal, faster the antidotes must be deployed. Along with keeping a check on ourselves, it is imperative to exercise any possible control measure to safeguard our planet for today and the possibility of a tomorrow.