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  • Danielle Blair

Can Veganism Save Our Planet?

With the ever-growing threat of climate change, any small contribution is crucial in safeguarding our planet.

Illustration by Izzy Reeve (IG: @izzymayv)

The intensifying urgency of climate change is pressing our generation to be proactive in preventing further degradation of the planet. About one-third of planet heating emissions, 70% of freshwater use and 78% of freshwater pollution are attributable to the food industry. Veganism has been increasingly popular, with a 40% increase in commitment to the plant-based diet in 2020. Research has shown that a vegan diet has resulted in 75% less land use, 54% less water use and 66% less biodiversity loss. These statistics have been disputed by critics of the vegan diet, who claim that the water use and energy required to produce plant-based alternatives prove that the vegan diet is not as eco-friendly as it seems. This leads to the big question: Are the environmental benefits of veganism exaggerated? 

The meat industry is a large contributor to carbon emissions. Due to the farming of livestock and the extensive land use for animal feed, it is estimated that if meat eaters in the UK who ate more than 3.5 ounces of meat daily reduced their consumption to less than 1.7 ounces, the reduction of carbon emissions would have the same impact as taking 8 million cars off the road. Research has shown that following a plant-based diet accounts for 75% less in greenhouse gas emissions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that a strict vegan diet is necessary to reduce carbon emissions. Whilst those who ate 3.5 ounces of meat daily emitted 22.5 pounds of CO2 emissions daily; pescatarians accounted for 10.4 pounds of CO2, vegetarians 9 pounds, and vegans 5.4 pounds. Out of all the diets, veganism is arguably the most effective, however, any reduction in daily meat consumption is environmentally beneficial. 

There has been debate on the environmental impacts of producing plant-based alternatives; Notably in genetically modified (GMO) foods. Mass-producing crops such as soy are heavily reliant on GMO seeds, which decrease biodiversity. Furthermore, many of these alternatives are grown in monocultures which deplete soil and diverse habitats, on which pollinators depend. This may harm the ecosystem’s ability to regenerate. However, there is currently no conclusive research on long-term impacts of GMO seeds. 

To raise cattle ethically, land space is required. However, this causes a larger risk of deforestation which increases as global meat consumption rises. Crop production, on the other hand, produces a much higher yield per square acre. 

Plant-based diets also have beneficial impacts in regards to the preservation of animals. These animals are of paramount importance to the sustainability of farming. Many farms use toxic fertilisers that eventually pollute rivers and oceans. Animals produce natural fertiliser in the soil through their manure. Without these animals, there would be an increased demand for such non-manure compost. 

Critics of veganism emphasise the water requirements to produce, for instance, non-dairy milk alternatives. Despite popular belief, the volume of water required to produce almond milk is drastically less than dairy milk. According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes an average of 628 gallons of water to produce a singular gallon of dairy milk. The water used in the production of almond milk is predominately used for irrigation, compared to cow’s milk, where water is required for the growing of crops for cow consumption, the cleaning of equipment and the milking process. As a result, it takes 23 gallons of water to produce one gallon of almond milk. The production of dairy milk requires energy derived from fossil fuels. The growth of almond trees, on the contrary, absorbs carbon dioxide as they grow. 

The vegan diet is much more conducive to a healthier planet. Expecting everyone to make such a drastic change, however, is unrealistic. Firstly, it may not meet everyone’s nutritional needs. Without adequate knowledge and planning, there may be deficiencies in key vitamins that are more easily found in animal products. There may be cultural influences as well. Animal products are at the centre of many traditional cuisines. Furthermore, a vegan diet is largely dependent on trans-global trade. This means that certain plant-based alternatives are either more expensive or generally less accessible. 

It would be unfair to expect widespread adoption of veganism, however, a reduction of meat consumption should be encouraged. Even a modest reduction has major benefits. With the ever-growing threat of climate change, any small contribution is crucial in safeguarding our planet.



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