With agriculture accounting for 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, we discuss if veganism is the answer the climate change
Is veganism the answer to climate change?
Switching to a vegan diet is vital if we are to save the planet, according to a report published by the United Nations this year, which put agriculture on a par with fossil fuel consumption in terms of environmental damage.
The report claims that with a predicted global population of 9.2 billion by 2050, the typical western diet high in meat and dairy products will become unsustainable. But this month the governments of more than 190 nations will meet in Paris at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) to sign a global agreement on climate change – and little attention is being paid to animal agriculture. A number of organisations have joined together to produce a report on the upcoming conference. These include Green Alliance, Greenpeace, the WWF and the RSPB. The report says: “A strong deal will make a significant difference to the ability of individual countries to tackle climate change. It will provide a clear signal to business, to guide investment toward low carbon outcomes. It will reduce the competitiveness impacts of national policies, and create a simpler, more predictable framework for companies operating in different countries.”
For most involved in COP21, the key to tackling climate change lies in reducing fossil fuel emissions, by funding renewable energy sources, properly insulating homes, and shifting away from over-reliance on cars.
But according to the UN report these aims are missing something important: “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of
animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”
What is So Bad about Animal Agriculture?
With more than 40 per cent of the grain grown in the world fed directly to livestock, a disproportionate amount of freshwater, pesticides and fertilisers are fed into the meat production chain, as well as land. One hectare of land is believed to yield 7.5 tonnes of wheat grain, compared to 0.3 tonnes of beef.
Agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products, accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption, 38% of the total land use and 19% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN report.
The makers of Cowspiracy, a documentary highlighting the impact of agriculture on the planet, put these stats even higher. They quote a paper which claims livestock and their by-products account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. And carbon is not the only issue: animal agriculture creates lots of methane – up to 150 billion gallons a day according to Philip Ross writing in International Business Times in 2013.
A paper published in Science magazine in 2009 hypothesised that methane is 25 – 100 times more destructive than carbon dioxide when considered within a 20 year timeframe. According to the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), methane – produced by what is often described as ‘burping cows’ -is more than 20 times more effective at trapping in heat than carbon dioxide. This is what makes it so potent.
In addition, one pound of Nitrous oxide, which is emitted during the breakdown of nitrogen in livestock manure and urine, has an impact 300 times that of one pound of carbon dioxide. Lead author of the 300 times that of one pound of carbon dioxide. Lead author of the UN report Professor Edgar Hertwich said: “Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.”
The Lima-Paris Action Agenda organisation (LPAA), which aims to facilitate the transition towards low-emission living will be hosting a series of events throughout COP21 with one afternoon set aside to discuss agriculture. According to LPAA: “Agriculture and landuse change (often linked to agriculture expansion), are also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for around 24 per cent of total Greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture has therefore an important role to play to reduce carbon concentration in the atmosphere, without threatening food security. It is crucial to showcase existing opportunities to reduce greenhouse gases emissions compared to expected trends without threatening food security.”
Call to Arms: You Can’t Force the Change, be the Change
The Campaign against Climate Change organisation is coordinating a march through London on November 29. We are looking to mobilise Vegan Life readers to attend the march, to bring attention to the carnage animal agriculture is wreaking on the environment – carnage that will continue to get worse as the population increases and the demand for meat grows with it.
George Monbiot is the honorary president of the Campaign against Climate Change. He says:” Climate change is perhaps the gravest calamity our species has ever encountered. Its impact dwarfs that of any war, any plague, any famine we have confronted so far. It makes genocide and ethnic cleansing look like sideshows at the circus of human suffering.
“We need to put climate change right at the top of the political agenda — it is by far the biggest threat to humanity. We have to turn this into the primary political campaign. That means keeping on the streets, keeping up the demonstrations and putting an enormous amount of pressure on our politicians.”
As well as applying pressure to government, individuals can create change by moving away from eating meat and dairy, the production of which generates so many damaging chemicals.