Should We All Turn Vegan? – The Environmental Argument
It seems like everybody is vegan these days. Vegetarian at least.
“If everybody turned vegan the world would be a better place”, they often exclaim.
But are they right?
Sure, animals are mistreated and slaughtered to satisfy our omnivorous diets, but is that the extent of the problem?
The short answer, of course, is no. The animal cruelty argument is actually one of the weakest arguments for veganism, superseded by the far more dramatic environmental angle.
- 60% of global biodiversity loss is due to meat based diets.
- Livestock accounts for between 8% and 18% of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions.
- 1kg of beef requires around 15,000 litres of water.
- Meat farming requires significantly more land than plant/vegetable farming.
Endless books, documentaries and articles quote slightly different facts, but you get the idea. Broadly speaking, there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that being vegan is better for the planet.
However, it’s facts like these that make people adopt the following thought process:
Meat production is bad – Being vegan is good – Everybody should therefore be vegan.
If only it was as simple as that.
Despite the above facts, being vegan isn’t the ideal solution that many view it as. Shipping over $2bn worth of avocados from Mexico every year is hardly environmentally angelic.
Combine that with the fact that livestock is high-value agricultural produce, and the complexity of the issue becomes clear. With 1.3 billion people living on less than $1 a day, and between 50 and 75% of those relying on agriculture, ceasing meat production would surely create as many problems as it solves.
Is Meat The Problem?
Even with the various facts and environmental arguments, it’s important to highlight that meat isn’t really the problem. The way we produce it is the problem.
After all, we’re cutting down trees to make space to grow grain to feed animals that aren’t very good at digesting it. It’s a bizarre system.
It’s this reality that has caused many to adopt an ‘everything in moderation’ stance. After all, some land is better for growing plants and vegetables and fruit, and other bits of land lend themselves to livestock. A far more reasonable solution is therefore to use the land we have with maximum efficiency.
In fact, if we fed animals with food that humans don’t compete for, then we could produce around half of the global meat supply with no loss to human nutrition. Worth a thought.
As with all types of social change, we can only make progress by being realistic. Entertaining the fantasy that 7 billion people will voluntarily become vegan is extremely counterproductive.
Yes, consumers should cut back on meat where possible, but there’s more they can do. For example, it’s probably more environmentally beneficial to buy everything as locally as you can. Companies like Field and Flower make this a possibility, and they’re rapidly becoming more popular.
On top of that, far better vegan alternatives need to exist if it’s ever going to take off. Companies like Impossible Foods are leading the way with this, as they’ve created a vegan burger that actually bleeds like real meat. It’s only by changing what it means to be vegan that the average person will have a genuine incentive to become one.
Finally, producers must explore more environmentally responsible ways to rear livestock. Whether this is forced by legislation or consumer demand remains to be seen, but it’s clearly a huge factor.
- Yes, being vegan is better for the environment.
- However, meat isn’t necessarily the problem if we farm it properly.
- To create any genuine change, we must be realistic.
- A combination diet is probably the most likely for the majority of people.
- Innovation and sustainable farming will help people strike a balance.
Hi! I’m an author and blogger within the fields of social impact and responsible business. I believe that businesses can be a force for good in the world, and this website contains my thoughts on how that can work.