Climate change is officially humankind’s greatest challenge and the world’s most dangerous environmental threat. It affects human health, ecosystems, water supplies, soil quality and even people’s livelihoods. After years of mitigation efforts focused on transport and energy reduction, scientist warn that these strategies are not enough, and that it is urgent to reduce our consumption of meat and other animal products in order to stop climate change.
What is climate change and why is it so important?
Climate change is the result of a raise in the average global temperature, also known as global warming. It is caused by both natural and human-induced processes and is characterized by seasonal shifts, extreme weather conditions, and change in precipitation patterns. This results in for example melting glaciers, flooding, drought, forest fires or stronger hurricanes, which in term cause soil degradation, biodiversity loss and shifts in the makeup of ecosystems. The consequences of climate change on our environment have a direct impact in our lives, especially in regards to our food systems. Seasonal shifts, extreme weather conditions and changes in precipitation patterns are ruining farmer’s crops. This has a bigger impact in small farms and when small farms are responsible for more than 80% of global food production, it is clear that climate change is a direct threat to our existence in the planet.
Fighting climate change
As mentioned before, official efforts to mitigate climate change have been focused on energy and transport reduction. By now most of us remember to turn off the lights before we leave a room, take short showers, recycle and we use public transport. Although these efforts are very important, scientists at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden warn that are not enough to reach the 2°C target set up by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Food and climate change
Besides the way we travel or use energy, the way we eat also affects our contribution to global warming. More than a quarter of our annual carbon emissions come from our food system. In order to produce food, our current food system needs to clear forests for growing crops and use fossil fuels to fuel farm machines, produce agro-chemicals and packaging and transport the food. All of these activities release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming and in turn, to global climate change. The food system contributes to 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Meat the truth
In 2007, Marianne Thieme, a member of the Dutch Parliament and representative of the animal party produced a documentary in response to Al Gore’s “Meet the truth” documentary. She was frustrated with Al Gore’s focus on emissions from transport and energy use and no mention of the contribution of the meat industry to climate change when actually, “global livestock farming generates more greenhouse gas emissions worldwide than all cars, lorries, trains, boats and planes added together”. In her documentary, she also explains how one meat free day a week is equivalent to the same carbon saving as taking 19 million cars off the US roads or 5 million cars off the UK roads for a year. The truth is definitely in front of our eyes and the time to make the change is now!
Veganism and climate change
Scientists at Loma Linda University found out that vegan diets contribute 47% less to the greenhouse emissions than other diets. This happens for two main reasons: First, in order to feed farm animals, we need to grow cereals and create pastures. 66% of deforestation in Central and South America is destined to animal feed crops and pastures, and more than 70% of grain grown in Canada are used to feed livestock. A reduction in the consumption of animal food could have a great impact in reducing deforestation, not to mention that the land currently destined to growing crops for animal feed could grow food for human consumption, contributing to a reduction of world hunger as well.
66% of deforestation in Central and South America is destined to animal feed crops and pastures, and more than 70% of grain grown in Canada are used to feed livestock.
Greenhouse emissions of diets compared
A UK study compared the dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans. The study included the diets of 2,041 vegans, 15,751 vegetarians, 8,123 fish-eaters and 29,589 meat-eaters aged 20–79. The study showed that dietary GHG emissions (Green House Gas emmissions) are strongly associated with the amount of animal-based products in the diet, and concluded that “reducing the intake of meat and other animal based products can make a valuable contribution to climate change mitigation”.
Animal food and food waste
Another area of the food system that contributes to climate change is food waste. If food waste was a country, it would be the biggest greenhouse gas contributor after the US and China. Meat and dairy are among the most wasted food products. A reduction in meat consumption could potentially contribute to a reduction of food waste, which in turn would mean less release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Make the green shift! Go vegan!
With the smallest carbon footprint of all diets, the vegan diet has the potential to contribute to the mitigation of climate change. The Oxford Martin school calculated that in fact, the adoption of a vegetarian and vegan diets could reduce food-related emissions by up to 63% so, what are you waiting for to make the green shift? Go ahead and read about the 5 vegan food every healthy vegan should eat and get started!