Climate change and an environmental movement refusing to go vegan for the planet

Australia wide environmental protests in 2019

During 2019 and at the beginning of 2020, there were widespread environmental protests regarding the rise in global temperature, water levels, carbon emissions and natural disasters and in Australia particularly, protesters were calling on the Government to transition away from coal fired power and gas and to invest more in sustainable energy sources. There were claims that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was living in denial and the raging fires were a tell-tale sign that urgent climate action was necessary. If anyone has been paying attention for the past decade around the conservative parties stance on climate policy then one thing is clear, you’d be holding your breath a long time if you thought they would commit to any drastic measures. Yet the protesters persist and are now centering the debate on the Governments newest environment policy which focuses heavily on natural gas, carbon capture and storage.

Surprisingly the one issue of magnitude that is absent from the conversation and has growing evidence on a global scale is the large contribution of animal agriculture on Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG). This issue is not only absent but not included in any of the demands from leading environmental groups.

Animal agriculture impacts on the environment in many ways and what is often left out of calculations in regards to greenhouse gases are emission sources such as water scarcity, land use/clearing, eutrophication and energy used to produce fertilisers to name just a few. Once the entire supply chain is factored in, the biggest analysis to date found that the overall impact of animal agriculture is 73% of all food emissions and 76% of the worlds global farming land. Furthermore, the Worldwatch Institute concluded that livestock agriculture is responsible for 51 percent of anthropogenic GHG emissions.

“Let me say it again: agriculture and land-use generates more greenhouse gas emissions than power generation.” (Leading Nobel prize Physicists Dr Chu)

It is clear, but not surprising that the Government has done nothing amidst these public outcries, given their priority is to protect the business sectors interests over advancing any much needed environmental protections. Therefore, I argue its important to consider options on the individual level that would have an immediate impact on the environments health as opposed to waiting for policy change.

Leading researchers have been stating for sometime now that a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet earth, yet the biggest environmental protests of last year, that has been estimated to have been attended by 300,000 people, would have only be represented by a small number of vegans and the issue of animal agriculture was definitely not on the agenda.

The average person in Australia produces 20.6 tonnes per year of carbon emissions. This figure of course fluctuates between individuals depending on the choices they make in regards to energy saving measures and diet. Therefore it is difficult to estimate the individuals overall carbon footprint when it comes to their food choices. However, even on a vegetarian diet it is widely accepted that raising dairy cattle is one of the biggest sources of environmental pollution in the industry, with meat and dairy cattle accounting for 58% of carbon emissions in the animal agriculture industry alone.

When factoring in all the sources and hidden causes of carbon emissions in the animal agriculture sector then it becomes clear that an individual can reduce their carbon footprint significantly. One report indicates that an individual can cut their GHG emissions by 73% by adopting a vegan diet. Another study in 2018 shows that factoring in changes in land use for increased carbon storage on a vegan diet would reduce one’s total personal GHG emissions by 30–50%. Both reports clearly show that on an individual level there can be substantial reductions immediately, with no policy changes required.

The sign I used at Adelaide’s climate March

If an individual can reduce their own GHG emissions, then how much change would have occurred if the 300,000 people who attended the environmental protests in Australia were to have gone vegan. Based on the average of 20.6Tn per year, the combined greenhouse gases of 300,000 people would be 6.18million metric ton. This is equivalent to 1,335,149 passenger vehicles driven for a year, 1,046,311 homes electricity use for one year or 1.6 Coal fired power plants in one year. (https://www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator).

These calculations would be much higher if we were to factor in the combined global attendance at environment protests, where the Australian marches were mirrored worldwide with hundreds of thousands in other countries holding marches at the same time. Furthermore, what is not calculated is the impact people would have in fostering changes within their own networks and communities by inspiring more people to take veganism seriously. A grassroots environmental movement that had as its moral baseline veganism, would be a formidable force in influencing policy change.

Without a doubt the biggest impact one individual can make to reduce their carbon footprint is to transition to a vegan diet, with the United Nations saying if this does not occur within twelve years then the actual ability to avert climate catastrophe will be beyond us and the planet will suffer irreversible damage.

In conclusion, there is substantial evidence from leading scientists highlighting the biggest environmental impact on a personal level is the food we choose to eat. The choices we make in regards to our food far outweighs any changes we make in other areas such as cutting down on transport, water saving measures or switching to a battery powered car. Yes these are all ways to lower our carbon footprint and should be supported, but they are still insignificant when compared to cutting out animals from your diet.

What is clear is the hypocrisy of the environmental movement claiming that the government is responsible in addressing environmental issues yet be unprepared to make the one change on an individual level that would have the biggest impact. As I have demonstrated a vegan diet would start to have immediate impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and free up land, save precious water, return habitats, reduce eutrophication and most importantly, reduce the demand for animal products in an industry that kills 80 billion animals per year and trillions of marine life.

Vegan ethics, abolitionist approach to veganism , vegan songwriter

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store