Climate change: is veganism the answer?

7 November 2018

One of the main benefits of a vegan diet is the positive impact it can have on the environment. According to researchers at Oxford Martin School, widespread adoption of a meat-free diet could see greenhouse gas emissions drop by 63%, or 70% for a vegan diet. So is veganism really stop climate change?

Climate change and global warming

The temperature of the earth is rising at nearly twice the rate it was 50 years ago, with scientists concluding that this rate and pattern of warming can’t be explained by natural cycles alone. We’re increasingly aware of the impact that fossil fuel emissions have on the planet, but animal agriculture is responsible for at least 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

There are many impacts of farming animals for food – not just greenhouse gases, but land use, water use and global acidification. As Joseph Poore who led the research of a new study by Oxford University said, “Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”

You can find out more about the impacts of global warming in our six scary facts about climate change.

So could going vegan save the planet?

According to the WWF's Livewell report, switching to a vegan diet is one of the biggest ways you can cut your personal carbon emissions - with vegans having the lowest carbon emissions of all dietary types.

If everyone in the world went vegetarian, we could cut our emissions by 60% - this rises to 70% if everyone went vegan.

Are there any other benefits to going vegan?

There are a multitude of reasons to consider changing what we eat, both for the good of the planet and for our own health. Aside from climate change, ditching meat and dairy is a health issue too.

Lead author of the research, Dr Marco Springmann explains, “Imbalanced diets, such as diets low in fruits and vegetables and high in red and processed meat, are responsible for the greatest health burden globally and in most regions.” And the World Cancer Research Fund recommends we “eat no more than moderate amounts of red meat, such as beef, pork and lamb and eat little, if any, processed meat”.

How to go vegan

It can seem a daunting task, as switching to a plant-based diet is a big shift in our well-established routines. The Vegan Society is a great resource for tips on veganism, and their first piece of advice is to take it slow.

You’ll make a difference simply by having at least one meat free day each week, so why not try Meat Free Monday? This simple idea was launched by Paul, Mary and Stella McCartney in 2009, and has been gaining in popularity ever since. It’s an easy way to increase the amount of plant-based foods in your diet and can be a stepping stone to a bigger change.

There’s a whole world of vegan recipes to experience, and taking the leap into veganism isn't nearly as scary as the prospect of irreversible damage to our planet.

Find out more about how to go vegan and cut your carbon footprint in half. 

Updated: 8 February 2019

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