Climate change: is veganism the answer?

7 November 2018

If everyone went vegan for one day a week, what difference could it make? 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. Some argue that we’re omnivores and have eaten meat for as long as we know, so shouldn’t have to alter our diet. But global warming has changed everything.

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, and to prevent catastrophic global warming, 80% of proven coal, oil and gas reserves must stay in the ground. So switching to green energy is an essential part of providing a safe, sustainable future that meets our needs. But there’s another big contributor to climate change.

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.”

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”.

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, perhaps it’s time to start your own voyage of discovery. 

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