Why Veganism Matters: Environmental Impact of Animal Agriculture

Being vegan has its many perks, but did you know that one of them is reducing your carbon footprint?

Your carbon footprint simply refers to the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions associated with all your activities.

Research shows that the carbon footprint of a vegan diet can be as much as 60% smaller compared to a meat-based diet and 24% smaller than a vegetarian diet (source). But, how exactly does veganism reduce carbon footprint and therefore, help the environment?

It all comes down to production. A vegan diet needs less land and fewer resources for production, reducing cases of deforestation and excess water consumption.

It also doesn’t produce much greenhouse gases, unlike animal agriculture. Finally, there are forms of vegan farming that focus on sustainability, which helps in preserving the environment.

There’s a lot to unpack. In this article, we will delve more on the ways animal agriculture harms the environment and the reasons as to why veganism is the greener way to go. 

Land and Resources Use

Did you know that half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture? In fact, 77% of this agriculture land is used for livestock like meat and dairy (source). It doesn’t stop there either.

By 2050, it is estimated that we would turn approximately 80% of forests into agriculture land just so we could meet the rising demand for animal products such as meat, dairy and eggs.

This would gravely impact biodiversity in these forests. Animals wil lose their natural habitats, which would then result to their species suffering and may even result to extinction. 

Livestock production also consumes nearly 20% of freshwater globally, and is also the leading cause of water pollution in the US (source).

Water pollution mainly comes from all the pesticides, fertilizers and livestock wastes coming from these animal farms.

Additionally, huge amounts of fresh, clean water is used not only to grow the crop needed to feed the animals in dairy farms but also to clean up the manure and the farm’s slaughterhouses.

Billions of people around the world do not have access to free water, and here we are with these farms that consume most of it just to clean the cages and floors where they slaughter helpless cows.

If you are concerned about reducing your water use, then perhaps it’s good for you to know that it takes only 244 gallons of water to produce a pound of tofu compared to the 2,400 gallons of water needed to produce a pound of beef.

Not only that, if the world followed a plant-based diet, we can significantly reduce global land use for agriculture by 75%. Imagine the amount of forests we could save and the number of animal species that get to preserve their natural habitats. 

These are just two environmental issues that going vegan resolves. If you’re still unconvinced, then perhaps it’s time to address the most harmful way animal agriculture impacts the environment. 

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere originally helped in making the Earth habitable. By trapping heat from the sun, they made the Earth warm enough for life to prosper.

Greenhouse gases naturally occur in the atmosphere, but as human activity started releasing too much greenhouse gases, they accumulated in the atmosphere at higher levels than normal.

Heat cannot escape back to space as much as it should because of the excess greenhouse gas trapping more heat in the atmosphere. This leads to a rise in average global temperature, also known as global warming

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), global livestock represents 14.5 % of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Cow farms also produce 65% of the livestock sector’s emissions.

In the US, animal agriculture contributes 6-7% of all greenhouse gas emissions every year, with cow farms also being its highest contributor. 

Why is this so? Well, that’s because the animal agriculture produces too much methane (CH4), which is a powerful greenhouse gas that produces hazardous air pollutants.

In fact, 40% of methane emissions come from animal agriculture.

Cows are ruminant animals and naturally produce methane through digestion and their dung. Counting just the dairy cows alone produces 17.5 to 30 billion kg of methane every year. 

Livestock manure also releases pollutants in the air. Liquid storage of manure produces so much methane, and the burning of pastureland and use of dung for heating and cooking release black carbon (source).

This negatively impacts air quality and further heightens the growing issue of climate change

Replacing a meat-based diet with a vegan-diet have a significant impact in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, if we switch even just half of animal-based diet into vegan diet, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 35%.

It seems being vegan is just the greener way to go, right? But it doesn’t end there. 

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Vegan diet production is also way more sustainable

You might be wondering that a vegan diet, being a plant-based one, also needs a lot of agriculture land for production. While that is true, a vegan diet still needs less than a meat-based diet.

Vegan diet actually needs less plant consumption as the higher in the food chain you go, more plants are needed for sustenance. Being vegan puts you lower on the food chain and there’s no need to harvest more plants to produce animal products like milk, dairy and eggs. 

Aside from this, there are also forms of sustainable vegan farming. Veganic farming helps in preserving the earth, replenishing the soil’s fertility, and maintaining the biodiversity around the land.

Also called plant-based farming, this type of farming does not use fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals that pollute soil and water. They follow certain plant-based methods such as crop rotation and alternatives such as vegetable composts and green manure as fertilizers.

Another form of sustainable vegan farming is vegan permaculture. Like veganic farming,  Vegan permaculture also rejects the use of animals or animal derived products in its design and intends to work in harmony with the ecosystem.

Vegan permaculture involves designing food production systems with wildlife in mind by adding hedges, trees, bird houses, and many more things that encourage the presence of wild animals.

The presence of wild animals then helps in pollinating the crops. Vegan permaculture revolves around the idea of “fair share” wherein humans share resources with the animals in the wild

Wrapping up

Animal agriculture isn’t just cruel to animals, but also cruel to our planet.

Considering all the evidence I presented, veganism is the greener way to go.

By following a plant-based diet, you can help preserve the planet we and all other living beings call home. 

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