Let’s start with the basics, shall we? Veganism is a word that is increasingly being used in our daily vocabulary. While once it was a concept that was often considered to be overtly restricting, veganism was left to the extremists. That is no longer the case today. With many inculcating veganism as a lifestyle choice, the knowledge about its advantages and limitations is no longer a matter of ignorance.
What does veganism even mean, though? Veganism is the process of adopting a vegan diet into your life. Which admittedly is not very helpful. So let’s see what a vegan diet is. A vegan diet is a meal scheme that allows for no dairy products and animal-based edibles. It is a meal that is entirely consistent with fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, pasta, rice, bread, legumes such as beans, lentils, peas, alternatives for dairy such as coconut milk, almond milk, or soy milk, and vegetable oil. Veganism doesn’t allow the consumption of eggs, milk, cheese, butter, and honey.
While it may be contested that a strict vegan diet may be deficient in a few crucial nutrients for optimal functioning of humans, thoughtful inclusion of foods and appropriate supplementation ensures you’re stringent with your principles and yet do not miss out on any nutrients.
This article will be a thorough study of both the benefits and cons of adopting a vegan lifestyle. Therefore, we will be blunt about the facts, figures, yes, and no’s.
With over a thirty-fold increase in the number of people who gave up all things precious to them, the United States had about 290,000 vegans during the year 2004. Fast forward eighteen years, the number has skyrocketed to about one million stringent vegans. More than nine million residents in the United States are classified as vegetarians, with a million following veganism. These results are in lieu of the research conducted by the Vegan Food and Living in the year 2021.
How Does A Vegan Diet Reduce Carbon Footprint?
Carbon footprint refers to the amount of methane and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that is the cause of several problems to the overall sanctity of our planet.
The overall quantity of greenhouse gases (containing carbon dioxide and methane) produced by our actions is referred to as our carbon footprint. The Wikipedia definition states, “A carbon footprint is the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, service, place or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent.”
It has been observed that while providing only 18% of calories and 37% of protein, meat and dairy farming contribute 56-58 per cent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. This data is back by researchers at the University of Oxford.
In the United States, a person’s average carbon footprint is 16 tonnes, including some of the world’s highest. The median carbon footprint on a global scale is closer to four tonnes. By adopting a vegan lifestyle, carbon footprints can be cut exponentially.
Veganism and the Environment | A Balanced Outlook
Environmental Benefits Of Veganism
1. Lesser Greenhouse Gas Emissions
A derivative of the above topic, veganism has been established as one of the most prominent ways of controlling greenhouse gas emissions. But before we delve deeper into that topic, let’s look at precisely what greenhouse gas means and the potential harm it causes to the environment.
The greenhouse effect is caused by a gas that contributes to the greenhouse effect within the thermal infrared spectrum. Water vapour, methane, nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and ozone are the principal greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The data inferred from the U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Gas and Sector, 2019, states that the United States emitted 6.6 billion metric tonnes of greenhouse emissions in 2019. (CO2e). Carbon dioxide (80 per cent) was the most common greenhouse gas, followed by methane (10 per cent), nitrous oxide (7 per cent), and other greenhouse gases (3 per cent).
According to studies conducted by various organizations and institutions, a vegan diet has the greatest potential for lowering greenhouse gas emissions. One such example is the recent report released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which highlighted a move toward plant-based diets as a big chance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Several crops can aid in the reduction of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Legumes, for example, fix nitrogen from the soil. Legumes (peas, beans, clovers, and other legumes) have a symbiotic connection with soil microbes that help store nitrogen. Excess nutrients, such as nitrogen, produce pollutants that interfere with our ability to inhale and sight. It can also affect plant development and impact the health of forests, soils, and waterways. Plants that could naturally capture these contaminants aid in the restoration of soil and air balance.
According to the study conducted by the University of Michigan and Tulane University, substituting plant-based foods for half of all animal-based foods might result in a 35 per cent reduction in diet-related emissions in the United States (CSS Report, 2020; 14). By 2030, this would mean a reduction of almost 224 million metric tonnes of emissions per year, or the equivalent of 47.5 million passenger vehicles. For more context on the wide contrast in food related CO2 emissions, look at the following data-
2. Conserves Water
Water scarcity is a universal phenomenon that renders more than 1.1 billion occupants of the world without access to clean water. An astonishing 2.7 billion people face the repercussions of water scarcity at least for one month during the year.
These rather alarming statistics sourced from WorldWideLife further cement the need to conserve water. And animal agriculture is responsible for more than one-third of the entirety of drinking water being used for the same.
A comprehensive review published by the NCBI compared the normal Western diet (rich in saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and salt) to several common, sustainable diets. They discovered that vegan diets utilized the minimum amount of water and that changing one’s diet can cut water consumption by half.
3. Conserves Land & Slows Down Deforestation
The study conducted by the IPCC 2022 (source) to estimate the water savings also discovered that significant amounts or quantities of greenhouse gas emissions and land use might be reduced by up to 70% and 80%, respectively, by switching over to a vegan lifestyle. This is one of the key reasons why veganism is good for the environment.
Animal agriculture is a major contributor to deforestation. Animal agriculture has a significantly greater environmental impact than plant cultivation, even when using “sustainable” methods. Even the lowest-impact meat and dairy products inflict greater damage to the environment than the highest-impact vegetable and grain goods, according to a 2018 University of Oxford study. Low-impact beef, for example, consumes thirty-six times more land than peas.
Land squandering has been going on for centuries. All of us know that the earth we are passing on to the next generation is getting one step closer to a depleted landscape. And typically, we perceive we are powerless to stop it. But a single change, even one as remotely simple as substituting beef with a can of beans, causes a huge impact on the environment.
4. Reduces Air Pollution
Reminding us of our fifth-grade social causes, air pollution is a pressing factor that several of us forget after having closed our books all that while ago.
Adopting veganism would cause major cutbacks on the harmful gases emitted, reducing the pollution caused by harmful emissions. According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan and Tulane University, substituting plant-based foods for half of all animal-based foods might result in a 35 per cent reduction in diet-related emissions in the United States (CSS Report, 2020). By 2030, this would mean a reduction of 224 million metric tonnes of emissions per year, or the equivalent of 47.5 million passenger vehicles.
The meat and animal products business annually emits at least 32,000 million tonnes of CO2. By reducing carbon dioxide emissions, a vegan diet reduces air pollution.
5. Reduces Nitrous Oxide
Yet another component that is often overlooked, nitrous oxide plays a major role in our day-to-day lives. Nitrous oxide is typically found in plant-based food items.
So, for all those who consume barely any vegetables, accumulating the required amount of nitrous oxide becomes a cause of concern. This is particularly due to the fact that nitrous oxide plays a role in retaining the body from becoming obese.
If you do not consume the required levels of plants rich in nitrous oxide, there exists a high possibility of gaining weight at a harmful level. Nitric oxide levels play a crucial role in weight loss, calorie restriction, and energy regulation.
6. Helps Preserve Extinct Species
How much ever scientists theorize that the extinction of dinosaurs was necessary for the birth of man, I refuse to get consoled that one of the coolest, fiercest creatures ever to roam on earth was wiped out. But that was thanks to cosmic intervention. However, the same cannot be said for the extinction of several species of animals in today’s world. Humans have a direct hand in causing almost all of the catastrophic changes to the environment.
Veganism Could Save Animals from Extinction, according to a WWF Report. The World Wildlife Foundation’s latest summary study, titled ‘Demand for Destruction,’ focuses on the impact of the human appetite for animal protein on the ecosystem and highlights many of the environmental challenges that vegans have been highlighting for some time.
With humankind preying on a plethora of different animals as a source of food, not even the whale, an endangered mammal that also happens to be the largest living species, is safe from our gaze. Switching to a vegan lifestyle would significantly reduce the count of animals hunted down for food and the resulting damage caused to the food chain.
If we begin eating the predators’ prey, where are the predators to go?
7. Rebalances the Ocean’s Biodiversity
The ocean covers the largest portion of the Earth’s surface. Water covers 71% of the earth, while aquatic animals account for 74% of the planet’s species. All life on Earth depends on healthy, balanced oceans. Phytoplankton, which produces at least the majority of the world’s oxygen, is the foundation of the marine food web. Our oceans are in danger right now.
Freshwater and ocean sustainability, aquatic life, and human biosecurity are all threatened by fish farming.
Consuming less meat reduces the likelihood of biodiversity loss in our ocean. When particular fish species are in high demand, they can become overfished, resulting in the collapse of all of our fisheries by 2050. This is due to the risk we take by endangering the species we eat, which means there will be insufficient food for us and the ocean species that rely on them. Overfishing has threatened species such as North Atlantic cod, Pacific bluefin tuna, and Peruvian sardines.
One can assist in balancing out the world’s ecosystems and prevent the depletion of the resources humans rely on by being vegetarian or lowering the quantity of meat you eat. It is undoubtedly one of the most effective strategies to protect our world by lowering your negative environmental impact.
8. Protects Soil
The resource used in every individual animal-based food product in the US food chain was compared to that of a nutritionally identical plant-based substitute by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (2018).
It was also discovered that replacing all animal-based goods may add 350 million individuals to the world’s population. They also discovered that an area of land capable of producing 100 g of edible protein via plants could only really produce 60 g of edible protein via eggs, 50 g from chickens, 25 g from dairy, 10 g from pigs, and only 4 g of edible protein from beef.
There have been several studies conducted that aim to measure the benefits of veganism in protecting the soil.
Notable Negative Effects of Veganism on the Environment
1. Water Thirsty Crops
The wonderful advantages come with a few limitations of switching to a vegan diet. And one of the forefront arguments offered against adopting a strictly vegan lifestyle is the increased amount of cultivation that it would entail.
The whole concept of veganism is focused on substituting plant-based food items. And in order to do so, to cover a previously held share that was filled by animal-based food items would potentially require a heavy increase in the overall cultivation.
The planet is experiencing a water shortage. Water shortages affect approximately 2 billion people in over 40 nations, according to estimates, and the extensive.
With rice, wheat, maize, soybeans, sugarcane, etc being the most water-hungry crops to ever be cultivated, this point does not work strongly towards adopting veganism. Soy has a particularly high undesirable impact towards the environment. Their roots are shallow and weak at looking for water trapped inside the soil, as they are adapted to hot, humid rainforest settings. If there isn’t enough rain, they’ll need to be irrigated on a regular basis.
It is believed that it takes anywhere between 140 litres (30 gallons) to 272 litres (60 gallons) of water to grow a single avocado or roughly 834 litres (183 gallons) per kilogram of fruit. Continued growth for the crop has resulted in illicit extraction from rivers in some countries, such as Peru and Chile, and has been blamed for worsening water shortages.
2. Impact of Artificial Fertilizers
According to the industry, artificial fertilizers are responsible for at least 3% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Synthetic fertilizer manufacture produces CO2 and methane into the atmosphere, whilst their application on farmland releases nitrous oxide, yet another greenhouse gas.
Beneficial bacteria in the soil that decompose dead plant and human remnants into nutrient-rich organic materials are killed by synthetic fertilizers. Nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions are produced by the application of synthetic (N) fertilizers (such as urea) and the absorption of agricultural leftovers into the soil.
By encouraging the consumption of plants and plant-based products, a vegan diet entails a much higher crop production, consequently demanding increased use of fertilizers.
Fertilizers, while sometimes necessary, also might cause more harm than good. This brings down the pros of switching over to a vegan diet and the related positive effects of being vegan on the environment.
3. High Carbon Dioxide Emitting Crops
One of the key negative effects of veganism on the environment is the increased exposure to high CO2 emitting crops. While anything green is typically associated with being beneficial to the environment, we often overlook that plants produce oxygen and discharge their own share of carbon dioxide out on the planet.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is released into the atmosphere when urea and lime are applied to the soil.
With certain crops emitting more carbon dioxide than the others, maize, wheat, and sugarcane cultivation hold the record for producing the most commodities emissions.
Coincidentally, they also hold the record for some of the highest-produced food crops in the world. We can’t stop the production of wheat due to the level of CO2 that the plant emits, can we?
But imagine the population switching over to a vegan diet, the amount of increased production that would entail, and the resulting increase in carbon dioxide.
Closing Thoughts On Vegan Environmental Impact
Every good cause comes with a heavy dose of inherent badness. And the adoption of a vegan lifestyle is no exception to this rule.
The positive effects of being vegan on the environment are plenty. That is undeniable. It reduces the strain caused on our planet, its resources, and the other inhabitants we share our homes with. A vegan diet is not just advantageous to the environment but to our own selves. It is a proven fact that adopting a vegan lifestyle has a high chance of washing away any toxicity that a non-vegetarian diet might include. The vegan impact on the environment and on an individual goes a long way.
But…., there is always a but. But, the negative effects of a plant-based diet on the environment cannot be ignored. As much as beneficial and positive and reasons we can gather on why veganism is good for the environment, it has a list of potential flaws. And once again, the reasons why veganism is bad are not limited to the environment. By switching over to a vegan diet, there is a high chance that you could be missing out on essential nutrients.
Therefore, we leave it up to you to decide whether or not you would like to adopt the vegan lifestyle.