In the 21st century one of the most frequent topics addressed is vegetarian and vegan diets, Yet misinformation still persists in discussion circles when the subject is raised. But what is the purpose of the shift to a plant-based diet? Is it to avoid the pain and imprisonment inflicted on slaughtered animals? Or is there a bigger issue at hand?
Veganism and vegetarianism presents itself as plausible and logical solutions for a sustainable future free from the cruel climate impacts caused by carbon emissions.
It is true that many adopt vegetarianism to stop eating meat because of the suffering caused to animals by the industry. But vegans adopt a lifestyle that completely avoid the use of any product or by-products of animal origin.
A survey conducted in 2012 the MSc Leanne Cooper worked with different people with vegan diets and questioned them about their motives for joining the movement. The result of the survey was that of the 12 respondents, 11 chose ethical issues as the most important motivation.
Thus, when detailing their answer, two of the participants explained their choices:
“Environmental, since the carbon emissions involved could eventually cause vast suffering through climate change” (Jack).
“For me it is a logical choice for sustainable human existence. […] I think I grew up in a time when the ozone was a big issue. […] I feel my veganism is a part of a move towards a sustainable planet” (William).
Veganism is directly related to sustainability when considering problems such as climate change, lack of clean water and food insecurity. Millions of hectares are used for the production of products of animal origin, both for pasture and for the use of cereals that will serve as food for extractive animals.
Soybean, for example, has more than 127.8 million hectares planted in the world, a production of approximately 362.950 million tons, of which more than 77% are used for the production of meat and dairy products. With this information in sight, it becomes possible to demystify the preposition: “vegans will end up with the world’s soy”.
The chart below demonstrates how much soy is produced and its destination, for the years 2017 to 2019:
In terms of ecology, the intensive meat industry aimed at exporting demand an increase in soy planting. This legume is in demand 13 times more than in 1960. Therefore, with data sizes and massive exploitation, deforestation worsened considerably, also driving climate change.
To exemplify the relevance that livestock has on the climate change scenario, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations made the following statement in 2006:
“the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions [GHGE] as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18% – than transport”; […] “herds cause wide-scale land degradation, with about 20% of pastures considered as degraded through overgrazing, compaction, and erosion”; […] [and] “15 out of 24 important ecosystem services are assessed as in decline, with livestock identified as a culprit”
Brazil has one of the largest agricultural and livestock sectors and diversity in the world. And in the last two years, with the coronavirus pandemic and the bushfires around the world, this South American country has gained prominence for the burns in one of its most biodiverse biomes—the pantanal.
Lloss of diversity has been “normalized” among the international media. The Amazon rainforest, known for its wealth of flora and fauna, is one of the most devastated. Due to both illegal and legal deforestation, given that, in 2021, legal deforestation increased by 21.97%.
The graph below shows the causes of deforestation in the largest Brazilian forest from 2001 to 2013:
To conclude, it should be noted that the animal extractivism industry play an important role in environmental impact, thus, the problem grows when it comes to popular taste. It’s bigger than liking to eat meat, it’s wanting to live without worrying about the consequences of inconsequential consumption.
Author: Maria Eduarda
Cooper, LL 2018, ‘A New Veganism: How Climate Change Has Created More Vegans’, Granite: Aberdeen University Postgraduate Interdisciplinary Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 16-24. <https://www.abdn.ac.uk/pgrs/documents/Grantie%20Vol%202%20-%20Leanne%20Cooper.pdf>
EMBRAPA, Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation – https://www.embrapa.br/soja/cultivos/soja1/dados-economicos
Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2021) – “Forests and Deforestation”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/forests-and-deforestation’ [Online Resource]