How can the vegan lifestyle affect our environment?

The vegan lifestyle is usually associated with animal rights. But as the threat of climate change looms, many people are waking up to the link between the consumption of animal products and the environment.

Meat and the environment: what's the connection?

Raising animals for food is a hugely inefficient process. Vast quantities of land and water are required to grow the grain that farmed animals eat. In fact, it takes eighteen times more land to feed a meat-eater than a vegan. Additionally, up to a third of the world's fresh water is used for animal agriculture. Feeding all the food we grow directly to humans would be a much better use of resources.

No more fish in the sea

It's not just agriculture that's the problem. Due to the destructive nature of commercial fishing, three-quarters of the world’s fisheries are now either exploited or depleted. And some scientists predict we could see empty oceans by 2048.

A growing problem

In developing countries like China and India, demand for meat is skyrocketing as incomes rise. This is putting even more pressure on the planet’s resources. It seems obvious that this can't continue. It would simply be impossible for everyone to consume as many animal products as we in developed countries currently do. It is therefore critical that these countries do not continue to follow our example.

Is veganism set to soar in popularity?

Given the facts, it does seem likely that veganism will continue to grow in popularity. The 2014 documentary Cowspiracy encouraged many people to change their diets. And even the United Nations has stated that we will all have to move towards a plant-based diet if we’re to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

But is there any hope of combating the surge in the demand for animal products in developing countries? Perhaps. China, for instance, has pledged to cut meat consumption by 50%.

This does not necessarily mean that many more people will become vegan. However, it does mean that a much higher percentage of our diets is likely to consist of plant foods in the near future.

What's the probable impact of more people going plant-based?

Methane is a greenhouse gas produced by livestock. If fewer animals are raised for food, methane production will decline sharply. Since methane doesn't stay in the atmosphere anywhere near as long as carbon dioxide, this could have a positive impact on the environment in under a decade.

A decline in meat and dairy production would also free up more resources to produce food for humans, potentially reducing levels of starvation.

Fish populations would also have a chance to recover. Pollution would probably decrease, as animal agriculture is one of its leading causes.

There's little doubt that a worldwide shift towards plant-based diets would be a positive thing for the environment. But whether this will happen on a large enough scale still remains to be seen.