Veganism is Necessary to Stop Global Warming (But We Need a Less Critical Approach)

CW: This article discusses the urgent climate crisis and briefly mentions EDs which could be distressing to some readers.

It’s no secret that our planet is heating up. Unless we do something to stop the increasing temperature it will become uninhabitable and all known life will die. That includes us.

Global warming causes droughts, floods, and rising sea levels. Some places may simply become too hot for the human body to function. We can tackle global warming by conserving energy, lowering emissions of harmful gases, and limiting expenditure of resources. These goals can be achieved in part by eating a plant-based diet.

An overhead shot of a rainforest with a river snaking through the trees

How can eating a plant-based diet help?

People with a plant-based diet don’t eat any animal products such as meat, fish, seafood, dairy and sometimes honey. Eating plant-based is very similar to being vegan, the difference being that veganism is more of a whole lifestyle while a plant-based diet is purely related to what is eaten and not other forms of consumption. Forgoing animal products helps to reduce greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere which contribute to global warming.

The global production of food is responsible for a third of all planet-heating gases emitted by human activity, with the use of animals for meat causing twice the pollution of producing plant-based foods - The Guardian

A quarter of the emissions from all food production come from making beef. Beef production drives deforestation as trees are felled to make space for cows to graze. This is a leading cause of destruction in the Amazon rainforest. Trees are invaluable to us as they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produce oxygen. The Amazon stores 90–140 billion metric tonnes of carbon, and the carbon is released into the air when trees decay or are burned as land is cleared. This process is also used to make space to grow crops.

Parts of the Amazon (and other forests in the Americas) are destroyed in the production of soya. Carbon from the soil is released when the ground is ploughed to create fields. However, three quarters of the world’s soya is used as animal feed and therefore meat eaters indirectly consume much more soya than vegans or vegetarians. Raising animals for meat is an inefficient use of food resources. Using soya for animal feed is wasteful, it uses significantly more land, more water and more fossil fuels than farming soya for human consumption. Besides, most soya created for human consumption is grown in Europe and the US, not on deforested land.

Soya produces more protein per hectare than any other major crop and has a higher percentage of protein than many animal-based foods. It can feed more people per acre than almost any other plant - Viva

Shark-finning and over-fishing

Fishing practices are having a profound effect on the natural ecosystem in the ocean. Overfishing leads to dangerously low populations of some fish and sea animals, while increasing the populations of others. Animals caught as 'by-catch' (marine life which has accidentally been caught in nets) often die or are injured and around 20% of plastic pollution in the ocean comes from fishers dumping ropes and nets into the water. Due to shark fin soup which is a delicacy in some parts of the world, sharks are targeted for their fins. Sharks are an important part of the food chain as they are apex predators and control the populations of smaller fish which are their prey. Cod is another example of an overfished predator eaten by humans, some species of tuna also fit into this category. The larger populations of smaller fish (lower in the food chain) have the effect of increasing the overall level of carbon dioxide through respiration.

Trawling is an extremely damaging fishing practice which also increases net levels of carbon dioxide. It involves casting a big net and then scraping it along the ocean floor. Everything in its wake is destroyed. There is a much higher percentage of by-catch and many other organisms can be injured in the process including corals which are home to a diverse array of species, as well as being a valuable asset itself. This disturbs carbon on the ocean floor which may otherwise have been stored there for thousands of years. The carbon then rises to the surface where microbes turn it into carbon dioxide which is released into the atmosphere. The emission of harmful gases caused by trawling are thought to be similar to emissions of jet engines.

The decreasing whale population may also contribute to global warming. Whale populations have been affected by fishing both directly (whaling) and indirectly. There has also been a general decline in habitat due to plastic pollution and global warming, which has lead to scarcity of food. Studies suggest that whales aid phytoplankton by supplying it with iron carried from different depths in the ocean. This is a much needed nutrient phytoplankton needs to live. Much like a forest on land, the microscopic vegetation absorbs a lot of carbon from the atmosphere and diminished numbers of phytoplankton will lead to higher atmospheric temperatures.

The easiest way to prevent these causes of global warming are to avoid eating fish and campaign for protected areas of water in the ocean.

Some vegans are overly critical, we need to opt for encouragement!

Many find that having some time to adjust and adapt helps with adopting a vegan lifestyle (or plant-based diet), yet some vegans seem determined to be impatient and judgemental. It takes some time to reshape your tastes, find substitutions and learn new recipes. Some people may have other complications such as mental ill health to contend with. Still, the small minority of vegans shouting the loudest decry how evil and immoral people are for not immediately giving up animal products. This doesn't get us anywhere. People recoil and stop being receptive to any new information or different perspectives. This is reasonable when they are given no understanding in return. Everyone starts somewhere and cutting down on meat is a step in the right direction, taking things slowly is preferable to taking no action.

It's important to recognise that a vegan diet is not possible for some people, for instance because of certain foods being unavailable in your region, poverty, eating disorders, allergies or severe sensory issues. A subgroup of vegans argue that veganism is a philosophy in which you reduce harm and the use of animal products to the greatest degree it is practical to do so at that time. Under this idea of veganism it would be possible to still eat meat under some circumstances. This may not be a popular paradigm, no doubt there will continue to be vegans policing other vegans and everyone else. Still, this is a friendlier and more attainable view of veganism.

If you feel able, any reduction of animal products from your diet makes a difference. The Reducetarian Foundation have some great suggestions of where to start, and here is a guide to going vegan for those who want to go all the way. If you feel able to go beyond diet changes, avoiding animal products in fashion is another way to help. You can read more about that here.

There is still time to stop global warming from spiralling out of control, but we must act now!