The Benefits of Veganism on Conservation

Guest Writer, Ethan Stuart, makes a case for switching to a plant-based diet to aid in conservation efforts.

Incorporating plant-based diets and vegan regimens into the human lifestyle is the future of conservation. An EPA study found that carbon dioxide makes up 81 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States while methane is responsible for another 11 percent (Mackenzie). Pollution in the form of greenhouse gases is an ever-present threat to humanity and our environment. The burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide, is necessary for the production of meat products. Issues such as animal extinction and water contamination are also common problems that may arise. How can America and the rest of the world limit unnecessary emissions and help solve environmental degradation? By following vegan ideals rather than omnivorous diets, humans could greatly lower the number of emissions released. A vegan is defined as one who does not consume food or products made from animals (Vegan). By becoming vegan, one could help to ensure environmental sustainability, save large amounts of water, preserve ecosystems, and contribute to the prevention of global warming.

The current world population is about 7,697,053,000 people and growing according to the World Population Clock. Mark Montgomery writes that the total urban population of 1.79 billion persons recorded in 2000 is expected to increase to 3.90 billion by 2030 and then 5.26 billion by 2050 (Montgomery). This rate of population growth means our resources cannot keep up with the demand. Matthew Mason states that it is estimated that the world uses “about 40% more resources every year than we can put back” (Mason). Depleting the world of its resources creates lasting effects on the planet that not only harms its inhabitants but lowers Earth’s lifespan significantly. Since overpopulation is inevitable, actions like incorporating a worldwide plant-based diet must be taken to lessen its unfavorable effects on the environment. By changing one’s diet to the consumption of only plant-based products, the meat industry will decline along with its negative effects. In fact, according to One Green Planet, “raising animals for food (including land used for grazing and land used to grow feed crops) now uses a staggering 30% of the Earth’s land mass” (Facts on Animal Farming). Limitations on the amount of meat processed will help begin to fix environmental damage already caused by overgrazing, soil erosion, etc. Decreased amounts of livestock will impact recent deforestation problems and create more space for trees and plants to thrive. This also would also mean less manure-produced methane and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere, and therefore, allowing for restoration of the damage done to our ozone layer. In addition, in comparison to meat production, the production of plant-based foods makes a much higher quantity in a limited amount of space than meat production (Buff). Overall, the acclimation of veganism into our traditional societal dietary plans will help bring forth a sustainable future and better environmental practices for the population and our environment. 

Water is a major area of focus when speaking on environmental conservation efforts. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations writes on the increase “in global demand for water and its potential drain on Earth’s natural resources” (FAO). Water is consumed every day and necessary to sustain life. However, in recent years, there have been many issues with water quality and quantity. In order to produce large quantities of meat, production plants consume excessive amounts of water daily. The FAO reports that, “It takes 1,000 to 2,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of wheat and 13,000 to 15,000 litres to produce the same quantity of grain-fed beef” (FAO). The amount of water required to process meat is about 7.5 times larger than that of wheat (FAO). This is depleting clean water sources and also putting an excessive strain on the environment. As previously stated, the production of wheat is more efficient and more ecologically friendly to our world’s resources (FAO). Not only is it saving water but it’s also saving animals from harsh living conditions and mistreatment. Many animals never see sunlight and are forced to live in very tight confined areas where they live in their own feces. According to journalist Ashley Capps, “Over 90% of U.S. dairy cows are confined in primarily indoor operations, with more than 60% tethered by their neck inside barren stalls, unable to perform the most basic behaviors essential to their well-being” (Capps). The introduction of plant-based diets would help alleviate the stress and cruelty placed on these animals while also saving huge amounts of water in the process. As reported by Capps, cows are “trapped in a cycle of forced impregnation, perpetual lactation and near constant confinement, most dairy cows’ overworked bodies begin producing less milk at around 4 to 5 years of age, at which point they are slaughtered. In natural conditions, cows can live 20 to 25 years” (Capps). This treatment is going against the fundamental principles of life and growth while also taking in unnecessarily large amounts of clean water. Fewer processing plants would mean fewer animals being held inhumanly and more water being used in other productive ways. Currently, 844 million people are living without access to safe water (Water Crisis). With a reduction in meat factories and established vegan dietary plans, cleaner water would be capable of reaching those in need. 

Additionally, water contamination is an issue that arises from the management of Animal Feeding Operations or AFO’s. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines an AFO as an animal operation that keeps animals confined for at least 45 days in a 12-month period and lacks proper vegetation or grass for the animals during this time. They have also reported that there are “currently 450,000” in the United States alone (CDC). The CDC ranks poorly operated AFOs as one of the top agricultural activities that lead to water contamination. AFOs use ⅓ of the drinking water available worldwide (Gerbens-Leenes, et al.) and contaminates a large portion of what’s left. The introduction of veganism would help to eliminate the number of factory farms and AFOs in the U.S. and lead to cleaner water sources. Veganism would allow for more plant-based products to be processed and consumed meaning less meat, less agricultural runoff into the rivers and oceans, and a more abundant amount of clean water. 

Ecosystems are the very foundation of life on Earth and hold vast amounts of resources in each community of organisms. Without healthy ecosystems, it’s possible that mankind would cease to exist. Food for Thought, a campaign supported by over 300 organizations, found that more than 10 billion animals are killed for food every year in the United States alone (Why Vegan?). They also state that, “tens of thousands of “non-target” animals are killed each year by indiscriminate trapping and poisoning by Wildlife Services” and “an additional 3 million wild animals, including threatened and endangered species, are killed each year by the USDA’s “Wildlife Services,” an organization whose goal is to destroy wildlife that is deemed a threat to animal agriculture” (Why Vegan?). Adopting vegan menus would restabilize struggling ecosystems and give back to the world’s habitats by increasing the levels of biodiversity. Through a decrease in hunting and increased space for the planting of many types of greenery and wildlife, opportunities open for organisms to once again thrive and grow in healthy ecosystems. 

People with opposing views may claim that veganism is not creating benefits for the environment and could actually be harming it more than current farming and meat production. Many argue overpopulation of animals could also occur which could harm our environment. A study done by Carnegie Mellon University found that consuming “healthier” food is worse than the average American diet on energy usage and gas emissions. This study found that “eating lettuce is three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon” (Carnegie). It determined that increasing the intake of foods such as fruits and vegetables harms the environment more because these foods have high greenhouse gas emissions per calorie and have high resource uses (Carnegie). 

Although a valid point, the total impact that a vegan diet presents is more beneficial to the overall conservation of Earth than that of the average American meat-eating diet. Veganism leaves a lasting impact on animals and humans who are affected by the negative products from the production of meat. A study performed earlier this year by the University of Oxford provided one of the most comprehensive analyses written on farming and its detrimental effects. The data is from a near 40,000 farms located in 119 countries worldwide. The article states that “Moving from current diets to a diet that excludes animal products has transformative potential, reducing food’s land use by 3.1 billion hectares…food’s GHG emissions by 6.6  billion metric tons of CO2eq (a 49% reduction)…and scarcity-weighted freshwater withdrawals by 19%” (Poore, Nemecek). It also provides information that “In addition to the reduction in food’s annual GHG emissions, the land no longer required for food production could remove ~8.1 billion metric tons of CO2eq from the atmosphere each year over 100 years as natural vegetation reestablishes and soil carbon re-accumulates” (Poore, Nemecek). This information confirms that although there is research to prove that plant-based diets have negative energy usage, these diets provide more than just that and positively affect many different aspects of conservation that no other effort can. 

Current studies have shown that the Earth’s climate is changing and “the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998, and the four warmest years on record have all occurred since 2014” (Lindsey, Dahlman). NASA found that this is due to greenhouse gases and their effects on the planet’s ozone layer (The Causes). In the U.S. from 1990 to 2014, greenhouse emissions from human activities have increased by 7 percent (Climate Change). Climate change is impacting people’s lives as well as animals. Drought, disease, and change in sea level are some of the consequences. According to PETA, animal agriculture is the single largest source of methane emissions in the United States, and methane is 84 times more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (Climate Change Indicators). PETA also stated that “producing 1 calorie from animal protein requires 11 times as much fossil fuel input—releasing 11 times as much carbon dioxide—as does producing 1 calorie from plant protein” (Climate Change Indicators). The production of meat products is amplifying the ill effects of climate change with its emission of gases. Adapting to a more plant-focused dietary plan would bring more desirable results to efforts against climate change. Not only would veganism decrease the production of greenhouse gases from factories but it would increase the amount of land available for plants and wildlife to thrive and reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air (Climate Change Indicators). Research states that a single tree can consume 48 pounds of carbon dioxide, ozone, and other greenhouse gases per year, and releases enough oxygen for a human to breathe for two years (OneTreePlanted). Consuming a vegan diet can assist in the fight against climate change and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Veganism could be one of the best options for advancements in conservation. The best solution to begin implementing it would be to give tax breaks to companies supporting the change. The government would need to bring more attention to climate change and speak on its negative effects in which they could then recommend American companies to begin incorporating vegan plans into their system of work. Companies that comply could receive a tax break. The idea is that this would encourage more businesses to join this movement. The National Priorities Project found that “the amount of federal revenue we lose each year to corporate tax breaks has grown 134 percent over the last 20 years” (Corporate Tax Breaks). This information shows that many companies would not be opposed to the promotion of veganism if it can help them economically. However, it would be difficult to pass such tax breaks due to the belief that veganism is a “fad” and the strong history of the world’s consumption of animal-based foods. Bringing media to the forefront of many well-known companies could influence people’s opinions and help them see the important values that being vegan holds on the environment and could help them make an informed educated decision or whether to become vegans themselves. 

Integrating veganism into mainstream society is essential in the progression of conservation efforts towards protecting our future. The current byproducts produced mainly by the meat industry are giving rise to issues involving an increase in global warming, a potential water crisis, and damaging effects on Earth’s ecosystems. Veganism helps to reduce these problems while also bring awareness to them during the process. However, efforts cannot be made without the involvement of the government and the people. In her speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, Margaret Thatcher spoke on the effects of climate change and how we must come together to battle it. She states, “It is life itself – human life, the innumerable species of our planet – that we wantonly destroy. It is life itself that we must battle to preserve” (Thatcher). It is we, the people of the United States, that must come together in order for conservation efforts like veganism to work. Through our strength as one, the degradation of our Earth can be slowed through the incorporation of greener diets.