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What Impact Does Veganism Have on the Environment?

Jane Marsh - April 7, 2021

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Over the past few years, veganism and the environment appeared in conjunction on the news and in stores. We see plant-based milk options in our favorite coffee shops and vegan burgers on fast-food menus. The world around us is adapting to this diet shift – but what exactly are we trying to accomplish?

A global awareness change sparked when Netflix aired the documentary, “Cowspiracy.” This film discussed the environmental impacts of the beef industry. Since society gained knowledge of these sustainability issues’ urgency and severity, the average diet has shifted.

Raising cattle and livestock drive climate change due to their production of methane. This greenhouse gas is 28 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. When excess methane releases into the environment, heat has a difficult time leaving the atmosphere. This causes the global temperature to rise.

When the planet warms, the climate becomes unfit for certain species, causing mass extinctions. Throwing off the natural rhythm of our ecosystem has severe consequences for life on Earth. Luckily, a vegan diet can help heal this destruction. Here’s a look at the relationship between veganism and the environment.

Pros of Veganism

By maintaining a vegan diet, you can directly challenge some environmentally-degrading practices in industrial farming. In America, farm-to-table is no longer the norm – we get our animal products from grocery stores. These products follow three to four processing and transportation steps before reaching the refrigerator aisle.

When we stop purchasing these products, we lower production and transportation waste created while delivering animal products to stores. These forms of food contribute to 60% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. This is an extreme form of degradation because meat and dairy only provide 18% of our daily caloric intake.

You can also reduce water waste by 19% when consuming a vegan diet. Water scarcity is a global environmental issue that causes severe effects on humans, such as mortality. By reducing your financial support of the meat and dairy industry, you can help heal water scarcity and reduce the carbon dioxide released through freshwater transportation.

Limiting water waste can also contribute to the conservation of the global ecosystem. The more land maintained for grazing and crops produced for feed, the higher the pesticide runoff rate. This runoff travels through rivers and ends up in lakes and the ocean, causing marine ecocide and biodiversity reduction. One can reduce their impact on this environmental effect by 49% when transitioning to a vegan diet.

Greenhouse gas emission reductions, combating water waste in animal farming, and a limitation of pesticide runoff are just a few ways in which veganism can impact the environment. With these findings, it is difficult to identify why we all would continue eating animal products. Unfortunately, veganism has some adverse effects on the environment as well.

Cons of Veganism

A meatless diet requires plant-based replacements that can negatively impact the environment when mass-produced. This issue was brought into the public eye when scientists began to evaluate the harms of almond cultivation. The findings sparked a debate about whether almond milk or cow milk is better for the environment.

It takes 1.1 gallons of water to grow a single almond. Because almond milk became a top substitute for cows’ milk, almond production expanded. This growth caused severe impacts on water waste. Scientists conclude that, in the case of almond milk, animal milk is more environmentally-friendly.

Avocados are another vegan fan favorite that framers overproduce. The fruit tree needs nearly 46 gallons of water daily to survive in the warmer months. Freshwater depletion is not the only downfall of this delicious fruit – transportation is another environmentally-degrading factor.

This fruit requires a specific climate for proper production. The right temperature, humidity, and soil nutrients only occur in certain regions, like California and Mexico. Due to their high demand, avocados are transported all over the world. Transporting the fruit creates tons of carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to rising global temperatures.

Mushrooms are common meat substitutes in vegan recipes. They are high carbon dioxide emitters and need particular temperature-controlled environments to grow. The standard meat-replacing mushrooms emit 2.13 kg to 2.95 kg of carbon dioxide, which adds to our atmosphere’s warming. They also need to mature in contained environments of 62°C, which takes enormous amounts of energy to maintain.

Is Veganism Good for the Environment?

If you are concerned with reducing your carbon footprint, you may find yourself asking, “Should I become vegan?” Veganism has positive and negative impacts on the environment. To challenge the adverse effects, environmental dieticians developed a new diet – the flexitarian diet.

A flexitarian is partially plant-based but consumes meat when necessary. An example of this diet would be drinking oat milk at home, but when faced with choosing almond milk or cow’s milk at a restaurant, they would order the cow’s milk.

This is an environmentally-conscious diet that contains more beneficial impacts than a vegetarian or vegan diet.

You could reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by 52% when switching to a flexitarian diet. This comes from a reduction in red meat consumption and less environmentally-degrading plant-based consumption. When we lower our greenhouse gas emissions, we contribute to environmental conservation.

Mainly consuming a plant-based diet, but making environmentally conscious adjustments when necessary, is best for lowering your negative impact on the environment. Remaining mindful when purchasing food is the best way to ensure ethical, environmental practices. Staying up to date on sustainable food research can also help you make conscious consumer decisions when deciding what to put in your cart.

About the author

Jane Marsh

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.