Veganism has been the diet most enduringly championed by environmentalists and the eco-conscious. But how effective is it really? Should we all be giving up animal products or is it enough to be veggie, flexi, or pesci in 2022?
Data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would suggest not. According to them, veganism wins best diet in the fight against the climate crisis.
The IPCC is widely accepted as the authoritative voice on the steps humanity should take in order to avoid climate disaster.
One of their primary aims is to prevent global temperatures rising above 1.5oC, which means going carbon neutral by 2050. In its 2019 report on climate change and land, the panel compiled a range of data and outlined the effectiveness of different diets in doing so.
The graph below shows how, in terms of how many emissions could be avoided, veganism is the greenest choice.
The graph in fig. 1 shows how much emissions can be avoided by adopting different diets.
Veganism is a clear winner, offsetting 8 gigatonnes (billions of tonnes) of CO2 equivalent per year. To put that into context, it’s estimated that 55.6 Gt of greenhouse gases were produced globally in 2018.
Many menus and fast-food chains now include vegan options – such as McDonald’s new McPlant burger. Vegetarian and flexitarian lifestyles are becoming more popular all the time too.
But is it enough?
Animal Rebellion doesn’t think so.
The Extinction Rebellion sister group also believes veganism is an essential part of avoiding climate catastrophe.
Nathan McGovern, a member and spokesperson for the group says: “As per a 2019 UN study, industries including meat, fish and dairy, contribute between 18 and 23 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Just for context, that’s more than the entirety of the transport system put together.
“If we want to think about even starting to tackle the climate crisis, we need to address our food system.”
The group has recently gained public attention by pulling stunts like scaling London’s DEFRA building, and dyeing the Buckingham Palace fountains blood red. Controversy aside however, there is plenty of science to back them up on their mission.
Fig.3 above shows that red meat is one of the most inefficient foods to produce in term of the emissions produced per kilogram of protein. The graph in fig.1 shows that cutting it out doubtlessly has its benefits.
But the dairy, fish and eggs all have their place in the climate crisis too.
Aquaculture and fisheries represent up to 10%, (0.58 GtCO2 -eq per year) of agricultural emissions, mostly down to the fuel used for tankers.
Cattle kept for dairy emit massive amounts of methane too. A recent article by The Economist shows that up to 50% of habitable land is dedicated to agricultural use. If everyone adopted veganism that would be reduced by an estimated 76%.
Freed up land could be reforested. The food grown to feed livestock could be used to feed people.
“On a people first perspective, the simple fact is the plant-based agriculture right now produces enough to feed 10 billion people, and we have about 805 million people go hungry every year,” says Nathan.
“So, if we’re thinking about a sustainable food system, we have it. But we choose not to adopt it. Systems and governments choose not to adopt it. It’s not rocket science. It’s very simple.”