One argument for the growth of plant-based diets is the growing concern about carbon emissions and climate change, which has caused people to look more closely at what they consume. It is argued by many scientists that a plant-based diet reduces your carbon footprint.
According to a study conducted by the Vegan Society in 2018, there were around 600,000 vegans in Britain. This is up from an estimated 150,000 in 2006. Furthermore the NDNS survey which was conducted in 2012 showed that there were over 1.2 million vegetarians in the UK. As well as this there has been notable growth in the number of ‘flexitarians’ and a rise in those partaking in the annual Veganuary campaign (168,000 in 2018 compared with just 3,300 in 2014 when it was launched).
According to the UN, eating vegetarian food for a year can reduce emissions by the same amount as taking a small car off the road for six months. Living off a vegetarian diet is said to produce around 2.5x less carbon dioxide than a meat-based diet and greenhouse gas emissions in kg of carbon dioxide equivalents per day are 7.19 for a meat heavy diet compared with 3.81 for a vegetarian diet and 2.89 for a vegan.
But how does shifting your diet away from meat influence your carbon footprint?
But how does shifting your diet away from meat influence your carbon footprint? There are two main factors which cause this. One large environmental disadvantage of rearing meat is that it often uses land very inefficiently as growing vegetarian food produces far more produce from far less land.
This is because livestock grows slowly, takes up more room and crops have to be grown to feed them. Rearing meat causes deforestation of a larger area thus leaving fewer trees to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Additionally, ruminant livestock such as cattle and sheep produce methane (a greenhouse gas 84x stronger than carbon dioxide)!
Eating less meat can have a number of other positive environmental impacts
As well as reducing your carbon footprint, eating less meat can have a number of other positive environmental impacts. Plant protein often requires less water to produce than rearing livestock and growing animal feed. Eating less fish can help mitigate the problem of overfishing and restore the oceans to their natural balance.
Finally, a plant based diet can enhance global food security given that it requires 2.5x less land than a high meat diet. This may become more and more of a problem as the world population continues to expand.
Now this all sounds very good, but there is one flaw: not only are many people unwilling to give up meat because they like it so much, but meat also gives us valuable nutrients in our diet. These nutrients can be found in plant-based foods but are often a lot harder to come across.
By enhancing our awareness of the carbon footprint of different food products, we can still reduce our carbon footprint without giving up all meat or dairy
Eating a plant based diet requires more thought and effort to ensure we stay healthy. Becoming completely vegetarian or vegan can be a daunting prospect for many, but by enhancing our awareness of the carbon footprint of different food products, we can still reduce our carbon footprint without giving up all meat or dairy.
A study published in 2014 concluded that a low meat diet produces roughly 4.67 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent per day compared with a high meat diet which produces 7.19. This indicates that you can dramatically decrease your carbon footprint just by cutting down on your meat consumption.
It may prove helpful to know more about which meats are responsible for the most emissions
Fish eaters only produced 3.91 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent per day, again dramatically less than a high meat diet. It may prove helpful to know more about which meats are responsible for the most emissions.
This tends to be beef and lamb which accounts for 50% of all farmed animal emissions. Reducing or halting your consumption of red meat may have the largest impact. If you wish to find out more about the carbon footprint of the food that you eat, the BBC’s climate change food calculator is a very useful resource.
Taking this information into account, although a completely plant-based diet causes the greatest reduction in carbon footprint, small gradual steps towards eating less meat can still make a big difference!
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