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Veganism: fad or future?

Milan Perera dissects the relationship between a plant-based diet and climate change.

By Milan Perera, Deputy Editor

Amid calls for the University of Bristol to adopt 100 per cent plant-based catering, Milan Perera investigates the claim that veganism could save the planet from itself.

In recent years, the concept of a plant-based diet has gained significant attention, not only for its potential health benefits but also for its role in mitigating climate change. Some may argue that it's merely a modern fad, while others view it as a giant stride toward addressing one of the most pressing global challenges of our time: climate change. 

If you have happened to watch Piers Morgan Uncensored where the contrarian host ridicules vegan diet for all what it's worth, one would be forgiven to think that there is a culture war at hand regarding meat consumption versus a plant-based diet. Do hard scientific facts back the claim that a plant-based diet could halt or reverse climate change? 

The environmental toll of animal-based agriculture 

Before we dive into the plant-based diet, it’s important to understand the environmental consequences of the meat and dairy industry. Animal agriculture is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, water pollution, and habitat destruction. Livestock farming produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and requires vast amounts of land, water, and feed crops, which, in turn, contributes to deforestation and water scarcity.

Plant-based diet as a climate solution?

A plant-based diet primarily consists of foods derived from plants, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes, while limiting or eliminating animal products. The adoption of such a diet can have a substantial positive impact on the environment and climate for several reasons:

  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions: The livestock industry is responsible for a significant portion of global greenhouse gas emissions, particularly methane and nitrous oxide. Plant-based diets generate fewer emissions, making them a more climate-friendly choice.
  • Preservation of forests and biodiversity: By reducing the demand for animal agriculture, we can alleviate the pressure on forests, which are vital carbon sinks and critical for biodiversity conservation.
  • Efficient land use: Plant-based diets are more efficient in terms of land and resource use. Growing crops directly for human consumption requires less land, water, and energy compared to producing meat and dairy products.
  • Mitigation of water pollution: Animal agriculture often leads to water pollution through runoff of manure and the use of antibiotics and chemicals. A shift towards plant-based diets can help mitigate these issues.

Scientific facts on plant-based diet

Numerous scientific studies and reports support the idea that adopting plant-based diets can play a crucial role in combating climate change. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) have highlighted the significant contribution of animal agriculture to global emissions and have recommended dietary shifts toward more plant-based options as part of climate mitigation strategies.

Additionally, research published in the journal Science highlights the environmental impacts of various food products. The 2018 study conducted by scientists from Oxford University and the Swiss Agricultural Research Institute, Agroscope, suggests that a plant-based diet could potentially reduce food emissions by up to 73 per cent.

While the environmental benefits of a plant-based diet are clear, it's important to note that such diets can also lead to improved health outcomes for individuals and address ethical concerns related to animal welfare. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is associated with lower rates of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and certain cancers. Additionally, adopting plant-based diets can align with ethical values related to the treatment of animals and the reduction of harm.

As the global community grapples with the urgent need to combat climate change, adopting plant-based diets represents a giant stride in the right direction. It is a practical and impactful action that individuals and societies can take to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable and resilient future for our planet.

Group of Bristol students demand plant-based catering
Veganuary 2023 – where to eat

Featured image: Unsplash / Anna Pelzer

Would you consider adopting a plant-based diet?