Back in 2006, the United Nations released a bombshell report entitled Livestock’s Long Shadow. Its authors specifically looked at the toll livestock farming took on the environment, the results were shocking. The report concluded that livestock farming was responsible for a full 18 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions – more than the entire transportation sector. It also faulted animal agriculture for key environmental issues, including land degradation, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.
The report led Dr. Henning Steinfeld, a senior UN food and agriculture official, to declare the meat industry “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.” He called for urgent action.
At the time, the environmental community did what it has mostly done to grapple with this issue: not a fucking thing.
There was no call to action from leading environmentalists or NGOs for the public to shift toward plant-based eating. There was barely even a mention of meat reduction as a tactic for combatting climate change. It was all “bring your own bags to the supermarket” and “screw in squiggly lightbulbs.”
I can recall going to many events and fundraisers at the time that were billed as “green” or “eco” where beef and pork and lamb were enthusiastically being served. As a new vegan at the time, the hypocrisy infuriated me.
Since 2006, study after study after study has confirmed what the UN surmised over a decade ago: Animal agriculture, particularly meat and dairy production, is an environmental disaster.
The conversation around meat consumption and the climate crisis heated up again last week when the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a searing report on land use. Once again, experts warned of the damning effects of meat production and that without a global shift towards plant-based eating – or at least a significant reduction in meat consumption – humanity will not be able to stave off the worst of climate change. This time, at least the language was plain: It must be done. Other efforts alone will simply not suffice.
The IPCC report concluded that 22 percent of greenhouse gas emissions arise from agriculture, forestry, and other land use – the majority of that coming from animal agriculture, the biggest culprits being beef, lamb, and dairy production.
While leaders in the environmental movement seem slightly more open these days to broaching the idea of plant-based eating, their vegan advocacy still falls woefully short in my opinion. And the media is fucking it up, too. Even with the advent of incredible vegan alternatives to beef like the burgers from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, our media instead seems focused on meat-industry driven BS questions like whether or not plant-based alternatives to beef are actually healthier. Beef has been classified as a carcinogen and linked to heart disease, diabetes, and stroke… so yeah, I’d say it is.
Instead of that, why isn’t the media highlighting how much better these plant-based products are for the environment? Case in point: To produce one Beyond Burger requires 99 percent less water, 93 percent less land, and 90 percent less greenhouse gases emissions than a beef burger. Where are all the environmental NGO’s on that?
But more importantly, where are the rest of us? Are we all willing to do the single most impactful thing each of us can do to help save our planet? Are we finally, at long last, going to give up animal products for a healthy, kind, and sustainable vegan diet? If not, just how serious are we about saving the world and ourselves?
I think most people feel helpless or are waiting for the governments of the world to take action on climate change, but the truth is we have more power than we think. It’s time to rise up, make change, and do the right thing. It’s time for all of us to go vegan.