This article has been updated on June 19, 2019.
Although vegans only make up a minuscule .05% of the population, veganism is growing rapidly. Google is getting more hits for the word vegan than ever before, vegan items line the grocery shelves, and even Bill Gates is behind the idea of a meatless future. Vegan grocery stores are popping up around the world, and meat consumption is declining while Americans are #2 in consumption of mock meat. As such a small percentage of the population, vegans have efficiently vocalized, gathered, and are disrupting the status quo of a non-vegan world. You can find vegan brands, vegan bakeries, and raw vegan restaurants almost anywhere. How long until all the cages are empty remains to be seen, but a heightened awareness of what it means to be vegan can only mean that it will happen in due time.
It is predicted that global human population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050, and livestock population will double. Unfortunately, during this time air quality, water pollution, and deforestation will only get worse if no meaningful changes are made on a global scale. Meat production is a larger contributor to climate change than all cars, planes, trains, and boats in the world combined. Raising livestock alone accounts for over 75% of deforestation, while simultaneously releasing 80 million metric tons of methane gas every year (according to an EPA page at: http://www.epa.gov/rlep/faq.html, which has been removed since Trump’s inauguration). As it is now, the World Health Organization reports, “Only 12% of the people living in cities reporting on air quality reside in cities where this complies with WHO air quality guideline levels. About half of the urban population being monitored is exposed to air pollution that is at least 2.5 times higher than the levels WHO recommends – putting those people at additional risk of serious, long-term health problems.” The Earth is at a critical point, and we need to pursue viable alternatives as a whole, or face the dire and deadly consequences.
The average meat eater’s carbon footprint is about 2.5 tons CO2 per person annually, while the average vegan accounts for only 1.5 tons, releasing two thirds less pollutants into the atomosphere. If the whole world went vegan overnight, carbon emissions from agriculture would be reduced by 17%, methane gas by 24%, and nitrous oxide by 21% by 2050. Feeding a growing population a plant-based diet means less land is needed to grow food (just 1/3 of the land needed for meat eaters is used by vegans), and it will be less of a struggle to make room for the additional 2.1 billion people expected to arrive in the next 36 years. 30% of all land is currently used for animal agriculture, and if the human and livestock population increase as predicted, only 40% of land will be available for human use.
A study funded by NASA concludes that the collapse of civilization as we know it is due within decades, but can be avoided “if the per capita rate of depletion of nature is reduced to a sustainable level, and if resources are distributed in a reasonably equitable fashion.” Sadly, the world is not going to change overnight. One positive step is the increased production of cheap, sustainable plant-based alternatives that even meat eaters find palatable. Vegan companies such as these are paving the road for mainstream society to accept alternatives to animal products, which not only positively affect the planet, but human health as well. We must acknowledge that veganism is not an elective, but a requisite to one’s environmentalist stance. To call oneself an environmentalist without also embracing a plant-based lifestyle is no longer legitimate. On top of all other efforts to reduce climate change, changing what’s on your plate is by far the easiest, and most rewarding!
Also see: Report – People’s Climate March in NYC
Interview – Nobel Prize Winner Al Roth on Future of Veganism
Photo: Oxfam International via Flickr