Image Credit: Alice Weetman
Over the last few years, talk around veganism has almost always been in the media, for one reason or another. But recently there seems to have been a shift in the argument as to why many are switching to, or experimenting with, the vegan lifestyle, and it’s all down to our dying environment.
What's The Beef With Beef?
In the past, the argument for veganism portrayed by mainstream media has more often than not been linked to animal rights, and organisations such as PETA. Yet within the last six months, the huge push for action on climate change has seen a new wave of veganism linked to saving the environment, rather than it simply being down to the treatment of animals. In the last week, a top British barrister, Michael Mansfield QC, has stated that the government needs to introduce tighter legislation surrounding actions that negatively impact the environment- and eating meat is one of them. He’s calling for new ‘ecocide’ laws to be put in place, with a prediction that eating meat may be made illegal in the future, and stating that “There are plenty of things that were once commonplace that are now illegal such as smoking inside”, and adding once we see the damage that eating meat is causing to our planet, it is “not preposterous to think that one day it will become illegal”. He is set to read a speech on the mentioned laws at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton, explaining to The Independent that “it is time for a new law on ecocide to go alongside genocide and the other crimes against humanity”.
This comes after a summer of heavy climate change action not only in the UK, but globally, after images of the Amazon rainforest burning went viral across the internet and climate change activist, 16 year old Greta Thunberg, sailed across the Atlantic for the UN Climate Summit in New York City. Issues around the environment are more present in the media than ever, with climate change being a hot topic of 2019 (if you’ll pardon the pun). Protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion continually raise the issue of agricultural farming at their protests, with their next wave of global protests set to start on the 7 October. Greta herself protests every Friday, with the #fridayforfutures movement, along with other school children
no matter where she is in the world. The protests aim to bring climate change to the attention of governments globally, by causing disruption in major cities. Having the backing of a well-respected barrister, who has previously represented victims of the Hillsborough disaster, may just be the push needed for the British Government to start putting serious legislation in place to aid the preservation of our environment. Joseph Poore, who led research last year from the University of Oxford,
has stated “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.”
Veganism In the UK
Veganism has risen massively in the UK; once being viewed as an extreme diet, or a bit of a fad, it is now a widely accepted lifestyle choice. Large food manufacturers such as Greggs, Ginsters and Subway have all added to and tweaked their menus to meet the rising demand for vegan products and to cash in on the national change in taste. It’s impossible to go to a supermarket now without stumbling upon a free-from section, which in the past, were few and far between. This revolution taking place in the consumer havens of shops and markets reflects a recent survey by The Guardian, which suggests that there may be as many as 3.5 million vegans in the UK. Although The Vegan Society offers a lower figure of 600,000, it still shows a fourfold increase in four years. It’s difficult to say what this increase in veganism is down to, but more widely available information on the environmental impact livestock farming has globally, may be one of the causes.
The Environmental Impact of Farming
It can be hard to believe that a change in diet could have an impact on saving our environment, but when you actually stop and look at the facts and figures, it starts to make sense. Statistics provided by The Independent state that 25 per cent of global emissions come from agriculture, 80 per cent of which are from live-stock farming. The main factor that is always thrown out when it comes to reducing meat intake and the environment is methane. Produced by cattle, decaying vegetation and coalmines, it is more potent than CO2 as a cause of atmospheric warming, and livestock are a dominant factor in the sharp rise in methane levels that have been seen since 2016. But it’s not only this. The immense amout of grain needed in the meat production industry is a leading contributor to deforestation, linking to habitat loss and deforestation, not to mention the vast quantities of water that are needed to grow these crops. The water that goes into producing these products, from farm to fork, is alarming, with 1kg of beef needing 15,000 litres of water, compared to the 180 litres needed to
grow the same amount of tomatoes. A staggering 70 per cent of the planets accessible clean water is used in farming, making the consumption of animal products ‘resource insensitive’, according to The Vegan Society. Oxford Martin School researchers have found that if we globally switched to diets that are less meat heavy and rely more on fruit and veg, by 2050 it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds. Research undertaken within the last year has also found that meat and dairy companies may overtake the oil industry as the world’s top polluters by 2050 and Mansfield commented that “the top 3 000 companies in the world are responsible for more than £1.5 bn worth of damage to the environment with meat and dairy production high on the list.” It is clear from the facts and figures that the meat and dairy industry is having harrowing effects on our environment, but is banning meat a step too far? Speaking to The Guardian, Lorraine Whitmarsh, a professor
of Environmental Psychology at the University of Cardiff, believes that imposing a ban may provoke a ‘defensive reaction’ and would risk “alienating people who are maybe coming round to the idea that we need to do something about climate change”. After all, having meat in our diets has been all most of us have known for our whole lives; it is seen as part of
what makes us human, and some would argue it makes up part of our identity as a species. For many, going cold turkey on the meat front would be a very drastic lifestyle change. Many are just only coming to terms with the fact we may have to be more considerate with the amount of plastic we use in day to day life, that we should use reusable coffee cups, and maybe walk to the shop instead of driving. So cutting out a whole food group, might just be too much for some of the population to stomach. Whitmore added “while people are on board with something that previously was seen as quite controversial – reducing flying – meat consumption is something I think is going to be harder to tackle”.
Tim Benton, a professor of population ecology, thinks that the idea of making meat illegal is somewhat ‘farcical’, arguing that “there is not one single magic bullet” that can solve the issue surrounding the environmental impacts livestock farming has. For him, a “more sensible future” would be one in which we wean ourselves off meat, and treat it with higher regard, viewing it as a treat and “treating it with the respect it deserves”. There are many other factors that come into play here, such as changing farming practices, carbon taxes and agricultural subsidies, but there is no one solution for this global issue. If we want to help the environment, then reducing the intake of animal products if definitely food for thought, especially as governments continue to tip-toe around these issues. More information on how you can reduce your carbon footprint or steps you can take to lead a less wasteful lifestyle can be found on WWF’s website, and information around cutting down your meat consumption can be found on The Vegan Society’s website. If you want to take active action towards climate change, the Extinction Rebellion website is a good place to start to find local protests and events.
Image Credit: Julia Hawkins