In May of 2019 it was announced that sensors in Hawaii had recorded that atmospheric CO2 on Earth had passed 415 parts per million for the first time in the history of humankind. Meteorologist Eric Holthaus put it simply, “we don’t know a planet like this” (Dockrill). A senior scientist at NOAA, or Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, said that the recent measurements, “help us verify climate model projections, which if anything, have underestimated the rapid pace of climate change being observed” (Stein). It’s no secret that the situation with our Earth’s climate is dire, but most everyone feels helpless in the fight to stop it. But the truth of the situation is that the average person is very much in command of the future of the planet and one simple change would make a world, literally, of difference. That simple change is the shift to making an effort to eat less meat, and more plant based food.
The base argument for asking for a decree in meat consumption has two simple components. Globally, the shift to a vegetarian or vegan diet would lead to a massive reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of up to two thirds (Springmann). And in one’s personal life, the change in diet would also have significant positive effects on those who choose to participate. Studies the average vegetarian lives up to nine years longer than their non-vegetarian counterparts, a significant increase in life expectancy (Hauser). Still, while these statistics show significant potential, many may choose to remain steadfast in their decision to continue with their consumption of meat and animal products, for one reason or another. Whether someone is uncomfortable abandoning animal products all together or they feel they cannot put the effort into such a diet, there is still room for those people in this battle. If one was not prepared to make the shift to a totally vegetarian diet but still willing to reign in their meat consumption to a comfortable place, the results would still be positive. Marco Springmann, a researcher behind the studies of the impact of diets on the climate, says this flexible diet, “is the least stringent that is both healthy and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough for us to stay within environmental limits” (Drayer). This diet has been given the nickname “flexitarian,” which is a diet in which one makes an effort to eat vegetarian when possible but will still consume meat or animal products. While it may not have the massive global effect of a total shift to vegetarian and vegan diets, a flexitarian diet can still be enough to do significant good in the name of environmental reparations.
For those who feel attracted to a flexitarian diet, it is important to consider that not all meat is made equally and some meat production is harsher on the environment than others. Of all meat products one should do their best to eat less, or none, of, dairy and beef products top the list. Livestock accounts for more than 40 percent of all greenhouse gases, and cows make up 50 percent of those emissions (Singh). Cutting back on beef and dairy, whether completely or incrementally, is one of the most effective things a person can quickly do to help climate change. And from an ethical position, this move would potentially also begin to chip away the widespread abuse that the average commercial cows experience on a daily basis and allow for smaller scale cleaner, safer, and more ethical food production. Currently, despite cows having a lifespan of over 20 years, a cow on a commercial dairy farm rarely makes it past age 6 (“The Life of: Dairy Cows”). Still, ethical arguments themselves are representative of “moral vegetarianism,” a concept that not all proponents of decreased meat consumption supports, as ethical arguments are susceptible to philosophical arguing and might ultimately impede a movement away from heavy meat consumption (Henning).
Moving away from ethics, the numbers in support of making such a change in one’s personal life nearly speak for themselves. One study into the potential greenhouse gas reductions by an increase in vegetarian diets explains that the adoption of such a lifestyle reduce per-capita gas emissions by 37% (67% for a vegan diet), blue water use by 70%, and land occupation by 70% (Goldstein). And while some suggest that a reduction in meat in one’s diet would mean the loss of one’s primary source of protein, you can rest easy as the average person only gains around 20% of their protein intake from animal products, a small percentage easily made up for with plant based protein (Clarke). Furthermore, planning and executing vegetarian meals and diets could not be easier in our modern and information based age. A plethora of options are available to anyone interested in vegetarian diets, whether it be the hundreds to thousands of cookbooks available, the recipes readily available online, or an online plant based meal planning service such as the Eat What Elephants Eat Nutrition and Wellness program. The Eat What Elephants program was founded by Dominick Thompson, a former inmate who went vegan while incarcerated. Dominick hopes that his program will made eating vegan, “fun, tasty, and more importantly, affordable” (Schaefer).
While the Earth faces life-altering climate change and ecological decimation we must do everything we can to protect the future of our planet and the futures of the children and creatures ahead of us who will inherit this Earth. Climate change and the effects we will see as a result of it are not fantasy, they are peer-reviewed scientific facts, and with this we must act and the simplest way we can do this is through through painless effort of lowering or eliminating one’s meat and dairy consumption. One cannot easily end the limitless supply of trash filling the ocean, or the ecological destruction in foreign lands by billion dollar corporations, but one can make the decision as to what they eat every day. Whether you choose to eat vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian, all are equally important to our fight against the environmental decimation that our planet and species are facing. That one decision would make all the difference.
Clarke, Alexis. “Vegetarianism and Sustainability.” Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society.
Dockrill, Peter. “It’s Official: Atmospheric CO2 Just Exceeded 415 Ppm For The First Time in Human History.” ScienceAlert, www.sciencealert.com/it-s-official-atmospheric-co2-just-exceeded-415-ppm-for-first-time-in-human-history.
Drayer, Lisa. “How Your Diet Could Help Combat Climate Change in 2019.” CNN, Cable News Network, 2 Jan. 2019, www.cnn.com/2018/10/18/health/plant-based-diet-climate-change-food-drayer/index.html.
Goldstein B, Moses R, Sammons N, Birkved M (2017) Potential to curb the environmental burdens of American beef consumption using a novel plant-based beef substitute. PLoS ONE 12(12): e0189029. https:// doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0189029
Hauser, Annie. “Eat Vegetarian, Live Longer?” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/vegetarians-live-longer-longevity_n_1961967.
Henning, Brian. “Moral Vegetarianism: A Whiteheadian Response to Andrew F. Smith.” Brian Henning, 2016.
Schaefer, Michelle. “Eat What Elephants Eat Is More Than Just A Best Selling T-Shirt.” VegNews. https://vegnews.com/2019/1/eat-what-elephants-eat-is-more-than-just-a-best-selling-t-shirt-its-a-mindset.
Singh, Maanvi. “Gassy Cows Are Warming The Planet, And They’re Here To Stay.” NPR, NPR, 12 Apr. 2014, http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/04/11/301794415/gassy-cows-are-warming-the-planet-and-theyre-here-to-stay.
Springmann, Marco. “Plant-Based Diets Could Save Millions of Lives and Dramatically Cut…” Oxford Martin School, 30 May 2019, http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/news/201603-plant-based-diets/.
Stein, Theo. “Carbon Dioxide Levels Hit Record Peak in May.” Welcome to NOAA Research, Welcome to NOAA Research, 3 June 2019, research.noaa.gov/article/ArtMID/587/ArticleID/2461/Carbon-dioxide-levels-hit-record-peak-in-May.
“The Life of: Dairy Cows.” Compassion In World Farming, http://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/5235185/the-life-of-dairy-cows.pdf.