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Going vegan: can switching to a plant-based diet really save the planet?

Research in 2018 showed that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, the EU and Australia combined – and still feed the world!

The UK business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, is considering a “full vegan diet” to help tackle climate change, saying people will need to make lifestyle changes if the government is to meet its new emissions target of a 78% reduction on 1990 levels by 2035.

How much difference would it make if everyone turned to a plant-based diet? Experts say changing the way we eat is necessary for the future of the planet but that government policy is needed alongside this. If politicians are serious about wanting dietary changes, they also need to incentivise it, scientists and writers add.

The literature on the impact of reducing or cutting out meat from your diet varies. Some studies show that choosing vegetarian options would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions per person by 3%. Others show a reduction in emissions per person of 20-30% for halving meat consumption.

Probably the most important thing to point out is that emissions are often viewed as the only metric of sustainability: they are not. Impacts of farming systems on carbon sequestration, soil acidification, water quality, and broader ecosystem services also need to be well considered,” said Matthew Harrison, systems modelling team leader at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture.

“There is also a need to account for farming systems that may replace livestock,” he said.

The writer and environmental campaigner George Monbiot says the numbers on the impact of going vegan are different because of what scientists measure. “There are two completely different ways look at the carbon impact of diet: one is carbon released by producing this or that food – that is ‘carbon current account’. But another one is ‘carbon capital account’, which is the carbon opportunity cost of producing this food rather than another one,” he said.

“If you are producing meat, for example, what might land be used for if you took meat away? If you are growing forests there instead or peat bog there.”

Monbiot says what we eat is a “huge issue”, alongside our transport habits. “Most of what you can do at an individual level is weak by comparison to what governments need to do … but changing diet does not. That has a major impact,” he said.

“It is easier done if the government acts to change the food system but in the absence of that, we should still try and change our diets.”

In 2018, scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage of farming to the planet found avoiding meat and dairy products was the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet. The research showed that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world.

Credit to the guardian for this article  –  www.theguardian.com

 

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