I Could Go Vegetarian for the Environment, but Veganism is Just Too Far!

“Over your lifetime, your individual greenhouse gas contribution will only increase the temperature of the planet by about a half a billionth of a degree Celsius. That, you might think, is such a small difference as to be negligible, so you shouldn’t bother trying to reduce your personal emissions. This reasoning, however, doesn’t consider expected value. It’s true that increasing the planet’s temperature by half a billionth of a degree probably won’t make a difference to anyone, but sometimes it will make a difference, and when it does, the difference will be very large. Occasionally, that increase of half a billionth of a degree will cause a flood or a heatwave that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. In which case the expected harm of raising global temperatures by half a billionth of a degree would be fairly great. We know that something like this has to be the case because we know that, if millions of people emit greenhouse gases, the bad effects are very large, and millions of people emitting greenhouse gases is just the sum of millions of individual actions” ― William MacAskill

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Vegetarians: We all know one or we’ve at least seen one in the supermarket. In my experience vegetarians are very empathic people that often make a connection very early in life that the beef on their burger was once a living, breathing cow. Indeed, the internet is filled with crying children refusing to eat animals. Vegans commonly identify as vegetarians in public as vegetarianism is commonplace, understood and accepted with minimal antagonism. Many meat eaters familiar with the environmental detriment of consuming animal products say to me, “I could go vegetarian for the environment but veganism is just too far” or “I’d love to go vegan but I’d miss cheese”. Whilst I get that veganism gets a bad rap in social media and that the casein proteins found in cheese work on the opioid receptors in the brain making them highly addictive, there are some compelling environmental reasons for omnivores and vegetarians alike to consider transitioning to veganism. If you feel you really can’t live without cheese, you could always go vegan expect for cheese! You may want to set yourself some goals around this, for example, only eat cheese on special occasions or spend the next six months trialling vegan cheeses until you like one as much as conventional cheese. This worked for me! There are plenty of recipes and retail products available for those who seek cheesy goodness.

Carbon

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Michael Pollan is on the record as saying “A vegan in a Hummer has a smaller carbon footprint than a beef eater in a Prius”. I’m leaning towards purchasing a Yaris over a Prius right now but regardless of what car you drive, a vegetarian will emit around .2 of a tonne more CO2 per year than a vegan. As insignificant as this figure may seem, over a lifetime this is considerably large difference.

Water

water

 As discussed in my blog The Environmental Impact: Water, the water requirements for dairy (and eggs) alone are pretty phenomenal. As far as I can tell this is because the milk used to make these products comes from the largest farm animal, the cow – which drinks the most water. But if you’re struggling to give up all dairy products, making small swaps like cows milk to almond milk can make a big difference to your water footprint. Even though I know, I know, almonds are water intensive to grow, they still trump cow’s milk from an environmental stand-point.

Land

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In the same way dairy products require a lot of water to produce, they also require a lot of land for these large animals. This is particularly so in Australia where many cows graze in paddocks before being milked.

Don’t get me wrong, vegetarians are already doing a great job, look at their environmental footprint compared to that of an omnivore! I am not a member of the vegan police, rounding up vegetarians. I simply wish to invite vegetarians to the club, to try a few new products and meals, and live an even healthier, environmentally conscious and ethical life.

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make” – Jane Goodall

This concludes the Cowpiracy preach. Many of you may have read the facts listed in the last several environmental blogs and wondered why there was so much reference to the US and doubted whether this applies to Australia. If so, I strongly encourage you to read the following article, but I’ll spoil the punch line: they suggest Australian beef production is actually more harmful to the environment and to the climate than in the USA.

Thanks for reading,

Meg x

References and Resources

Does Cowspiracy apply to Australia: http://www.shellethics.com/environment/does-cowspiracy-the-sustainability-secret-apply-australia/

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