Elisa Alban, Alexis Coscia, Blair Mendy, Kaitlyn Oddo
The animal agriculture industry is responsible for a large amount of the emissions that are damaging the earth. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about 18% of greenhouse gas emissions are the result of animal agriculture. They state, “…the farm animal sector annually accounts for 9% of human-induced emissions of carbon dioxide, 37% of emissions of methane, and 65% of emissions of nitrous oxide,” (Steinfeld). Veganism is the abstinence from animal products, seeking to exclude all forms of cruelty or exploitation of animals. This includes abstaining from the use of food, clothing, cleaning products, beauty/ hygiene products, medication, and more that either come from directly or are tested on animals (Petre). According to PETA, every Vegan saves nearly 200 animals per year and reduces the amount of resources used for product production, including water. Water is used to raise, clean, and cool down animals. To put this in perspective, it takes about 1,000 gallons of water to produce a $5 quarter-pounder burger, as stated by USGS, Water Footprint, and National Park Service (Hoekstra and Heek). In addition, animal agriculture actually causes more air pollution than cars, busses, planes, and other methods of transportation combined, which accounts for about 14% of the emissions (Cormier). Animal agriculture contaminates the air, other food, and our drinking water, causing people to become ill. In Chapter 13 of “Twenty Lessons in Environmental Sociology,” Adam Driscoll and Bob Edwards remark on the removal of waste in pig agriculture and slaughterhouses. The waste is disposed of through a system that eliminates 70%- 80% of nitrogen waste into the air, which is then transferred into water into land and waterways nearby (Driscoll and Edwards). Animal agriculture is also a major cause of deforestation, which leads to increase CO2 emissions, loss of biodiversity, and destruction of habitats (Cairoli). According to The Wageningen University and Research Centre, 80% of deforestation worldwide could be attributed to agriculture, whether it be clearing land for livestock grazing or growing food for the animals, which accounts for ⅔ of agricultural land. (PETA) (Garlow). Going vegan can also actually help decrease world hunger. Research at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment found that 36% of the calories that are in crops are actually being fed to farmed animals, rather than humans. According to this research, if we grew the food for direct human consumption, available food calories would increase up to 70%, enough to feed 4 billion additional people. (PETA). Individuals can take steps to help reduce their ecological footprint by participating in the vegan lifestyle.
Switching to a vegan lifestyle could be a big change in the lives of many. If someone is interested in reducing their effect on the environment but is not prepared to make such a drastic switch, there are many ways to slowly incorporate vegan aspects into their everyday life by reducing the amount of animal products used daily. One way in doing so is to audit your wardrobe. Many clothing items, especially coats and boots that we wear during the colder months, contain real leather or animal furs. Fur production creates an incredible amount of pollution and is an extremely energy-consumptive process. Once animal skin is removed it will rot unless it is preserved using toxic and harmful chemicals. Furs are kept from decomposing by using heavy metals, organic solvents, organochlorine pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and reduced organic nitrate compound. Even after the fur is exposed to these chemicals and heavy metals, it must be cooled to keep insects at bay. Because of the lack of emissions of manure and animal feed that occurs while producing a real fur coat, synthetic fur coat actually takes at least 4 times less energy to produce than a real one (Fur Free Alliance). Fur is also inefficiently produced. “The production of 1 kg of mink fur equals an emission factor of about 110 kg CO2, which equals a car drive of more than 1.250 km,” (Bijleveld, Kortland, & Sevenster). That analysis is made on the basis that “1 kg of fur consists of approximately 11 animals. They need about 563 kg of feed to produce 1 kg of fur which means fur is inefficiently produced,” (Bijleveld 33). While “fur farms” account for about 85% of the world’s production of fur, they also wreak havoc on ecosystems. A study conducted by Michigan State University found that “the U.S. mink industry adds almost 1,000 tons of phosphorus to the environment each year,” (Toxic Fur 1).
One could also start this switch to a vegan lifestyle with their diet. It is reported by a study conducted by Oxford University that plant-based diets can reduce an individual’s carbon footprint and emissions up to 73% from animal agriculture depending on location (Poore and Nemecek). One easy step is switching the milk they purchase to a non-dairy alternative such as soy, almond, coconut, or rice milk. They could also start by slowly incorporating a vegetarian diet into their lifestyle by cutting out meat from one’s everyday diet and slowly incorporate more vegetables, whole grains, tofu, and more. Many people find that the switch from omnivore to vegetarian is much easier and makes a further transition to vegan much easier to acclimate to (PETA). Another suggestion would be even eating a plant based meal one day week and going meatless one day less, as anything is progress (PETA). There are many high protein, affordable meat alternatives for sale including seitan, tofu, tempeh, and beans. Home cooking can also make this a lot easier, and there are many recipes online, on PETA’s website and many others, to help create a meal. It also remains an important step to pay attention to ingredients in stores to see what they contain and how they are produced (PETA). Another simple step to take is to support local vegan restaurants. Eating out cruelty free and vegan is easy and affordable. Apps such as HappyCow let you search any vegan or vegetarian-based restaurants in your area and even gives you directions to their location. By converting to a vegan lifestyle, individuals reduce their effect on the environment in multiple ways. One person can reduce water waste, air pollution, and contribute to the saving of so many species. A study conducted by Oxford University on around 55,000 people, determined that the greenhouse gas emission of vegans and vegetarians are far less than those of meat eaters. In fact, “The GHG emissions in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents per day were 7.19 for high meat-eaters, 5.63 for medium meat-eaters, 4.67 for low meat-eaters, 3.91 for fish-eaters, 3.81 for vegetarians and 2.89 for vegans. In conclusion, dietary GHG emissions in self-selected meat-eaters are approximately twice as high as those in vegans. It is likely that reductions in meat consumption would lead to reductions in dietary GHG emissions,” (Scarborough). According to research conducted by Oxford University, converting to a vegan diet could reduce food’s land use by 76% (3.1 billion hectares), and a 49% reduction in GHG emissions, which reiterates and is shown in the study that was conducted (Poore and Nemeck).
A lot of everyday products actually are not vegan. For example, many cosmetic and health companies test their products on animals to see if they are safe for the general public, harming countless amounts of animals, and many products also contain animal byproducts such as honey, beeswax, lanolin, collagen, albumen, carmine, and gelatin. Popular companies such as Maybelline, Victoria’s Secret, Benefit, and more, expand the production and selling of their goods to China where it is legally required to test their products on animals (PETA). Other hygiene products that are not always vegan include soap, toothpaste, deodorant, hair products, vitamins, and condoms. These items as well can contain animal byproducts contributing to the environmental damage occurring from animal agriculture, and you are harming animals and the environment just to brush your teeth or wash your hair. Cruelty free and vegan products also contain remarkably less chemicals, reducing the amount of byproducts being put back into the environment in the form of factory emissions and product usage. Many of these companies also use environment-friendly packaging that would not be as harmful for the earth as other products such as plastic (Campbell). Cutting out companies that are not vegan and test on animals from your daily routine and supporting cruelty-free brands will help the environment. Using vegan.com can be a big help, where you can search any item and find a vegan alternative to it. Some companies to support who are vegan and cruelty free include Milani, Too Faced, Tarte, Kat Von D, Urban Decay, Pacifica, EcoTools, Wet n Wild, Lush, Clearly Soap, Schmidts, Sir Richards Condom Company, Arbonne, and Love Beauty and Planet (PETA).
Animal agriculture negatively impacts our environment by adding pollutants to our air, water, and land. Abstaining from the use of animal products, whether it be food or cosmetic commodities, assists in lowering the demand for such products and ultimately saves species in the process. The decreasing demand eventually reduces the amount of pollutants released into our atmosphere, reduces the contaminants in our foods and drinking water, and reduces the number of animals bred in unsanitary conditions specifically for commodity purposes. Whether it be adapting vegetarian behavior, beginning to cut animal products out of your daily routine, or making the switch to a completely vegan lifestyle, every effort contributes to the movement to save our planet and decreases the effect humans have on our environment.
I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.