When you go vegan, you’re helping to save the planet in a number of ways.
Following a vegan lifestyle means not eating animal products like meat, dairy, fish, or eggs. It also means not purchasing other animal products such as leather or wool.
When you stop consuming these animal products, your lifestyle becomes more sustainable. And with a population of over 7 billion people, sustainability is important.
From water to land use to carbon emissions, there are many ways that a vegan lifestyle is good for the environment.
Many people want to do something to help the environment, but they don’t know where to start to make the most positive change they can.
Well, here are 11 reasons why going vegan helps save the planet:
1. Decrease your water footprint
A vegan diet uses less water.
Eating animal products means that ALL of the water that was used before that item reached your plate make up its’ “water footprint.”
Animals are living creatures that require water to live. So, all of the water they consume throughout their lifespan is included in their water footprint.
Consequently, animal products require a significant amount of water.
For example, beef, one of the most water intensive animal products requires considerably more water to produce a kg of product than is needed to grow apples or potatoes.
See for yourself! You can compare the average water footprint of various foods on the Water Footprint Network.
As you’ll also find out, food isn’t the only way that vegans decrease their water consumption. There is also a considerable amount of water used in leather production (from animals), as is the case with other animal product industries.
In California, alfalfa has become a major crop. As a result of an increased demand for meat and dairy, this alfalfa is produced to ship to China to feed cattle.
Water resources could be more efficiently used if they went towards growing other plant foods. Those crops could feed humans directly, and use far less water in the process.
You can learn more about water consumption and a vegan diet on Truth or Drought. Especially if you’re in the California area, they can help you to share this message with others.
Through education, real solutions can be put into action to reduce the water used to grow our food. Following a vegan lifestyle is one way to considerably reduce your daily water consumption.
2. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Consuming less animal products results in less pollution being created.
Produce less methane gas: Animal agriculture is a main producer of methane gas emissions.
Factory farming, and especially beef, is one of, if not the top producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
Less demand for their products means less supply is created to fulfill those demands. Thus, less methane emissions are produced.
Produce less carbon emissions: Reducing your animal product consumption will also reduce the amount of carbon emissions required to produce your food.
From preparing the land for livestock, to feeding the animals, to production and shipping methods, a lot of carbon is produced to put animal foods on your plate.
There is nothing more significant you can do to reduce your carbon emissions than changing to a vegan lifestyle.
3. Cause less deforestation
To produce beef you need cattle. And cows need to eat.
Cattle grazing requires vast amounts of land. In order to supply this land, trees are cut down.
Fields are created where lush forests once stood.
As stated on Mongabay’s website:
“Cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest.”
Cattle ranching produces beef as well as leather and other cattle products. In the Amazon region leather, in particular, is destined for export markets.
So, people who buy leather products around the world are connected to those lost forests.
But it’s not just cattle ranching. Animal feed produced for all other livestock and animal products is also a factor.
Specifically, soy production is another top reason for deforestation.
The WWF Global states that:
“Soybean meal is the largest source of protein feed in the world, and is generally used in animal feed.
Therefore, most of the world’s soybeans are consumed indirectly by humans through products like meat (chicken, pork and beef), dairy, eggs and farmed fish.”
To significantly lessen your contribution to deforestation, decreasing or eliminating your consumption of meat, leather, and other animal products will help protect forests from being destroyed.
As reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in a 2006 article:
“Livestock and livestock feed take up more than 30% of the Earth’s land.”
And those are older statistics.
Much of this land has been cleared of forests expressly for the purpose of producing animal feed.
On the topic of animal agriculture, the documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a real eye-opener.
The film shows us just how much of a negative impact animal agriculture is having on the planet.
When there is no longer such a demand for animal products, land won’t need to be cleared to make fields for grazing and animal feed. The forests could be left alone.
4. Use less land. Feed more people.
Animal agriculture uses A LOT of land.
So, when people stop consuming animal products it means that land can be put to better use.
No longer a natural process, breeding has become a science.
With a decrease in demand for meat and dairy, less cows are bred to supply that demand.
This would free up a lot of land.
Currently, most of the crops grown in the US are fed to livestock.
As stated on the Ohio Environmental Council’s website:
“The vast majority of crops grown in the U.S. are “feed grains” like corn and soybeans. Most feed grains are used to feed the cattle, hogs, or poultry kept in Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).”
Further, they declare that the land cleared for animal feed takes up much of the land in the US:
“Feed grain mono-cultures now dominate much of America’s heartland, virtually replacing the long-enduring natural ecosystems of prairie and forestlands.”
This land could be more efficiently used for other purposes, like growing plant foods for human consumption.
When the demand for animal products goes down, fields that had previously been used to source feed for cattle can be used to grow plant crops.
Instead of using large amounts of land to grow grains for animals to eat, that land can be used to grow grains and other plant foods to feed humans. That food can go directly towards feeding people, using less resources in the process.
This would make factory farming irrelevant.
There would be no need to feed livestock, because there would be no need to breed them in the first place.
5. Keep water on the land
Cattle ranching dries up the land. This leads to the human induced creation of deserts. Areas of land where only the hardiest of plants and species can survive, if any.
Deforestation means there are no tree roots to hold water and moisture in the soil.
As large fields are needed for cattle grazing and animal feed, forests are cut down. Especially when this occurs in areas that are already susceptible to dry spells, this can lead to huge areas of land being dry and infertile, unable to grow anything.
This process is called desertification.
After a period of drought, the land desperately needs water. But, as the land is so dry, the next time it rains the water just runs right off of the land and back into the ocean.
When there are no trees, there are no tree roots to help retain the rainwater for the crops.
Without trees, the effects of drought can be felt even more acutely. Trees are essential to maintaining a healthy water cycle.
We learned in grade school that water works in a cycle. What we didn’t learn about is how much water gets displaced and moved around the world, largely as a result of globalization. When apples are shipped out of a certain area, the water they hold goes with them.
Thus, trees are needed to keep as much of the remaining water as possible in the local water cycle. Without them, that water is lost.
The impacts of interrupting the natural water cycles and the detrimental effects of desertification are explained in the documentary Blue Gold.
As the result of deforestation and the ensuing desertification, mass water run-off occurs in the fields that have been cleared for grazing and feed grains.
Without tree roots, there isn’t much to keep water in the soil. So, in long periods of little rain fall or precipitation, as is currently being experienced in California and other areas around the world, it’s even harder to grow crops. They just don’t survive without water.
Despite more water resources being put to crops in order to make up for the lack of it, the water will still run-off.
Water is left with nowhere to go but to drain back into the streams and ocean which, in turn, also contributes to rising sea levels.
6. Help keep soil nutrient-rich
Keeping water on the land also helps to keep the water in the soil. Along with water, nutrients are preserved in the soil ensuring it stays more nutrient-rich.
Tree roots hold onto the soil. Without good tree roots, there’s nothing to keep the soil in place, so soil erosion occurs.
Not only can the loss of water lead to desertification, but the soil doesn’t retain its’ nutrients. The decrease in nutrient density means the soil easily gets depleted.
Thus, just as they are essential to the water cycle, trees are also important for healthy soil.
The roots of trees help to retain moisture in the land. Without these roots water, runs back into the ocean, and with it nutrients from the soil, leaving the land dry and barren.
The fewer trees that are cut down, the less desertification occurs. This is especially important in times of increased droughts. The roots help to keep the soil more nutrient-rich and fertile.
Monocropping is another contributing factor to nutrient loss in soil. Planting singular crops does not encourage nutrient diversity.
And, as we now know, most of the monocrops are grown for animal feed.
7. Create less poop
Another, less talked about animal by-product: fecal matter.
Following a vegan lifestyle means you don’t contribute to the creation of animal farming fecal waste.
As a result of large scale factory farming, there is a considerable amount of feces.
A lot of animals means a lot of poop.
Cows, pigs, chickens all produce waste.
The question is: What are you supposed to do with it all?
In reality, it’s just not possible to deal with so much waste.
However, in a desperate attempt to deal with it all, they put the fecal matter back onto the fields, as manure.
But, animal manure in general isn’t really healthy. And, as you can imagine, it’s especially not healthy in large quantities like that.
For a healthier, more sustainable option veganic gardening is the way to go.
Not only is it better for the crops, but it’s certainly the best way to avoid having to dispose of so much poop.
Even better, is to not have so much fecal matter in the first place. And we all know how that can become a reality.
Stop the demand. Stop the supply.
8. Stop polluting the water
In part because of all of the waste produced, animal agriculture is a top cause of ocean acidification and pollution.
Along with water is the run-off of chemicals, pesticides, and waste matter from farm land. Fertilizers and animal manure, which are particularly rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, drain into the ocean and nearby streams.
This agricultural run-off pollutes local steams and can leach into the ground contaminating ground water supplies.
Similarly, in leather production the chemicals often pollute the local water supply. As is often the case in many underdeveloped nations, the water supplies are polluted leaving people without clean drinking water and exposed to the chemicals used in the dyeing process.
The run-off from factory farming and leather products adds to water and ocean degradation. And insufficient means of dealing with fecal waste and chemicals increases the toxicity of the run-off.
The best way to stop polluting the water, is to stop consuming these animal products.
9. Don’t mess with aquatic eco-systems
As a result of industrial animal agriculture run-off, ecosystems are harmed and often destroyed.
Not only does this water pollution affect drinking water, run-off from animal agriculture disrupts ecosystems causing large “dead zones.” The run-off overwhelms streams, depleting oxygen and leaving these dead zones in its’ wake.
This is caused by fertilizers and waste matter, high in chemicals like nitrogen, draining into the ocean and nearby streams causing cultural eutrophication. This leads to the overproduction of algae which causes overcrowding and plants competing for limited space and sunlight.
Large scale animal agricultural run-off irreparably damages the local environment and aquatic eco-habitats.
In an article on Mission Blue about factory farming and ocean degradation, Brett Garling states that:
“…the scale on which factory farms produce animal waste creates nitrogen shocks to the environment, encouraging disease outbreak and destructive algae blooms.”
Species are unnecessarily being lost to extinction, caused by both animal agriculture and fishing.
In the fishing industry, bykill, or unintended prey caught in fishing nets results in further aquatic eco-system imbalances. This can include turtles, sea birds, and even sharks.
Aquatic ecosystems are essential and must be protected in order to save the planet and aquatic life.
10. Protect wildlife
In addition, animal agriculture also has a negative impact on land wildlife.
On a very large scale animals are displaced and killed to make room for, and to protect livestock.
As large areas are needed in factory farming procedures, the land has to be cleared of the local wildlife.
In the US, to protect livestock from predators, or any other animals deemed detrimental to the livestock industry, wildlife are killed by Wildlife Services.
Many of the methods used are appalling. And the numbers of wildlife killed are staggering.
Similarly, wild horses are killed to make room for cattle grazing.
There is a demand to have the population of wild horses scaled back in order to accommodate ranchers and their livestock. Yet, their cattle farms seem to be able to take up as much space as they want.
The privilege given to cattle ranchers has a devastating effect on native wildlife and ecosystems.
11. Help encourage biodiversity
The singular focus of animal agriculture affects biodiversity.
The loss of wildlife has considerable consequences to ecosystems. And, large scale animal agriculture has detrimental effects on even the smallest of life.
Both the loss of rainforests and native species means loss of biodiversity. And biodiversity is key to maintaining a healthy planet, particularly our food supply.
In an effort to minimise cost and maximise profit, fields of individual crops are planted, particularly to feed livestock.
This practice of monocropping means a loss of biodiversity in the local area. From bugs to birds, they’re all affected by the lack of variety. Many native animals lose their food sources in the process.
As we learned above, monocropping is particularly used to feed livestock. The grains feed the cows, chickens, and pigs that are bred for human consumption.
We need to keep environments intact, rather than continuing with industrial farming methods that impose large scale deforestation, ridding of local biodiversity.
The effects of livestock on the environment are acknowledged in the Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options report put out by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In the summary of the report (Part VIII; p 267), they state that:
“As we have seen, the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and the planet as a whole.”
As is clear, the animal farming industry is unsustainable. Yet, as a result of the example set by the Western world, global demand for meat and dairy is on the rise.
Many resources are devoted to increasing the efficiency of meat production. But is that really where the focus should be?
Regarding the demand for meat, as remarked by Bryan Walsh in this article in Time magazine:
“But what’s clear is that American levels of meat consumption can’t be sustainably adopted by the rest of the world, even if livestock management becomes more efficient globally.”
It’s all too true.
The Earth can’t support our current diet and lifestyle choices. To save the planet, things need to change.
Biodiversity is essential to the future of agriculture and food production. And animal agriculture is not the way forward.
We need to develop lifestyle practices that are more sustainable for the planet.
Plenty of organizations acknowledge the detrimental effects of animal agriculture and fishing on the environment, but the changes often recommended won’t cause real change.
Rather than taking their advice and making insignificant changes, you can do something that can actually have a considerable and positive impact on the environment.
Using less water, carbon, land mass; contributing to less methane gas emissions and water pollution; and protecting wildlife and biodiversity are all beneficial impacts of living a vegan lifestyle.
Going vegan is one of the best things you can do for the planet because it reduces your eco-footprint in so many ways.
Summing it up quite nicely, is this infographic from Your Daily Vegan.
It’s not difficult to go vegan.
Especially now that there are many great vegan companies and brands that make going vegan even easier.
You’d be surprised how many vegan snack foods and plant-based options there are, even the “accidentally vegan” variety.
And there are new vegan products becoming available all the time, from foods to warm winter coats.
For a variety of vegan snacks, beauty products, and accessories, Vegan Cuts is an excellent place to find and try out vegan products.
If you’re just getting going with the vegan lifestyle, finding some vegan recipes can be a big help.
You don’t need to go vegan all at once. Transitioning to being vegan is something that may be a little different for each person.
The more people who go vegan, the better for the planet. So, share this information with others. And help save the planet!
Further reading on the connection between diet and the environment:
What’s Wrong with Industrial Agriculture by Leo Horrigan, Robert S. Lawrence, and Polly Walker (Organic Consumers Association)
All Sizzle and No Steak by James E. McWilliams (Slate)