Quantcast
Food
USDA

Would Going Vegan Help Save the Environment?

Along with the health benefits and the animal welfare standpoint, advocates of a plant-based diet often tout the environmental pluses of ditching animal products. As studies show, livestock production has a long list of planetary burdens, from rampant land use to water depletion and pollution, and is a major contributor of global greenhouse gas emissions.

But suppose that, in a highly unlikely scenario, every single American decided to go vegan. Would that help slash our agricultural footprint? Well, according to a new study from two animal science researchers, the answer is yes but it's probably less than you might think.


The paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, determined that if every American went vegan, agricultural greenhouse gas emissions would decrease 28 percent. That's a lot, but that figure does not fully counterbalance the current animal contribution of greenhouse gases of 49 percent in the team's model.

While such a diet would significantly reduce emissions, the researchers pointed out that a national population of more than 320 million vegans would be highly reliant on crop production, which has its own negative environmental impacts.

The paper was authored by Robin White at the Department of Animal and Poultry Science at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and Mary Beth Hall of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison.

Here's how the two came up with their assessment, according to Science:

"[White and Hall] began by estimating the impact of converting all land now used by the livestock industry to cropland for human food. That would increase the amount of agricultural waste—corn stalks, potato waste, and other inedibles now fed to livestock—and eliminate the animals that now eat much of it. Burning the excess waste would add some 2 million tons of carbon to the atmosphere, they estimate. Fertilizer demands would also go up while the supply of animal manure dwindled. That would mean making more artificial fertilizer, adding another 23 million tons of carbon emissions per year.

As a result, although animals now make up some 49% of agricultural emissions in the United States, a vegan nation would eliminate far less than that. Annual emissions would drop from 623 million tons to 446 million tons a year."

The authors also said that an animal-free diet would not meet the U.S. population's nutritional requirements for calcium, vitamins A and B12, and a few key fatty acids.

"Overall, the removal of animals resulted in diets that are nonviable in the long or short term to support the nutritional needs of the U.S. population without nutrient supplementation," the authors wrote in their paper.

If more people decided to eschew or eat less meat, it could really go a long way in mitigating climate change but wouldn't completely solve the problem. A recent article titled "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice," that was signed by more than 15,000 scientists, called on global leaders to act on climate and also suggested a range of individual actions to help avert global environmental disaster, such as having fewer children and using fewer resources, from fossil fuels to meat.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
The turkey ranch in Sonora is where Diestel keeps its pasture-raised birds. Jeanne Cooper

Popular Diestel Turkey Sold at Whole Foods Tests Positive for FDA-Prohibited Drugs

Diestel Turkey, sold by Whole Foods and other retailers at premium prices, says on its website that its "animals are never given hormones, antibiotics or growth stimulants."

But Diestel Turkey samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest otherwise, leading consumers to wonder: Can these companies be trusted?

Keep reading... Show less
Animals

Slaughter of 90,000 Wild Horses Could Proceed Despite 80% Objection From American Public

The American Wild Horse Campaign on Thursday harshly criticized Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's appointment of Brian Steed, the former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), as the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as dangerous and out of step with the wishes of the vast majority of Americans.

"Rep. Stewart is leading the charge to slaughter America's wild horses and burros over the opposition of 80 percent of Americans," said Suzanne Roy, AWHC Executive Director. "Putting his deputy at the helm of the agency charged with protecting these national icons is like putting the wolf in charge of the chicken coop."

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy

Bright Idea: This Lamp Harvests Its Own Energy From Plants

Now that's green energy. Dutch product designer Ermi van Oers and her team are working on the first atmospheric lamp powered by living plants.

The Living Light does not require an electric socket. It can harvest its own energy through the photosynthetic process of the encased plant, which means the potential of this off-grid light source could be "huge," as Van Oers told Dezeen.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate

Landmark Youth Climate Lawsuit Heads to Federal Appeals Court

There has been a significant development in the constitutional climate change lawsuit so far successfully prosecuted by 21 youth plaintiffs: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to hear oral argument over whether the Trump administration can evade trial currently set for Feb. 5, 2018. Oral arguments will be heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Dec. 11 and can be watched on a live stream beginning at 10 a.m. PST.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Martin Schulz / Flickr

Pope Francis: These 4 'Perverse Attitudes' Could Push Earth to Its Brink

Pope Francis issued a strong message to negotiators at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany on Thursday, warning them not to fall into "four perverse attitudes" regarding the future of the planet—"denial, indifference, resignation and trust in inadequate solutions."

Francis, who has long pressed for strong climate action and wrote his 2015 encyclical on the environment, renewed his "urgent call" for renewed dialogue "on how we are building the future of the planet."

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza sits near the Statoil contracted oil rig Transocean Spitsbergen. Greenpeacce

Groups Sue Norway Over Failure to Protect Environment for Future Generations

By David Leestma

Greenpeace and the Nature and Youth environmental group opened a lawsuit this week over Norway's failure to abide by its constitutional obligation to safeguard the environment for future generations.

The lawsuit, which focuses on local environmental damage and the contribution that oil extraction will make to climate change, challenges 10 licenses issued by the Norwegian government for exploration in the Barents Sea. Given to Statoil, Chevron and other oil companies, the licenses violate Norway's constitution and the Paris agreement, according to the plaintiffs. Government lawyers claim the case is a publicity stunt that risks valuable jobs.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Food
Lia Heifetz of Barnacle Foods hauls kelp for salsa. Bethany Sonsini Goodrich

A Plea for Kelp: These Farmers and Chefs Want to Make Seaweed the Next Superfood

By Sarah Bedolfe

Summer in southeast Alaska is kelp season for the cofounders of Barnacle Foods, Lia Heifetz and Matt Kern. Each week, the pair watches the tides and weather, waiting for the right moment to cruise out to the abundant kelp beds offshore. They lean over the side of the boat and pull up the fronds and stalks, one piece at a time. As soon as they get back to shore, they start processing the day's harvest into a local delicacy: kelp salsa.

Salsa and Alaskan algae might seem like odd bedfellows, but for Barnacle Foods, it's a calculated decision. The kelp's savory notes make the salsa's flavor "a little more explosive," according to Kern. And the pairing is also a practical one. "Salsa is such a familiar food item," Heifetz said. It's "a gateway to getting more people to eat seaweed."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Lorie Shaull / Flickr

Massive Pipeline Leak Shows Why Nebraska Should Reject Keystone XL

About 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil leaked Thursday from TransCanada's Keystone oil pipeline near Amherst, South Dakota, drawing fierce outcry from pipeline opponents.

The leak, the largest spill to date in South Dakota, comes just days before Nebraska regulators decide on whether its controversial sister project—the Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline—will go forward.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!