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
GMO
Activists campaigning to regulate glyphosate in the European Union. Avaaz / Flickr

Monsanto 'Commands' Civic Group to Turn in All Communications Over Glyphosate

Avaaz, a civic campaigning network that counts roughly 45 million subscribers around the world, has been served with a 168-page subpoena on behalf of agribusiness giant Monsanto.

The document, dated Jan. 26 and sent from New York Supreme Court, "commands" the U.S.-based organization to turn in a decade's worth of internal communications by Friday, Feb. 23.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Radiation area from Horseshoe Mesa uranium mine tailings at Grand Canyon's South Rim. Al_HikesAZ / Flickr

Uranium Mining's Toxic Legacy: Why the U.S. Risks Repeating Mistakes

By Stephanie Malin

Uranium—the raw material for nuclear power and nuclear weapons—is having a moment in the spotlight.

Companies such as Energy Fuels, Inc. have played well-publicized roles in lobbying the Trump administration to reduce federal protection for public lands with uranium deposits. The Defense Department's Nuclear Posture Review calls for new weapons production to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which could spur new domestic uranium mining. And the Interior Department is advocating more domestic uranium production, along with other materials identified as "critical minerals."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
The Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles. Simisa / Wikimedia Commons

Seychelles Creates Groundbreaking Marine Reserve With Help From Leonardo DiCaprio

The Seychelles has created two vast new marine protected areas in the Indian Ocean after a groundbreaking finance deal brokered by the Nature Conservancy and other stakeholders, including environmentalist and Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio.

In exchange for writing off a portion of its debt, the island nation agreed to protect a total of 81,000-square-miles of ocean—that's about the size of Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less
President Trump and French President Macron review troops during the Bastille Day parade last July.

There Are Better Things in France for Trump to Emulate Than a Military Parade

By Elliott Negin

President Trump was so impressed by the military parade he saw in Paris on Bastille Day last July that he ordered the Pentagon to plan a bigger one for Washington, DC.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Bears Ears National Monument. Gannon McGhee / Flickr

Rare Fossils Discovered on Lands Cut From Bears Ears National Monument

Researchers, led by paleontologist Rob Gay, have discovered what may be one of the world's richest caches of Triassic period fossils at an extensive site within the original boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument. The team's initial excavation led to the extraordinary discovery of several intact remains of crocodile-like animals called phytosaurs. The findings were publicly announced at this week's Western Association of Vertebrate Paleontologists (WAVP) annual conference where researchers warned of a growing threat to their work in the region.

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy
GE Renewable Energy

Nation's Largest Wind Farm Coming to Oklahoma

The Wind Catcher Energy Connection project, which includes a massive 800-turbine wind farm under construction in the Oklahoma panhandle, is getting closer to lift-off.

Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO), a subsidiary of major utility American Electric Power, announced this week a settlement with various parties, including Walmart, allowing the $4.5 billion project to move forward.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Marine litter on a remote stretch of coastline in Rekvik, Norway. Bo Eide / Flickr

Plastic Threatens to Swamp the Planet

By Paul Brown

A ubiquitous tide of plastic particles has now swept throughout the world's oceans.

The human rights activist Bianca Jagger described to a conference in London Tuesday how a substance that was invented only in 1907 and seemed to have almost magical properties, because it was practically indestructible, is now threatening an environmental catastrophe.

Keep reading... Show less

Beachgoers Use Endangered Shark Dragged From Water for Selfies

By Zachary Toliver

Sometimes humans forget that animals have feelings, too, and cause them to suffer. Just consider some Florida beachgoers who were filmed taking photos of and selfies with an injured hammerhead shark, who an expert says most likely died after the incident.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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