Can switching to veggie burgers actually have a positive impact on the planet? You bet ya! Scroll to learn how.
This edition of Small Changes, Big Impacts educates on how your diet impacts the planet.
In this article, we’ll delve into the environmental impacts of animal products and what actions you can take to be a low footprint eater.
While we’re not here to guilt you into becoming a vegan, we do want to provide you helpful tips on reducing your carbon footprint (e.g. CO2 emissions from your lifestyle). And changing your diet can massively reduce your personal carbon footprint.
Fun fact: Cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars (UN Report)
Raising animals, land and sea, puts pressure on natural ecology and reduces the earth’s ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere.
This issue is no doubt argued and politicised, but the facts on the carbon footprint of a meat filled diet versus a plant-based diet are clear; a plant-based diet has a carbon footprint half the carbon footprint of a meat based diet (Climatic Change).
Understanding the issues with meat
“Global meat consumption has increased from 1998-2018 by 58% to reach 360 million tonnes.” (awe.gov.au) The truth is, we are eating too many animals. The world’s demand for this increase of meat consumption, at a very cheap rate, is not going to sustain the amount of land, fresh water and feed for the animals on earth to sustainably continue as we are.
According to What the Health Documentary, “Raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. It is the leading cause of rainforest destruction, species extinction, ocean dead zones and freshwater consumption.”
Land, water, air, and transport: Breaking down emissions from animal farms.
Land is impacted by directly converting forestlands to animal farms, as well as the vegetable farms needed to feed those animals. The Amazon rainforest is losing 10,000 acres of virgin rainforest per day, dominated by soy plantations to feed livestock such as pigs and chickens (Washington Post). In Australia, 54% of the continent is used for livestock grazing (awe.gov.au)
Water is used to feed animals while fresh water sources become polluted from animal waste on factory farms that seeps into our rivers and oceans. Your burger requires about 30 bath tubs of clean water. (Meat Free Mondays)
Air is also polluted through various ways from our reliance on eating animals as livestock produce methane gases (cow farts), and increased carbon emissions from deforestation. 10% of Australia's total CO2 emissions come from cow farts and burps! (Farmonline.com.au)
Transportation of live export involves sending live animals (cows and sheep) from Australian farms internationally via ships to be slaughtered overseas, transported thousands of kilometres and on a journey that can take weeks.
According to a PETA study, this transportation alone is one of the top 40 CO2 emitters in Australia. Further to this, ending this trade would be the equivalent of “removing some 320,000 cars from Australia’s roads.”
What about fish?
While eating fish does come with a reduced carbon footprint, compared to land animals (University of Tasmania 2018), the environmental impact reaches far beyond CO2 emissions.
If you're in the mood for a full documentary, here's our recommendation from Patagonia.
The core of our fish problem comes down to raging demand creating two problems: Natural waters are overfished with little care for the surrounding ecosystems, and fish farms breed seafood highly prone to disease as well as create extreme pollution in nearby waterways.
The impact of wild caught fish
The biggest issues with eating fish are overfishing and bycatch. According to SeaShepherd, “Our growing demand for inexpensive fish means corporations are overfishing, sourcing fish from illegal operations, destroying habitats, and threatening the existence of many marine species who are killed as bycatch.”
The impact of farmed fish
Farmed seafood or aquaculture are fish that are bred, reared and harvested in controlled water environments. Majority of the fish we consume in Australia is now farmed. Whilst fish farms such as Tasmania’s dominating wild salmon industry seems to create an alternative and more sustainable option over commercial fishing as the bycatch and overfishing decreases, there are many ethical and environmental issues involved. Similarly with the environmental impacting issues relating to livestock on land of pollution and overconsumption of food for animal feeds, fish farms pollute the oceans through their waste, and on top of this - our oceans are being emptied of wild fish as the farmed fish eat more than they produce. For example, in Tasmania - “Australia’s largest salmon farmer, Tassal, uses 2 kg of wild caught fish in feed to produce just 1 kg of farmed salmon.” (Environment Tasmania)
NB: Informative and quick video if you want to add in here on salmon farms
Further to this, scientists estimate that as many as 650,000 whales, dolphins and seals are killed every year by fishing vessels. Our oceans play a large part in regulating temperatures and creating oxygen on earth, so it’s vital to have healthy ocean systems. Right now, our oceans are predicted to be fishless by 2048. (CBS).
How can you help the planet with your diet?
The easy answer, eat more plants. Eating a diet that is mostly plant based uses less water and equals less pollution, less deforestation for our rainforests, reduces carbon emissions and provides us with better air quality.
Plant based diets tend to be more energy efficient than livestock based diets as animals must be fed many of those plants - which would otherwise directly go into humans. It is an uncomfortable truth for some, but reducing your meat consumption is a key to fighting climate change.
Breaking Down Different Diets
A vegan diet consists of no animal products or byproducts including meat, fish, honey, eggs, dairy and dairy byproducts. As a wholly plant based diet, an individual vegan diet produces half the amount of CO2 as an American omnivore, 1/11th of the amount of fossil fuels, 1/13th the amount of water and 1/18th the amount of land.
Here’s some recipes to get you started on a vegan journey: https://www.seashepherd.org.au/latest-news/veganuary-recipes/
Vegetarian vs Pescatarian
A vegetarian diet consists of no meat or fish products in your diet, whereas a pescatarian eats fish, but no red meat or poultry. A vegetarian may still eat animal byproducts such cheese and eggs.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” - Michael Pollan
Have you heard of the term flexitarian? It’s a long-term sustainable option. The definition means that you are eating a mostly vegan or vegetarian diet, with the occasional meat, fish or dairy dish. This is a great way to reduce your meat consumption, without giving up your burger on the weekends.
“Reducing red meat consumption in high-consuming countries is critical for mitigating climate change and preventing chronic disease.” (National Library of Medicine)
Five tips to get you started with eating less meat:
1. Know that you don't have to sacrifice taste or nutrients. Dominate the recipe books to get your veggie meal mojo working - here’s a list of easy and delicious veggie recipes.
2. Find your local farmers market to find the freshest picks.
3. Start small. If you eat meat with every meal, pick a day a week to go vegetarian. Try Meat Free Mondays for a bunch more info.
4. Education. Try reading books like ‘Eating Animals’ by Jonathon Saffoer, and ‘Food Rules’ by Michael Pollen or cosy in with a documentary such as Cowspiracy, What the Health, Blue or 2040.
5. Reward yourself. Have a reward system for hitting your veggie goals; maybe it’s a dessert you’ve been craving, or a self-love massage...Whatever it is, show yourself the love for loving the planet that extra little bit.
NB: We are not claiming that each of you reading this has to give up meat and dairy and go vegan. We don’t need more perfect vegans and environmentalists. What we need are more average humans using their individual power to do the best they can and reduce their animal products to help the planet. This is what we call, small changes - big impact.
Hungry for some more facts on the impact on the planet from animal consumption?
- The environmental harm of eating meat ranges from: deforestation, climate change, water shortages, biodiversity loss, carbon footprint, and greenhouse gas emissions (National Library of Medicine)
- Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land (Livestock XChange)
- It can take 30 bathtubs of water to produce just one beef burger (Meat Free Mondays)
- More than three-quarters of our global fish stocks are either over-exploited or fished right up to their limit (Our World in Data)
- Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human related emissions of nitrous oxide - a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years (EIA)
Have you made the decision to switch to a conscious diet by reducing your meat and dairy products, or has this article sparked motivation to do more research?
Share your experience with us via @tripod_coffee, we would love to hear your stories!
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