Can you be a non-vegan environmentalist?

I want to start by saying that I am vegan for the animals, they are the only reason anyone should need to go vegan. They are brought into this world by the billion only to live a short life of misery to then be violently killed. They cannot escape or protest, they can only hope that people will change and that the hell we have created for them will end. But, if you are completely aware of what happens to animals, if you have watched documentaries like The Land of Hope and Glory, Dominion and Earthlings, and you are still not vegan, then we will try a different avenue.

When it comes to discussing veganism with non-vegan animal lovers and environmentalists, the response is always much the same, they will list things that they already do. “I do enough, I recycle/only eat a little meat/donate to animal charities/insert generic excuse here”. Now I am not saying that every small change doesn’t help. Of course it helps. But if your house was on fire you wouldn’t just throw a cup of water at it and hope for the best. You would call the fire brigade. Well that is where we are in terms of environmental catastrophe. A cup of water is no use. You can recycle all you like and turn down your thermostat, but the fact is that the process by which humans farm animals to turn them into neatly wrapped packets of animal flesh is the number one cause of environmental destruction on the planet[1]. So if you are not yet vegan then you are massively contributing to this destruction, just by lifting animal products in the supermarket. Would it be so extreme to just go to a different aisle and pick up a vegan alternative instead? I think it would be more extreme not to.

An estimated 56 billion land animals are killed for food every year worldwide[2]. Now think about the amount of crops that have to be grown to feed these animals. The fertilisers used to produce feed crops contain nitrogen and phosphorous, which then enters waterways as runoff resulting in ocean dead zones[3]. This happens when there is a surge of chemical nutrients such as nitrogen in a body of water, causing an algae bloom. This algae depletes the water of oxygen, suffocating and killing all marine life [4]. There are currently over 500 nitrogen flooded ocean dead zones around the world linked to animal agriculture[5]. You might wonder are these fertilisers not also used to produce crops for human consumption, and unless you buy organic then yes, that would often be true. However remember that there are 7 billion people on the planet and 56 billion animals killed for food. Billions more crops are needed to feed the animals and therefore there will be significantly less environmental damage from eating a plant based diet. The rainforests are also being destroyed at an alarming rate, approximately 91% of Amazon rainforest destruction is caused by clearing trees to grow livestock feed crops and to graze animals[6]. Unsurprisingly, the livestock industry is the main driver of species extinction. Not only because of habitat destruction on land and in the oceans, but also because predators and competition species are often killed to ‘protect’ livestock[7].

It is equally important to consider the amount of waste the animals produce. Where does it go? Chemicals such as nitrogen are also present in manure, when this eventually enters waterways it has the same effect as mentioned above, resulting in ocean dead zones. Animals in the meat and dairy industry are also fed a cocktail of antibiotics, which is not only a massive driver in antibiotic resistance, but this will also end up in waterways via manure runoff[8]. The environmental implications of animal farming doesn’t end with manure and chemical runoff, gas is another

problem. A single cow can produce between 250-500 litres of methane gas per day, a gas that is 25-100 times more destructive to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide on a 20 year time scale[9]. Nitrous-oxide is another greenhouse gas which comes from livestock, and 65% of global emissions are livestock related. This is estimated to have 296 times the amount of global warming potential when compared with carbon dioxide, and remains in the atmosphere for up to 150 years[10].

A lot of people are pescetarian for environmental or ethical reasons; however eating fish is no more ethical than eating a cow or a pig. Fish have been scientifically proven to feel pain and are can experience emotions similar to stress[11]; it is only because they look different or are not considered ‘as cute’ that many people choose to eat them rather than mammals. In terms of sustainability, eating fish is one of the most damaging things you can do to the environment. Oceans are crucial to all life on the planet, and overfishing is one of the biggest threats we currently face. In 2012 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that 90-100 million tonnes of fish are pulled from the oceans every year[12], with some sources saying it is closer to 150 million tonnes. This number is likely to be greatly underestimated, as 92% of China’s and 60% of West Africa’s industrial fishing is unreported[13]. It is hardly surprising that commercial fish stocks are expected to collapse by 2048[14]. Keep in mind that fishing trawlers are not exactly selective about which fish species are ripped from the ocean. Terms like ‘dolphin friendly tuna’ are there to make consumers feel better about their purchases. It is a marketing gimmick just like those used by the meat and dairy industries (free-range, organic, RSPCA approved etc). For every pound of target fish species caught, up to five pounds of other marine animals are also caught in the same net; this is termed ‘bycatch’ or ‘by-kill’ in the fishing industry. These animals are thrown back into the ocean dead, and includes marine animals such as turtles, seabirds, dolphins, whales and sharks[15]. The U.S. National Bycatch Report totaled the amount of bycatch in US fisheries alone to be a staggering 689 million pounds in 2013[16]. Is there really any point in signing a petition against seaworld or whaling in Japan if you are literally paying people to kill them anyway every time you fancy a tuna sandwich? Seems a bit counter-productive to me.

The environmental impact of animal agriculture is so vast that I have barely scratched the surface, the few examples I have mentioned have been picked from an extremely long list. Most people are however completely unaware of how severely their food choices impact the environment, as it is something that has been very well hidden in our society. In school we only learned about the role of fossil fuels in climate change. Even those who dedicate their entire careers to environmental and wildlife conservation are often oblivious to the role of animal agriculture in environmental destruction. This was something that surprised me when I first went vegan, I was in my final year of studying Zoology at the time and I brought the subject up with one of my lecturers. He was adamant that fossil fuels were the main problem (they’re certainly a problem, but this is the biggest problem[17]), he didn’t have a clue about it and disturbingly he didn’t really seem to care.

I hope you will now agree with me in saying that there is no such thing as a non-vegan environmentalist. If you want to do your own research, a good place to start is to watch Cowspiracy, a documentary on Netflix which investigates the environmental impact of animal agriculture. You can also visit their website cowspiracy.com/facts where they list the peer reviewed studies used to create the documentary. There is also a huge amount of information at bitesizevegan.org on everything including environment, ethics and health, all articles also contain links to peer reviewed

studies. Going vegan is easier than it has ever been, most restaurants and supermarkets offer a lot of vegan options. Help is freely available online: join a facebook group for vegans in your local area, sign up for Challenge 22, check out other sections on this site for recipes and advice, and visit websites like Happy Cow, Veganuary and The Vegan Society. We have literally created hell on earth for the most innocent beings on this planet, and in the process we are destroying the planet and our health. The least we can do is try to stop it by going vegan and encouraging others to do the same.

Sara is a local vegan artist who uses art to raise awareness about veganism and the use of animal products in art supplies. Check out her work on Facebook, Instagram or her online shop Art With Ethics.

Check out our other Vegan Articles and events HERE. Or head over to the Projects page to see more of what we are up too.

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References:

1. Hyner C. A leading cause of everything: One industry that is destroying our planet and our ability to thrive on it. https://gelr.org/2015/10/23/a-leading-cause-of-everything-one-industry-that-is-destroying-our-planet-and-our-ability-to-thrive-on-it-georgetown-environmental-law-review/ (accessed 24 February 2019).

2. Nunez S. Animal Equality: Strategic Plan 2020. https://animalcharityevaluators.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/animal-equality-strategic-plan.pdf (accessed 23 February 2019).

3. Van Meter KJ, Van Cappellen P and Basu NB. Legacy nitrogen may prevent achievement of water quality goals in the Gulf of Mexico. Science 2018; 360(6387): . http://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6387/427 (accessed 23 February 2019).

4. EarthTalk. What causes ocean "dead zones"?. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/ocean-dead-zones/ (accessed 24 February 2019).

5. Breitburg D, Levin LA, Oschlies A, Grégoire M, Chavez FP, Conley DJ et al. Declining oxygen in the global ocean and coastal waters. Science 2018; 359(6371) http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6371/eaam7240.abstract (accessed 23 February 2019).

6. Margulis, S. Causes of deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon. http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/758171468768828889/pdf/277150PAPER0wbwp0no1022.pdf (accessed 23 February 2019).

7. Oppenlander RA. Biodiversity and food choice: a clarification. https://comfortablyunaware.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/biodiversity-and-food-choice-a-clarification/ (accessed 22 February 2019).

8. Landers TF, Cohen B, Wittum TE and Larson EL. A review of antibiotic use in food animals: Perspective, policy, and potential. Public Health Reports 2012; 127(1): 4-22 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3234384/ (accessed 24 February 2019).

9. Shindell DT, Faluvegi G, Koch DM, Schmidt GA, Unger N and Bauer SE. Improved attribution of climate forcing to emissions. Science 2009; 326(5953) http://science.sciencemag.org/content/326/5953/716.figures-only (accessed 24 February 2019).

10. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations . “LIVESTOCK'S LONG SHADOW: environmental issues and options.. http://www.fao.org/3/a0701e/a0701e00.htm (accessed 23 February 2019).

11. Schreck CB and Tort L. The concept of stress in fish. Fish Physiology 2016; 35: 1-24 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128027288000011 (accessed 23 February 2019).

12. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012. http://www.fao.org/3/i2727e/i2727e01.pdf (accessed 24 February 2019).

13. Andrei M. Oceans are running out of fish – much faster than we thought. https://www.zmescience.com/science/oceanography/fish-stocks-ocean-20012016/ (accessed 25 February 2019).

14. Roach J. Seafood may be gone by 2048, study says. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2006/11/seafood-biodiversity/ (accessed 22 February 2019).

15. Turtle Island Restoration Network. New report: Longlines annually capture and kill 4.4 million sharks, billfish, seabirds, sea turtles and mammals in the Pacific. https://seaturtles.org/new-report-longlines-annually-capture-and-kill-4-4-million-sharks-billfish-seabirds-sea-turtles-and-mammals-in-the-pacific/ (accessed 22 February 2019).

16. Benaka LR, Bullock D, Davis J, Seney EE and Winarsoo H Editors. National Marine Fisheries Service: U.S. National Bycatch Report First Edition Update 2. https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/Assets/Observer-Program/bycatch-report-update-2/NBR%20First%20Edition%20Update%202_Final.pdf (accessed 21 February 2019).

17. IATP and GRAIN. Emissions impossible: How big meat and dairy are heating up the planet. https://www.iatp.org/emissions-impossible#appendix%20and%20datasets (accessed 23 February 2019).

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