Category Archives: Environment

Local vs vegan – which is better for the planet?

Many people advocate buying local as a way to reduce the greenhouse gases causing climate change. Buying from local or regional farmers who grow and raise your food, so that it doesn’t have to be shipped a long distance, saves the CO2 used in transportation, but in fact doing so only saves about 10 percent of the total greenhouse gases that are generated in growing and processing most of the food we eat, according to an expert who has analyzed where most of the climate impact of our food comes from.

It’s the kind of food that ends up on the truck that determines the carbon footprint, explains Sandra Noonan, the Chief Sustainability Officer of Just Salad, a restaurant chain, and it is one more reason to switch to a plant-based diet. Supporting local farmers is always a good idea, but it doesn’t have a huge impact on our carbon footprint, since most of the greenhouse gases generated in producing food happen earlier than the final step of trucking it to your local market or store.

More important from a sustainability point of view than how far it has travelled, is what the food actually is. The big advantage here goes to plant foods. One new report published by Stanford University says that by shifting away from meat and dairy, we could lower our climate impact by 68 percent.

Buying locally sourced beef is almost never going to be a better option than shifting to a plate of all vegetables, legumes, fruit, and whole grains. Locally raised beef is still worse for the environment than buying broccoli or lentils that was grown further away and had to be shipped across the country to your store, although of course, locally grown plant foods are best of all.

Now, companies like Just Salad and others are adding labels to ingredients and the food they serve up, that shows the environmental impact of our dish, how much CO2 was burned, and methane was released in the growing, harvesting, processing, and transporting of our food from soil to bowl and beyond. It’s here that consumers will see the big difference between plant foods and animal foods. Let’s hope these new labels will help encourage more people to switch to plant-based options.

Meat is hogging the land

Raising meat wastes land – a lot of land. In fact, if everyone shifted to a plant-based diet, we would reduce global land use for agriculture by 75%. This large reduction of agricultural land use would be possible thanks to a reduction in land used for grazing and a much smaller need for land to grow crops. If we combine pastures and cropland for animal feed, almost 75% of all agricultural land is used for meat and dairy production. That 75% translates to a lot of land when one considers that according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, half of all habitable land is currently used for agriculture.

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Cows are the new coal

Cows are the new coal! Companies supplying meat and dairy to McDonald’s, KFC, Tesco, and Nestlé, among others, are falling short of their pledges relating to methane emissions and deforestation, a new report found. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas.

Jeremy Coller is chair of the FAIRR investor network, made up of members with $40 trillion in assets. In a statement, he said: “The post-COP26 era leaves large parts of the meat and dairy supply chain looking outdated and unattractive. Failures from methane to manure management underline the growing sense in the market that cows are the new coal.

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Frances Moore Lappé

Frances Moore Lappé receiving a Humanitarian Award from the James Beard Foundation

If we can see further today it’s because we’ve been standing on the shoulders of giants. This is certainly true of the veg movement. One of those giants is Frances Moore Lappé, author of the wildly popular book, “Diet for a Small Planet”, which came out 50 years ago and yet even today its influence is still being widely felt.

Lappé explained that a vegetarian diet was much better for the planet and was healthy for us. Ms. Lappé was 25 and attending graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, when she began to question her life’s purpose. Like many in her generation, she was inspired by the ecological movement that led to the first Earth Day.

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The problems with wool

Don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes. Wool is neither ecofriendly or animal friendly! Wool production is a significant driver of biodiversity loss, according to a new report, and is worsening global warming. Experts recommend replacing the animal product in favor of vegan alternatives.

Wool producers have been pushing the narrative that wool production is “natural, traditional, and sustainable.” One industry player, Woolmark, which represents 60,000 Australian wool growers, even refers to wool as “a friend to the environment.”

Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity says that claim is nonsense. “The industry has been pulling the wool over our eyes for decades, claiming that wool is a sustainable fiber,” Feldstein said in a statement. “Wool clothing comes with a heavy price tag of greenhouse gas emissions, land use, biodiversity loss, and pollution. Nothing about wool is sustainable.”

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Deforestation & methane reductions

Save our forests! During the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP26), 105 countries signed a pledge that aims to end deforestation by the year 2030. Leaders worldwide have banded together behind the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use, which will dedicate billions of dollars to ending deforestation and promoting reforestation efforts. The declaration says, “…to catalyze further progress on eliminating commodity-driven deforestation.”

We know which commodity they should start with, raising meat! For example, in the Amazon rainforest, raising cattle is the prime cause of the burning down the forest with fires so massive the astronauts can see them from outer space. The land is cleared not only for direct use by the cattle but also to grow feed for the cattle. In fact, the UN’s 2019 IPCC report concluded that nearly 80 percent of global deforestation could be directly attributed to agricultural production – significantly tied to the production of animal feed for livestock.

As climate change activists narrow in on the animal agricultural industry, governments worldwide are initiating programs to cut down emissions across the entire market. Recently, eight countries announced pledges to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent over the next ten years. The United States and European Union just announced the Global Methane Pledge to reduce worldwide methane emissions ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) this year. The European Commission has declared that reducing methane emissions, across every industry, is the “single most effective strategy in reducing global warming.”

Methane is a greenhouse gas 30 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide and is largely driven by raising meat.  Cows, in particular, are potent methane producers. Cows produce between 250 and 500 liters of methane every day. That’s a lot of gas! The number of livestock in the world keeps rising and livestock is grown to a larger size than before, all to meet the growing worldwide demand for meat and dairy products.

We can all do our part in reducing methane emissions by simply not eating meat. We’ll also be helping to save the forests and other environmental problems such as water pollution. Going veg is a powerful move to help make a sustainable environment for the planet we all live on.

Menu items labeled for their carbon footprint

At the COP26 conference, running from Oct 31 to Nov 12 in Glasgow, Scotland, every item on the food menu had its climate impact indicated.  The COP26 conference is promoted as having the goal of promoting a global response to the climate crisis.  While many commitments have been made by various countries participating, most people agree that their promises won’t be nearly enough to reach the goal of only a 1.5 degree increase in average global temperatures, and this was particularly evident in the case of their approach to food. 

One of the most impactful ways that this goal could be achieved is by eliminating the consumption of animal products, especially beef.  To that end, many organizations and demonstrators have been pushing for the conference to provide only plant-based food during the event, to demonstrate their acknowledgement that meat and other animal products are so devastating to the environment.  While the conference organizers weren’t willing to go that far, they did come up with a novel way to educate attendees on the impact of their food choices.

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Cutting livestock by a third

There’s no fixing a climate change catastrophe without slashing the number of animals raised for food.  A new Meat Atlas 2021 report revealed that globally, the world’s five largest meat and dairy companies together account for more emissions than oil giants such as BP or Exxon.  Many people now recognize this fact, but governments appear loath to acknowledge it publicly in their policies due to pressure from large animal agriculture producers and meat-eaters.  However, one country has taken the first step in this process, and are considering cutting the number of livestock by nearly a third. 

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Plant-based treaty to fight global warming

It’s time for a plant-based treaty. What is a plant-based treaty? It’s a new idea that gets to the root of a prime driver of global warming, animal agriculture! We’re not kidding. A UN report said that raising meat causes more global warming than all the cars, plains, trains, trucks, ships and planes in the world all put together. A report by two environmentalists at the World Bank says that animal agriculture accounts for 51% of global warming. Even former vice president, and now a leader of the movement to combat global warming, Al Gore, has become a vegan in recognition of the harm that raising meat causes to the environment.

A new grassroots campaign has launched the Plant-Based Treaty. It encourages world leaders to look at a different but more sustainable solution, rather than focusing on carbon emissions alone. It demands that governments of every country around the globe cease animal agriculture to cut down on emissions. A complete transformation of our broken food system is essential, as practices like unsustainable animal agriculture need to end if there is to be any hope of achieving the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

Supporters of this treaty are campaigning in places such as Amsterdam, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Seoul, England and Mumbai to encourage world leaders to sign the Treaty. The key points of this treaty are:

  • Relinquish – No land-use, ecosystem degradation, or deforestation for the purposes of animal agriculture.
  • Redirect – An active transition away from animal-based agriculture systems to plant-based food systems.
  • Restore – Restore key ecosystems and reforest the Earth.

According to Anita Krajnc, Global Campaign Coordinator for the Plant-Based Treaty, “We hope that national governments see the support behind the values and principles of the Plant Based Treaty campaign and use it as inspiration to start to negotiate vital changes in our food system.”

With increasing pressure and clear evidence that the climate crisis is real, it is easy to feel hopeless. But you don’t have to wait for a treaty. Just switching to or maintaining a plant-based diet is something each of us can do on our own.

Learn more about how animal agriculture causes global warming.

Dead zones grow in Gulf and Northwest

Scientists recently surveyed the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico around Louisiana and Texas and they discovered a larger-than-average area of oxygen-depleted water – a “dead zone” where nothing can live. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists have announced their recent findings. The dead zone has grown to 4 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico, which are now unusable for fish and bottom-dwelling species.

But the Gulf isn’t the only coastal region experiencing a dead zone this summer. This was a record year for the dead zone in the waters just offshore from the Oregon coast as well. In Oregon, the global climate crisis is making the problem worse because the ocean is warming, and warmer waters hold less oxygen than cold waters, encouraging the growth of dead zones. In addition, as more carbon is absorbed into the oceans, the waters become more acidic – in turn making it harder for creatures like shellfish and crabs to grow their shells. All this amounts to “a double whammy” for the Oregon coastline. The result is another deadzone almost 5,000 square miles in size!

The meat industry is being blamed for both these dead zones. Animals wastes make their way to the coast through runoff into our rivers and streams. The pollutants come both directly from animals as manure, and also from the crop farms that produce the vast amounts of feed necessary to feed the many millions of animals raised for meat – 70% of all the crops raised in the United States go to feed farm animals. Included in this runoff are not only plant matter and eroded soil, but also the fertilizers used to grow the crops.

So let’s put it all together. The runoff from animal wastes, and the fertilizers used to grow their feed, are sucking up the oxygen. Global warming, whose prime driver is raising meat, makes it harder for the warmed water to hold the oxygen, and the carbon we’re pumping into the oceans is making them more acidic, resulting in a further loss of sea life. The result of all this is giant dead zones.

However, if we all followed a plant-based diet, we could be subtracting all these factors rather than adding them, and a healthy thriving aquatic ecosystem could result.

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