Clean Living: Vegan diets could save the world from global warming

Stock image.
Stock image.

In the final part of communitynews.com.au‘s four-part series about living a cleaner lifestyle, reporter Lisa Thomas investigates how a vegan lifestyle can help save the world.

IT MAY sound crazy to some, but many scientists and researchers claim a vegan, plant-based diet could be the way to save the planet from global warming.

Agriculture is the third largest contributor to global emissions, with methane and nitrous oxide produced by the farming of livestock considered more harmful to our environment than carbon dioxide.

Recent studies from Oxford University estimated that if the world were to suddenly adopt a vegan, plant-based diet – on a global scale – we would produce 49 per cent less food-based greenhouse gas emissions, reduce acidification to land by up to 50 per cent, reduce eutrophication to rivers by 49 per cent and save 19 per cent more water.

Murdoch University global health researcher Ana Rita Sequeira said the livestock industry also led to land degradation, water contamination and depletion and loss of biodiversity through deforestation and created excess waste.

“We know the main causes of global warming are the burning of fossil fuels for energy, the burning of fossil fuels for transportation, methane emissions from livestock and the use of chemical fertilisers,” she said.

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“If we want to address global warming as consumers then we have to find alternatives, which some people have done through solar or renewable energy in their homes, sustainable forms of transport and changing their diet.”

Dr Sequeria said while a 100 per cent plant-based diet would reduce emissions, people could also reduce their footprint on the environment simply by reducing the amount of meat and dairy they consume on a daily basis.

“Any intensive production will always have an impact on the environment, create waste and methane,” she said.

“If citizens are willing to change their own diet and do something then that’s great, but we need businesses to follow. There is a growing market for plant-based products and the numbers of people moving to a plant-based diet for environmental or ethical reasons are growing all over the world.

“We have movements like meatless Monday, which are a trend that I believe will continue.

“People are becoming aware of their footprint and how they can change it.”

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CSIRO principal research scientist Dr Brad Ridoutt doubted a vegan world was attainable but said people could improve their health and relieve the environment by reducing the amount and types of foods they eat.

He said cutting out or limiting discretionary foods such as alcohol, cake and pastry could help.

“People are consuming far too much food and food energy – there is a correlation between how much you eat and emissions – as well as food waste,” he said.

He said traditional diets were being replaced by western diets, which has seen the overconsumption of livestock products – raising concern for environmental sustainability.

“If you’re committed to lowering emissions through a vegetarian or vegan diet then that will help, but research shows meat consumption in Australia is increasing,” he said.

“The overconsumption of food and excessive consumption of discretionary foods is what is leading to obesity and high emissions and in order to improve both our health and the environment we should emphasise that discretionary foods should only be eaten occasionally and in small amounts.”

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