By Craig Shapiro
Some 80 world leaders are meeting this month at the 21st annual Conference of Parties, the critical world climate change conference in Paris, in the hope of reaching a legally binding, universal agreement to curb carbon emissions and keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius.
The goal is crucial and long overdue.
But it’s also in jeopardy. Concerns have already been raised that the summit will not meet its goal. Christiana Figueres, the United Nations (U.N.) climate chief, predicts that it will fall short of the 2-degree target, and there is heated disagreement over which countries among the more than 190 that will be represented should cut greenhouse-gas emissions the most and which ones should pay for it.
While diplomats bicker and compromise, the Earth suffers. But we don’t have to wait for them to agree—each of us can act right now to protect the environment, starting with our breakfast.
Simply eating food derived from plants instead of from animals is one of the most effective actions that we can take to limit climate change.
Raising and killing billions of cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens and other animals for food every year is responsible for a staggering 51 percent or more of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide. It’s no wonder that the U.N. has said that a global shift toward vegan eating is necessary to combat the worst effects of climate change.
Making that shift has never been more urgent. Last month, the World Meteorological Organization reported that concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide, key greenhouse gases, appeared to be increasing rapidly and that average levels of carbon dioxide had risen 43 percent over pre-industrial levels. Researchers at Britain’s University of East Anglia followed with another ominous finding—the Earth’s average temperature has exceeded historic norms by 1.02 degrees Celsius.
According to a 2014 study by researchers at the University of Oxford, just by going vegan, we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that our diet contributes to climate change by up to 60 percent. Eating plant-based meals also helps prevent other kinds of environmental damage.
Eighty percent of agricultural land—nearly half the land mass of the contiguous United States—is used to raise animals for food and grow crops to feed them. Meat production wastes precious water, too: It takes more than 2,400 gallons to produce a pound of cow flesh, while producing a pound of whole-wheat flour requires only 180 gallons. Runoff from factory farms and livestock grazing pollutes our groundwater, lakes, rivers and oceans. Reducing our reliance on meat, eggs and dairy foods would free up land, water and other resources for growing food for hungry humans instead.
Eating vegan doesn’t just help the Earth. It has also been tied to lower rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer and many other maladies. And of course, leaving animals off our plates prevents horrific cruelty.
Piglets raised for meat often have their tails cut off, the ends of their teeth broken off with pliers and notches cut out of their ears without any pain relief. Cows on dairy farms are repeatedly impregnated and their newborn calves are torn away from them almost immediately so that humans can take the milk that was meant for their calves. Turkeys and chickens are shackled upside down in slaughterhouses, have their throats cut and are plunged into scalding-hot water, often while still conscious.
Going vegan is eco-friendly, healthy and humane, but odds are that it won’t be one of the solutions discussed in Paris. That doesn’t matter, though, because climate change is everyone’s fight, and the bell is ringing.p