Sponsored feature

Diet and climate

Most measures to cut GHG emissions are complex and require compromise and investment. Switching to a vegan diet is an exception: easy to do and accessible to the individual

14th September 2016
Sponsored feature

Diet and climate

Most measures to cut GHG emissions are complex and require compromise and investment. Switching to a vegan diet is an exception: easy to do and accessible to the individual

By Sandra Higgins
Director, Eden Farmed Animal Sanctuary, Ireland & Go Vegan World

Every year a few billion of the Earth’s human population unnecessarily kill 70 billion land animals and trillions of fishes for food. Every individual one of them is a sentient life, who, like humans, seeks to avoid pain and continue living.

Using their bodies as food consumes vast amounts of resources including deforested land, water, fossil fuels and food. Meanwhile, one billion humans are hungry and millions of children die of starvation annually.

In 2006 the UN published Livestock’s Long Shadow documenting how animal agriculture contributes more GHG emissions than the whole of the transport sector. Since then several reports have supported this fact. They may disagree on statistics but all concur on the significant contribution of animal agriculture to GHG emissions and climate change. Most of the information in the public sphere focuses on CO2 but animal agriculture is responsible for significant emissions of two potentially more harmful GHGs: methane and nitrous oxide.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Human health does not require the consumption of animal foods; in fact, an increasing body of research supports the health benefits of a 100% plant diet, and documents the damaging effects of animal foods. If the human world went vegan and consumed a diet composed of 100% plants, we could cut food related emissions by 70%; this figure is higher than and more easily achieved than any other lifestyle change.

This is not news to readers of a publication on climate change. But it doesn’t reach the public in any meaningful way. A sufficient percentage of the population care enough to change their lifestyles so that they do not inflict unnecessary pain on others or leave in their wake a planet that cannot sustain their children and the rest of life. They are the people who cycle to work; buy locally produced food, who rarely, if ever, take a flight, who turn off taps, lights and the thermostat on their heating system.

It may not be feasible for people to change how they heat their houses; or to avoid fossil fuel in order to travel to and from work. Changing to renewable energy takes time and money. But everyone can change how they eat. Today. At no cost.

The public is capable and willing to change how they live. 62% of people surveyed in the UK indicated that they were willing to give up animal flesh while 36% were willing to give up dairy products. Doctors prescribing a plant diet for the prevention and treatment of diabetes found that it was remarkably well accepted by patients (Trapp & Levin, 2012). The number of vegans in the UK has risen by 360% in the last decade; most of them informed city dwellers between the ages of 15 to 34, motivated by ethical reasons.

The use of other animals is an issue that affects every life on earth from the micro level of individuals to the macro level of species existence. The public have a right to be made aware of the issue in an honest, unequivocal and uncompromising way. We no longer ask for less smoking; all Government warnings and health professionals call for complete cessation. To call for less animal foods when all of them contribute to climate change gives a confusing public message.

Veganism needs to be firmly on the climate change agenda. People deserve to know the truth. It is as much a human right as it is an animal right.

For more information and help on going vegan please see www.goveganworld.com where you can download a free vegan kit.


  • Bailey, R, Froggatt, A and Wellesley, L (2014). Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector, Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption Energy, Environment and Resources.
  • Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, Kip Anderson & Keegan Kuhn, http://www.cowspiracy.com/
  • Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. 2011. Attitudes and Behaviours around Sustainable Food Purchasing. Defra, London, UK.
  • Oppenlander, R (2013) Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work Langdon St Press: US.
  • Speranza, A and Marquès-Brocksopp L (2015) Grow Green: Tackling Climate Change Through Plant Protein Agriculture. The Vegan Society, UK.
  • Springmann, M, Godfray, C, Rayner, M and Scarborough, P (2016) Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change. Supporting Information, PNAS vol. 113 no. 15, 4146-4151.
  • Steinfeld H, Gerber P, Wassenaar T, Castel V, Rosales M, de Haan C: Livestock’s Long Shadow. The Livestock, Environment and Development Initiative (LEAD). Rome: FAO; 2006.
  • Trapp, C and Levin, S (2012) Preparing to Prescribe Plant-Based Diets for Diabetes Prevention and Treatment, Diabetes Spectrum, February 2012 vol. 25 no. 1 38-44.