Vegetarianism Could Save Our Planet

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It’s already quite obvious that eating more fruits and vegetables, as well as cutting back on red and processed meat, will make you healthier. The problem arises when you realize that chickens and cows also eat food and burn off their own energy, meaning that meat is a major driver of climate change. Going veggie can drastically reduce your carbon footprint.

And that’s just at a personal level. Imagine if everyone on planet Earth (close to 8 billion people) went vegan. Try to calculate the benefits and you’ll end up with more decimals than your brain can possibly handle. In a recent research, Marco Springmann of the University of Oxford estimates that changes toward more plant-based diets in line with the WHO’s global dietary guidelines could prevent 5-8 million deaths per year by 2050, which approximately amounts to an 8% reduction in global mortality.

And that’s not all, food-related greenhouse gas emissions would also be cut by more than two-thirds. If money is your primary concern, you’ll be shocked to learn that if everyone went vegan, the dietary changes would have a value to society of something in between 1 and 30 trillion dollars. In case you can’t fathom how big of an amount that is, it’s about a tenth of the likely global GDP in 2050.

However, predictions on diets paint quite the grim picture. Fruit and vegetable consumption are expected to increase, but nowhere near as red meat consumption and the number of calories eaten in general. Of the 105 world regions included in the study, less than a third are on course to meet the proposed dietary recommendations. A much bigger population, eating a much worse diet, means that by 2050, food-related GHG emissions will take up half of the “emissions budget” the world has for limiting global warming to less than 2℃.

In order to make people realize that dietary changes could avert such a dark scenario, four alternative diets were constructed and analyzed for their health and environmental impacts – it was a reference scenario based on the projections of diets in 2050; a scenario based on global dietary guidelines that assumed that people would be consuming the minimal amount of fruits and vegetables and limiting the amounts of red meat, sugar, and total calories. Two vegetarian scenarios were among the four scenarios considered – one with eggs and dairy (vegetarian), and the other completely plant-based (vegan).

2The result? Millions upon millions of avoidable deaths. Research suggests that the adoption of global dietary guidelines could result in over five million avoided deaths per year in 2050. Vegetarian and vegan diets could result in 7.3 and 8.1 million avoided deaths respectively, and more than half of this is thanks to eating less red meat. The remainder comes thanks to eating more fruits and vegetables, along with a reduction in total energy intake.

You have to take into account that results may vary based on region. Although two-thirds of the health benefits were projected to occur in developing countries (East Asia and South Asia particularly), high-income countries were close to follow. The per-person benefits in developed countries could actually amount to twice as much as those in developing countries – their overwhelming lack of balance in diets leaves greater room for improvement.

Additionally, adopting global dietary guidelines would cut food-related emissions by 29%. Still, all of this wouldn’t be enough to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions in line with the overall cutbacks necessary to keep global temperature increases below 2°C. If we are to seriously fight climate change, every single human would need to understand the values of a plant-based diet. The analysis shows that if the entire world went vegetarian, we could cut food-related emissions by a whopping 63%. And if everyone turned vegan? Well, then we would enjoy an astonishing 70% cut. You really can’t ignore these numbers.


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