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What exactly is the impact of a more plant-based diet on the environment and climate change?

by Aiden

Going veg this Navratri? Here’s how you’re making a difference.

By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales

Tesagan Gin Jae and Navratri begin on the 25th and the 26th, respectively, and for those of us who can’t claim the moral high ground by already being vegetarian, it’s a good time to adopt a more plant-based diet and feel good about ourselves spiritually, physically, and even environmentally. While it’s now common knowledge that going plant-based can help achieve the latter by reducing our carbon footprint, exactly how much of an impact can it make, and why is it important?  

We’ve seen the memes and shared the gallows humour – Mother Nature is on a rampage against the human race; in five years we’re all going to be living underwater; or even the “climate change is the reason why I’m hot” T-shirts. But the sobering reality is that in the last few years, 85 percent of the world’s population, many of whom reside in countries like Thailand and India, have experienced climate-related disasters, from floods to drought, and everything in between. 

This year, Thailand has experienced the worst rainfall in decades, with the government warning residents of more to come. In the last couple of weeks alone, Pakistan has been ravaged by devastating floods that have left over a third of the country underwater, causing not only short-term impacts to millions of people’s homes and livelihood, but long-term effects on their food supply.   

Nevertheless, one of the lifeboats we can cling to as we’re (literally) inundated with the grim, climate-related news around the world, is that individual changes in our lifestyles can make a difference. In fact, the Dutch city of Haarlem has made history by being the first city in the world to ban meat ads, because they encourage meat consumption, which can exacerbate climate change. Specifically, lessening our consumption of meat can mitigate the following harmful environmental impacts:

  • Methane production: A UN report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2006 found that “cattle-rearing produces more global warming greenhouse gases…than transportation”. Methane contributes to the greenhouse effect by trapping heat in the air – so next time you feel like Bangkok is unbearably hot, blame it on cow farts and your friends who can’t stop eating steak every week.
  • Other greenhouse gases: Nitrous oxides and other harmful greenhouse gases are also a by-product of rearing cattle and other livestock. Research has found that 53 percent of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere is derived from livestock emissions – think of that next time you buy gai tod or KFC‘s popcorn chicken.
  • Use of pesticides and fertilisers: The demand for livestock consumption means that most farmers have to use pesticides and fertilisers, and this causes environmental degradation to soil and water when used in excess.
  • Deforestation: According to the World Bank and other sources, 91 percent of the destruction on the Amazon rainforest, which represents more than half of the world’s remaining rainforests, comes from animal agriculture.

Moreover, according to a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), prepared by 107 scientists from around the world and released in 2019, out of 39 possible changes in global food systems, changing people’s dietary habits was one of the top actions that had the highest climate-change mitigation potential, as seen in the graph below. 

Further analysis (seen in the graph below) had found that even a slight reduction in meat consumption could have a significant impact on the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere per year, with the most impact being diets that consist of no animal-sourced food. 

So, whether you’re already vegetarian or vegan, and can give yourselves a pat on the back for doing your bit to save the planet, or whether you’re just going vegetarian on Tuesdays or have adopted a flexitarian diet, be assured that this jae festival and Navratri, your choices will make an impact! 

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