This is a guest post from the Vegan Society. For disclaimers, explanations, see below.
Readers of Manchester Climate Monthly will no doubt be aware that not everyone is as engaged with the issues around climate change as we are. Indeed, it can sometimes feel like we’re banging our heads against a brick wall, or at the very least taking two steps forward and one step back – for every Paris Climate Accord there is a perma-tan President waiting to withdraw from the process. Yet we continue to push for action, at an international, national and personal level, because we know the stakes are so high. But what if it turns out we’re ignoring a huge part of the problem?
Having worked in what you’d broadly call the field of “sustainability” for the past twelve years, I’ve seen a range of issues come in and out of focus, along with an assortment of “magic bullet” solutions that were going to revolutionise how we tackled climate change. Indeed, it can sometimes be a bit like Groundhog Day watching ideas rise like fireworks only to come crashing down just as quickly. In 2005, when I headed up the launch of the Observer Ethical Awards, the big game in town was carbon offsetting, which was seen as a gold standard for environmental responsibility. I imagine if I suggested something similar now there would be raised eyebrows all round. And so the arguments raged on, many light bulbs were changed to LEDs and many loads of laundry were washed with Ecover, and yet still somehow the looming climate crisis stubbornly failed to be averted.
During my time as national coordinator for the Wales Green Party, I moved from a business to business role to a public-facing one, and if anything the view from the ground was even more depressing than it was at a corporate level. A brave band of committed activists were prepared to do their best to get the message out there, but ultimately the problems on the doorstep were a world away from the issues that we all knew were the real threat. We were selling a message of environmental hope for the future, but what people wanted to talk about were school places, local hospitals and jobs for the next generation. Those are natural, genuine and very real concerns to have, and no amount of gentle environmental messaging changed the priorities.
It was only when I joined The Vegan Society as Head of Campaigns and Policy in 2016 that I realised that the answer had been – quite literally – handed to me on a plate. As a vegetarian for all my adult life, and later as a convert to the vegan cause, I had always associated my choices with compassion – animals had the right to live out their lives without fear of exploitation or slaughter. Yet as I looked at the stats, I realised that the same compassion also applied to the human cost of the environmental issues we now face. The facts are startling, and speak for themselves (references available on vegansociety.com/plateup):
- Animal agriculture accounts for up to half of our food related carbon emissions
- Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.
- The global livestock industry generates as much greenhouse gases as all transport combined.
- Growing vegan food uses 50% less land than animal agriculture.
- Going vegan reduces global warming as much as cutting travel in private vehicles by 75%.
So if animal agriculture is so damaging for our planet, why don’t we hear more about it? It is not an original thought to question why so little of the climate campaigning undertaken by NGOs, charities and governments focusses on diet – many of you will have watched the excellent “Cowspiracy” on Netflix. But the arguments stand repeating. If we are asking corporations to change course, asking governments to change policy, and asking people across the country to change their lifestyles, we have to recognise that we as environmentalists have to take the first step at a personal level. I do not believe it is possible to be a committed environmentalist while still propping up the meat and dairy industry, it’s as simple as that. At the same time, going vegan can seem like a daunting prospect for those not in the know, and any kind of behaviour change is usually easier with a carrot than a stick.
That’s why we’re launching the biggest campaign in The Vegan Society’s history at the end of this month. “Plate up for the Planet” will challenge people up and down the UK to try a vegan diet for seven days. We’ll send them recipe ideas, hints and tips, as well as a greenhouse gas comparison for alternative dietary options to show just what a positive effect they are having on their own carbon footprint. At the end of the seven days we hope many of them will go on to continue eating a delicious, low carbon vegan diet. We’re delighted to already have support from environmental luminaries such as Caroline Lucas MP, star of TV’s “Tribe” Bruce Parry, and Eden Project founder Sir Tim Smit, and we’ll be popping up at festivals throughout the summer from Camp Bestival to Green Gathering to spread the word.
I hope you will join us. We know that as a fellow reader of Manchester Climate Monthly you already care about the environment. One of the most significant things that you as an individual can do to help avert the climate crisis we all face is to move away from a diet based on animal agriculture. Sign up at vegansociety.com/plateup and help us Plate up for the Planet!
Louise Davies, Head of Campaigns & Policy
That disclaimer – MCFly gets a surprising number of offers of ‘free’ material, which is basically advertorial for various sites of various provenance. I’ve always said nope, but I reckon the Vegan Society is pretty okay.
That disclosure, not that anyone cares: I am all over the place food wise – will eat kangaroo for the lulz, fish for the protein. Have mostly eliminated dairy except for the cheese on my pizzas. Ergo, am not trying to claim any moral authority.
And that apology – I agreed to put this up a while back, and it got lost in the thesis-based shuffle.,