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National Academy of Sciences estimates that veganism can save the world

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What would happen if the world went vegan? Scientists want you to know.

In a ground breaking study, the National Academy of Sciences published their estimate for both the health and climate change impacts that would occur if the world switched to eating a plant-based diet. NBC News reports that researches predict that eating less meat and more vegetables would “prevent several million deaths per year by 2050, cut planet-warming emissions substantially, and save billions of dollars annually in healthcare costs and climate damage.”

At Oxford University, researchers studied the effects of four different diets, including vegetarianism, veganism, a global guidelines diet includes limited red meat and minimum requirements for fruits and veg, and staying the course as we eat right now. The global guidelines showed a promising 5.1 million human lives saved, but paled in comparison to the 8.1 million veganism would impact. Add the more than 56 billion animals (forgotten in the study) that face death yearly for flesh, dairy, and eggs, and the impact is almost unimaginable.

Lives aren’t the only thing affected by a vegan diet, of course. Researchers found that it would cut food related emissions by 70 percent (the dietary recommendations option only hit 29), and could save up to “$1 trillion per year on healthcare, unpaid care and lost working days, while the economic benefit of reduced greenhouse gas emissions could be as much as $570 billion.” It’s a lot of big numbers, that all point to the strong and necessary impact of going vegan.

Still, lead author Marco Springmann told NBC “We do not expect everybody to become vegan. But climate change impacts of the food system will be hard to tackle and likely require more than just technological changes. Adopting healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets can be a large step in the right direction.” I believe society should be called to change, and that this information should be a very loud message, not a whisper.

While I’m impressed to see the results, and a major news media outlet talking about veganism, I still believe that ethical veganism and ending the exploitation of animals is the most important argument for making the change today. In leaving out our impact on non-human animals, the discussion remains about diet only, and not a total vegan lifestyle. We still stand to gain all the health and environmental benefits if we take a moral abolitionist approach, with the added benefit of no longer commodifying sentient beings.

Don’t wait for anymore reasons – go vegan today.

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  • stewart lands

    Actually, the report says that by reducing red meat we may “reduce” global warming relative to the path that we currently follow. Let us not pretend that we may “avoid” global warming by this action alone.

    When it comes to diet, other action is required. Many of our preferred fruits and vegetables, for example, inflict the same environmental impact as many meats. Bananas and mangoes imported from across the ocean result in unnecessarily high GHG emissions, the production of cashews and almonds requires even more water than chicken, and many crops require a great deal of land and resources to produce relative to better options.

    Certain meats, such as wild fish and game, produce no GHG emissions and may be acquired from lands that have never been converted to agricultural purpose–a win for our air as well as our wildlife. Yet mainstream veganism refuses to recognize such benefits. By ignoring the wildlife killed as a result of habitat loss when converting wild lands into row crops, veganism overlooks the animal harm that results from agriculture, and in arguing against the sustainable consumption of wild fish and game it forces the widespread destruction of entire ecosystems and all animal inhabitants.

    In short, decreasing our reliance on meat, and eating more vegetables, is a very good thing. To conclude, however, that mainstream veganism has already arrived at the optimal solution to our environmental ills is not quite correct.

    • Jane

      What you say is very correct. Veganism as we know it today indeed is not yet at its ultimate destination. There’s an illusion that we vegans, by skipping all the animal products out of our lives, can do whatever we want. I don’t know about the numbers but one could imagine that buying some fruits that are originated from the other side of the world, could not be good for the environment. Therefore it’s important that your veganism is based on more than the ethical argument about ending the exploitation of animals, and focus also on the impact of a diet choice on global warming. So buy more local and seasonal food. Though I’m sure that an exotic-fruits-vegan diet is still better that an omnivore’s diet. But we could always do better, no?

      The other point you make is where I really disagree. We people just have to eat, so if you can choose between eating vegetables that sure require a lot of land and so contribute to habitat loss (yes we are aware of this) or you choose an omnivore’s diet where the production of meat, eggs and dairy requires far more vegetables and in that way generate much more habitat loss, to end up with the same amount of food for us, what would you choose? Both options are earth-destructive. It’s because we are just with too many people living on this planet. There has to be a mass production of food, cause there’s a mass of mouths to feed. We can kill half the human population or take the best option to deal with it.

      Telling all those people to stop eating farmed meat but so now and then shooting a wild animal for food, is not possible. It was when thousands of years ago we were walking this earth with less people. These days it would not be a sustainable option. Maybe for you as an individual it sounds reasonable, but when we’re looking for sustainable solutions for the future, where human population is even growing, this is not the answer. Vegansism is. For the sake of the animals and for the planet. Go vegan, or if you are already, become a ‘local vegan’ and reduce your greenhouse gas emissions even more!

      • stewart lands

        I do recognize the greater impact of animal agriculture (relative to plant agriculture), and am not advocating for such.

        I am, on the other hand, pointing out that at least some of the human dietary need may be met by wild fish and game, taken in a sustainable manner from unspoiled lands. This is a better option in terms of environmental impact as well as animal lives lost.

        I am not, however, suggesting that wild fish and game can support the entire human population or even replace the volume of farm-raised meats to which we have become accustomed. By “sustainable” I mean the amount that CAN be acquired without damage to native systems.

        Of course, any amount is better than none, and it is surprising how much wild fish and game is actually available. Hunters in the State of Tennessee alone consume 500,000 squirrels annually. Nationwide, we may add millions of deer, tens of thousands of elk untold numbers of game birds such as turkey and geese, literally thousands of tons of bass, trout, salmon, etc.and one perceives enough fish and game, sustainably taken, to allow a significant reduction in the acreage under cultivation, with the result that it may be returned to the wild, for the benefit of entire plant and animal communities, the renewal of freshwater systems, the reduction of greenhouse gases, etc.

        There is nothing wrong with encouraging plant consumption over meat, except where plant production is actually results in greater death and destruction.

  • Dave

    Both the title of the article and the lede are incorrect in identifying this as a NAS study. It was a study by researchers from the University of Oxford that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences – a scientific journal that is run by the NAS and with an editorial board made up of NAS members. This is quite different from studies that are commissioned by the US Government and other entities for the NAS to conduct. A PNAS article and a full NAS report are completely different in scope and substance, with NAS reports often considered comprehensive and authoritative, written by dozens to hundreds of scientists, and are supposed to help guide federal policy making. PNAS is a premier academic journal and my comment has nothing to do with the content of the journal article or the conclusions drawn by the authors of the journal article. Rather, that an important distinction between the two exists and should be corrected in the article above by the editors of Ecorazzi.

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