Vegans are doing their part, not only to improve their personal life, but to improve the bigger world we all as humans share. Along with health benefits, there are important environmental and economic benefits that go hand in hand with removing meat and dairy from one's everyday diet.
Contrary to what the internet has been poking fun at recently; the vegan diet is a lot more than just hipsters trying to shove their ethics down people’s throat. What we eat has a greater influence on the world than simply morals and animal rights. The transition to a plant-based diet is the first baby step in doing your part to gain personal benefits and save the planet.
Marco Springmann and his research team from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a recent study where they analyze the benefits of a meatless diet by comparing hypothetical vegetarian health-care costs to those of the hypothetical meat eater (1). Springmann also goes into detail about the way veganism can positively affect the huge issue of climate change. The study states that high consumption of red and processed meat and low consumption of fruits and vegetables are important diet-related risk factors contributing to substantial early mortality.
“There is a general consensus that dietary change across the globe can have multiple health, environmental, and economic benefits. Our analysis confirms this view and takes a step forward in providing better estimates of the magnitude of the possible benefits and how they are distributed across different regions. It introduces a framework to analyze multiple costs and benefits across different sectors simultaneously”, the team states in the discussion of their published study.
There are over a billion overweight or obese humans in the world, a lot of whom need to pay bills for medical dietary attention. Eating meat can directly cause common medical problems such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes (2). This being said, the obesity rates and health costs of meat eaters are drastically higher than those of vegans due to substitutions of necessary nutrients in their diets.
Doctors have revealed that the estimated health-care costs of our nation’s meat eaters fall between $28.6 billion to $61.4 billion (3). A lot of these costs result from specifically meat related medical attention, like cardiovascular disease. This amount of funds can be easily compared to the $50 billion spent each year on treating lung diseases and cancers caused from smoking tobacco.
Regardless of if their medical needs are met, it’s extremely rare that the majority of the overweight population would make a total transition to veganism. Meat, dairy, and eggs in a diet has been the social norm since the beginning of the human era, making it fairly difficult to adjust to the vegan diet. If, however, the entire global population were to adopt the vegan diet; Springmann’s team predicts that 8.1 million deaths would be avoided (1).
Without targeting and making an effort in transitioning towards a specific and complete dietary change throughout our human population, the meat industry will continue to thrive. Meat production does a lot more harm to the world than merely contributing to obesity rates. The process of meat production severely harms our atmosphere.
Society has opened its eyes to the concept of global warming and how dangerous it is to our environment. Global warming is increasing at a steady rate due to the unnatural emission of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. The best example of greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide, considering that CO2 makes up for 84% of the total emissions. When emitted naturally, greenhouse gases help keep the planet at a normal temperature because they absorb the warmth provided by sun rays. Our planet’s climate is on a cycle that unnatural greenhouse gases alter when they trap more heat in our atmosphere than there should be (4).
When I envision the unnatural emission of greenhouse gases, I envision large production factories and eighteen wheelers puffing out exhaust on a smoggy day in LA traffic. However, Springmann’s study shows that meat production is responsible for emitting a solid portion of these harmful greenhouse gasses too.
The study states the truth about the ecological effects of our food system; after an analysis on the topic, Springmann and his team have come to confirm that the food system emits more than 25% of all greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere. In comparison, a more commonly recognized emission of greenhouse gases, transportation exhaust, is only responsible for 13% (1).
80% of the food system greenhouse gases directly stem from livestock. Livestock and their byproducts account for millions of tons of carbon dioxide each year. Farmers breed their livestock at an unnaturally high rate in an attempt to produce large amounts of meat for the purpose of selling out their competitors. It initially didn’t come to mind that large amounts of livestock could alter climate change; however, the respiration cycle of these excess animals accounts for 8,769 million tons of greenhouse gases yearly, or 11.8% of the worldwide total greenhouse gas emissions (5).
Along with the respiration system of the livestock themselves, their byproducts and living environments also harm the atmosphere. Unnaturally large numbers of livestock mean there’s not enough natural grass for extra animals to share and survive off of. Farmers take survival matters as such into their own hands by planting enough vast pastureland for the livestock to survive off of. These giant man-made fields emit a fair share unnatural gas. It’s commonly overlooked, but the land use of livestock accounts for approximately 2,672 million tons of greenhouse gases every year (6).
Let’s take a look into the future; by 2050 the agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are projected to increase by 80% if American diets were to continue the way they are today (7). Switching to a plant-based diet directly links to positively affecting environmental health.
Springmann took a look into the future from an economic standpoint. He predicts that if we fail to make a nation-wide transition to healthier eating habits; accounting for variables, by 2050 the result of meat eating could potentially cost the U.S. between $197 billion and $289 billion each year through production costs and health-care costs of meat eaters. Globally, it could cost up to $1.6 trillion. Our country has very high per capita health-care costs and would ultimately save more money than the rest of the world if we were to cut back on meat (1).
"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.", said Springmann.
Slowly but surely, the plant-based diet is becoming more common. There’s a bigger picture at hand when it comes to choosing to live a healthy lifestyle. Veganism goes beyond the awareness of unfair animal treatment and personal health. Climate change is irreversible, but not unstoppable; do your part and eat your greens instead of a meaty meal today.
What do you think? Could we ever make the transition into a meatless diet?
Send your thoughts to: Info@sbeconomic.com
(1) Marco Springmann, H. Charles J. Godfray, Mike Rayner, and Peter Scarborough. (2015) University of Oxford. “Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
(2) The Nursing School Catalog. Blog. “57 Health Benefits of Going Vegan”. http://www.nursingdegree.net/blog/19/57-health-benefits-of-going-vegan/
(3) Brody, Jane E. “Health Cost of Meat Diet is Billions, Study Says”. New York Times. 21 November 1995.
(4) Platt, John. “CO2 101: Why is carbon dioxide bad?”. Mother Nature Network. 9 October 2013.
(5) Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations. “Livestock’s Long Shadow” Part IV 03:3.1-3.5. Rome, 2006.
(6) Goodland, Robert & Anhang, Jeff. “Livestock and Climate Change” World Watch. November/December 2009.
(7) Tilman, David & Michael Clark. “Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health”. Nature Journal. 2014.