Promoting a plant-based diet can reduce carbon emissions

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Many people who eat a plant based diet are familiar with “defensive omnivore syndrome,” -- reaction that many people who eat meat give to vegans and vegetarians. After being asked questions like, “Where do you get your protein?,” and “If you were stranded on an island and you had no choice but to eat meat, would you?,” being a vegan or vegetarian can be exhausting.

While ethics is a compelling reason for adopting a plant based diet, an underrated reason for mainstreaming a plant based diet is reducing carbon emissions. One-third of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, and 80% of agricultural land in the United States is used to raise animals for food and to grow those animals’ food. Shifting to a more plant based diet will eliminate the need for both the vast numbers of livestock grown today, and the food needed to feed them.

A recent congressional initiative worked to improve Dietary Guidelines. For the first time ever, congress discussed the environmental impacts of agriculture. The conclusion was that reducing meat consumption was ultimately better for the environment. In a petition, however, experts cited the need for the US to appease large meat companies as a reason for the lack of action on this topic.

Jean Kazez, philosophy professor at Southern Methodist University and author of Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals, explained that growing the vast amounts of plant foods needed to feed animals is inefficient.

“...We’re already using about 30% of the earth’s land surface for grazing and feed crops,” said Kazez.

“We’re literally running out of land, as the total world population rises and more people are able to afford to consume more animal products. Growing animals for food also requires vastly more water and energy and produces more greenhouse gases.  So you’re definitely doing the environment a favor if you shift to a more plant based diet.” 

Agriculture has also been industrialized since the 1990’s. This has lead to poor conditions and animal cruelty, which, ethically, is a reason to consume less meat.

“I became a vegetarian mainly because of the awful conditions in modern factory farms and slaughterhouses,” said Kazez. “...What motivates me most is the thought of what animals have to go through before they wind up on our plates.”

It is entirely unfeasible to ask the entire world to assume a vegan diet, but making small changes, like eliminating red meat, can make a huge difference. By decreasing the demand for animal products, the supply will eventually proportionally decrease. Ultimately, not a single soul can claim they were harmed by a plant based diet. If reducing carbon emissions and being able to sleep better at night means anything to anyone, eating one less meat filled meal a week makes a huge difference.

Kashar is an English freshman from Scarsdale, New York. Follow her on Twitter @leahkashar.