Eating Meat and Dairy? Then You're Not an Environmentalist -- Here's Why


Apr 20, 2024By United Earth Life

In the throes of the 21st century, the discourse around environmentalism is louder, prouder and more urgent than ever before. Yet there's a glaring inconsistency in the practices of many self-proclaimed environmentalists. They recycle; they march for climate action; they replace plastic straws with metal ones — but they still eat meat and dairy. It's time we address this contradiction head-on: You cannot be a real environmentalist if you continue to consume meat and dairy.

The Stark Reality of Meat and Dairy's Environmental Impact

breed of hornless dairy cows eating silos fodder in cowshed farm somewhere in central Ukraine, agriculture industry, farming and animal husbandry concept

The data is undeniable, and it paints a bleak picture of the livestock industry. According to a comprehensive 2018 study by Poore and Nemecek, published in the journal Science, animal agriculture is responsible for up to 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That's more than the combined exhaust from all transportation modes worldwide.

Deforestation concept. Stumps, logs and branches of tree after cutting down forest

Furthermore, livestock farming is a voracious consumer of resources. It occupies about 83% of global farmland, yet it yields only 18% of the world’s calories. This inefficient use of land contributes not only to deforestation but also to species extinction, habitat loss and water scarcity. The World Resources Institute highlights the immense water footprint of livestock — particularly cattle, which require significantly more water than crops per calorie.

Debunking the Myth: Can Sustainable Meat and Dairy Exist?

Many argue that sustainable meat and dairy production is possible through practices like regenerative or organic livestock farming. While these methods may reduce environmental damage compared to conventional farming, they are not enough to counteract the sheer scale of impact. Research shows that even the lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.

The Plant-Based Alternative: A Solution That Can't Be Ignored

Buddha bowl with baked potatoes, lentils and spicy chickpeas, avocado, arugula, vegan, vegetarian healthy food

Switching to a plant-based diet is one of the most powerful personal things anyone can do to combat climate change, conserve water and reduce pollution. A study suggests that shifting to plant-based diets could reduce global mortality by up to 10% and food-related greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70% by 2050. The evidence is compelling and highlights the effectiveness of a diet shift in addressing multiple environmental issues.

Making the Connection: Environmentalism and Diet

If we are to consider ourselves environmentalists, everything we do should align with our values across all aspects of our lives. Eating meat and dairy disconnects us from our environmental responsibilities. It's not enough to reduce, reuse and recycle while our diets continue to support an industry that is one of the largest contributors to global environmental issues.

It's a tough pill to swallow, but necessary. True environmentalism encompasses all sectors of human impact on the planet, and food consumption is a significant part of that. We need a shift in how we view our dietary choices and their environmental impacts.

Embracing True Environmentalism

Looking straight up into y’all redwood trees John Muir national monument a deep redwood forest along the California Coast outside of San Francisco, California, USA-  redwood trees

The evidence is overwhelming, and the time for excuses has passed. We can't turn a blind eye to the impact of our dietary choices any longer. Embracing a vegan diet is a profound step towards genuine environmentalism, aligning our eating habits with our environmental ethics.

For those ready to make a change, there are numerous resources available. Websites like Veganuary and Challenge 22 offer guidance and support for transitioning to a plant-based diet. Plus, we have our own quick guide to ditching meat and going vegan. 

We are at a crossroads in our environmental journey. The choices we make today will dictate the health of our planet for future generations. It's time to live up to the ideals we set out for ourselves as environmentalists. The planet — and our conscience — demand nothing less.

Let's make the change, not just for our health, but for the health of our planet. Join the movement towards a truly sustainable lifestyle, and redefine what it means to be an environmentalist in the 21st century.