After reading the title of this article, many of you will probably immediately roll your eyes and, overwhelmed with conflicting feelings, either overpower yourself and still read what the wind has brought for eco-propaganda this time, or will go further along the Habr’s tape (well, with the exception of a vegan group that is in constant search of arguments in favor of its worldview, or listeners to the next conference with Greta Thunberg). I must say that I myself am not some ardent environmental activist, but study, which I was lucky enough to stumble upon, aroused a certain interest in me personally. Let’s consider it and speculate a little about the prospects.
So, the actual Oxford study titled “Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits” was published in 2018 in the journal Nature. For 5 years, university scientists have researched the production of 40 different products that make up 90% of our diet on 38,000 farms in 119 countries.
The main thesis of this work is that in order to avoid stimulating the processes underlying climate change, mankind should significantly reduce the consumption of meat and dairy products, the production of which accounts for 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture (this is about the same as all passenger cars and trucks combined). In order not to undermine the planet’s ability to feed 10 billion people in a few decades, according to researchers, a massive introduction of radical changes is required. Food production is already causing great damage to the environment – this is deforestation (about 40% of the land is allocated for agriculture), and water scarcity (70% of water resources), the formation of huge dead zones in the ocean, and much more. The world’s population is projected to increase by 2.3 billion by 2050, and global income will triple, requiring an increase in food production by 60%, and consequently the environmental damage of the agricultural sector will increase.
It is noteworthy that at about the same time was published UN report, in which the world’s leading scientists warned that there is only one dozen years, during which global warming may be invisible to mankind in the range of up to 1.5 o C, after which even half a degree will significantly exacerbate the risks of drought and floods.
The authors of the study argue that in order to avoid such a situation for the average citizen of the world, it is necessary, firstly, to reduce the consumption of beef by 75%, pork by 90%, eggs by 50%, while increasing the share of beans and legumes in the diet by 3 times. and nuts and seeds in four. This should cut emissions from livestock in half.
As one of the measures to combat, primarily against meat-eaters who in the future will not want to reduce the consumption of their favorite product, it is proposed, for example, the introduction of the well-known tax on meat products, which was proposed by the Royal Institute of International Relations and the University of Glasgow in a 2015 report under The title “Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Ways to Reduce Meat Consumption”.
So, in essence, we are being asked to join the vegan lifestyle to save the planet of the future. In my subjective opinion, making statements of this kind, widespread among vegans in order to benefit the environment, is a rather radical decision, which is far from the only correct one, and perhaps we should not rush to implement it.
I must say that I have absolutely nothing against the followers of veganism. This is their choice, their philosophy of life. The main thing that annoys “a little” is their endless attempts to prove to the world that everyone around is wrong and should support their ideas. In this case, the guys drew on the argument related to climate change. Let’s try to answer them.
First, there is a so-called “rebound effect”. Vegan food is somewhat cheaper than traditional food. Therefore, the money saved can be redistributed to other goods and services, the production of which will cause additional greenhouse gas emissions (possibly even more). In the US, vegetarians save at least $ 750 on food annually;
Secondly, climatic conditions in some parts of the world are not suitable for growing vegetables, fruits, nuts and maintaining a vegan diet. Countries with very cold climates rely on local meat production as a staple food. In this case, they will have to apply for imports, which are definitely more resource-intensive in comparison with the prevailing agricultural methods;
In response to the statement “cattle occupy a significant amount of land that could otherwise be used to grow crops with much higher yields,” I would like to say the following. In many cases, cattle are raised on land that is not suitable for growing vegetables. Globally, the vegan diet is, in terms of food production capacity, wasting the available land that could otherwise feed more people. Thus, when we are offered statistics of increasing yields simply by switching from cattle to fruits and vegetables, such nuances must also be taken into account in the calculations;
Many vegan foods, such as soy, wheat, are grown in monocultures. These monocultures drain soil and destroy habitats that would otherwise support the diversity of life. So, it must be recognized that there is damage to the environment in this case;
Many farms use fertilizers to grow crops, which eventually end up in water bodies. In this case, manure could help, which can be used as compost;
You may not have to give up meat (it is in this wording). We only need to reconsider the technological approach to its production. Already now, active discussions are caused by meat grown in the laboratory, the taste of which is indistinguishable from the real one, but at the same time it contains more useful and less harmful substances. By the way, we recently published an article about this. The artificial meat created in the laboratory was first shown to the world in 2013. Then its production cost a lot of money, but over time, the numbers became less and less. In 2013, the cost of an artificial burger patty was more than $ 300,000, but today the price is hovering around $ 10 (yes, while it is still expensive, but the fact is progress). The production process consists in the fact that muscle cells are taken from an animal, they are placed in a special nutrient medium in a bioreactor, in which they begin to grow and reproduce new cells. Thus, as scientists say, it will be possible to create any type of meat, any fat content, for any taste and color. The only thing is – do not forget about the commandments of the food chain; therefore, it is likely that a complete transition to a new type of meat will not be required.
As for dairy products, we can also say that technology is giving more and more opportunities. Thus, the companies Clara Foods and Perfect day foods are already synthesizing egg whites, which are used for the production of ice cream, cheeses, etc.
It is possible to stick to veganism as an environmentally friendly diet, but in my opinion, it is not worth arguing that adhering to a policy of avoiding climate-damaging food diets will require a vegan (or close to it) diet. The proposed counterarguments show that, firstly, veganism in itself is not an ideal solution to the ecological problem, and, secondly, the technological development of civilization offers us alternative replacements, which in the future may become commonplace.