After a successful deal was reached at the Climate Change Summit in Paris last December, environmental issues are becoming ever more important and scrutinized in daily life. Evie Muir, 21, a returned volunteer from South Africa on the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, tells us what changes she’s making in her life to reduce her environmental impact…

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Evie, with her fellow ICS volunteers on placement in South Africa during 2014.

Animal agriculture is undeniably the worst contributor to climate change of the 21st century. Today I calculated my global footprint using the WWF model and found that 2.1 worlds would be needed in order to sustain the planet if every single person lived my lifestyle…. 2.1 planets! This is despite me turning the lights off after I’ve left the room, having an insulated house with double glazing, taking short showers, walking more than I drive, recycling religiously and most importantly, being a vegetarian.

Why does being a vegetarian benefit the climate? Many people wouldn’t even make the connection, and this is understandable as the impact of livestock agriculture, the meat industry, and meat consumption on global warming is one of the least publicised factors of climate change. I have been a vegetarian for my entire life due to cruelty reasons, and the interrelating effects on climate change have only very recently been something which I have become aware of, despite it generating ONE FIFTH of all green house gasses – more than the entire transportation system world wide – that is individual transport, rail and flights combined! For example, did you know..

  • Livestock and their by-products account for 51% of all annual worldwide emissions
  • The UK population currently consumes nearly 5 million tonnes of meat per year
  • The average person in the UK consumes 80kg of meat per year. Which is the equivalent to 1,400 pork sausages
  • Vegans have a greenhouse gas footprint 41.7% smaller than meat-eaters

The best way I can unpack such a complex issue is by examining the life-cycle of a single cow, and its impact on the environment. This one cow needs land to be raised, it also monopolises land in order to grow produce which feeds the animals. The creation of this land requires mass deforestation on a jaw dropping scale, particularly in developing countries such as Brazil – the Amazon is one of the environments most affected in aid of animal agriculture. Not only does deforestation occur, but it wipes out species who can no longer survive in their natural habitat as collateral damage.

Meanwhile, the meat industry still contributes hugely to CO2 emissions, particularly in the post-farm production stages whereby emissions from agriculture are predicted to increase by 80% by 2050 – at which point our we will have exceeded the ‘danger level’ of a 2 degrees rise in temperatures – whilst the contributions to human consumption are tiny. Only 1% of energy is transferred into food for humans via the cow, whilst over 660 gallons of water go into creating a single beef burger!

In today’s society there really is no excuse for eating meat. The evidence is irrefutable; it’s catastrophic to the planet, exploitative to animals, using them as a commodity and a free labour source. The idea that we need to eat meat in order to be healthy is simply a myth. Due to plant based diets being rich in protein, iron, fibre and calcium and extremely low in saturated fats, diseases like cancer, obesity, heart disease and diabetes can be combated. We have a wealth of healthy, sustainable and easy to make vegetarian and vegan alternatives literally metres away from us at the local corner shop. If we in the UK, as a country, were to become vegan, we would reduce our climate footprint by a staggering 25%.

I for one, will be making a solitary new year’s resolution, to make the change to a fully vegan-based diet.

What do you think?

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