AUMICK: Cutting out plastics is not enough: all should consider veganism

Opinion Column: The Case for Counterculture

It seems that every day there is a new headline about the imminent destruction of our planet.

At this point in history, the matter of human-driven climate change and the ecological devastation it will cause is an undeniable reality. Last year, this issue received global attention when the United Nations (UN) published an  alarming climate change report backed up by more than 6,000 scientific studies. The UN estimates that if carbon emissions continue at their current rate, we have 11 years until a severe, worldwide climate disaster becomes inevitable and irreversible.

There is an ongoing debate on the legitimacy of making individual lifestyle changes, such as reducing plastic use, riding bikes instead of cars and other life changes, in response to climate change as opposed to advocating directly for imposing legislation on companies responsible for pollution and environmental degradation. 

Because this is such a complex issue, I would like to address this argument to those environmentalists who accept the premise that individuals have a responsibility to change their lifestyle to be more sustainable.

The notion that people should take responsibility for their carbon footprint is not terribly shocking or original. Carpooling and walking is encouraged almost everywhere, and every college around the country seems to have an environmental club asking people to buy their aluminum water bottles and reusable grocery bags. 

But, there is an elephant in the movement that seldom gets the same amount of attention. Once you accept the premise that individual action is an essential aspect of environmentalism, it is incredibly difficult to justify the consumption of animal products.

Animal agriculture is one of the most significant contributing factors to carbon emissions, yet it is not often talked about because for an activist to acknowledge this, they also have to acknowledge that their diet contradicts their moral convictions. While environmentalists are hung up on making sure there are no plastic bottles at their club events, the food they give out is responsible for a level of carbon emissions that is much more worrisome yet often goes completely unacknowledged. 

Just look at the numbers: manufacturing one water bottle emits approximately 828 grams of CO2, while making one cheeseburger takes about 4 kilograms, or 4,000 grams of C02. My point here is that plastic is prioritized within environmentalist spaces as the ultimate evil to be done away with without any meaningful effort extended to eliminate products like beef that are causing far more damage. 

A vegan diet is inherently more environmentally sustainable than a diet that includes animal products due to the amount of water and land expended to grow grain just to keep livestock alive. Compared to beef burgers, Impossible Foods — the company behind the vegan Impossible™ burger — uses “87% less water, 96% less land, 89% fewer GHG emissions and 92% less aquatic pollutants.” 

This is standard for vegan products because they do not require resources to raise crops to be fed to livestock, who also require their own land and water. Even free-range, locally purchased meat relies on resources that could be more efficiently allocated to humans instead of livestock.

Just this month a significant portion of the Amazon rainforest caught fire and has burned for approximately four weeks. While vegan products like soy and coffee contribute to deforestation, cattle ranching is the most prominent cause of environmental destruction in the Amazon, according to the Rainforest Foundation. In fact, 80% of Amazon deforestation can be attributed to ranching

Ranchers often burn land in the rainforest to turn it into usable land, and it is likely that these fires were started by farmers attempting to clear fields for their animals. It is also important to note that while soy farmers play a role in deforestation, the net amount of soy and grain that needs to be produced would be much lower if those foods weren’t being grown to feed livestock. 

The issue of animal agriculture is incredibly pertinent to environmentalism and must be included in any meaningful discussion of how to address ecological destruction. Environmental catastrophes, from climate change to the burning of the Amazon rainforest, can be attributed to the environmental devastation caused by raising farm animals. 

It is the duty of any good environmentalist to acknowledge an unavoidable truth: Animal agriculture is an inefficient, destructive and dangerous way to use land, and it is destroying our planet.

Jess Aumick is a School of Arts and Sciences third-year majoring in history. Her column, “The Case for Counterculture,“ runs on alternate Tuesdays. 


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