membership program
"Why Vegan" Series: Veganism and the Environment, the Effects of Going Vegan on our Planet

"Why Vegan" Series: Veganism and the Environment, the Effects of Going Vegan on our Planet

on being vegan podcast Feb 23, 2024


Links and resources mentioned in the episode:

- Our online course The Roadmap our online course to help you make more vegan choices or go vegan.

- Full index to the United Nations report "Livestock's Long Shadow"

Part 1 (with a great summary) of the United Nations report "Livestock's Long Shadow"

World Water Week on the huge impact eating vegan can have in water conservation

- An Issues in Ecology Report: "Effects of Aquaculture on World Fish Supplies" by the Ecological Society of America

"Environmental Consequences of Fishing Practices" by

An article by The Vegan Society on the impact eating vegan can have on the environment (as well as the animals and our health)

"How your Diet Could Change the World" by The Vegan Society

"Veganism by the Numbers" infographics by One Green Planet

- A nutrition fact sheet by the BDA (Association of UK Dietitians), which briefly mentions eating a vegan diet and sustainability (as well as health)

- Study by University of Oxford researchers published in the Journal Science in 2018: “Reducing food's environmental impacts through producers and consumers”

“This is Vegan Propaganda: and Other Lies the Meat Industry Tells You” by Ed Winters



Out of all the reasons to be vegan, the effects of our animal product consumption on our environment were so absent from my mind before going vegan that I simply had no clue the two were linked.

I had never taken a single moment to think about what it means to raise an animal we in turn use for food. I had been eating my steak and roast chicken, and although I knew it came from an animal and tried not to think about that part, my thought process never went beyond my trip to the supermarket where I would find neatly packaged filets sold on the shelves. I had never stopped to ponder what it took for that meat to arrive at my table, and yet, when you think about the process, it’s so easy to see that for that steak or sausage to be sizzling in your skillet, a lot of things have to happen first. I'm going to focus on environmental resources today, as we’ll cover animals in our next few installments.

How does eating meat, dairy and eggs affect our environment compared to plant based foods?

The animals that are raised for food need to be fed in order to grow until they are slaughtered.

This means, that food must be grown for them to eat so let's start there.

Thousands of acres of land (and it might come as a shock when I tell you where that land is coming from so stay tuned), need to be cleared (that means deforestation), in order to grow grain and soy to feed animals (many of whom shouldn't be eating grain as it's not their natural diet).

These crops need not only land, but water, and lots of it. They need to be planted, grown, watered, harvested, and then transported to the feed lots and factory farms.

Here animals are fed these crops, but of course, one animal needs to eat much more food than the amount of food it will represent when it lands on your plate. Meaning, it needs to eat every day and drink water every day, but when it is killed to be served as food, it weighs much less than all the food that had to be grown, transported and given to this animal.

Keep in mind that this food, this water, this land, and the carbon emissions produced from transport could all be used directly for growing, watering and transporting crops for humans.

Instead, we're using precious resources to raise an animal, that will only feed a few. We'll talk more about how veganism can help our fellow humans in an upcoming installment, so let's continue with what happens next.


Meat and Dairy Based Diets and Farm Waste and Manure


While these animals are being raised, there are many environmental hazards. One of them is manure and waste. These facilities raise so many animals and produce so much waste that it has become extremely difficult to manage. In many occasions this waste is kept in outdoor lagoons, which although they should be lined to prevent pollution, this job is often done poorly or is insufficient and so much of the waste seeps into the ground, contaminating soil, rivers, lakes and taking a toll on neighboring communities as well, as not only the smell can be perceived for miles, but some farms have the practice of spraying the waste on fields, which gets into the land and homes of people in nearby properties, it can easily get into the food supply y fruit and vegetable farms are nearby, and as we’ve mentioned previously in this series of episodes, food borne pathogens can also get into other food sources like fruits and vegetables.

Animal and Dairy Based Diets and Climate Change

Another one of these hazards, especially in the case of cows but also all other land animals raised for food has to do with greenhouse gas emissions, not only carbon dioxide emissions, but there's another gas that is even more powerful in trapping heat in the atmosphere and that is methane (at a rate that is approximately 23 times higher than carbon dioxide. And its leading producer at least in the United States? Cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys raised for food and what is known as enteric fermentation, gas released by these animals during their process of digestion. Keep in mind that these are billions of animals, every year, and sadly, grass fed cows which you’d think would eliminate some of the other environmental hazards (like growing all that grain) contribute much more to methane emissions than cows raised on grain feed because of the cow's digestive process.

Nitrous oxide is another gas that is nearly 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and the meat, dairy and egg industries produce 65% of the world's nitrous oxide emissions.

Regardless of what your stance is on climate change, a reduction in the animals raised for food would decrease a huge percentage of these emissions, and it doesn’t have to come from governmental agencies, or policies, climate agreements between countries, it can come from our own daily actions. I think that’s pretty powerful. As more and more people make this change, not only are we reducing the demand for animal products, but we’re raising the demand for plant based products, fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, with a lower footprint and a lower use of natural resources as you’ll soon see. This doesn’t mean that these products don’t have consequences or issues, or use up environmental resources and of course they still need to be grown, transported, etc., but the reduction of these environmental consequences, being in our very own hands is great news. It’s impossible to have a zero impact diet, and we aren’t reaching for perfect, but eating more plants reduces this impact significantly. It of course needs to go hand in hand with letting go of the government subsidies on the meat and dairy industries, but that’s a whole other topic for another day. It’s also important to remember that the issues surrounding animal agriculture and the environment not only refer to emissions but also with land degradation, air pollution, water shortages, water pollution, loss of biodiversity and more.

Let’s get back to the process of that steak on our plate:

After the animals have reached age and especially weight for slaughter, these animals also need to be transported and taken to the slaughterhouse, that means more carbon emissions from those transport trucks. Then once the animal is killed, the meat is rendered and packaged (using more resources), it needs to be transported to supermarkets where it is sold, again, more carbon dioxide emissions. Sometimes slaughterhouses aren’t in the same location as rendering plants, so this adds one more step to the chain in some occasions.

All of these steps... when from the very first instance, that farmland could have been used to grow potatoes, rice, beans, fruits, broccoli, carrots, peas, pumpkins, tomatoes, lettuce, etc., and all of those pounds of fruits and vegetables could have been used to feed individuals, not individual cows, chickens, lambs and pigs that would then be killed to feed just a few.

Do you see the picture? I tried putting it in very simple terms, and we'll certainly discuss the implications of this for humans in an upcoming installment in the series, but now that we know the basic idea, let's hear about some figures and stats so that you can see the scope of the problem.


Meat and Dairy-Based Diets and Water Use

Let's start with the use of water:

A vegan diet requires a third of the water and a third of the land to be produced when compared to an animal based diet.

According to the BDA, The Association of UK Dietetics:

"Plant-based, or vegan, diets need just one third of the fertile land, fresh water and energy of the typical British ‘meat-and-dairy’ based diet. With meat and dairy being the leading contributor to greenhouse (GHG) emissions, reducing animal based foods and choosing a wide range of plant foods can be benefcial to the planet and our health. "

According to the United Nations

"Worldwide, agriculture accounts for 70% of all water consumption, compared to 20% for industry and 10% for domestic use."

According to the Stockholm International Water Institute:

“It requires 15,500 litres of water to produce 1 kg/2.2 lbs of beef,  This can be contrasted to 180 litres for 1 kg/2.2 lbs of tomatoes and 250 litres for 1 kg/2.2 lbs of potatoes. The virtual water we eat (i.e. the water needed to produce the crops on our plates) constitutes the majority of all water we use, and can be as large as 4000 litres of water/capita/day. If more consumers changed to less water intense diets and chose for example pulses, vegetables and grains over meat, a lot of water could be saved."

Meat and Dairy Based Diets and Land and Crop Use and Deforestation

According to a very important resource, the report Livestock's Long Shadow by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, possibly one of the most important reports done to date to warn against the repercussions of our current animal agriculture system:

“Livestock production accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land and 30 percent of the land surface of the planet."

That means 70% of all agricultural land is not being used to grow crops we can eat (and considering the astounding number of people on this planet struggling with hunger and food insecurity I think this is important to think about), instead that 70% of agricultural land (meaning land where crops can be grown) is being used to grow food for animals which will then be killed to feed only a few.

Another issue I haven't mentioned yet is that not only does deforestation occur, but guess where in the planet these massive areas for growing grain and also as pasture for animals are being deforested, mainly, The Amazon rainforest.

I still remember the class I had in elementary school where we were taught that the Amazon was one of the world's most precious resources, the lungs of our planet my teacher called it, and since my home country of Venezuela shares part of the Amazon rainforest, this was and still is a great source of pride for us. We were told about the dangers of this massive deforestation in this very special part of our world, and not once were we told or is it said anywhere, that the food our food eats is the reason behind it.

Not only that, but countless wild animals and plant species are being destroyed for this purpose, since these areas are of course natural habitats to thousands of species. This has led to species endangerment, species extinction along all the other issues I've mentioned.

According to the Vegan Society:

"The vast amount of grain feed required for meat production is a significant contributor to deforestation, habitat loss and species extinction. In Brazil alone, the equivalent of 5.6 million acres of land is used to grow soya beans for animals in Europe. This land contributes to developing world malnutrition by driving impoverished populations to grow cash crops for animal feed, rather than food for themselves."

These giant areas of the rainforest that are being cleared for livestock and livestock feed are also suffering a huge problem: soil degradation. What is soil degradation in a nutshell? It's the fact that both from erosion and degradation (animals walking over this land again and again), and especially from growing the same crop in the same area grown to feed animals, these lead to such poor conditions in the soil, that some areas have and will continue to become desert-like land, meaning, nothing will be able to grow from this land in the future. This is so dangerous. Farming 101 teaches you the importance of crop rotation, and even the fallow season, to ensure the protection of the soil. Something that simply isn't happening when it comes to food crops for animals. We could instead, grow food directly for humans incorporating crop rotation as most vegetable farming does, and skip the middle animal.

Do you see how all of this system uses resources and calories to feed one animal, which will then feed us with far fewer calories when compared to the calories the animal had to eat? It's not only a draining of our resources, but also in my opinion, inefficient. We can skip the animal, and go straight to the crops. Which by the way, would protect the soil more when planting a variety of crops for human consumption, and which would use a third of the land.

More on Meat and Dairy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions 

According to the United Nations report "Livestock's Long Shadow", in reference to climate change:

"The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than transport."

That means that our consumption of meat contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation industry which is astounding to me, since all the focus the media puts on this is recommendations to drive less, carpool, walk to work and in the case of water usage, take shorter showers. When in fact, all we had to do was look at our plate.

From that same report:

"Livestock are responsible for much larger shares of some gases with far higher potential to warm the atmosphere. The sector emits 37 percent of anthropogenic methane (with 23 times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2) most of that from enteric fermentation by ruminants.”

"It emits 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide (with 296 times the global warming potential GWP of CO2), the great majority from manure. Livestock are also responsible for almost two-thirds (64 percent) of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute significantly to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems."

I do believe there are very difficult issues pressing the world today that need direct attention and resolution now (especially when it comes to more urgent matters in the developing world, when it comes to war, to violence, to access to education, to reducing poverty, to improving healthcare and more issues regarding a reduction in human suffering that are urgent and important), and I know it’s hard to make changes based on future outcomes that feel so intangible, but if these numbers could change, as ripples due to personal habit changes you are already inspired to do, this is great news in my book. Knowing that there’s something in my hands, within my reach, even if I’m not perfect (and I’m not because I still drive a car, and water my lawn, and sometimes eat kiwis -no shade to kiwis, they’re just not a local crop here-), I am still doing so much more than I was before, and I have that power in my pocket, with the purchasing choices I make and the companies I support or don’t support, without having to wait for change to come from anywhere else but my own choices. I think, we can do our best to do as much as we can do, if we choose to do so.

Another problem is our fast growing population and the increasing demand for meat and dairy products:

According to the Vegan Society:

"The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts that by 2050 world meat production will have almost doubled, as the Western taste for meat, eggs and dairy products continues to grow.

This trend will continue to contribute to global warming, widespread pollution, deforestation, land degradation, water scarcity and species extinction. More animals mean more crops are needed to feed them: the planet cannot feed both increasing human and farmed animal populations, especially when there will be between 2-4 billion more human mouths to feed by 2050. "

We are just too many people, with a system that is not sustainable when there is another way, one that would free up thousands of acres of land that could be used to farm crops that could directly feed more people when we skip the animal in the middle.

Environmental Impact of Fishing

We will get deeper into the fishing industry when we talk about animals in an upcoming installment of this series, but fishing has become one of the biggest environmental hazards, affecting biodiversity, species extinction, coral reef destruction (especially in the fishing of shrimp, clams, and other smaller sea animals) which we'll talk more about in the next few episodes, the escape of farmed fish, affecting wild populations, the use of explosives and even poison for fishing in poor developing countries and much more.

According to Environmental

"In addition to removing an increasingly large number of fish from the ocean, many industrial fishing practices also destroy aquatic habitat. Dredging is a practice commonly used to harvest clams and employs a large metal scoop that drags along the seafloor to pick them up. The process also churns up sediments along the seafloor, causing them to become suspended in the water column, decreasing water quality. The practice can also dig up burrowing worms from the sediments. These animals are important because their burrows increase contact between sediments and the water. This returns nutrients to the water, where they are used by microorganisms in nutrient cycling. Without these burrowing animals, waters along the seafloor can become depleted of oxygen and uninhabitable."

I chose this as a very small example, to show you the impact a small alteration in biodiversity can have in the long run. Altering water quality, and creating dead zones would mean dangerous consequences to us down the line, as well as in the short run for populations in the developing world in coastal areas.

According to the UN report when referring to the livestock sector:

"It is probably the largest sectoral source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, (- that's an excessive accumulation of minerals in the water which leads to excessive plant and algae growth and creates an environment with very little oxygen that can produce loss of sealife-) “dead” zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, emergence of antibiotic resistance and many others. The major sources of pollution are from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops, and sediments from eroded pastures."

Are Plant-Based Farming and Vegan Diets Truly Better for the Environment?

One very comprehensive study by University of Oxford researchers published in the Journal Science in 2018 titled: “Reducing food's environmental impacts through producers and consumers” has been one of the most comprehensive studies to evaluate the impact of our food system on different environmental variables.  They gathered and analyzed data on the multiple environmental impacts of 38,000 farms producing 40 different products that represented 90% of global calorie consumption, around the world in a meta-analysis comparing various types of food production systems. The study included looking at greenhouse gas emissions, water use, loss of biodiversity, acidification, eutrophication, land use and more, showed that “impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes, providing new evidence for the importance of dietary change.”

This meta analysis study also stated that "The impacts of animal products can markedly exceed those of vegetable substitutes to such a degree that meat, aquaculture, eggs and dairy use approximately 83% of the world's farmland and contribute 56-58% of food's different emissions, despite providing only 37% of our protein and 18% of our calories”.

You’ll find the link to the study abstract here, but if you like to geek out into the science like me, the full article with specific statistics on each crop, can be found by registering in the site I’m providing or if your local library has access to scientific journals online, you can easily find it. The study also goes into areas and possible changes in farming practices that could be implemented to reduce environmental impact showing how there is so much space for improvement and a way to start shifting these numbers for the benefit of our environmental system and also the efficacy of production.

I could go on and on with statistics and resources, and I'll be adding further reading, including all the articles mentioned, as well as a book I recommend everyone read which is the book “This is Vegan Propaganda: and Other Lies the Meat Industry Tells You” by Ed Winters, with so many statistics, studies and recommendations that go into much more detail taking into account comparisons with eating locally, grazing in grass-fed farms and how even with these changes, the biggest impact comes with the reduction of animal consumption and the bigger the reduction, the better.

I think with this brief summary I’ve given you today, you get the picture, when we eat animals and animal derived products, our food needs food, our food needs water and land. Our food's food, needs water and land. It takes a lot of resources to raise just a few food sources for humans when we eat meat dairy and eggs, when we now know our health can thrive on a diet in which we go straight to the source. This of course doesn’t even take into account what to me is the biggest impact of all, and that is the effect of these farming practices on the lives of animals. We’ll talk about this in the next few installments in the series.

You might also like...

Our Program and Courses

Take a look

Don't miss our weekly goodies!

Our best FREE content straight to your inbox

Our Program and Courses


Membership Program

My Brownble

Online Membership Program

An online program with an ever-growing streaming library of vegan cooking classes, from easy vegan recipes to intermediate, support videos on going vegan and more.

100% Vegan | 450+ Videos | New Content Every Week

Learn More

Premium Courses

The Roadmap 

How to Go Vegan

An online course designed to teach you all you need to know when going vegan

180 Lessons | 40 Recipes | 7 Day Money Back Guarantee

Learn More

Vegan Cheese Recipes

An online course designed to teach you everything you need to know about how to make vegan cheese

42 Lessons | 19 Cheese Recipes | 7 Day Money Back Guarantee

Learn More

Free Courses

Tofu Mastery 

Learn How to Cook Tofu

A free course designed to teach you all the ins and outs of how to cook delicious tofu recipes

100 % Free | 15 Recipes | Lifetime Access

Learn More
Breakfast & Brunch Classics

Vegan Breakfast & Brunch Recipes

A free course filled with vegan breakfast ideas and recipes, including vegan pancakes, tofu scramble, how to make vegan sausages and more

100 % Free | 21 Recipes | Lifetime Access

Learn More


Brownble Super Bundle

Lifetime access to all our products at a reduced price

My Brownble | The Roadmap  | Melt | Tofu Mastery | Breakfast & Brunch Classics

Learn More