[This is part one of the changing the world in 5 easy steps series]

When I originally thought of this series and was brain storming with people, going vegan was something I always suggested people could do on a personal level that would have a global impact. This was skoffed at by pretty much everyone who had never looked into it on their own, the folks who had whole hearted agreed. That alone was enough reason for me to make the #1 topic on the list, not only because I think it’s a viable example, but I actually think it’s the most impactful thing on the list. The thing is most of the stuff I’m talking about will take something bad and make it good, but this actually goes to the source and cuts out the bad all together. I’ll explain why shortly and provide you with some extensive links for more research if you so choose.

Now before I get much further into this I want to make it clear that the only thing I’m talking about in this example is how what you eat impacts the world you live in and choices to eat more (or less) of some things can have global repercussions. I’m not talking about if veganism is good for you (it is) or healthier than a meat based diet (it is), animal rights, or if people who think you need to eat lots of dairy products to be healthy are just buying into a dairy industry’s marketing ploy (they are). However, since I know there are a lot of people reading this who think humans can’t survive without cheese burgers washed down with an icy glass of milk, I’ll provide some links at the end on that as well for anyone who wants to read up on it. But really, I don’t want to spend too much time on that in this post, if it’s a interesting enough topic I’ll write more about it later but for this “change the world” series those reasons don’t really play into it too much.

So back to the topic at hand: veganism and changing the world. One of the initial sparks of this idea came from people talking about the environment and global warming. A lot of people are very concerned about it, and in talking to many of them I gathered most of them had no idea how to make things better. They could write their congress person and voice support for one legislation or another, they could buy some carbon credits, they could buy a hybrid car – but what effect would all that even have? Would that letter they sent ever get read or make a difference? Do those carbon credits actually do anything, where the hell does that money end up getting spent? And just googling “Hybrid Car Carbon Footprint” will give you a mountain of arguments as to why those aren’t the miracle cure all everyone thought they were. So what could someone who really wants to make the world better by reducing their carbon and trying to slow global warming actually do? I always ask these people if they had looked at their diet. Most responded “why?” And that’s part of the problem.

Eating meat and dairy does two things – the first of which that it requires cows to be raised and milked before they are slaughtered and secondly it supports the meat and dairy industries. The second point is always a focal point for nay sayers who ask “well what if you have a farm and are raising your own… blah blah blah” and basically I think you should STFU with that argument. Very few people are doing that and people can always come up with a “what if” which negates the point – I’m talking actual in practice shit here and for the vast majority of the world if you are eating meat or dairy a good chunk of it is coming from factory farms – if not all of it. And factory farms are stupidly bad for the environment. Late last year Treehugger ran an article called ‘Meat-eating Warrants Same Scrutiny as Driving and Flying‘ which states:

…livestock contribute 18% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, even higher than the GHG emissions from transportation. As part of this figure they produce 37% of methane, which has more than 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. And if that weren’t enough to be concerned about, their manure emits nitrous oxide, 65% of world totals.

But folks like Treehugger aren’t the only ones noticing, The New York Times also ran a piece early last year called ‘Re-thinking the Meat Guzzler‘ which has even more to say about this:

Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

Both of those articles are well worth reading, additionally I’d suggest checking out ‘Vegans vs. VegetariansWhat kind of diet is best for the environment?‘ which was published by Slate and for bonus points Helium has one called ‘The effect of factory farming on the environment‘ – though admittedly the Helium piece less about raw info and more about making a point. My point of this is that one person cutting meat and dairy from their diet for an extended period of time reduces the demand for those products and thus reduces the production of them, which reduces the pollution and carbon being spit out by those industries. It’s quite simple math really.

Also worth noting is that it takes considerably more land and resources to produce a single pound of meat than it does a single pound of produce and you can feed a considerably larger number of people with a pound of produce than with a pound of meat. Put simply, raising livestock isn’t the best use of land and reallocating even a small percent of land being used to raise livestock for the production of produce could make a serious dent in world hunger. But that does mean a lot of Americans would need to cut down on their McDonalds intake which probably won’t happen because most of us like to put bumper stickers on our cars rah-rahing for one cause or another but don’t want to be expected to actually adjust our life styles for them. But every person who does makes a difference, something worth thinking about at least.

And if you’ve read this far and are looking for the other veganism links I promised, these are a good place to start:
Silly Vegan Myths | 10 meat and dairy myths debunked | Myths about vegetarianism

Next: Part 2: Ride A Bike