My wish is that vegans would focus more on what they can do to mitigate the drivers of global warming
“Methane from dairy cattle digestive systems and carbon dioxide from road transportation have contributed the most.”   That was a key finding of the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) 2016 Greenhouse Gas Inventory which reported a near 20% increase in gross emissions since 1990.

Some took this as license to blame the first named polluter – dairy cattle – for climate change and to then conclude that veganism is one of the best things people can do for the environment.

Dairy farming is far from being one of the main contributors to global warming.

Tofu

And veganism is far from being one of the best things people can do for the environment.

There are valid reason to reduce our individual meat consumption.  Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions is one of them, but ensuring our health is a better reason.

And there are better things we can do to save the environment.

Flying less is one of them.  MfE’s data records a 151% increase for emissions from aviation compared to a 4% increase from enteric fermentation.

Driving less is another.  The increase in transport emissions since 1990 was six times that from enteric fermentation.

Other things that may have a greater impact include adopting an organic approach to agriculture.  Emissions from the management of agricultural soils, including the application of urea (1,365%) and Lime (42%) have increased significantly more than that from dairy cattle.

Then there are commercial activities to consider, for example conversion to grasslands (397%), other lands (195%) and harvested wood products (186%).

There are two more aspects that have a bigger impact on the drivers of global warming than eating meat has.

First, the CO2 in the grass that cows eat is not subtracted from the cows’ emissions. If it is good enough to calculate our carbon emissions on a net basis (after forestry subtractions), then it ought be good enough for agriculture to net out the carbon absorbed too.

Second, and more significantly, of our Agriculture sector emissions, somewhere up to 90% is exported.   That is, countries that consume our primary products do not have those emissions included in their carbon accounting.  We do and as a consequence, not only are we are wrecking our environment to feed other countries, we are having to pay for it when accounting for emissions.  This is the opposite of consumers accounting for emissions from fossil fuel use compared to producers.

Oh, one more thing. Methane emissions, along with nitrogen loading to pastures, from dairy and meat farming can readily be reduced if farmers concentrated manure in a herd home where it could be collected and treated.  That is an improbable development given the righteousness around animal welfare.

My wish is that vegans would focus more on what they can do to mitigate the drivers of global warming – driving less and flying less have the greatest impact.