• Bayaan Editorial

Veganism can’t save the earth

Can veganism solve the climate change crisis and who's really to blame for it?

Anna Abraham, Founding Editor

Illustration by Suryansh Deo Srivastava

Veganism, terminologically coined in 1944, has always had a heavy following, even before its coinage. What many initially believed to be a fad, has lasted and is here to stay. Veganism finds major attachment to animal rights issues and climate change. While veganism is indeed for the benefit of animals, the impact it has had on climate change is questionable.

The rise of veganism has created a large market for vegan products in the West. Ranging from almond milk, butter, chocolate, vegan meat, and cheese soy or maize-based variants, the options are endless. However, this increase in demand for vegan products has caused meat prices to experience a major drop. Since a vegan lifestyle can only be financially managed by the deep-pocketed, a huge section of the market, mainly the lower income group, has started consuming more meat. Additionally, the vegan wave has led to an increase in the demand for soybean. Soybean farming is a major contributor to deforestation in South America. Ever since Bolsanaro's government took over, deforestation has reached a new high in the Amazon. To contextualise, an area as large as the Hawaiian Island was deforested between August 2018 and July 2019 during Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency. With a growing demand for soybean vegan products, deforestation is only set to increase – stripping veganism of its green status.

Studies show producing almond milk takes 20 times the water that producing dairy milk would require.

Almond milk is another factor in the environmental debate. The market for almond milk grew by 250% between 2010 and 2015. Studies show producing almond milk takes 20 times the water that producing dairy milk would require. 80% of the world’s commercial almond milk comes from California. This high demand has created a method of monoculture in farming that makes ecosystems less resilient to plagues and soil depletion. This system of monocultures also destabilizes the diversity of the soil and causes it to lose its nutrients.

Veganism has succeeded in bringing to light animal cruelty in industries but has failed in seeing the effects this craze has had on local suppliers. For one, its effects on meat and dairy giants have been quite forgettable when compared to local suppliers. Small farmers and local suppliers are bound to bear the brunt of the diet change, and dairy and meat giants who suffer losses are more likely to roll back pay for low tiered workers to retain profits. If not a complete shift to veganism, a lot of the West has adopted eating not meat or lesser meat, with reports showing a 15% drop in meat consumption in the US. The problem with the meat industry and dairy industry, in a climate change sense, is almost exclusive to giants owing to their massive carbon emission contribution. Local suppliers of meat and dairy cannot be made to suffer for corporate crimes.

Globally, agriculture faces a lot of problems and soil regeneration has often been hailed as a solution to a multitude of agricultural problems. The culprits involved in disallowing soil regeneration are the same meat and dairy giants who feed cattle avermectins (anti-worm agents) in their food. Avermectins causes cattle dung to be a poor breeding ground for earthworms and other soil regeneration agents. Corporate meat and dairy do this to keep the place “clean”. They also don’t allow free animal grazing. Since local meat and dairy suppliers are unlikely to give feed avermectins to animals and are likely to allow free animal grazing, soil regeneration is possible. This soil regeneration is crucial for the growth of any product on the land. Putting local meat and dairy suppliers out of business is problematic for these reasons.

The rise in veganism has caused the shifting of blame from big oil and big corp to individuals. They are the entities to hold responsible.

This takes us to the corporate entities, the real criminals. Just 100 companies in the world are responsible for 70% of the pollution in the world. Of these, Saudi Aramco, Chevron, Gazprom, ExxonMobil, National Iranian Oil Co, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Coal India are the top 7 contributors. Going by nations responsible, the United States of America, China, India and Russia are the most pollutive nations in the world. The rise in veganism has caused the shifting of blame from big oil and big corp to individuals. They are the entities to hold responsible. In the past, ExxonMobil and other oil industries (even Big Tobacco) have been involved in spreading anti-climate change propaganda. ExxonMobil scientists warned the company of the climate change crisis at hand, way back in the 70s, a long time before the rest of the world had caught on. Instead of taking precautionary measures and ringing the climate change bell, they funded advertisements claiming climate change was not real and were quoting fake experts to hush climate activists. They even funded the victorious Bush presidential campaign and used his office to further their anti-climate change propaganda. It would not be too shocking to find out that the vegan wave is being furthered and used by the oil and energy industry to divert attention in the same manner.

Don’t let an old white man’s propaganda fool you into believing you’re the cause for climate change. Start pointing fingers, you’re not the ones to blame.

A phenomenon a vegan is likely to suffer from is the belief that their veganism is enough to save the Earth, de-guilting them in a sense. Slavoj Zizek speaks of this in “The Delusion of Green Capitalism” – wherein people find it easier to believe they are at fault and so the climate crisis is theirs to fix, but in reality, they are just pawns in a consumerist world and all they can do is watch as corporate entities ravage earthly resources and polish it up with the little mandatory CSR they must indulge in. When someone converts to veganism they believe they have done all they can to save the earth, and since, quite evidently, it has not been saved just as yet, they try to convert all their acquaintances into vegans too, all while big Corp sits back and makes money off of the very same veganism directly, and indirectly. Instead of pushing for veganism to save the climate, the idea of consumerism must be discarded. If we were producing as much as we needed and buying just what we needed, we would not be in this climatic mess. Similarly, companies should be severely scrutinised and punished for their part in the climate crisis and the propagation of consumerism in the apparently free market. Don’t let an old white man’s propaganda fool you into believing you’re the cause for climate change. Start pointing fingers, you’re not the ones to blame.


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Anna studies journalism and mass communication at St. Xavier's College, Mumbai. She is a public policy enthusiast and, tries to engage with activism and implement awareness through content creation. She is passionate about gender issues and climate activism. Her Instagram handle is @anna.abrhm.

Email: anna.abraham138@gmail.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anna-abraham-17078117b/