‘Changing Shopping Lists’ to Veganism Won’t Solve Systemic Climate Change
The mistaken notion that world-wide adoption of a vegan diet would be enough to stabilize the global climate traces back to a misreading of the numbers and a misunderstanding of how some of the world’s most vulnerable economies work, fossil-free campaigner Chris Saltmarsh and human rights lawyer Harpeet Kaur Paul contend in a recent post for Resilience.org.
“If everyone became vegan tomorrow, between 14.5 to 15.6% of anthropogenic (human-made) global greenhouse gas emissions would be wiped out. That is huge,” they acknowledge. But it’s far less than the potential many readers took away from a recent Oxford University study, reported in The Guardian, which “sensationally reported that meat and dairy accounted for 60% of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, without stating the proportion of global anthropogenic emissions attributable to agriculture specifically.”
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The difference matters because “changing your shopping list—no matter how radically—will not solve these systemic problems,” Saltmarsh and Kaur Paul argue. “[Former UK prime minister Margaret] Thatcher said ‘there is no society’. Individualist ‘solutions’ to climate change—like prioritizing veganism—support this myth. We need to restructure our economy away from fossil fuel reliance and improve livelihoods as we do it.”
Moreover, “prioritizing dietary solutions is not only insufficient, but problematic,” they add, since “imposing veganism on the majority world would hurt the rural poor.” One survey of 7,978 households in 24 countries across Latin America, Asia, and Africa “found that reliance on wild meat is highest among the poorest households, and fills a gap when other food sources are not available. Many traditional and Indigenous cultures surviving in relative harmony with nature have hunted meat sustainably long before the capitalist industrialization of agriculture. They’ve done so often with a profound respect for the animal and their role in the co-production of nature.”
So while changing individual diets on a mass scale would have some impact if it could be achieved, “the facts suggest that there are bigger and far more effective ways to make a difference,” the two authors conclude. Their list of better options includes fossil divestment campaigns and responsible reinvestment, organizing local co-ops to embrace municipal renewables, developing just transition policies through trade unions, and campaigning to persuade big financial institutions to drop their fossil investments.