Animal agriculture is arguably the single most environmentally destructive industry on Earth. Not only is animal agriculture responsible for more greenhouse gas pollution than the entire global transportation sector, but a growing number of researchers believe animal agriculture’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions to be in the range of 31-51%, not 18% as commonly cited. Environmental specialists with the International Finance Corporation, Jeff Anhang and Robert Goodland, for example, have calculated that animal agriculture is “conservatively” responsible for 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions once you account for farmed animal respiration and other underestimated, overlooked, and miscounted data. CO2 emissions from animal respiration, after all, are every bit as problematic as CO2 emissions from car tailpipes.
Even if you feel the 51%+ figure derived by Anhang and Goodland is excessive, it is still reasonable to estimate that animal agriculture is responsible for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. It is commonly accepted that agriculture is responsible for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and that animal agriculture is responsible for 80% of the agricultural sector’s total greenhouse gas emissions. When you pair this figure—16%—with the 15% of global greenhouse emissions estimated from deforestation for grazing animals and producing livestock feed, you arrive at the 31% figure. This figure is especially concerning since it is estimated that we can only emit 565 gigatons CO2 equivalent if we are to keep warming below 2° Celsius, the point at which climate change is projected to become unavoidably catastrophic. Even by the conservative 31% figure, we would exhaust our 565 gigaton CO2 equivalent budget in 28 years, even if we eliminated all fossil fuel use starting today.
Whether the true figure is 31%, 51%, or some other number, the reality is overwhelmingly clear: if we are to have any realistic chance of preventing catastrophic climate change, we must divest from animal agriculture as quickly as possible. We must embrace plant-based diets on a global scale. Despite the environmental imperative of veganism, the number of animals raised and killed for food is projected to swell from 70 billion to 120 billion animals by 2050 to keep pace with our growing appetite for animal products. There is no way to sustain the current system of industrial exploitation, let alone expand it by another 70%. If you care about securing a livable future all life on Earth, you must embrace a vegan lifestyle. Veganism is indeed an environmental imperative, and it endangers us all to not treat it as such.