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Davis, California

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Save your diet, save the world

As consumers, moving to a plant-based diet will help ensure the long-term survival of the planet

Climate change is still a fundamental crisis facing our world today. It may not seem as immediately urgent as COVID-19, but it is every bit as dangerous, with irreversible effects. Wildfire seasons are months longer, massive storm surge chances have increased by 200% and Greenland lost an estimated 600 billion tons of ice in 2019 alone. But one of the main ways consumers can course correct the devastating effects of climate change is to change lifestyle and diet. 

Agriculture is having a field day when it comes to methane and greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change in our atmosphere. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recorded contribution of emissions from agriculture — around 9% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions — are far lower than the number estimated by the U.N. 

Agriculture is also one of the few things that consumers have control over. What foods we eat is something we can control for cheap. Controlling the efficiency of our energy, however, is much harder and more expensive — take solar panels, for example. Yes, we can carpool and take public transportation, but to really make a significant and lasting change we need to consistently reduce our carbon footprints.

Since 1988, just 100 companies make up 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Carbon Majors Report. These actors should be responsible for most of the heavy lifting to combat climate change, but it doesn’t mean we should just sit back and expect them to. We, the consumers, are the ones who buy products from these companies. Sure, these companies lobby and fill the pockets of politicians to get tax breaks and lax environmental regulations, but at the end of the day, we buy their products all the same.

In the past, our choices may have been limited to just their products, but we now have more options than ever to vote with our wallets and buy elsewhere. Money is the only thing that talks in our current system. If these companies feel obligated to maximize their profit in the short term, then we have to make fossil fuels and damaging practices to the environment seemingly impossible. We need to apply every pressure we can on these companies.

The responsibility of the future of our planet depends on us. This problem may not be entirely our fault, but it is too late for us to use that as an excuse to do nothing. If we want to ensure the long-term survival of the planet and ourselves, we need to change the way we live –– right now. If we all do something, no matter how big or small, we can reverse course. 

The vast majority of meat we eat in the U.S. has been raised and killed under cruelty and suffering that is nothing less than speciesism, which assumes human superiority over other species. Many factory farms provide the exact conditions under which a zoonotic pathogen like COVID-19 can originate and spread to humans. And we are doing all this at a scope and rate that is larger and quicker than ever before. 

Why do we want to kill and milk animals — is it because it tastes good? Maybe that argument is defensible on a personal level, but doing so at a scale that damages the long-term survival of our species isn’t worth the taste of meat. 

The average American eats 218 pounds of meat every year. If we cut that number down by adhering to a global diet, then we could put a dent in global emissions faster than we think. Researchers have found that a worldwide shift to a plant-based diet is necessary to keep climate change under the expected 2 degrees Celsius increase over the next 12 years. Consumers in the U.S. need to cut their beef consumption by 90% and their milk consumption by 60% to accomplish this. 

Yes, I know vegans can be obnoxious sometimes. But the energy wasted on poking fun at vegans undermines the gravity of the reasoning behind why many vegans choose that diet. 

I’m sorry, but I’ve tasted some pretty great Impossible and Beyond meat that rivals the best burger — your craving for meat is overblown. Condescension shouldn’t be tolerated anywhere, to be clear, but the objective of veganism and plant-based diets should be the most recognizable aspect of such lifestyles. Trying to preserve our planet and limit the damages being done to it by harmful industries should not be treated as a joke. 

If we were all part-time meat and dairy consumers, the world would be a much better place. If we all reduced the amount that our consumption damages the environment we would be far better off for it. Plant-based diets are the diets of the future –– that is, if we want a future that is survivable. 

I never thought I could give up cheese or chicken before transitioning to a vegan diet, but it was far easier than I anticipated. I’m not asking anyone to completely remove meat from their diet, but I am asking that we all inform ourselves as to how what we consume affects us (and those around us) in the long term. Information is power, and we, as consumers, can weild it. Cutting back on meat and contributions to fossil fuel industries will ensure a survivable future for us all.

Written by: Calvin Coffee — cscoffee@ucdavis.edu 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual columnists belong to the columnists alone and do not necessarily indicate the views and opinions held by The California Aggie.


  1. Great article! I couldn’t agree more with the noticeable impact on our planet and the future sustainability issue we are all facing. In addition, on a personal note, I switched my diet to plant base about 18 months ago. I have experienced some major health benefits such as reduction in blood pressure, cholesterol, sugar, weight, and overall higher energy level. These are all good reasons to take action and reduce meat and dairy products. Thanks again for the great article.
    Gilad Salamander, CEO e-clincher


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