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Can veganism really save the planet?

New research suggests that, despite popular belief, a plant-based diet embraced by the masses is not a silver bullet to our current climate crisis.

Last year, animal rights group Mercy for Animals debuted For Naturea hard-hitting short film conceptualized and scripted by Greta Thunberg.

Filled with images of environmental destruction, it directly links humanity’s exploitation of animals to the worsening climate crisis.

“When we think of the bad guys in the climate crisis, we imagine fossil fuel companies, but the agriculture industry contributes about a quarter of our total emissions,” says Greta, adding that 83% of the world’s land needed to produce meat and dairy products are used to feed livestock.

This equates to an area the size of North and South America combined.

Not only that, but according to Greta, “every year we kill over 60 billion animals not counting fish, the number of which is so large that we only measure their lives by weight.”

Highlighting the urgent need for systemic change that pushes to switch to plant-based diets – which “would save us up to a billion tonnes of CO2 per year and allow us to feed ourselves on 76% less land” – Thunberg’s video succeeded in influencing the zeitgeist.

And, since then, many (including myself) have viewed veganism as a magic bullet in the face of climate change and the impending catastrophe it brings.

For good reason too, given that in 2018, long before For NatureFor its debut, researchers at the University of Oxford published a study claiming that cutting meat and dairy from our diets could reduce our individual carbon footprint by up to 73%.

This figure continues to surface in the media, in Netflix documentaries, in ads from companies selling plant-based products, and on the social media pages of vegan activists today, with few in-depth questions.

So far, that is.

“When the documentary Cowspiracy came out and said 51% of the emissions are from cattle, I knew that wasn’t true. I knew the official global figure was 14.5%, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. And even that number is exaggerated,” says Jayne Buxton, author of The Great Herbal Scama book exploring the progressive conditioning of public thought processes to assume that veganism equates to optimal planetary health.

In Buxton’s view, swapping steak for seitan won’t save the planet, and misinformation about the environmental impact of eating meat and the overstated benefits of eating plants does more harm than good.