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Is Veganism the best way to reduce carbon emissions?

What the science says...

While veganism has the potential to reduce individual and global GHG emissions, it is just one of many individual actions that can reduce GHG emissions.

Climate Myth...

Veganism is the best way to reduce carbon emissions

"eating vegan foods rather than animal-based ones is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint." [PETA]

Vegan activism and its environmental aspects

While the subjects of animal welfare and animal consumption have a long history in human societies, vegan diets (that avoid the consumption of animal products as much as possible) have been an increasingly present subject in the public discourse over the last two decades, represented by a surge in the interest in veganism across the world. Vegan activism, the activity of advocating for people to adopt a vegan diet, have also been on the rise. Hence, many books, movies, and media campaigns have been created since the year 2000 with the purpose of focusing the attention of the public on animal welfare and the benefits of vegan diets.

Vegan activists have presented compelling arguments to justify the adoption of vegan diets from an environmental point of view since the publication of several reports and studies, such as the 2010 UN report called “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production”. This report, among others, argued that “Animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives”. Such conclusions have motivated vegan activists to focus on presenting vegan diets as a tool to reduce humanity’s impacts on the environment, linking the ethics of animal welfare to the preservation of ecosystems in the process.

Figure 1

Figure 1 : Estimated impacts of agriculture on GHG emissions, Land Use, Freshwater Use, Eutrophication and Biodiversity by Poore & Nemececk (2018). Figure by Our World in Data.  (click for larger image)

However, as for any form of activism, communication from vegan activists can be subject to bias and inconsistencies, in order to push a particular message. This has been crystalized in the controversy surrounding the movie “Cowspiracy”, a 2014 documentary film which denounces the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. While the documentary tries to justify all of its main arguments with extracts of scientific sources or opinions of researchers, it has been criticized for putting forward the idea that animal agriculture is responsible for the majority of global Greenhouse Gas (GHGs) emissions, by focusing on a number provided by a report from the Worldwatch Institute that was not peer-reviewed, and by ignoring the larger consensus on the impact of animal agriculture (Figure 1). 

Still, vegan activist organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have echoed a similar point of view by stating on their website that “eating vegan foods rather than animal-based ones is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint”. However, while the scientific consensus seems to indicate that a vegan diet could be a powerful lever to reduce individual GHG emissions, they might not necessarily be the best option in terms of their mitigation potential when compared to other actions that we can take.

The current consensus about the GHG emissions of vegan diets

The environmental impacts of vegan diets have been studied in many different articles since the year 2000, resulting in meta-analyses and reports that summarize existing results. These have depicted a growing consensus as to how animal agriculture impacts the environment, how much this impact can be mitigated by producers of animal products, and how much it can be reduced by changes in the consumption of animal products (as with vegetarian or vegan diets).

Existing studies often use a “life-cycle analysis” (LCA) approach when comparing the impacts of the production and consumption of different food products. This approach takes into account all of the steps and resources necessary to create the product, but also to dispose of it. Hence, when a number of GHG emissions is obtained for many food products, theoretical diets can be formulated and compared to try and estimate their potential to mitigate GHG emissions.

Concerning the GHGs emissions linked to animal agriculture, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN first estimated them to be of 18% in their report “Livestock’s long shadow”. Another estimation from a more recent report of the FAO suggest the number of 14.5%; however, the FAO states that the first report is “based on a much more detailed analysis and improved data set", and that “the two figures cannot be accurately compared, as reference periods and sources differ”.

Meanwhile, a meta-analysis from Clark & Tilman (2017) compared environmental indicators across a wide range of different food types, including GHGs emissions. Their results show that “for all indicators examined, ruminant meat (beef, goat and lamb/mutton) had impacts 20–100 times those of plants while milk, eggs, pork, poultry, and seafood had impacts 2–25 times higher than plants per kilocalorie of food produced”. A systematic review by Clune, Crossin and Verghese (Clune et al. 2017) echoed those results, stating that “Grains, fruit and vegetables had the lowest impact [in GHGs emissions], with meat from ruminants having the highest impact”. The same conclusion was stated in the article of Sandstrom et al. 2018 at the scale of the European Union, which reads “our results show existing differences between the dietary emissions of EU countries and that these are mostly related to the quantity of animal products consumed. Therefore, consuming less animal products, particularly beef, is an effective way of reducing dietary emissions”. When looking at the actual warming of the earth caused by animal agriculture, a modelling study by Reisinger & Clark (2018) found that 23% of the warming caused by all anthropogenic sources in 2010 was due to animal agriculture, adding that this represented a “lower bound” estimation.

Another meta-analysis by Poore & Nemecek (2018) published in the journal “Science” tried to expand the scope of previous studies, looking beyond a small number of products or predominantly Western European producers, and by correcting existing differences in methodology between LCAs. The authors also tried to estimate how the environmental impacts of food could be mitigated by producers, or by consumers. As a result, the article states that our current food supply chain is responsible for 26% of GHGs emissions, and that “moving from current diets to a diet that excludes animal products has transformative potential, reducing [...] food’s GHG emissions by 49%”. In an interview, Joseph Poore (the main author) later stated thata vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use”.

The conclusion of Joseph Poore have been echoed in return by a recent study from Kim et al. (2019), that states “a theoretical shift to vegan diets reduced per capita diet-related GHG footprints by an average of 70%, relative to the baseline”, and that “vegan diets had the lowest per capita GHG footprints in 97% of study countries”. Yet, the biggest summary of the question might come from the IPCC’s special report titled “Climate change and land”, in which the authors summarized demand-side mitigation opportunities from different diets. The vegan diet was ranked first, with a mitigation potential of around 8 Giga-tons of CO2 equivalents per year globally (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2: Mitigation potential of different diets summarized by the IPCC in their 2019 report titled “Climate change and land”.  (click for larger image)

Hence, the expert consensus now seems to have solidified on the idea that animal agriculture represents an important part of global GHGs emissions by human societies; that the production of animal products is, in turn, responsible for an important part of these emissions; and that vegan diets could therefore be a powerful mitigation tool to lower these emissions.

Why would vegan diets be better for the environment than other diets?

The consequences of a vegan diet on GHG emissions has been presented by Joseph Poore in his interview as the following : “converting grass into [meat] is like converting coal to energy. It comes with an immense cost in emissions”. When expressed that way, it becomes relatively easy to understand why vegan diets can make such a difference : in order to eat animal products, one has to give energy for animals to be born and to grow big enough, before killing them or harvesting their secretions (milk, eggs, etc.). Most of this energy, taking the form of food, water, shelter, or others can be lost through the basic metabolism of the farmed animals, and thus not become food. This is encapsulated in the notion of “ecological efficiency”, which represents the efficiency with which energy is transferred from one trophic level in a food chain (e.g. primary producers, herbivores, predators, etc.) to another. 

Ecological efficiency differs enormously when we compare animal products and plant-based products. This is due to the fact that while animal products require energy to be first given to plants, and then plants to animals (as farmed animals are mostly herbivores), plant-based products ignore this step, which avoids the huge losses due to the low ecological efficiency in the transfer from plants to farmed animals. As an example, the most efficient farmed animal calorie wise - chicken - has a ratio of edible kilocalories from kilocalories required for cultivation of 18.1%, as stated by Eshel & Martin (2006). This means that 18% of the energy given by humans to farm chickens is transformed into energy available for humans. Meanwhile, soy (one of the most protein-rich plants) has a ratio of 415%, meaning that soy gives back 4 times the energy that humans require to cultivate it (as it harvests the sun’s energy via photosynthesis). Hence, it becomes much more efficient to eat from a diet at lower trophic levels.

The impact of this difference is so strong that several articles have pointed out that it outweighs the impact of food waste (which represents around 30% of all food produced) and of the transportation of food. Indeed, an article by Shepon et al. (2018) stated that “favoring plant-based diets over less efficient animal-based ones can potentially feed more humans than complete elimination of conventional food losses'', and that “this holds even for the most efficient livestock categories, eggs and poultry”. Meanwhile, meta-analysis of LCA studies showed that transportation of foods products represented only a small part of the GHG emissions associated to them in Europe (Sandström et al. 2018) and in the USA (Weber & Matthews 2008) (Figure 3). This is echoed by the article of Whyne & Nicholas (2017), which showed that a local-food diet had much less effects on individual GHGs emissions than a plant-based diet.

Figure 3

Figure 3: Graph showing the share of GHG emissions represented by the different steps in the life of a food product, from production to waste management. Figure by the I4CE.  (click for larger image)

Despite all of this, it is important to point out that new discoveries or new tools taking more environmental aspects of food into account might change the existing consensus on the impacts of vegan diets. In particular, GHGs emissions related to the excrements, burps of farts of farmed animals are often taken into account as they emit methane, which is a greenhouse gas with a potent effect. In addition, discussion is still taking place as to how the effect of methane should be translated into “CO2-equivalent” measures, as methane degrades relatively quickly in the atmosphere by transforming into CO2 or water vapor, making it difficult to represent its effects on the long term (Allen et al. 2018).

Existing studies have also shown that demand-side mitigation (reduction of GHGs emissions by the producers of animal products) is possible, by feeding specific food to farmed animals in order to reduce their direct emissions via burps, farts or excrements (Roque et al. 2019, Li 2018), or by changing management practices to increase the amount of carbon stocked in the soils of pastures or croplands. However, the current consensus seems to indicate that those mitigation opportunities by producers (e.g. changing how we produce food) are limited and always lower than the mitigation opportunities by consumers (e.g. changing what food we consume), as pointed out by Poore & Nemecek (2018). For example, Clark & Tilman (2017) andHayek & Garret (2018) both suggest that extensive management practices (e.g. “Grass-fed beef”) might increase the environmental impacts of animal agriculture rather than decrease them. In addition, recent research summarized in a recent report from the Food Climate Research Network or in articles such as Godde et al. (2020) indicates that sequestration of carbon in soils by grazing systems is limited in time, easily reversible, and always outweighed by the GHGs emissions due to those systems. In addition, authors such as Hayek & Miller (2021) suggest that current emissions from farm animals might be under-estimated (by around 20%).

Ranking individual solutions to reduce GHGs emissions

While vegan diets have the potential to reduce the GHGs emissions and environmental impacts at the individual level, they might not be the best thing an individual can do to reduce their own emissions, as stated by some vegan activists groups. This can be shown by the multiple recent studies that compared the impact of several individual behaviours and options (such as living car-free, avoiding plane travel, having one fewer child, and so on) on individual GHG emissions, ostensibly “ranking” them as solutions to reduce GHG emissions. 

For example, in the article “The climate mitigation gap” (Wynes & Nicholas 2017) the authors used several sources to rank the impacts of several individual behaviors on individual GHGs emissions, comparing them to what is advised in textbooks used by students in Canada. They found that switching to a plant-based diet was in their “high-impact” category, with a reduction of 0.3 to 1.6 tons of CO2 equivalent per year and per person (tCO2 eq/ca/y). However, having one fewer child (23.7-117.7 tCO2 eq/ca/y), living car-free (1-5.3 tCO2 eq/ca/y) or avoiding a single transatlantic flight each year (0.7-2.8 tCO2 eq/ca/y) were all more effective to reduce individual GHGs emissions. Another article from the same authors published a year later (Wynes & Nicholas 2018) echoed the same conclusion, estimating mean annual reductions of “571 kgCO2e per vehicle driver for reduced vehicle use, 51 kgCO2e per individual for reduced meat consumption, and 149 kgCO2e per household for reduced energy use”.

Figure 4

Figure 4 : Graph from Ivanova et al. (2020) showing the mitigation of CO2 emissions of 60 different consumption options. (click for larger image)

The conclusion of the article of Wynes and Nicholas is however nuanced by the study of Lacroix (2018), where she found out that “eating fewer animal products” was the most effective change that a European or North-american household could do to reduce their GHGs emissions among six others. Her results (expressed as percentages of reduction of the CO2 equivalents emissions for one household) show that a vegan diet reduced emissions by 22%, while switching to a more effective car (the second best option) could reduce up to 9% of emissions. Another study from van de Ven et al.(2018), comes to the same conclusion as Lacroix, showing that a vegan diet was the best possible option among food, housing or mobility by reducing the emissions of CO2 equivalents by 8.2%.s. However, both of these studies did not take into account the same behavior/changes as the ones from Wynes and Nicholas.

Yet another article from Vita et al. (2019) observed that the adoption of a vegan diet had the third best mitigation potential in GHGs emissions (13.9% of individual CO2 eq emissions) amongst the 37 different scenarios that they considered, and that concerned clothing, construction, food, transports, services and housing needs. The best option according to their study was to use only a bike or to walk as means to travel, with a reduction of 26% of individual CO2 eq emissions. . Finally, a more recent topical review by Ivanova et al. (2020) echoed the results of the 2017 article by Whyne and Nicolas. In their results, the adoption of a vegan diet was ranked as the 7th best option to reduce individual GHGs emissions out of 60 different options, with a median reduction of 0.9 tCO2 eq/ca/y among the studies that they selected. This was outranked by living car free (2 tCO2 eq/ca/y) or avoiding a single plane travel per year (1.9 tCO2 eq/ca/y) (Figure 4).


The current scientific consensus seems to be that vegan diets represent one of the best ways to reduce GHGs emissions, globally, and on the individual level. In return, this makes the adoption of such a diet - or the reduction in the consumption of animal products more generally - an important tool to achieve climate goals, as noted by the UN, the IPCC, and authors such as Hedenus et al. (2014).

However, going vegan is just one of many options to reduce individual GHGs emissions, including having one fewer child, avoidance of plane travel, or reduction in day-to-day transportation by car. However, it could be argued that it is much simpler to change your diet than to avoid car or plane transportation altogether, or to avoid having a child.

This does not prevent anybody from adopting a vegan diet, which can also be done for ethical reasons or health reasons, as it is now evident that the adaptation of a vegan diet leads to a positive impact on the environment - and not just on GHGs emissions. The current scientific consensus seems to indicate that animal products, wherever produced in “intensive” or “extensive” production schemes, have very important impacts of land use, eutrophisation, freshwater use, and biodiversity. To conclude, we refer interested readers to the work of Kortetmäki & Oksanen (2020) that explored the validity of the environmental argument for veganism as a logic proposition, which led them to propose a reformulated version different from the ones that are currently proposed by most vegan activists.

Note: The current version of this rebuttal is basically a complete rewrite of the earlier text and happened because user Klemet offered to work on this task (see comments from February 2021). This new version was reviewed by two experts who provided helpful comments in the course of the rewrite.

Last updated on 2 February 2022 by Guest Author. View Archives

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Argument Feedback

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Comments 1 to 19:

  1. Hi all, I appreciate when people take time to debunk climate hoax, however I think this particular article is misleading, to say the least, and need major updates. It is both in the name of the truth in science, especially related to climate change, and the credibility of your page that I’m writing this very comprehensive exhaustive feedback on the many flaws I’ve identified.

    We know that land use and food production are major actors in climate change. The argument for veganism from an environmental perspective is oftenly that animal agriculture is a big contributor to climate change and shifting toward a plant based diet is better for the environment. Most people would agree that Veganism isn't the single best solution to climate change, and that -for instance- collective suicide might probably be better, as well as a totalitarian regime imposing a zero carbon lifestyle. From an individual perspective, a non vegan eating a single slice of pork ham a year but living car and plane free is probably doing better for the environment than a vegan doing a Bali - New-York plane round trip every year. With these arguments in mind, “veganism isn’t the best way to reduce carbon footprint” is a no brainer. That being said, it is true that some animal right activists overestimate the impact that veganism can have so I understand why you wish to clarify to them that it is not as black and white as they wish it to be. However globally the impact of animal agriculture is hugely underestimated (see for instance and by trying to debunk a very marginal argument (‘veganism is the single best way to reduce carbon footprint’), you end up downplaying the power that one have by shifting to a plant-based or even vegan diet. This kind of attitude might actually increase the total carbon footprint, or at least minimize the carbon mitigation of people’s action by discarding a sector on which people can have a huge impact which is widely unknown from the general public.

    First, the livestock sector accounts for 65% of the food sector GHGE while only providing 18% of the world's calories. And while most of the food fed to animal is non-edible (in dry weight), meat production is still globally inefficient (it takes about 3kg of edible dry plant to produce 1kg of meat Because the livestock sector is about 15% of all anthropogenic emissions as calculated from many LCA, notably by the FAO (, it is a huge source of potential mitigations.

    To get a first idea of what are the order of magnitude we’re talking about, governmental official French figures are as follows : An average omnivorous diet emits 2,8 tons of equivalent CO2 per year, about half of which is coming from animal products (meat, dairy and eggs). A diet with ruminant at every meal emits 6 tons of CO2 per year. A vegan diet can emit as low as 0.6 tons and is the least carbon intensive diet. To achieve Paris agreement on climate change we need an individual carbon footprint of 2 tons or less of CO2 per person per year, which is impossible to achieve on a cheese or meat-based diet. [1]. A vegan meal is, on average 0.8kg of CO2 [2], a egg-based meal is on average 2kg of CO2 [3], a cheese/pork/chicken based-meal is 5.4kg of CO2 [4] and a ruminant based meal is 25.2kg of CO2 [5]. According to the french national agency for climate transition, a vegan meal emits 2.5 to 31.5 times less CO2eq than any other meal and there is no reason that this figure should be much different in other countries. If anything, French carbon impact of animal products -especially ruminant- should be lower than in other countries such as Brazil. These kinds of figures appear nowhere in your article while they could provide useful insight to readers as to what are the best food sources to fight climate change.

    “Although veganism does have the potential to reduce GHG emissions associated with diet, it is important to consider other sectors that are also part of the problem.” → One might ask why we should consider other sectors when it is this one we are debating. This kind of “whataboutism” argument can be used to discard every policy on reducing carbon footprint.

    Insisting on what people perceive (to be feasible, to be environmentally friendly, etc.) instead of what is factually positive for the environment is misleading. If you claim to answer the complex question of limiting the worst for the climate you cannot rely on people’s opinion. I know just as much as you that major societal and individual change are required to achieve climate goals and prevent the worst scenario. Claiming that veganism isn’t good because some people really want to eat meat as a main argument is unbelievable on a website such as yours and by trying to debunk such a minor myth in our society (PETA's claim), you perpetuate more dangerous myths (such that grass fed ruminants are carbon friendly). Because the myth that does currently more damage is that local, organic, grass fed animal are better for the environment you should reverse the debunking and show that actually, intensive exported plant food are way more carbon friendly (and that “organic” isn’t really doing much, except increasing the demand for land by decreasing the productivity)

    When you’re pointing at non-vegan related issues such as food waste to dismiss the major changes that could be brought, you’re obscuring the debate further. When we talk about change, we have to think about counterfactual scenarios: the question is not ‘is veganism with a lot of fruit imported by plane wasted good?’ but ‘is veganism good, all things else being equal ?’. Otherwise it might sound like a strawman.

    On the Kim et al. (2019) paper, I don’t know how you manage to distort the results that much in the process of trying to make veganism look bad. The paper is clear: the vegan diet is the less carbon intensive in all country studied (97% to be correct), only the low-food-chain diet is slightly above, but not statistically significantly different, from vegan diet*. The argument you make about vegetarianism has not his place here if you want to discuss Veganism. What the paper is saying is that it’s better to be ⅔ vegan than 100% vegetarian because dairy products have a massive impact so it doesn’t compensate for the ⅓ of omnivorism remaining. Therefore, your conclusion “there are arguments that a flexitarian diet with moderate amounts of meat is better than a vegetarian diet that cuts out meat completely, showing that stopping meat intake completely does not necessarily reduce dietary GHG emissions and cannot be assumed to do so in a vegan diet.” is a fallacious non-sequitur : vegan diet is better than both flexitarian and vegetarian diet (as shown by the very study you’re citing) because it eliminate both meat AND dairy which both are very carbon intensive. I can’t believe you haven’t seen that and I really wish I was able to assume you’ve made an honest mistake but I barely can. Such mistakes, always in the disadvantage of veganism, and repeated, seriously undermine the ideological neutrality of the author on these questions.
    (*Please note that the low food chain diet is a diet where 90% of animal proteins are replaced with pulses, so we could say it’s a 90% vegan diet. That’s why it’s not statistically significantly different from vegan diet).

    The vegan diet doesn’t lead to a higher consumption of fruit: because vegan doesn’t eat meat, cheese and eggs which are the main source of protein, fat and calories, we should expect vegan to eat protein and fat sources instead such as legumes, beans and nuts or oil. Increasing fruit consumption is within the nutritional guidelines of every country which have one. For these reasons, the whole paragraph appears as a non-sequitur. At best, the argument is very weak and it is on you to show that the eventual additional portion of fruit due to veganism (and not due to healthier lifestyle as vegans also usually have healthier lifestyle, but uniquely due to veganism, which its very existence is one of your unproven assumption) will increase carbon emission so much that it will cancel out the 8Gigaton of CO2 mitigation from quitting animal agriculture. I think because of the assumption it relies on, both the waste and plane-transported food fruits are not a valid argument

    Speaking about the food waste, which is another issue a priori unrelated to and independent from veganism, there’s a paper titled “The opportunity cost of animal based diets exceeds all food losses” []. The title is pretty straightforward: in the US, after adjusting for various nutrient density, the adoption of a vegan diet could feed 300 millions more people while the total elimination of all waste along the whole food production line (which is impossible) could only feed 100 millions more people. Once again, just like the “Vegetarian vs. vegan” paragraph, I don’t understand how you can try to use an unrelated issue to make veganism look bad but still fail.

    As a reminder, the biggest meta-study on food impact shows that only 0.16% of the food on the planet is transported by plane []. It is questionable to mention it only here, when talking about veganism. The main impact of the vast majority of food is on-farm emission, as shown by the same meta-study on 38000 farm in 119 countries [] eating 100% local would only reduce emission by 5-10% whereas eating vegan can divide by several time the carbon footprint of diet.

    The argument of carbon sequestration by grazing livestock, a favorite of the industry, have been proven wrong for a long time, as the methane and nitrous oxide emission from ruminant far exceed the best sequestration possible. See for instance this review of the literature (and note the discrepancy between figure from the academic domain and claim from outsider unpublished in journal such as Savory) []. Also, wild ruminants could do the same job and it would be vegan, as grazing pasture doesn’t require either killing nor exploiting them. Many wild ruminants still exist, preceded humanity and very likely will still exist if humanity disappears.

    You might want to update the carbon impact of a vegan diet because Scarborough and Berners-Lee are not really in agreement with current research. Current research from Poore and Nemecek [], of the BMJ paper by Springmann [] show that a vegan diet emits several times less (>50% less) CO2 than conventional diet. The official French figure show that a vegan diet can emit 4 times less CO2 than the current diet. You might as well check out the IPCC report on land use showing that a vegan diet could prevent the emission of 8 Gigaton of equivalent CO2 per year, showing a massive reduction (roughly 20% of all current anthropogenic emission A recent Science paper also showed that shifting toward a plant-based diet (EAT Lancet which is about 70% less white meat and 95% less red meat than current French diet) and other food change are mandatory to reach climate agreement []. The Kim paper of 2019 you’ve cited above shows a global reduction of 70% GHGE (why did you choose to not mention it ?). In the light of these various paper, it seems strange that you choose to show only to moderate-impact paper.

    The latest Lancet Countdown report shows that animal agriculture emits about 55% of the carbon footprint of food production (including the feed) while providing only 18% of the world's calories. What is really shocking to me is that 95% of the animal farming carbon footprint comes from ruminants which represent a tiny minority of the number of animals killed and meat consumed. How can you suggest that eating lamb or beef is sustainable in any way ? For an outsider it looks like you’ve internalized the rhetorics of the industry and are really detached from the reality of the current research. []

    The occurrence of cowspiracy appears as you have something against this movie and seems to alter your neutrality. There are ways to criticize some element of cowspiracy (such as the Goodland paper and the 51% figure) without making such a poor quality argument against veganism as a whole.

    I would like to add few points that you have eluded about the impact a vegan diet can have: it can do much more to the planet than just ‘reducing GHG emissions associated with diet’. It can, for instance, lower potential health crises by reducing zoonotic emergence risk (70% of new diseases are zoonotic Land which are not used could be left to the wild, and with the natural reforestation of pasture we could sequester up to 700 Gigatons of CO2, making the climate goal of +1.5°C by 2100 feasible at 66% as shown by this Nature Sustainability article of 2020 []. In countries where the meat consumption is high, it could drastically reduce the disease burden and total mortality, according to this BMJ paper, it could reduce total mortality of several tenth of % []. Note that this article also explored the carbon impact and showed a vegan diet emit globally 80% less CO2 than what we are currently doing (and is of course the least carbon intensive of all diet studied)

    I hope I have achieved to make you realise how this page may sound to an outsider who knows the figure, and I have provided you with many up-to-date research sources.

    Please make an impartial page to properly inform about the climate impact of food and the huge potential of plant based, vegetarian but especially vegan diet to mitigate climate crisis. As you’re part of the Pro-Truth Pledge i’m sure you will take this matter seriously. I would be more than happy to help to write something about it if you want, or to answer any of your questions.

    Thank you for your considerations,

  2. Guilhem...

    Perhaps you need to widen your scope.

    Livestock only accounts for about 5.8% of all GHG emissions. That's important, but there are many other larger sources.

  3. Actually the 5.8% figure only account for enteric fermentation and manure management. The whole livestock sector account for 15% of GHGE (about 8Gigaton CO2) as stated by the UN, Lancet Countdown, IPCC report on land use etc (see source in the comment above) and many more reputable institutions

    I hope the rest of the message is considered valid and worth being added in a way or another (to correct the current article maybe?) as you only mention this single figure in a comment that is 5 pages long

  4. Guilhem , there is much in what you say.  But essentially your line of argument fails the test of practicality & timeliness, if you are pursuing a primary goal of halting the current rapid global warming.  And I need hardly point out to you that AGW is heading toward colossal damage to the biosphere, with resultant cruelty to all animals not just the domesticated species used by omnivorous humans.

    Stabilizing the present-day climate must take precedence.  Eliminating fossil fuels is a goal reasonably possible over 30 - 50 years.  In effect : in two generations of humans.

    But achieving a Vegan or merely vegetarian diet worldwide, will take far more time than two generations.  Can I cite a scientific study to support this contention - no - but your own knowledge of human nature & history will surely admit the truth of it.   Guilhem, there is simply not the luxury of time to achieve your "Vegan ASAP" goal.   Other goals must take moral priority over your desired Vegan revolution.

    To aim simultaneously at AGW correction and Veganism, is to attach an iron ball & chain to the ankle of the Anti-AGW movement.

    Guilhem , doubtless you have many  worthy aims in this life.   But if you wish to be more successful than Napoleon was, then you had best conquer one enemy at a time.   And choose wisely your first enemy ~ and move fast, before your other enemies wake up and combine against you.

  5. Guilhem... You're going to have to show me where the IPCC makes such a statement because I'm not finding it. 

  6. Lots of interesting stuff written here. I’ll try to join it :

    @Rob Honeycutt : If I remember correctly, the IPCC base their figures and tables in their Special Report on Climate Change and Land (Chapter 5 : Food Security) on the numbers derived from the FAO and over studies like the one of Poore and Nemecek (2018) in Science. Latest FAO numbers I’ve seen puts animal agriculture as responsible for 14.5% of GHGs emissions, so I’d say that Guilhem is in the right there. I might be wrong, though.

    @Eclectic : I agree with what you say, except that I don’t think that Guilhem wrote that making the vegan diet mainstream will be enough to save the world, or that’s it’s even the our best option. From what I read, Guilhem wrote that this article doesn’t sound on point with current science, and even kind of “strawman-ish” on some aspects, which I agree with. Plus, concerning the idea of achieving a worldwilde vegan of vegetarian diet, what evidence do we have that it is such a crazy idea ? Indeed, surveys seem to show that between 2014 and 2017, the number of vegans rose by 600% in the US, reaching almost 20 million people; and that’s not considering the fact that environmental considerations is only one argument for veganism, and often not the most compelling for people from what I’ve read.

    But I think that we might be missing the point here, which is that this article might need some revision. I completly agree with its premice (i.e. veganism is not the best option to reduce GHGs emissions at the individual levels), but some of the things written seem very odd or downright wrong, as Guilhem pointed out.

    • Concerning people’s willigness to change their diet (section 2), I don’t think that the fact that people are currently willing or unwilling to give up on animal products like meat and dairy does not refute the argument that this could be the #1 option to reduce individual carbon emissions (i.e. the subject of the article and PETA's quote). And while data exist on people unwilingness to go vegan, I deem it important to complete it with recent demographic data on veganism to get the complexity of the question, as it reveals veganism as one of the biggest trends in western societies.
    • Concerning increased waste in vegan diets (section 3), it is something that I have never seen so far in the main reviews that we have today, such as the one from Poore and Nemecek who does talk about waste. Does this argument hold if we take into account the quantities that are produced (e.g. if less meat and dairy is produced and bought than fruit and vegetables, isn’t it normal that less waste is associated with them) ? What of taking into account the fact that a great quantity of food resources (mainly cereals) are produced to feed livestock, which could associate their waste with meat and dairy ? What proof do we have that a switch to a vegan diet would increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables (as dairy and meat are often replaced by vegans with proteins sources such as soy products) ?
    • Concerning GHGs emissions due to transportation (section 3), everything I’ve read on this subject says that transportation is really not the main issue when talking about GHGs emissions. As summarized by the I4CE, or stated in Weber and Matthews (2008) (for the USA), Whyne and Nicholas (2017) (for comparison between plant-based diet and “local” diet), or Sandström et al. (2018) (for Europe), transportation is but a very small part (around 10% on average) of GHGs emissions for food products, and meat and dairy are always the foods associated with the biggest GHGs emissions. Knowing that, why focusing on tropical food exclusively, like is done in the paragraph (omitting the fact that it could be a very interesting option for people in the tropics themselves) ? And what of the impact of food for livestock that is grown in other countries, such as the soy often produced in brazil to feed cattle in europe or the USA ? Also, why focusing on food transported by plane when it seems to represent only a very small percentage of the food we produce, as Guilhem pointed out ?
    • Concerning the capacity to shift management practices of livestock to reduce GHGs emission, I don’t think that there currently is credible evidence of strategies of extensive management that can make animal produces much better for GHGs emissions. In fact, there are studies that seem to show that extensive management could be even worse, as hinted in Clark and Tilman (2017) or Hayek and Garret (2018). That said, how does one article (the one by Zomer from 2017 that is quoted) equals to enough evidence enough for what is proposed here, when current litterature suggest overwise ? Especially when recent research seem to temper the expectation of possible offtest of animal agriculture by soil sequestration, as with the article of Godde et al. (2020) that indicates that “any sequestration is time-limited, reversible, and at a global level outweighed by emissions from grazing systems”. The Food Climate Research Network also has a nice report on the issue, that synthetize most of what has be researched to date on the issue.
    • As Guilhem pointed out, the focus on the article of Kim et al. (2019) in section 4 seems a bit strange. The paragraph implies that a flexitarian diet is better than a vegetarian (not vegan) diet. But the article clearly states that a full vegan diet is the best in 97% of the countries studied; even better that the flexitarian diet that is mentionned. Why not mentionning this fact ? Why suddendly switching the focus on a vegetarian diet in a post talking about vegan diets, when the article that is quoted does talk about vegan diets ? And why not mentionning the majority of the recent litterature that do indicate a vegan diet as the best diet to reduce GHGs emissions, such as Poore and Nemceck (2018), the Lancet EAT study, or even the chapter 5 of the report of the IPCC “Climate change and land” ? It’s just so weird to me; but maybe I’m missing something. I don’t think that Dana (the author) is the type of person to do misinformation, so I’ll do my best to keep my mind open on that.

    So in the end, I'd suggest the following revisions :

    • To delete section 2 (“Are people willing to change their diets for the environment?”) , or to add it as an afterthought rather than a main argument; but I think that more data should be added to it to present the problem more globally.
    • To delete section 3 (“Problems with the vegan diet”), or to precise aspects concerning waste and add some more evidence-based environmental problems with the vegan diet.
    • To delete section 4 (“Vegan vs. Vegetarian vs. meat diets”), or to improve references to Kim et al. (2019) and add references to recent meta-analysis and reviews on the subject.
    • To make the article simpler and shorter, focusing on the ideas develloped by Wynes and Nicholas (2017), which I think are much more easy to understand and justify : veganism is not the best way to reduce our GHGs emissions simply because options like not having a child or ditching planes are more effective. However, while doing so, I think that credit should be given to vegan diets that it can have some other good effects on the environment than GHGs emission reduction (as stated in Poore and Nemececk 2018), as is done in section 5. The idea could be that instead of saying how "bad" a vegan diet can be as the article does right now (which I think is hard to argue with the current litterature), it would be easier to justify how good the other options are (having less children, not taking the plane, etc.). I think that this would keep the original intent, why not sounding like a hit-piece on the movie Cowspiracy (which I do not endorse).
  7. Thanks @Klemet I'm indeed not saying that global veganism is the single best way to achieve climate goal, or that everyone should go vegan before anything else. As previously stated I'm just saying that this whole article is in inadequacy with current scientific litterature on the subject, which might jeopardize the credibility of your website to anyone knowing a little on the subject

    I made a very complete commentary adressing specific points on your article and correcting them or rebutting them, I'm surprised not to have an answer for any of the specific things I've mentionned. I cannot waste more time chasing a goal post you're constantly moving. I've made a detailled comment about everything's that's wrong in your article and because you've made the pro-truth pledge I expected somehow to have a substantive debate about those point. If you don't want to pin point to  what we agree on and what you disagree with in my comment responding to the article, I don't know what's the point of submitting such a comment in the first place.

    I have provided you with many reference, a whole bibliography on the subject is here for you to dig on the subject in support of the point I'm only making because science says so.

  8. Sorry, Klemet, but the link you provided doesn't address the question I asked, and specifically doesn't address any IPCC statement to the same effect. I found the FAO statement regarding 14.5%, though.

    One of my problems with all this is that the high end calculation for animal agriculture are assuming full supply chain. A large portion of those emissions are going to be surface/air transportation, buildings, and other industrial processes which are separated out in other GHG sector analyses, and are genuinely a different topic. 

    The other issue I have is that, you still have to replace the nutritional value of whatever is removed from that provided by animal agriculture. 

    In discussions of this topic I always have to point out that I've been a vegetarian for, now, 40 years. While I don't disagree that consuming less meat is more healthy and better for the environment, I do get annoyed when the science on this topic gets misused.

  9. Thanks everybody for your comments, which we'll need some to time to assess, given all the feedback and references included and the volunteer nature of our team.

  10. @Rob Honeycutt : I apologize if I misunderstood your question, Rob. I'd say that I haven't see the IPCC clearly stating "animal agriculture is responsible for X% of emissions" anywhere; but as they use the FAO's numbers in their repport on the issue (which leads to their conclusions on the question, specifically about the sustainability of a vegan diet), I thought that this was enough of an endorsment.

    Regarding the rest of your comment, I'd say that you perfectly point out why we see so many different numbers when we talk about the impacts of animal agriculture on GHGs emissions, or on over environmental issues (e.g. water, land-use, etc.).

    Personnaly, I'm more of a "full supply chain" kind of person. For example, many questions and debates arise about the quantity of ressources (e.g. water) needed to produce a pound of meat/milk/etc. Advocates of animal agriculture will say that it's not that much, especially when it comes to water; but when you take into account that crops and forage has to be given in huge quantities to the animals in question (and that a lot of these ressources/energy are "wasted" as base metabolism, rather than becoming part of their bodies/secretions that we then eat), this changes everything. However, from my point of view, it is hard to argue that these crops and forage would be produced if not to be eaten by those animals. Hence, I deem it a part of the impact that animal agriculture have, just as transportation/building aspects. Might be naive of me, though.

    Concerning the nutritional value of whatever is used to replace, I fully agree. That's why I'm always fond of expressing GHGs emissions or environmental impacts per calorie or gram of protein rather than in kg of food produced.

    Still, and I might be wrong on that, but I think that we're starting to have a concensus on those aspects. Conclusion of articles such as the one from Poore and Nemecek are echoed in other meta-analysis (like the one from Clark and Tilman), and it kind of makes sense from my point of view : if you want to eat things coming from a step above in the "food chain" (i.e. animal bodies or secretions), then you have to contend with the fact that a huge amount of energy/ressources given to the species you feed are not going to become "food" for you, but are going to be lost in the transition from one step of the chain to another (e.g. metabolism, etc.). If I remember my ecology lessons, while the notion of "food chain" is now obsolete, there was still talk of about 80% of energy lost from one step to another (e.g. plants to herbivores, herbivores to primary carnivores, etc.). I don't know if this number still holds up today; but in any case, that makes for a low-yield ressources wise, which is what is reflected in those conclusions, I believe.

    40 years of being vegetarian is a pretty long time, though ! I don't want to ask to much personal questions in comments, but I'd be very curious to know what got you to change such a long time ago, where vegetarian diets were not the trend that they are today. But I do agree with you that science on the topic is very often misguided, and use as a weapon rather than as a learning tool. I guess that it's such an emotional topic though that it is to be expected. In my experience, listening to the fears that can arise from both sides (e.g. the fear of having animal products labelled as illegal in the future, or the fear of knowing that animals are killed without good reasons) can lead to some defusing of the issue.

    @BaebelW : If help if needed to maybe re-write some things or propose a more precise alternative, please let me know. Skeptical Science is a site I greatly admire, and as a PhD student, I should be able to write a proposition in a relatively proper manner. I imagine that authors must already have a ton of work on their hands, and I don't want to add to much to it. Still, thank you very much for the consideration, and thank you for all of your good work !

  11. Klemet... For me, becoming a vegetarian was more of a health decision I made for myself at the age of 21. Originally, I tried being a very strict vegetarian, for no other reason, I think, than youthful enthusiasm for the idea. Later, I spent a summer bicycle touring in the Alaska interior and was faced with eating fish on a number of occasions. Fish is a ridiculously healthy dietary choice, so I became what I believe is now called a "pescatarian." (Though, for me the nuances of labels is like arguing angels dancing on pin heads.)

    Later, I married a woman from China, which comes with a whole host of dietary adventures. One year we were in Chongqing for Chinese New Year. My wife's 80 year old grandmother got up at probably 5am on New Years day and proceeded to make pork dumplings for the entire, large extended family, as was obvious she'd done for most her entire life. I was faced with an interesting decision: do I say, "No thanks, I'm a vegetarian" or do share in this beautiful aspect of my wife's family and culture? The decision was simple to make.

    Ultimately, I believe diet has to be a personal decision for people. I believe it drives people away to tell them they're bad if they do one thing or another. Too often I see veganism taking that approach and I think it does more damage than good. Too often I've seen vegans trying to make the case that becoming vegan is a panacea for fixing climate change, when it's just not. 

    On the issue of full supply chain, I would disagree. Consider a world where overall diet remains unchanged but we completely decarbonize buildings, and surface and air transportation (yes, I know, big challenge on air, but consider it). Essentially, decarbonizing buildings and transportation are untethered to animal agriculture. So, what then is the impact of animal agriculture? I'm pretty sure you're back down to something on the scale of single digit percentages of current carbon emissions.

  12. Klemet,

    Even if becoming a vegan was a huge benefit to the climate problem I doubt that very many people would choose to become vegans.  People like to eat meat.  Very little renewable energy was being built until it became economic.  They are not building record amounts of wind and solar in Texas to save the world.  They do it to make money.  I think that if we tell people that becoming a vegan is required to mitigate climate change they will just say no.  Most people will not become vegetarians when they are told it will improve their health.  Why would they become vegetarians to try to save the world?

    All the future energy plans with no CO2 emissions that I have seen include agriculture producing meat at the current rates.  A frequent poster here at SkS says that using the Savoy method of raising livestock you can sequester large amounts of carbon in the soil.  Do we really have to become vegans?

    My brother's family were vegetarians while raising their children.  They are well educated and ate balanced meals.  Their two children are both shorter than the parents.  To the casual observer it appears their height was stunted by their diet. 

    Good luck with your vegan message.  I think that we need to concentrate on messages that are more easily sold to the general public.  Like build out more renewable energy because it is the cheapest source of power and will cost less.

  13. Over the years I've had a number of friends who tried to become vegetarian and failed. It wasn't for lack of trying or lack of discipline. They said their meat cravings became very intense after going veggie. Their bodies were telling them they needed it.

    Humans have been omnivorous for many hundreds of thousands of years. As I've read, our control of fire and access to calories through hunting game is largely responsible for the evolutionary development of our large brains. Suffice to say, to expect all of humanity to go vegan is to swim against a very strong current.

    We are going to have to find ways to reduce the impacts of animal agriculture coming decades, but as Michael Sweet points out, it's probably going to require economic benefit. Companies like Beyond Meat seem to be taking that strategy to heart.

  14. Klemet @10

    Could you please get in touch via our contact form and we'll figure out how to best proceed?


  15. @Rob : Thank you for your story, Rob ! That was really interesting and touching to read : ).

    I think that I can relate with some of the choices that you mentionned in your story, which can be quite difficult, especially socialy. I'd be curious to know, though, how we can (according to you) say that diet is a personal decision when the interests of others (e.g. the animals, or the environment) are directly impacted by our diet ?

    As for your view on the supply chain, I don't see why our views are incompatible; I think that changing the emissions linked to the different processes necessary to produce a certain amount of a certain food would change the resulting GHGs emissions associated to this food. However, that doesn't change the fact that those GHGs emissions are related to the production of this food, in the way that they would not be emitted if it were not produced.

    In my mind, it's the same as comparing the ecological impacts of a smartphone; how could be it exact to not take into account every part of the process that are needed to create it ? Like mining operations for rare metals, infrastructure for the factories specialized in creating the parts, etc.


    @michael sweet : I understand your view, and I do not doubt that for many people today, going vegan is not even an option : it's a fear. However, the idea I wanted to add related to the present article was that even if people dislike the idea of being vegan, it could still represent our #1 individual option to reduce our emissions (it's not, but it could be even if people don't like it).

    In that way, we can easily say that many people in western countries dislike the idea of restricting the number of children they have, or to avoid taking the plane to go explore the world; yet, those seems to be two of our best individual choices to reduce our GHGs emissions, if I'm not mistaken.

    Concerning the "Savoy method", I think that you might be related to Allan Savory (whose name is similar) ? But if that's so, everything I read on it in the scientific litterature makes it look like pseudosience, with many saying that it's quite dangerous. An account of that is present in the report of the Food Climate Research Network, but a more summarized account is written on Savory's wikipedia page. In addition - and I don't want to make sound like an ad hominem against Savory -, he is also responsible for the culling of more than 40 000 elephants in the 70's, as he advocated that those very elephants were destroying their natural habitat. To give him credit, he says that it's the "biggest blunder of his life" today; but I think this explains why he might have gotten a bit obsessed with his "holistic grazing" approach. So, maybe we don't "need" to become vegan as other things can be done; but it still seems like it is very useful.

    Concerning your note about that vegetarian couple and their children, I don't think that it's a very sane approach to talk about individual cases when talking about the effects of a diet; especially a diet about which we have a huge risk of social bias. Meanwhile, studies seem to show that vegan children end up having the same height as non-vegetarian children. But maybe you just wanted to point out the bias, and how it would make things difficult for people to go vegan; and on that, I completly agree !



    In the end, I think that I completly agree with you two, @Rob and @michael. Humanity going vegan is something that goes against a very, very strong social inertia. Yet, in the age of internet, an age where slavery is mostly illegal, where women occupy positions of power more than ever before, where we fly in the air and go into space, where our lifestyle is almost completly different from the one of any of our ancestors, who can say what will happen ?

    Still, advocating for veganism "or else climate change will never be fixed" is not the right hill to die on to me too. But I think that it's OK, as many vegan activists seem to understand that it's the ethical argument (i.e. why is it okay to eat an animal for reasons other than survival ?) that needs to be focused on, and that the rest is just secondary.

  16. Klemet... Suffice to say, I don't think we're far apart in our thinking. My major concern is with more radical, aggressive elements of the vegan community because I believe they have an effect that is inverse to what they ostensibly wish to accomplish. 

    Given dietary choices, diet will always be a personal decision for the mere fact that people are different. All creatures have impacts on their environment. The elemental state of existence on this planet is that life steals energy from other life for survival. The larger picture is humanity's outsized impacts due to our success as a species, and the detrimental environmental effects that come with FF energy production. 

    Ultimately, I think we need to better capture the economic costs of the damages in the marketplace through carbon taxation systems. With that, more carbon intense calories are going to cost more and promote positive changes. The cost benefits of reducing meat consumption would come with additional health benefits. Then those personal dietary decisions also become economic and health related decisions. Then no one needs to lecture anyone else on what kind of food they should be consuming. 

  17. @Rob, I agree with you concerning the more "radical" elements of the vegan community. Knowing some of them personnaly, I think that as many activits that go "too far", most of them do have good intentions; but nuance and good communication is always important with such issues.

    Concerning dietary choice, I agree that being an heterotrophic life form (contrary to autotrophic ones), we are stuck with a choice of "who do we eat" instead of "what do we eat", as you nicely pointed out. However, I still have trouble thinking of "who we eat" as a stricly personal choice that involves no responsability. Indeed, why would killing and eating another human, out of any survival necessity, be a "personal" choice ? And if this is not, why would killing and eating a cat or a dog for mere habit or pleasure be a personal choice, as they are so close to us in term of sentience and emotional capabilities ? And if this is indeed not, why is killing and eating a pig or a cat - animals as smart and sensitive as cat and dogs - because we are used to it be a personal choice ? Hence, if there is no responsability to who we eat - and so, who we kill - and why, then I always end up thinking that this opens the door to a moral justification for many despicable actions. If I eat pigs for habit and pleasure, who am I to judge someone that kills a cat out of sport ? And would it be ethical - or even possible - to only translate those questions in monetary costs ? Wouldn't it allow the richier to act immoraly, as they can afford it ? (Maybe that's already the case, sadly.)

    But that's just the stricly individual question of killing an animal; environmental and health impacts might also imply a responsability toward others. If it's pretty irresponsible to take the plane instead of a train, wouldn't it be irresponsible to eat beef (the most impact-heavy meat) instead of a plant-based meal ? And again, would taxation only result on rich people being able to be the most irresponsible ?

    I think that I can still understand your view, though. Telling people what to do and how to think isn't very effective, and incentives like taxation might have a more subtle and persistent effect on these issues. But I don't think that this is enough to tackle the more pressing ethical questions related to who we eat - and that activism, even if "radical" (an adjective very dependant on the epoch), might have a role to play to solve this.

  18. Posting a comment to give credit where credit is due and to ensure that it doesn't fly under the radar:

    The current version of this rebuttal (published Feb 2, 2022) is basically a complete rewrite of the earlier text and happened because Klemet offered to work on this task (see his comment above from February 2021). This new version was reviewed by two experts who provided helpful comments in the course of the rewrite.

    Thanks for your work on this, Klemet!

  19. Gents, as a fan of your site, I have some additional points to this discussion:

    1. Be careful when using data from a source Our World in Data. I found many discrepancies there.

    2. Same regarding data from FAO/FAOSTAT. In my last study, you can find exact pieces of evidence.

    3. Based on my last communication with EDGAR (Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research, EU JRC), I discovered that binding differences in outputs arise due to insufficient taxonomy data in their EDGAR DBs. Not to mention that their data are still necessary to be paired on LULUCF from FAOSTAT data sources (which, as I explained above, is in a catastrophic state). However, unlike the FAO, they thanked for the proposed adjustments that give them a sense of data quality.

    4. Regarding the impact of animal agriculture on the total emissions, even in the case of the Food systems, I discovered several serious shortcomings from the FAO.

    I like vegetables, even containing a lot more share on my plate, to be sure. However, I also like reliable data. I also like the interpretation of the data in a broader context.
    To prove what was written by me, you can check my last document:


    I would like to read your opinions, respectively. I will be happy to help you edit your article.

    I think that too much meat production is being created unnecessarily. Sure. This does not mean that tackling climate change through extremism is right. Not all meat source is produced as it is made from various extreme videos. It's like a dream when someone thinks we can replace fossil fuels with RESs by 2050 - no, we're not (with current technologies and the G7/G20 approach). If we are looking for useful and long term sustainable solutions for this planet, we will be on the right track.


    [BL] long link activated.

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