Sustainability made simple

What If We All Became Vegetarian?

Foto: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash - sam lion

More plants, less meat: switching to a vegetarian diet could prevent up to two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions and save millions of lives.

There are strong arguments for eating more fruits and vegetables: fewer carbon emissions from the meat industry, less factory farming or simply a healthier diet. Yet what effects can our diet have on our health and environment exactly?

Marco Springmann and his colleagues at the University of Oxford studied the degree to which the shift to a plant-based diet would affect the mortality rate and the production of greenhouse gases worldwide. The following are just a few of the benefits of going vegetarian.

10% Fewer Premature Deaths

Eating less meat could decrease premature deaths by five to six million a year.
Eating less meat could decrease premature deaths by five to six million a year. (Foto: CC0 Public Domain / Pexels - kampus production)

To compare the effects of our diet on the climate, Springmann’s team proposed four dietary models:

  • More of the same: increased consumption of animal products
  • Following today’s recommended dietary guidelines: less meat and sugar and fewer calories
  • Ovo-lacto-vegetarianism: a meat-free diet with eggs and milk
  • Total plant-based diet: veganism

The researchers analyzed these four options for their effects on health and environmental outcomes. Their projections through 2050 show that the second scenario, with decreased meat consumption, could eliminate five to six million premature deaths every year. This is equivalent to decreasing the mortality rate by 6-10 percent.

Vegetarian and vegan diets would eliminate seven to eight million deaths every year. Reasons for that decrease include less meat consumption (especially red meat) and more fruits and vegetables, combined with an overall decrease in calories, as Springmann told The Conversation.

You can find the entire study under Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The scientists note large regional differences in their estimates. Countries in the global south, specifically South and East Asia, benefit most from a plant-based diet. This figure is followed closely by the Global North, where the per capita benefit could be twice as high —  in these countries, people have the least balanced diets.

According to the study, China would reap the largest benefits of a plant-based diet, with the potential for up to 1.7 million lives saved every year.

70% Fewer Harmful Emissions

If most of us switched to plant-based diets we could reduce greenhouse gases substantially.
If most of us switched to plant-based diets we could reduce greenhouse gases substantially. (Foto: CC0 Public Domain / pexels - wendy wei)

But how does it impact harmful greenhouse gas emissions caused by animals in the meat industry? These could also be reduced by over two-thirds, according to the study, published in PNAS in early 2016. In the study’s summary, a vegetarian diet across the entire planet would reduce the greenhouse gases produced by farmed animals by 63 percent. A global vegan diet would bring that number to 70 percent.

More vegetables and less meat on our plates is good for our climate, could prevent the premature deaths of millions of people — and, last but not least, would also save millions of animals from slaughter.

A global shift towards vegetarianism would have far-reaching positive effects on both human health and the environment. By making mindful choices in our diets, we can contribute to a more sustainable and healthier world for all.

Read more:

** Links to retailers marked with ** or underlined orange are partially partner links: If you buy here, you actively support, because we will receive a small part of the sales proceeds. More info.

Do you like this post?

Thank you very much for voting!