International Earth Day and Veganism

Today is ‘International Mother Earth Day 2020’. I read up about it and according to Wikipedia, it is observed ‘to demonstrate support for environmental protection’. That got me thinking about how I, as an individual, ‘demonstrate support for environmental protection’. In one word, ‘veganism’. Quite honestly, I think it’s the best way of doing our bit for the environment. It’s both the most effective and compassionate way.

I’m grateful to have gone to a school where the teachers placed a lot of emphasis on educating students on environmental concerns. From a young age, I learnt to be conscious of not wasting water and electricity. I enthusiastically participated in environment protection discussions and learnt a great deal about sustainable energy sources. My short term research project in college was on the impact of submerging Ganesha idols in water bodies during Ganesha Chaturthi, a popular festival in India. In fact, I even won an award that was given by Air India to one student per state in India who had ‘the most civic sense and environmental awareness’. While all this was great, I had a nagging feeling that I was playing along the periphery and not creating a noteworthy impact, even at an individual level. It always felt like I was missing a massive piece…that I could be much more effective if I chose the right thing.

Towards the end of my teen years, I chanced upon articles on the internet about the dairy industry and how merciless it is. I read about male calves being slaughtered within days of being born as veal since they can’t produce milk. I read about calves being separated from their mothers when they were just a day or two old so that the lactating mother’s milk could be used for the mass milk production. I read about male chicks being ground alive because they couldn’t grow up to produce eggs. I remember being greatly disturbed. I had been raised a vegetarian and always thought that by being one, I wasn’t hurting any other living creature. It was plain now, that I was. At around the same time, I read this article by Steve Pavlina about his journey into veganism. I immediately became intrigued. I seemed to have found the answer to my ethical and emotional conundrum. Little did I know that it was the panacea to environmental problems too.

I went vegan in November 2014 and immediately felt a sense of relief. I felt that – finally – I could sleep well at night in the knowledge that I wasn’t contributing the misery of my fellow creatures on planet Earth. As the years passed, I started learning about the environmental horrors associated with the meat and dairy industry. This is partly also because of so many disturbing things happening in the world that revealed their connection to these industries. For eg., the wildfires in the Amazon rain forest last year got a LOT of international attention. Even though these fires happen every year in perhaps THE most important rain forest in the world, 2019 was particularly alarming because of the drastic increase in the fires. Why are these fires such a concern if they happen every year? Because there was a drastic rise in carbon monoxide across the planet compared to the previous years. Why is this a concern? Because these rainforests are known as the ‘carbon monoxide sink’ and mitigate global warming better than anything else on the planet. When the world looked at the cause behind these fires, it became clear that rapid deforestation was the reason. And why is there rapid deforestation? Because of livestock farming. No one could turn a blind eye to this anymore. If people didn’t eat as much meat or consume dairy, there wouldn’t be a need for as much livestock farming.

Last year, I attended the Vegan India Conference where Keegan Kuhn, creator of the documentary Cowspiracy gave a presentation on the connection between sustainability and what we eat. You should watch the documentary if you haven’t yet already. It will get your eyes wide open and you wouldn’t be able to shut them that night. Take a look at the facts page on the website too. Here are a few facts. Tell me if they don’t make your eye pop:

  • Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.
  • 5% of water consumed in the US is by private homes. 55% of water consumed in the US is for animal agriculture.
  • Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land.
  • 130 times more animal waste than human waste is produced in the US – 1.4 billion tons from the meat industry annually. 5 tons of animal waste is produced per person in the US.
  • For every 1 pound of fish caught, up to 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill.
  • Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction. Up to 137 plant, animal and insect species are lost every day due to rainforest destruction.

Global climate change is throwing light on what animal agriculture is doing to the environment. You don’t need a Ph.D. in Environment Sciences to understand the correlation. The faster you make the connection between what you put on your plate and the wildfires in Amazonian rainforests, the millions of extinct species, and the melting ice caps of Greenland, the faster we can save this beautiful blue-green planet called the Earth.

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives…

…The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space


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