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Young people like me are going vegan. That’s bad for the environment

Young liberals who want to help stop what they see as the “climate crisis" think going vegan will help. But by giving up meat, they might be harming the planet.

Going vegan is all the rage. I see it all the time. I’m in my early 20s and I have lost count of how many of my peers have switched to a so-called "plant-based" lifestyle

Young liberals care deeply about the environment and want to do their bit to stop what they see as the "climate crisis." They think going vegan will help. What they don’t realize is by giving up meat, they might actually be harming the planet.

Polls show a huge rise in veganism in recent years, especially among millennials and Gen Z – 1% of all Americans now call themselves vegan. 

The trend correlates with radical views on climate change among young liberals. Left-wing environmental groups like Greenpeace and PETA campaign aggressively for people to stop eating meat and switch to veganism.

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The link between climate change and animal food products is cemented in the minds of young people. The narrative goes that because the farming and meat manufacturing industries cause greenhouse gas emissions, going vegan is a good way to shrink your carbon footprint and therefore help save the planet. 

Unfortunately, the truth is rather different.

While it is true that the meat and dairy industries emit polluting gases that contribute to climate change, going vegan is not necessarily an improvement. Cutting meat and dairy out of their diets forces young vegans to switch to other products that are often much more environmentally damaging.

Take protein, for example. Any healthy diet needs a good amount of protein. Meat, eggs and dairy are all top sources of protein, but out of bounds for a vegan. 

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There are plant-based protein sources like beans and lentils, but even a young liberal needs variety in their diet. Who wants to eat beans at every meal, three times a day, seven days a week?

Inevitably, young vegans turn to other sources of protein, often marketed as "meat substitutes." These products are a way to make boring but plant-based protein sources, such as beans, more interesting to consumers, such as by making them look and taste like meat. For instance, many meat substitutes like tofu and tempeh are made from soybeans, which have a high protein content.

Farming soybeans is a disaster for the planet. Focusing on greenhouse gas emissions, as vegan activists often do, misses all the other ways a harmful product like soybeans can damage the natural world. 

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For instance, soybean farming fuels deforestation. To grow soybean plants, farmers must chop down many trees to clear land. Soybeans are very inefficient, so they take up a lot of space. That means they require much more deforestation than other similar bean plants.

It doesn’t stop with deforestation. Growing soybeans also causes something called soil erosion, which makes the soil where it is grown near impossible use to grow other plants in the future. 

Soybean farming also uses up huge amounts of water and has been known to contribute to droughts. In fact, soybean farming is so bad for the planet, even the WWF, an environmental NGO, is against it.

Little by little, soybeans are destroying the planet. Did the young vegans consider this when they chose to forego their beef burgers for a soy burger instead?

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The problem doesn’t stop with meat substitutes. Going vegan also means giving up dairy. 

Young people on a plant-based diet must make their coffee with something that isn’t milk. Popular choices include almond milk, which has caused droughts in California. Growing almonds also requires so much pollination that it demands 70% of America’s commercial bee population each year, killing about a third of them per season.

They might instead opt for coconut milk, which has disastrous consequences for the fertility of soil. Oat milk is another favorite of the millennial vegan, despite the fact that it often contains glyphosate, an herbicide which is kryptonite to nature. 

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Rice milk, a less common milk alternative, emits methane, just like dairy cows. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it can also contain arsenic. And then there’s soya milk, which is made with – you guessed it – soybeans.

Everywhere you look, vegan substitutes for meat and dairy products turn out to be much worse for the planet than the animal products they are intended to replace. Millennials and Gen Z who adopt a plant-based diet have been duped by the eco-food industry, which is making a quick buck off their eco-consciousness, all while damaging the natural world.

The simple truth is that what is happening among young vegans has never happened before. For most of human history, our species has been omnivorous, eating food that comes from both plants and animals. Never before has a cohort of millions of people decided to become herbivores and abandon animal-based food products.

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That’s a recipe for disaster. Humans need a balanced diet – and so does the planet. Swearing off animal products might seem like a great way to stop climate change but in reality, it just means creating a whole host of new problems for nature. 

If young liberals truly care about the environment, they ought to think more carefully about their diet and lifestyle choices and not take eco-campaign groups like Greenpeace at their word.

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