Why I’m a vegetarian – it’s a matter of statistics, not sentiment

The traditional reasons, animal welfare and (to lesser extent) a healthier diet, are now joined by concerns for the environment.

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I became a vegetarian when I was 3 years old, while crying over a tuna-sweet corn sandwich at the kitchen table. How could I eat a fish? I had two fish, they were gold and glittery and I loved them. Today, I have no interest in animals and the smell of frying bacon is a cruel test, but I still don’t eat meat. For me, it’s not just about the animals anymore; it’s a matter of statistics, not sentiment.

Studies show that animal agriculture causes between 10 and 25 per cent of global greenhouse gases, including 35 per cent of all human-related methane and 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide. Methane is the third most important greenhouse gas and is infamously emitted by farting cows. Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is less abundant and less well-known as a greenhouse gas. However, it can trap approximately 300 times more heat than carbon dioxide, and is the largest contributor to the destruction of the ozone layer. In order to stabilise the levels of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere by the year 2050, a report from the Institute of Physics in 2012 concluded that the developed world needs to reduce its meat consumption by 50 per cent. Despite this advice, meat consumption is predicted to rise.

These statistics provide an additional motivation to eat less meat or become vegetarian. The traditional reasons, animal welfare and (to lesser extent) a healthier diet, are now joined by concerns for the environment. Although they lead to the same outcome: eat less meat, these different reasons depend on different logics. The decision to be vegetarian for the sake of animals depends on the personal, ethical conclusion that human pleasure does not outweigh animal well-being, while the decision to give up meat to benefit the environment is based on conclusions drawn and made public by scientists. The former is a matter of personal morality, the latter a matter of published numbers.

For those who were already vegetarians or light meat eaters, their conviction doubles as ethics are joined by science. For those, like me, who would otherwise have bit the burger long ago, the environmental damage caused by animal agriculture reinforces wavering self-discipline. For those who aren’t swayed by arguments of empathy and ethics, these statistics demonstrate a practical motivation to reduce meat consumption. As the reasons for eating less meat multiply, and as the methods of justification become more diverse, life as an herbivore appeals to an ever growing audience.

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