Students make a sand sculpture on the Earth Day, on the banks of the river Yamuna in Allahabad. Pic: Reuters

It’s Earth Day on the 22 April and it feels like understanding and reducing our impact on the planet is more important than ever. 

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released their Special Report on Global Warning that warned of catastrophic consequences of a global temperature rise.

There are multiple ways we can change our lives to reduce our impact, but research shows that reducing our consumption of animal products is critical for real change.

Here are 10 reasons why you should #SwapTheMeat (for plant-based alternatives) this Earth Day, and beyond:

1. Impact wise, meat and dairy supply 18% of calories and 37% of protein, yet they use a massive 83% of farmland.

2. The recent study by Oxford University showed that beef consumption in western countries needed to drop by 90% and be replaced by five times more beans and pulses, if we are to combat dangerous climate change.

3. The same study showed that meat and dairy production produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Animal agriculture is responsible for between 14.5% and 18% of overall global GHG emissions (which is more than the combined exhaust from all transportation).

4. The study also said this: “Most strikingly, impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes, providing new evidence for the importance of dietary change.” A portion of the highest-impact vegetable protein (tofu) emits less than the lowest-impact animal proteins (dairy milk)

5. The UN lists investing in climate-friendly sustainable agriculture and a halt of deforestation as key to cutting emissions.

6. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) says that livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources, with grazing land and cropland dedicated to the production of animal feed representing almost 80% of all agricultural land. “Feed crops are grown in one-third of total cropland, while the total land area occupied by pasture is equivalent to 26% of the ice-free terrestrial surface”. Imagine how many more people we could feed if we used that cropland for growing food for humans?

7. Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction – and as high school science 101 taught us, trees not only product oxygen, they are also absorbers of carbon dioxide, making the destruction of the forests a double-whammy.

8. Water wise - the production of one beef burger uses the equivalent of 2-months of showering. This is roughly the equivalent of 10 bathtubs, filled to the brim and 1-day’s drinking water for 1700 people (for ONE burger) The Capetonians will really appreciate the impact of this statistic.

9. This last point will make Eskom happy: When you swap a beef patty for a plant-based alternative, you save enough electricity to charge your cellphone for six months! 

10. The growing global trend of plant-based eating is a good sign, but we need to do more. Global meat production tripled from 1971 through 2010 to an estimated 600 billion pounds produced annually. If the growth continues at that rate, the estimate is that meat production will double to about 1.2 trillion pounds of meat per year by 2050.

A simple solution to help you on your journey to #SwapTheMeat with plant-protein is to join the Meat Free Mondays movement. Meat Free Mondays was started by Tammy Fry, 10-years ago as a way to encourage South Africans to eat less meat by bringing one meat-free meal into their kitchens each week. 

“Whether the reason to eat more veggies is health based, or people are doing it for the animals and the environment, Meat Free Mondays has always been a small, manageable move with a big impact,” says Tammy.