Do You Have to be Vegan to be an Environmentalist?

Since being in Leeds, something has become very apparent to me: this is a very green city. Every day there is another protest of some sort, whether it’s an Extinction Rebellion march, or a peaceful poster, there is always something to make you take notice. This led me to think, what does it take to be an ‘environmentalist’ and more specifically, is it possible to consider yourself one without being vegan?

The dictionary definition of ‘environmentalism’ states it constitutes “an interest in or the study of the environment, in order to protect it from damage by human activities.” If this is the case, perhaps this article need not discuss it further. Yes, you can be an ‘environmentalist’ without being vegan because environmentalism is about ‘interest’ in the environment.

However, recently the development of the ‘movement’ of environmentalism has forced us to re-define the word, to associate it with action against the government, industry, or even each other in order to ‘protect’ the environment. Therefore, is this definition, in 2019, still a valid representation of the meaning of ‘environmentalism’?

Environmentalism is a belief, a passion, something you care about, thus by definition you can call yourself an environmentalist and not actively participate in protests or a clean way of living. However would you see a feminist, someone who cares about equal rights, treating genders differently, prioritising one over another? If you really believe in something then you take steps to contribute to whatever it takes to hold those beliefs, whether it is practical, ideological or moral.

So where does veganism enter into this debate? Multiple studies carried out by the Guardian, University of Oxford and PETA have revealed the shocking and vast impacts of the meat and dairy industry can and are having on our planet. The Guardian found that livestock provides just 18% of calories, but is taking up 83% of farmland. This figure could be easily reduced by 75% if we were to give up animal products.

The use of land for livestock is the largest contributing factor to global warming, deforestation and extinction. It would be far more sustainable to live on a plant-based diet as taking up less landmass would reduce the levels of deforestation. In turn, this would remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, reduce mass extinction of species while creating more jobs in the agriculture industry.

In a shocking discovery, PETA found that the production of one hamburger uses enough fossil fuel to drive a small car 20 miles. Veganism, therefore, has a far greater impact than cutting down on flights or buying an electric car, according to researchers. 

Ultimately, everything that can be done towards the protection and conservation of the planet is helpful. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect environmentalist’; everyone who is consciously reducing their impact can call themselves one. A true sign of commitment to the cause, however, would be to take the decision to alter your lifestyle and diet for the safety of the planet.