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Third Time's a Charm: Shifting to Veganism for the Planet

04/25/2016 11:57am ET | Updated April 26, 2017
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For nearly 30 years I have focused my cardiology training and practice on exploring the health benefits of vegan (or plant based) nutrition on chronic diseases. The important contributions of Drs. Ornish, Esselstyn, Furhman, Barnard, McDougall and others have improved the health and longevity of countless individuals, including many of my patients over the years. Vegan medicine has arrived, is normative, and is a powerful tool to reverse many chronic conditions.

In the last year powerful arguments have arisen outside the health arena that declare veganism as a path for the world to heal itself of so much environmental abuse. In the past days another report was published, the third strong statement in the last year, and these are worthy of a brief review.

In a report published a year ago, the United Nations presented data leading to the conclusion that "a global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty, and the worst impacts of climate change." The report continued that "animal products cause more damage than construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals." The fact that the agriculture of meat and dairy for food accounted for 70 percent of global freshwater use, 39 percent of global land use and produced 19 percent of greenhouse gas emissions was emphasized.

Just a few weeks ago a group of researchers from University of Oxford published an analysis of climate change from a variety of possible dietary changes. After looking at different options in farming and diet, they concluded that "transitioning toward more plant-based diets... could reduce global mortality by 6-10 percent, and food related greenhouse gas emissions by 29-70 percent compared with a reference scenario by 2050." The authors went on to predict that this shift to vegan diets would provided economic benefits globally of $1-31 trillions U.S. dollars.

The third and final endorsement of vegan diets for the planet was released near Earth Day, a fitting timing. Researchers from an institute in Vienna, Austria considered safeguarding the world's remaining forests as a high-priority goal. Over 500 options to achieve this by 2050 were considered along with the plausibility of implementing necessary changes. They found that all scenarios to implement farming practices to feed the world a vegan diet were feasible. The greatest chance to stop forest loss was with the adoption of vegan diets. The lead author, Dr. Karl Erb, indicated that "animals are thermodynamic converters. Thus, if feed is fed to animals for food production, a lot of energy is lost."

Different researchers, different institutions, different goals, but a single consistent conclusion. Your choice of a bean over a beef burger, oatmeal over bacon and eggs, and an apple over jerky can begin to turn the tide and heal a planet we have so ravaged in terms of land, water and air quality. It is clear we do not need more studies to make the case. Indeed, our shopping lists, grocery carts, and backyard gardens are a method to vote to provide our children and future generations a planet on which it will be safe and desirable to live on.