Climate, Cows, and Cars

Climate, Cows, & Cars


This is an excerpt from a video by Emily of Bite Sized Vegan fame. See the full video here.

There are a huge number of advantages that come with both a vegan diet and a car-free lifestyle. Both choices help us to enjoy longer, more stress-free lives while reducing our impact on the land. A carfree lifestyle that includes body movement improves not only the muscles but also improves concentration, social connections, and saves money. (link)
A vegan lifestyle improves energy levels, nutrition, heart health, and our immune system. In fact there are so many advantages that they would easily overwhelm this essay. You can save time by just watching ‘Forks Over Knives’ for a quick overview. Or, you can read this wonderful article on the demise of the 'humans need meat' argument, which provides worldwide scientific sources.

Eating plant-based also prevents the ‘dulling of the senses’ caused by overloading the taste buds. People who switch to plant-based meals find that flavours are richer, more varied, and more delicious as the taste-buds heal.

('World Peace Diet' pg-81)

And while Emily’s video on the right is used mainly to give you a smile, it does feel in my own opinion, that eating vegan really has the potential to improve our lives in a huge number of ways. Both common, and unexpected.

Do vegans have a spam folder?
Looking Great

What has always impressed me is the youthful shine that shows on the faces of people who eat healthy and stay active. I’ll never forget a trip that I took years ago with a young couple, climbing through a small mountain area. I felt a bit of struggle trying to keep up with these young 20 year olds and felt my own age as we climbed the hills. It was only a year later when I ran into one of them again that I found that he was in fact 30 years old. Since then I’ve noticed that vegan eaters and active cyclists look, so much younger then other people of the same age. (link)

('World Peace Diet' pg-198)

Compared to a plant-based diet however, the health benefits of living car-free are less well known (not as many Netflix movies about it). Clearly the increased exercise of walking, bicycling or even using public transit (which involves walking) will improve our lives. (link) The exercise boosts ones mood, improves connection with neighbourhoods, and provides many other benefits.
(I cover this in more detail below.)

Social Connections
Cities are books that you read with your feet.”
Quintin Cabrera

But there’s more to it then that. As just one example, every 10 minutes commuting without a car results in 10% more social connections. (link) These social connections provide enormous benefit to our well-being. They fight depression, improve democracy, and increase sharing. (link) (link)
Seeing the street as a place rather then a through- way, helps foster a greater sense of community and connection within our neighbourhoods. (link) (link) When people travel by foot or by cycle, we get to enjoy spur-of-the moment conversations, we might ask someone on a date, or see a rainbow. I’ve had a beautiful wealth of experiences that I often realize would be impossible were I traveling alone within an enclosed vehicle.

When you ride a bicycle, you’re part of a neighbourhood.
When you’re in a car, your just passing through.”
Taras Grescoe

Commute Well-Being study by Oliver Smith PhD. Portland State University

This improved connection to our neighbourhood plays a big part in our overall happiness not only while we’re travelling, but after we reach our destination too. (link) The fresh air, the relaxed pace and the freedom from traffic all play a large part in lowering stress levels. There’s sound research to support this. (link) Commute Well-Being study by Oliver Smith PhD. Portland State University According to Dr. Oliver Smith at Portland State University, bike commuters were found to have the highest “happiness quotient” of all transportation modes. (link) Smith surveyed over 800 commuters using various modes about their level of satisfaction.


Data: Sustainable Transport and Public Policy, David Banister, Univ. of Oxford

Another huge advantage to both lifestyles is efficiency. Both in terms of space (see below) and energy needed. It might not suprise you to learn that automobiles are the least efficient machines that we have for moving us around. A car has an efficiency of roughly 20% from oil well to passenger kilometer (or mile). On top of that, less then 1% of the energy used by a car is actually needed to carry a person. (link) By contrast, a human on a bicycle has an efficiency Data: Sustainable Transport and Public Policy, estimated between 700 and 1000 miles per David Banister , Univ. of Oxford gallon. With a bicycle, our food is our fuel, which means that we can eat (within reason) anything that we want.

Room to Breathe
Image courtesy of the Cycling Promotion Fund, Melbourne, Au.
Pedestrian and bicycle traffic use fewer resources and affect the environment less then any other form of transport.”
Jan Gehl - 'Cities for People'

On top of the efficiency of space and fuel, bikes and walking also cause less damage to the road itself. I’m sure you can think back to the many times you were inconvenienced by having to wait for, or detour around a road resurfacing project. Well these are more then just inconvenient. They cost A LOT of money. Resurfacing an arterial road costs roughly $1 million per mile. (link) Compared to cars and trucks, a bicycle causes an infinitely small amount of damage. Using an ‘average’ 4000lb car as the baseline you can see the huge difference.

Vehicle Type Average Weight (lbs) Comparative Damage
Hummer H2 8,600 21.37
Average Car 4000 1.0
'Smart Car' 1,800 0.0410
300lb man on a bicycle 350 0.00006

The efficiency of a vegan diet is mainly linked to the huge reduction in the amount of land and food used when raising animals to adulthood. Whether an animal is eating grass or corn, the amount of food needed to raise a cow vastly outweighs (no pun intended) the yield. In the United States, cattle will eat over 8.5 metric tonnes of food per year. Since they’re killed after 18 months, that’s about 13 tonnes of food needed per animal. And the return that a rancher gets is about 254 kilograms (560 lbs) of saleable meat. With a vegan diet on the other hand, the food goes directly to people where it gets turned into human energy. This means that more people can be fed on the same amount of grain, oats, rice, or potatoes.

I’m not vegan because I love animals...
I’m vegan because I REALLY hate plants.

But since the main focus of this essay is on climate change, we will first take a look at the issues around Greenhouse Gases (GHGs). According to the original UN report, the three gases which have the greatest impact on climate change are:

  • -Carbon Dioxide
  • -Methane
  • -Nitrogen Dioxide
All three of these elements have a huge influence on our planet. You can see a detailed breakdown of each of the three GHGs, and their impact here.

Greenhouse Gases