Oxford Student Union’s beef and lamb ban is laughable when compared to the Uni’s air travel emissions.

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There has been considerable publicity devoted to the announcement that the University of Oxford Student Union Council have voted to approve an on-campus beef and lamb ban, citing a desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The greenhouse gas emissions associated with beef production comprise methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide, with methane accounting for ~60-80% of the total, depending on the production system. Ironically, climate researchers at the University of Oxford (who presumably don’t sit on the Student Union Council) have reported that atmospheric methane breaks down over ~20 years, unlike carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion (e.g. aviation fuel) which continues to accumulate over time.

I grew up in Oxford and have always loved the diversity added to the city residents by the truly global university community of students, researchers and staff.  However, it’s worth thinking about the carbon emissions of all the international flights that are therefore associated with the university (see infographic above).

To put flights into context:

  • The carbon emissions associated with a return flight to Paris = 4.8 months of beef consumption* per passenger.
  • The carbon emissions associated with a return flight to JFK = 2.8 years of beef consumption* per passenger.
  • The carbon emissions associated with a return flight to Sydney = 9.5 years of beef consumption* per passenger.

We should all take strides to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions wherever possible – surely we can only assume that banning air travel will be next on the Student Union Council agenda?

It’s worth noting that this vote doesn’t actually have any legislative power, as each college within the University runs its own catering and therefore makes independent decisions as to food sourcing. Furthermore, a vote by the Student Council is a vote by a very small proportion of students on the council, rather than the 22,000 students across the entire University. It therefore seems unlikely that the ban would be mandated without significant student revolt, but given how many kebab and burger vans line the streets of Oxford after 9pm, I imagine the proprietors are looking forwards to a huge increase in demand if it is ever enforced.

*at an average UK consumption of 18.2 kg beef per capita 

One vegan does not a movement make – less than 3,000 omnivores confirmed to have been “converted” by #Veganuary

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Would a cheeseburger have tempted you away from #Veganuary?

Well, the official numbers have been published for #Veganuary, the 2018 attempt to entice people away from meat and towards the heady delights of almond juice and bean curd. The campaign has been cited as a magnificent success by such impartial publications as Plant Based News (has that been the guest publication on Have I Got News for You yet?) with 62% of survey respondents (who were not previously vegan) stating that they intend to continue with a vegan lifestyle.

On the face of it, that does sound impressive, admittedly slightly less so given that it means 38% of participants presumably thought “Sod that Veganuary lark, I’m off for a bacon sandwich with cheesy chips.”

Yet here’s the rub. Despite the claims of success, the survey was only sent to 50% of participants. That’s slightly odd given that, presumably, the majority signed up online with a valid email address. There was then a 14% response rate to the survey. That means that overall, only 7% of peoplea who undertook Veganuary actually completed the survey.

Let’s assume that those who replied and confirmed that they were going to continue a vegan lifestyle were a random sample of the Veganuary population. This is a bit of a stretch, as anybody who’d not enjoyed Veganuary and was happily chomping down on a bacon sandwich would be considerably less motivated to reply than somebody who thought it was the best thing since sliced tofu. The stretch is underlined by the fact that 99% of respondents would recommend Veganuary to others – so basically a sub-section of happy campers. However, we’ll give it benefit of the doubt.

40% of people who completed the survey had previously identified themselves as omnivores (compared to 16% pescatarian, 33% vegetarian and 11% vegan). If we extend that statistic out to all the people who undertook Veganuary (168,500 people), then 67,400 peopleb – just less than the population of Stafford in the West Midlands – were originally omnivores. So, if the assumptions made earlier hold true, 7% of those previously-known-as-omnivores replied to the survey (4,718 peoplec) and of those, 62% aimed to stay vegan.

So 2,925d omnivores have confirmed that they will remain vegan – are the rest enjoying a cheeseburger for lunch? Who knows. However, human nature being what it is, the “converted” number may be even smaller in a few months time.

Are vegan numbers increasing? Yes. Is it a massive trend? No. A fad prevalent in westernised society? Maybe. In 2016, 17.86 million babies were born in China. That’s 48,932 born per day, many of whom will choose to emulate the western diet. So, in just one day, 15.7-fold more babies are born in a country where meat and dairy consumption are predicted to increase over coming decades, than the number people who we know have actually pledged to stay vegan (having previously been omnivorous) after Veganuary. Was Veganuary a storm in a tea cup? Yes – with milk…and a cheese sandwich on the side.

a 50% x 14%
b 168,500 people x 40%
c 67,400 people x 7%
d 4,718 people x 62%

Many thanks to @davidbarrettvet for the conversation that suggested this blog post.