You’re at the grocery store picking up some milk, but as soon as you put the carton of milk in your cart you feel everyone staring at you and judging you. Perhaps unbeknownst to you, the dairy industry has been under fire lately. Climate change has undoubtedly brought many changes, and this is one of them. While it has been one of the more subtle changes, it has affected the lives of thousands of farmers. In the latest Milk Production report by the USDA, there has been an annual net decline in licensed dairy operations. The past year has been challenging for farmers; the demand for dairy products has significantly decreased and several dairy farms have closed.
Cows at dairy farms are a significant cause of climate change due to the methane released in their feces. The methane then traps heat within the Earth’s atmosphere and the overall temperature of the climate increases. In 2020, the agriculture industry accounted for 11% of the total carbon emissions. This is a significant percentage of the total emissions and one which we can reduce easily.
A press release from Arla Foods, a food company, states that “the rise in cancel culture is playing too much of an influence in the way that we make decisions relating to our diets.” However, this is likely their attempt at trying to get people to buy their products again.
Through the awareness raised by the public, society has collectively decided to “cancel” the dairy industry. While the results of terminating animal agriculture can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 68% throughout this century, there are significant negative consequences as well. For instance, since farms have fewer consumers, they need to cut down on their staff. This causes more people to lose their jobs, leading to economic instability.
“The greenhouse gas emissions from milk are about 30 times higher than what people estimate. I suspect that most consumers underestimate the greenhouse gas emissions saved by switching from dairy milk to plant-based milk such as soy milk,” Dr. Adrian Camilleri, a psychologist at the University of Technology Sydney, told BBC News.
Fortunately, new job roles are emerging due to climate change. For instance, a new type of farming called ‘carbon farming’ is rapidly evolving. Carbon farming focuses on utilizing carbon-capturing techniques on landscapes to increase the carbon removal rate and store the gas in plant material and soil organic matter. Another alternative for dairy would be to switch to the production of vegan milk such as oat or hemp milk. Oat milk is a great alternative since it uses ⅛ of the water used for other types of milk, and produces fewer greenhouse gasses.
While cancel culture, in this case, has negatively affected farm owners, the criticisms of the dairy industry have brought to attention feasible solutions that will have more long-term benefits. We must adjust to the changing climate rather than complain about cancel culture. The responsibility to act doesn’t only lie on the farmer’s end. It is also the consumer’s job to choose the environmentally favorable option as simple as switching to hemp milk. The sooner we adapt to a more sustainable option, the better.