How not being vegan makes war more likely

by Richard Schwartz

Article in the Jerusalem Post–January 28, 2024

The values of Tu Bishvat conflict dramatically with modern animal-based agriculture. Almost all of the 80 billion farmed animals slaughtered annually experience horrible lives on factory farms. Producing meat also has very negative environmental effects, and these greatly increase the chances for war in at a least two ways.

How eating meat can increase the chances for war

First, animal-based diets are very wasteful, and history has shown that many wars are caused by nations competing for scarce, essential resources. In the US, about 70% of the grain produced is fed to animals to fatten them up for slaughter. Because huge amounts of water are needed to irrigate feed crops for the animals and for other needs of animal-based agriculture, it can take up to 13 times more water to provide food for a person on an animal-based diet than an animal-free diet. The production of meat and other animal products also requires much more land and energy than the production of plant foods. 

The Jewish sages, noting that the Hebrew words for “bread” (lechem) and “war” (milchama) come from the same root, deduced that when there is a shortage of grain and other resources, nations are more likely to go to war. In biblical times, there were conflicts over obtaining clean water; and, more recently, competition for sufficient energy resources has been a major cause of conflict.

A second reason that animal-based agriculture makes future conflicts more likely is that the production of meat and other animal products is the leading cause of climate change. Military experts believe that the hotter world that climate scientists are projecting will result in millions of desperate refugees fleeing from heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms, floods, and other negative climate effects, and this will make political instability, violence, terrorism, and war more likely. Climate change has already sparked civil wars in Syria and Sudan. In both countries, years of drought caused the farms to fail, and farmers moved into overcrowded cities, leading to conflicts.

How not being vegan makes climate change worse

The major reason that animal-based agriculture is the leading cause of climate change is that 43% of the world’s ice-free land is now used for grazing and growing feed crops for animals. Since much of that area was previously forested, there has been a decrease from the six trillion trees in the world millennia ago to about three trillion today. This sharp reduction in carbon-sequestering trees is a major reason that atmospheric carbon dioxide, which was 285 parts per million (ppm) at the start of the Industrial Revolution, has reached a very dangerous 420 ppm — far above the 350 ppm that climate experts think is a threshold value for climate stability — and to be increasing by two to three ppm annually. Consistent with the vegan and environmentally orientated Tu Bishvat, a major shift to plant-based diets would enable significant reforestation, and the additional trees would sequester a huge amount of CO2, reducing it to a safer level.

Another reason that animal-based agriculture is such a major contributor to climate change is that cows and other ruminants emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is over 80 times as potent per unit weight as CO2 during the 15-20 years it remains in the atmosphere.

The major focus of most Israelis today is on the current Israel-Hamas war and the fate of the hostages. However, that should not blind us to the need to address the long-term causes of conflicts and wars. We need to move toward plant-based diets that can greatly reduce threats of future wars and can help leave a habitable, healthy, environmentally sustainable world for future generations. Fortunately, this is starting. Many people, especially young people, are increasingly recognizing the benefits of plant-based diets for human health, animals, and the environment. Dietary shifts are much easier today because of the many wonderful, tasty plant foods available and the increasing abundance of plant-based foods that are very similar in appearance, texture, and taste to the meat and other animal products to which many people are accustomed.

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Richard Schwartz is Professor Emeritus, College of Staten Island, and author of Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Revitalizing JudaismJudaism and VegetarianismJudaism and Global SurvivalMathematics and Global Survival; and Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet; and over 250 articles at

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