How to incorporate veganism into geography

There are so many ways to bring veganism into the geography classroom. Discussions can range from the disproportionate impact of animal agriculture on the global south or the issues of deforestation and soil degradation, right through to the socio-economic impacts of animal products within human geography. The possibilities are endless.

In 2018 the University of Oxford finished the most comprehensive analysis of agriculture that has ever been conducted. The study looked at almost 40,000 farms across the world and at every possible form of agriculture from free-range grass-fed cows to intensive farming of chickens and arable agriculture. It overwhelmingly concluded that going vegan is the ‘single biggest way’ in which individuals can minimise their environmental impact on the planet. There’s no doubt that agriculture is an incredibly important subject for any geographer to learn about!

Here, we look at past papers to consider how you could bring veganism into the classroom to teach your students about the world and prepare them for their exams.

We’ve used the AQA A-level specification as an example to show how many ways you can engage students on veganism, through a geographic lens. Take a look at the key ways in which veganism can be discussed.

Specification of AQA A-Level Geography Suggested Ways of Incorporating Veganism

Causes, rates and potential impacts of declining biodiversity. Ecosystems and their importance for human populations in the light of continuing population growth and economic development.

Case study of Brazil’s economic development at the expense of the Amazon rainforest, i.e. Clearing forest to make way for cattle farming and to grow feed for animal agriculture.

General correlation between increasing GDP per capita and consumption of animal products per capita. How economic development accompanied by an increase in meat-eating directly affects the planet’s ecosystems.

Factors influencing the changing of ecosystems, including climate change and human exploitation of the global environment.


Brazil forms an apt case study of how human exploitation of the environment has been inflicted for economic gain, and how animal agriculture relies on environmental destruction as the Amazon is burnt down to make way of cattle ranching and to grow animal feed.

Marine ecosystems. Human activity and its impact: pollution, fishing.


Fishing is leading to marine ecosystem collapses across the world and is an excellent example of how the consumption of sealife affects the world. Find out more about the facts to incorporate into your teaching.

Local factors in ecological development and change (such as agriculture, urban change, the planned and unplanned introduction of new species).

Find out more about all the ways in which animal agriculture inflicts damage on ecosystems. In particular, look into the staggering amount of land used and how animal agriculture affects wildlife.

Threats to Antarctica arising from: climate change, fishing and whaling


The specification particularly notes fishing and whaling as threats to Antarctica, affording the perfect opportunity to bring veganism into the classroom. Find out more about fishing and how it impacts both marine ecosystems, and the world as a whole.

Environment and population.

Climate change as it affects agriculture. Characteristics and distribution of two key zonal soils to exemplify relationship between soils and human activities especially agriculture. Strategies to ensure food security.


Soil degradation is rarely discussed despite the UN’s warning that we may only have 60 years left of healthy soil! Animal agriculture is at the heart of this deadly threat.

Find out more about how soils are affected by human activity, including a case study of the Sahel for the classroom.

Discuss strategies for food security; one solution is veganism, which minimises land and water use and promotes efficient use of resources, thereby improving food security.

Discuss how such a radical overhaul could be achieved and its consequences.

In all of the above ways, animal agriculture plays a huge role in the creation of the current climate crisis. You can find a wealth of information which looks at studies on desertification, overfishing, food waste and insecurity, and much more, which can be incorporated into your teaching.

If you would like to order copies of Envirocidal to use in your classrooms please get in touch.

Let’s take a look at some A-level past paper questions from 2018; some of them explicitly reference animal agriculture, whereas others are more general; enabling students to introduce creative and topical ideas that are sure to stand out to the examiners.

Past Paper Questions on Veganism: A-level

Paper 1, AQA, A-level, Physical Geography, 2018

01.3) Using Figure 2 and your own knowledge, assess the challenges associated with reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Past Paper Question

Students can discuss how research has repeatedly found that cutting down on animal product consumption is vital in 

reducing greenhouse gases. Students can also discuss the challenges of squaring people’s ‘free will’ and choice to eat what they wish, against the urgent threat of the climate crisis. Students can explore how difficult a transition to plant-based agriculture might be and why; such as how it might affect rural communities or political parties’ fears of backlash.

Students can refer to the figure to note that India, despite holding about one seventh of the world’s population, has a far smaller proportion of GHGs compared to other countries or blocs with significantly smaller populations. There are various reasons fo

r this, but one of them is likely to be India’s high proportion of vegetarians and low meat consumption per capita in contrast to the USA, with a high meat intake per person and an extremely high proportion of GHGs, despite holding a population almost four times smaller than India’s.

Another issue is that meat consumption tends to increase as a country becomes wealthier. China could be used as a goo

d case study of this issue, demonstrating that their increase in wealth correlates directly with an increase in their production of GHGs – at a time when countries are supposedly committing to cutting down.

Of course, we’re not arguing that students should focus entirely on veganism and not address other issues, such as the disproportionate impact of wealthier countries compared to the global south or other issues of ‘going green’ while trying to develop economically. However, bringing animal agriculture into the answer demonstrates an application of knowledge to the figure, giving students an innovative way of answering the question.

02.4) ‘Climate change is on course to radically alter the role of water in deserts and their box margins, affecting both human populations and the physical landscape.’ To what extent do you agree with this view?

The examiners’ report notes that students can discuss agriculture as an issue. Students can discuss how climate change and its impact on water may force humans to abandon animal farming in many areas because there simply isn’t enough water to be used on such a water-inefficient ‘product’.

At the same time, people may have to let their cattle roam on larger areas of land to find water, causing more desertification through overgrazing and the impact of their hard, heavy hooves, further worsening the problem and allowing students an interesting discussion on the vicious cycles of climate change and animal agriculture.

06.7) Assess the importance of global governance in securing the long-term health and box survival of coral reefs.

The examiners’ report notes that addressing ‘certain types of fishing’ is a ‘creditworthy approach’. Fishing is leading to marine ecosystem collapses across the world and is an excellent example of human activity’s impact on the marine world. Find out more about the facts to incorporate into your teaching.

06.8) ‘It is simply not possible to find a true balance between biodiversity and sustainable box economic development in savanna grasslands. Economic development will always come at the expense of biodiversity.’ To what extent do you agree with this view?

The examiners’ report specifically notes that more students should have addressed the issue of loss of habitat due to commercial farming and that a valid approach was to address conservation and green tourism. Students can talk about how animal agriculture often increases with economic development, which does indeed come at the expense of biodiversity at present. As we learn more about the true cost of animal agriculture, countries might learn that sustainable economic development must exclude animal farming.

At the same time, ‘cashing in’ on ethical ways of growing one’s economy, such as establishing large areas of land for nature and allowing sustainable tourism in, can be discussed. With a 20 mark question, there are so many ways that students can incorporate various aspects of protecting our flora and fauna as a sustainable and economic win-win situation, while countering with case studies of how certain areas have allowed rampant expansion of animal farming without recognising the true cost, such as the Amazon.

Past Paper Questions on Veganism: GCSE

Paper 1, AQA, GCSE, 2018

01.8) Explain how the increasing use of fossil fuels and changes in agriculture may have contributed to global changes in temperature.

The examiners’ report notes that discussing the increase of methane levels due to cattle farming is a valid answer, and there is so much that a student could write about in exploring how ‘changes in agriculture’ have affected the world’s temperature! Animal agriculture contributes about one fifth of all human-induced greenhouse gases. It’s the elephant in the room, and while many students may answer just half of the question by engaging with the more well-known impact of fossil fuels, teaching your students about animal agriculture’s impact will allow them to answer the question fully.

The report also notes that up to a quarter of students failed to answer how climate change is being caused; again, humans’ rampant intensification and growth of animal farming –alongside fossil fuel development – works perfectly in addressing some of the key causes of climate change.

Paper 2, AQA, GCSE, 2018

04.5) Explain how different strategies can be used to make water supplies more sustainable. [6 marks]

The examiner report notes that most students failed to achieve high marks in this question because their answers didn’t address how their scheme would improve sustainability.

Animal agriculture uses approximately 70 per cent of all freshwater. Your students could bring up strategies whereby governments encourage a reduction in animal product consumption to free up huge amounts of water, bringing up statistics on how much water one pound of beef uses compared to vegan alternatives, or dairy versus oat milk, and so on.

As the above past paper questions show, veganism can be applied in several different ways to both GCSE and A-level geography. Have a look at the following resources to include in your classes:

Download digital version

Envirocidal is a ground-breaking report written by Viva!, which compiles the most up-to-date research from world-leading studies and experts. The paper objectively explores the science behind how and why animal agriculture is so damaging to our planet. It would make a brilliant addition to your teaching resources as a tool to help students understand the environmental implications of animal agriculture and how it applies to geography.

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