An intelligent species that doesn’t know how to live in homeostasis with its environment is not an intelligent species. As far as the ecology is concerned, we (humans) are the only species that does not live in harmony with nature. Well of course, how could we when we don’t consider ourselves as part of nature – our extreme individual self interest has pushed us so far apart, ideologically that the natural world is something that’s out there, independent of us and we’re something that’s here independent of nature. We are the only species whose complete absence would benefit the entire ecosystem.
Preserving the environment is not the conservationist’s or the ecologist’s job, it’s OUR job. It is the consumer’s job, whether you’re a teacher, scientist, student, farmer or model, whatever you consider yourself to be. We’re all in the environment and everything we do, every decision we make is either helping to nourish or destroy the ecology.
We do not fathom just how culpable we are for the state of the world. As individuals, we are direct contributors to many ills. This is historically evident and now more importantly with regards to the ecological state of our planet; world hunger, public health crises, pollution, water depletion, ocean dead zones, amazon destruction, habitat loss, species extinction and climate change are all direct results of our daily lifestyle choices.
The problem is profit. If you think profit, you don’t think sustainability, hence we see our entire economic system is predicated on productivity, profit and consumption which results in the inevitable abuse of resources, resources in all forms, ie. people, land, water, non human species, etc. As consumers, we literally have the power to change the economy and the world with our wallets since that is the medium governing most of our exchange. A sustainable-based demand means a sustainable-based supply, an economy based on the ecological use of resources and the conservation of the natural world. This is an important consideration at a personal level. There is no more excuse for ignorance and powerlessness as every individual with any degree of capability and privilege has the power, and more importantly, the responsibility to make conscious lifestyle and consumer decisions.
The sickness of elitism driven by money, wealth and control is what runs most governments, corporations and sadly our economy, hence why it is absolutely important to take responsibility of how and where we distribute our agency (economic and otherwise). If you feel helpless, just keep in mind that money feeds and money fuels. We can choose to fuel sustainability and compassion by simply spending our money directly to such efforts.
An overview of the broad impacts of Animal Agriculture
Animal Agriculture stands to be the most polluting industry; meat, dairy and egg production uses up one third of earth’s fresh water, destroys the top soil, pollutes water streams and rivers, depletes resources, exacerbates deforestation. It is responsible for 91 percent of the Amazon destruction through clearing land for factory farms and feed crop for livestock. What’s even worse is that most of the meat and animal products go to waste which exacerbates the global food crisis. Considering the fact that with a 7 billion human population, we slaughter an estimated 150 billion land animals, 1.2 trillion marine life for food every year, yet over 850 million still starve, points to the inadequacy of livestock farming and our general agricultural practice.
About 30% of the world’s land is used to raise food, not for humans but for livestock which is then used for food often in more developed countries, more so by wealthier individuals, which means people starve while animals eat. As it stands, most crop land is used to produce, soya, corn and wheat to feed livestock. This land can be more efficiently used to produce a diversity of living foods as opposed to our current monoculturist agricultural practice. This is an issue which transcends all borders and those who suffer the greatest are often the poor and disenfranchised, especially in developing nations.
“More than 40 percent of Ethiopians are considered hungry or starving, and fresh water there is scarce. Yet they have 50 million cattle (one of the largest herds in the world), as well as 50 million sheep and goats and 35 million chickens, needlessly consuming their food, land, and water. Ethiopia is cutting down 25,000 acres of its forests each year in order to make more room for their growing herd of livestock, while contributing heavily to greenhouse gas emissions along the way. The country of Eritrea has a human population of 5 million people, the majority of whom suffer from hunger and poverty. Yet they are using their sparse resources to support 6 million cattle, sheep, and goats.” (FOK, 2013)
The bottom line is that farmed animals consume more food than they produce, breeding and killing animals for food is highly inefficient and severely impractical.
“Loss of the energy from plant food is the most basic reason why meat creates more emissions per unit of food energy than plant-based foods, but the methane produced by cattle and sheep is another significant factor. Methane is a greenhouse gas that, tonne for tonne, warms the planet about 30 times as much as carbon dioxide. Ruminant animals produce it as part of their digestive process. Moreover, the idea that grass-fed beef is more sustainable than beef from animals fattened in a feedlot is a myth – in fact, as far as climate change is concerned, grass-fed beef is the worst meat you can eat. That’s because cattle fed on a rich diet of grains and soybeans put on weight faster than cattle fed on grass, and so do less digesting per kilogram of meat produced.” (Singer, 2018)
By virtue of multiple effects from land use, water depletion, species extinction, ocean dead zones, pollution and deforestation, animal agriculture is above all the leading contributor to climate change, having the highest gas emissions than the transportation industry combined. Not only is it unsustainably inefficient and ecologically destructive, it is also one of the most appalling displays of violence, cruelty and abuse to both the living beings being slaughtered and those tasked to slaughter. It is morally and ethically unjustifiable, a huge contradiction to such values of compassion, peace and justice which we hold so high in our societies. It is additionally not a healthy diet, it is very abrasive to our physiology and a cause of leading chronic diseases from cancer, to cardiovascular disease, diabetes to rheumatoid arthritis to hypertension… and the list goes on.
What does this mean practically and what do we do?
First and foremost is to learn, observe and reflect upon how our individual lifestyles choices either contribute to ecological sustainability or ecological degradation. We do not live in isolation, and we’re not the only species on this planet. So we have to decentralise ourselves from the ecological equation and experience how life functions around us and how we fit in this equation beyond the anthropocentric conclusions we have made about life.
A dietary perception shift
Meat is not food. One of the best things we can do is to adopt a healthy plant-based diet. Adopting a plant-based diet is an intersectional approach, in that we contribute to alleviating numeral social, economic and environmental issues at once just by simply making a conscious decision about what we eat three times a day (or more). Not only that, but we begin a psychological transformation with regards to our perceptual, psychological and physiological relationship with the earth and all the inhabitants with whom we share this divine planet.
This is single-handedly the most direct and immediate change we as individuals can make to have a significant impact. A healthy vegan diet reduces an individual’s footprint by 42 to 84 percent, a global shift towards a plant based diet would reduce carbon emissions by seventy percent (especially in the USA, Europe, China, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand where there is overproduction and overconsumption). Moreover one saves a lot of water because the production of meat, dairy and eggs uses a tremendous amount of water.
An earth diet is a low carbon diet by natural design and a diet shift from animals and animal products to a natural earth diet is really important. All species deserve a liveable planet. Our decisions matter because they affect everything and everyone else. Animal Agriculture has and continues to destroy the soil, and without good soil, we have no trees, no air. What the tree exhales, we inhale and what we exhale, the tree inhales. We are chemically intertwined and we can see that mother earth is reacting and one consequence is Climate Change – from the recent drought in Cape Town, heat waves in Europe, to the fires in California, as Sonali Kolhatkar rightly puts it “A warmer planet cares little for an invasive species called “Homo sapiens” that has colonised its surface and poisoned it. We may as well think of global warming as a planetary fever intended to cast us off as one would a pesky and persistent virus.”
Saving lives in a culture of normalised violence
In the process of shifting one’s diet, by eliminating meat dairy and eggs one saves a number of living beings from land animals, cows, pigs, chickens including wildlife and a great deal of marine life which is severely under threat. We live in a culture of normalised violence where we kill more animals in one week than all humans who died in all wars throughout history combined. However, we don’t see them because we kill them behind closed doors hence making them absent referents. As a result they become objects/products and not beings where we refer to them as meat, beef, veal, chops and through our language they disappear from sentience. And this allows for us to continue killing without facing our conscience, this consequently exacerbates our cultural violence.
Another additional dimension which aids sustainability is eating more local and seasonally when one can. So get know and support your local farmers and local markets. And although importing and exporting is quite inescapable, it does well to buy more locally produced goods (especially food). Doing this supports local business and communities. In addition to this, eat according to what’s in season.
Re-discover the Earth in us
One of the greatest hypocrisy is claiming compassion but only extending it exclusively – that’s not compassion, it’s bias. A great example is the uproar against the Yulin dog meat festival where many in the West express their apprehension against the killing of dogs for meat, yet in the West the killing of pigs, cows, chickens, turkeys, fish etc for meat is a common practice. It is morally ironic to cry about dogs getting killed while you stuff down grilled lamb (baby sheep) for dinner. If one claims to love animals then it is not sensible to use them for food, experiments, or entertainment and nor is it sensible to pay for it.
This also extends to the rest of the natural world – we should extend our compassion and nurture the soil, the oceans and the natural resources whereby we to the best of our abilities establish a harmonising balance. Our relationship with the natural world has been severed in fashions unfathomable by virtue of our economic model, in many ways we do not understand how to live on the earth anymore. The mind is a garden, the body is a garden, the earth is a garden and nothing sprouts in a garden without soil. Eating plants is biochemically sensible as it corresponds with the fertility of the earth, therefore as we tarnish the soil, we tarnish our soul.
Overall, understanding how our individual dietary choices and consumer preferences affect the world we live in will help us make the most informed choices possible – if you make the better ones, you help yourself and others in the process.
- A Well-Fed World. 2018. Scarcity vs Distribution. [ONLINE] Available at: https://awfw.org/scarcity-vs-distribution/. [Accessed 17 September 2018].
- Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. 2018. Scarcity vs Distribution. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.iatp.org/emissions-impossible. [Accessed 13 September 2018].
- GRAIN. 2018. Emissions impossible: How big meat and dairy are heating up the planet. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.grain.org/article/entries/5976-emissions-impossible-how-big-meat-and-dairy-are-heating-up-the-planet. [Accessed 13 September 2018].
- Forks over Knives. 2013. Animal Agriculture, Hunger, and How to Feed a Growing Global Population: Part One of Two. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.forksoverknives.com/animal-agriculture-hunger-and-how-to-feed-a-growing-global-population-part-one-of-two/#gs.AHgxgSw. [Accessed 13 September 2018].
- Bryan Walsh. 2013. The Triple Whopper Environmental Impact of Global Meat Production. [ONLINE] Available at: http://science.time.com/2013/12/16/the-triple-whopper-environmental-impact-of-global-meat-production/. [Accessed 11 September 2018].
- Alan Miller. 2018. Diet for a Low-Carbon Planet. [ONLINE] Available at: https://awfw.org/carbon/. [Accessed 24 September 2018].
- Peter Singer. 2018. The Globe and Mail. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-with-veganism-on-the-rise-is-meat-cooked/. [Accessed 19 September 2018].
- Independent. 2017. Overfishing driving dozens of species into extinction threatening African food crisis, warn experts. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/overfishing-species-extinction-african-food-crisis-threat-iucn-warning-niger-angola-mauritania-a7534901.html. [Accessed 19 September 2018].
- One Green Planet. 2018. USDA Killed Over 1.3 Million Non-Invasive Animals in 2017, But Can You Guess Why?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/usda-killed-millions-non-invasive-animals/. [Accessed 13 September 2018].
- The Guardian. 2016. Humanity driving ‘unprecedented’ marine extinction. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/sep/14/humanity-driving-unprecedented-marine-extinction. [Accessed 19 September 2018].