Our Shared Environment

The human species has the ability and population to impact the entire earth as never before. Our ancestors from at least a million years ago simply didn’t have the population and technology to do so.

 

“Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work”

Oppenlander, R (2013) Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. Langdon St Press. USA.

planet

 

The human species has the ability and population to impact the entire earth as never before. Our ancestors from at least a million years ago simply didn’t have the population and technology to do so.

In a relatively short period of time, since we domesticated other animals around 12,000 years ago, and since the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, humans have rapidly occupied an increasing amount of the planet’s surface, displacing other species and destroying their ecosystems in the process. We have usurped and sullied the resources that they require for survival.

As a direct result of human behaviour, other species are going extinct at a rate that far exceeds the natural rate of one to five species a year. Vertebrates are going extinct at a rate of at least a hundred times the background rate and estimates for non-vertebrate species are one thousand to ten thousand times the natural background rate, as indicated by the fossil records and other evidence. We have now entered the Sixth Mass Extinction.

For the first time in Earth’s history, a mass extinction is not being caused by a meteor strike or geologic forces like massive eruptions; this one is being caused by humans.

One would never guess the seriousness of the situation by observing our Western World lifestyles. In Ireland, and other Western World countries, we live as if we had the resources of more than three planets at our disposal.

 

cow and calf affection

 

Climate Change

One of the most significant contributors to planetary destruction is our use of other animals. Animal agriculture accounts for, at a conservative estimate, 14.5% (UN-FAO 2013-2014) of Green House Gas Emissions which cause climate change. One study places this figure as high as 51% (Goodland & Anhang, 2009). Regardless of the number, this needs immediate attention. Not only are our lifestyles causing Climate Change, but our use of other animals for food is also putting the water and land resources of the planet under severe threat. Eating other animals and farming them for clothing is also the cause of deforestation and desertification. Without forests the rates of CO2 are rising rapidly.

 

Diet, Climate Change and Environmental Destruction

Most people are still not aware of the link between climate change, environmental destruction and diet. The processes of growing crops to feed to animals so that we can consume their eggs, milk and flesh, is a highly inefficient method of feeding the human population. It uses significantly more land, water, and energy resources, and causes more destruction of the air, soil and water, than growing plants to feed humans directly. The very existence of the billions of animals we breed for our use contributes to climate change. While most individual attempts to reduce our environmental footprint target the amount of water we use for washing or watering the garden, and our transport needs, of far greater significance is how we eat. Animal agriculture contributes significantly more to GHG emissions than the transport sector.

The world’s transportation sector emits around 5656 Tg CO2-eq yr−1 and the livestock sector emits 7100 Tg CO2-eq yr−1 (DSI MSU, 2015, Gerber et al., 2013). Emissions from livestock production contribute more GHG to the atmosphere than the entire global transportation sector.[i]

According to a new report published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport. It is also a major source of land and water degradation.[ii]

Source: IPCC (2014) [iii]

Impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes.[iv]

If these industries [animal foods industries] continue down their current path, the authors of the report warned that the livestock sector could be responsible for 80 per cent of the allowable greenhouse gas budget by 2050.[v]

Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems (Walter Willett et al) was published in early 2019. It goes a long way towards supporting the animal rights view that we need rapid and complete abolition of all animal use by humans.

This report is a review of the work of 30 world-leading scientists from across the globe and its rationale is an attempt to clarify the conflicting and poorly understood advice on how we should eat. It claims to be the first full scientific consensus that defines a healthy and sustainable diet.

In June of last year, another report conducted a meta-analysis of the multiple environmental impacts of 38,000 farms producing 40 different agricultural products around the world. It concluded that

“impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes, providing new evidence for the importance of dietary change.”

Lead author Joseph Poore is quoted as stating:

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use.

“It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he explained, which would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy,”

In 2016, the Oxford Martin Institute, examined the comparative impacts of omnivorous (standard) diet, vegetarian diet, and vegan or 100% plant diets. The report showed that the less animal products we consume the better. If a 100% plant diet (the diet vegans eat for animal rights reasons) were adopted, we could save up to 8 million lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds, and lead to healthcare-related savings and avoided climate damages of $1.5 trillion (US).

The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change: The Lancet Commission report

The second Lancet report The Global Syndemic followed quick on the heels of Food in the Anthropocene. Notably, the report pointed out that we need to protect policy making from the influence of powerful commercial interests.  Industries that profit from how the public eat should not have a role in dietary recommendations that affect human health and the state of the planet we depend on for sustenance.

A glaring omission in many of these reports is consideration of the rights violations inherent in using and killing animals. Indeed, their primary concern is the humanocentric protection of human health and the environment that sustains humans.

They do not consider the psychological health of humans who engage in everyday practices that sustain something so violent that when captured on camera it invariably carries a graphic violence content alert and is potentially traumatising to those who view it.

Neither is there any consideration of the psychological status of humans who cling onto myths (especially the myth that other species are not sentient and do not have rights), in order to justify such trivial aspects of our lives as habit, convenience and taste.

Psychological intervention strategies will be necessary to change how we live. Among them, the most important strategies will focus on cognitive and affective change in how we think and feel about eating animals’ bodies, milk and eggs. We currently see other animals as food. Vegan education helps us engage in a radically new way of thinking and feeling about them, not as food or objects that exist to sustain us, but as unique, thinking, feeling individuals who share our fundamental right not to be owned, used or killed.

Evidence based vegan education that focuses on animal rights as a social justice issue, can rapidly and completely abolish all human use of other animals and, in doing so, help us meet the targets outlined in these reports. It is as necessary as education that addresses the practical changes of environmentally friendly plant-based agriculture, and as vital as education on how to achieve optimum nutritional on a plant diet.

The best film resource to date on the link between animal agriculture and destruction of the natural environment is Cowspiracy, released in 2015. There is  an accompanying book The Sustainability Secret. Cowspiracy is available to download or to watch on Netflix.

The best book source is Dr Richard Oppenlander’s Food Choice and Sustainability. It covers all aspects of global depletion related to animal agriculture, offers unique perspectives on the disconnect that causes such unnecessary devastation including  the state of our oceans and sea life, world hunger, permaculture/land use inefficiencies, fresh water scarcity, fallacies with food movements, detailed discussions on climate change, and insights into loss of biodiversity.

Another excellent reference is source Dr Oppenlander’s first book Comfortably Unaware.


Be careful not to ‘scapegoat’ cows. Whenever there is a furore in the media about cow flesh, whether it pertains to harm to the environment, or any risks to human health of consuming animal flesh, people tend to replace ‘beef’ with chickens and fishes. Chickens and fishes have smaller bodies. Significantly more of them are harmed when people view them as food or appropriate replacements for cow flesh. As Cowspiracy points out, all animal use is unjustifiable.

 

Vegetable garden

The most important action that all of us, as empowered individuals, can take to limit the damage we are causing the natural world is to go vegan. We owe it to the other humans who are greatly impacted by climate change and planetary destruction, although their lifestyles contribute less to the destruction than our Western lifestyles. We owe it to our children. We owe it to the billions of other lifeforms who exist alongside us and who have as much right to be here as humans.

Information and Resources

[i]https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221209631730027X?fbclid=IwAR3R_pvqp4Pydt0Xmtv7ya4XAGtJ1sHDIkm4TR12h74e109oGSt374vHm7g

[ii]http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html?fbclid=IwAR3LG1V8EpvpH1OeCOSp7G1L85idBfYJYMVSMf01RsDOBfO5X1CazKv_0iI

[iii] https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data?fbclid=IwAR27uN7YXR008-kjZ35nG6THGhp6AV7C2UnFTkUL8V7FcJ7812nKt0kBnR8

[iv] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6392/987

[v] https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/meat-dairy-industry-greenhouse-gas-emissions-fossil-fuels-oil-pollution-iatp-grain-a8451871.html?fbclid=IwAR2WX4PFHui8LFx_QiJHRIhvSZS36k9zw7hYlW4gC4vFqYe0_pKGkhDSj_Y