How to Destroy the Planet in 3 Simple Steps

The Amazon is burning. Well some say its been burning and the pictures being shared are old. The Climate is changing - or it’s not depending on some you ask. Somehow there are two drastically distinct narratives rolling like thunder through the earth.

The following is an argument as to how to destroy the planet in 3 easy steps.

Step 1 - clear cut forests where trees absorb carbon and give us oxygen.

Step 2 - plant millions of acres of genetically modified crops that require insane amounts of pesticides and herbicides and synthetic fertilizers to function and in turn watch the run off pollute the rivers and lakes and oceans.

Step 3 - grow cattle and raise them for meat and dairy. And just so we are clear - the abuse done to these creatures just so we can enjoy a hamburger with cheese is unethical.

To the deniers who mock at the above argument, I would say go to your bibles and read about what sustainability looks like in Genesis 1-3. It looks nothing like what you profess today.

To everyone else, make sure your passion is consistent - do all you can to live where you’re not saving the earth on one hand and destroying it on the other.

Ok let’s jump in.

According to new research conducted under the leadership of Dr Joseph Poore from the University of Oxford, UK, the single biggest act an individual can do to reduce their impact on the planet is to avoid meat and dairy.

A recent comprehensive study has been published detailing the type of environmental damage that occurs as a result of farming, with meat and dairy farms having the most impact.  Farmland would be reduced by 75% if cattle and dairy farming stopped.  This is an area which would cover the combined area occupied by the EU, Austria, China and the US.  It would also reduce the loss of habitat cause by land clearance and reduce the rate of extinction in our wildlife.  

In dietary terms, meat and dairy only have a small role to play providing 37% of all protein and 18% of calories.  At the same time the research indicated that 83% of all farmland produces most (60%) of the greenhouse gases attributed to agriculture. Even low impact meat and dairy cause a lot more damage to the environment than their least sustainable vegetable and cereal counterparts.  At the present time around 86% of all land mammals are now either livestock or human beings.  

This extensive study used data from around 40,000 farms across 119 countries.  The food produced – 40 products in all – covered 90% of all foods consumed.  In addition it looked at the entire impact of all of the factors involved in food production – land use, climate change, freshwater pollution, water use and air pollution.  The study was published in the journal Scienceand indicates that a vegan diet is the best way to reduce your own personal impact on the planet, surprisingly, even more than cutting down on flights or buying an electric car.  Agriculture is something that causes multiple environmental issues and it is animal products that are the cause of most of these.  

There was also some analysis that provided insight into how farming methods impacted the environmental cost even when producing the same food.  It was shown that beef reared on deforested land used 50 times more land and produced 12 times more greenhouse gases than the same cows raised on natural pasture. But when you compare any kind of beef farming with the production of plant proteins, even the lowest impacting beef farm uses 26 times more land and creates 6 times more greenhouse gas. 

Harm reduction for farming is certainly a possibility because of the huge variability in impact.  If the most harmful farming methods were replaced by plants you could receive two thirds of the benefits without getting rid of all dairy and meat production. With over 570million farms who would all need to reduce their impact in different ways there is no easy solution. However, the subsidies on farming amount to around $500bn a year and that could be used to help make key changes.  Labeling is another area that may be worth considering, allowing consumers to choose less impactful products.  However it is likely that alongside subsidies for healthy food production, taxes on foods causing greater environmental damage would also be needed. 

The scientists were surprised by the results of studies on freshwater fish farming which they believed would be environmentally friendly. Freshwater fish farming currently provides Asia with two thirds of its fish and, in Europe, 96% is of freshwater fish is farmed.  However, fish excreta and uneaten food sits on the base of the ponds releasing the potent greenhouse gas, methane.  Another surprise was that grass-fed beef, again an area which was thought to be low impact, also causes high emissions. 

Food experts welcomed the new research which had taken a bottom-up approach for the first time by looking at data from the individual farms. The study revealed the same results as previous top-down studies which used data from national level but has also revealed extra, profound insights.  While looking at the way we consume food it also looks at food consumption and waste and how, given the current population, the obesity crisis and climate change, the current methods of food production are simply not sustainable. 

Other researchers, notably, Dr Peter Alexander from the University of Edinburgh, UK,  pointed out that biodiversity was a major benefit when grazing land was sustainably managed so perhaps moderation of meat consumption would be another option to consider.  

Dr Poore said that the reason he started the research initially was to assess the use of sustainable farming for meat and dairy production. However, as a result he has stopped his own consumption of animal products.  His research indicates that we can sustain our current way of life without such negative planetary impacts and the key question of how much these impacts can be reduced was answered.  There is a lot that can be done and still a lot to do.

But never forget - force never leaves anyone off better. Let’s be careful that our own convictions on these issues never lead us to force others to agree to things that violate their conscience. More on that later.

by Andrew Allen


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