There is no planet B
The Australian Vegan Magazine | ISSUE 2 – May/June 2017
It’s time we got serious about the fact that agriculture is not only killing billions of animals a year but also destroying our planet and health.
Contrary to what some people believe, veganism isn’t a diet. Nor is it a fad. It’s a growing movement of compassionate people who understand that consuming animal products is cruel and unnecessary. And while what you eat (or what you don’t) is certainly a key aspect of leading a vegan life, veganism is also about what clothes you wear, which cosmetics you buy, the entertainment you choose, and which companies you support. Equally, where veganism primarily strives to reduce the suffering of other animals at the hands of humans, it also pushes for a healthier lifestyle and a greener environment.
People turn to veganism for a number of reasons, and for many of us, the decision to make the change is multi-faceted. If you truly love animals, and care about their wellbeing and right to life, then you should go vegan. If you want to improve your health and reduce your risk of disease, then you
should go vegan. If you care about inequality and the mounting gap between the rich and the poor, then you should go vegan. If you’re concerned about the environment and the impact of climate change, then
you should go vegan.
Globally, there are 70 billion animals being used each year for human
consumption (Strategic Plan 2013 - 2017, Compassion in World Farming). The environmental cost of this kind of intensive farming is massively unsustainable. According to Robert Goodland, former lead environmental adviser to the World Bank, and Jeff Anhang, a current adviser, livestock create 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year. Additionally, one cow can produce up to 500 litres of methane per day, and with the number of cattle currently being farmed, that equates to 567.8 billion litres of methane every single day. Over a 20-year period, methane is 25 to 100 times more destructive to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. We’re already in a situation where animal agriculture accounts for over 50 per cent of global greenhouse emissions, and according to Compassion in World Farming, this figure is set to rise by 80 per cent before 2050 if current dietary trends continue.
Animal agriculture is also a thirsty beast, using anywhere between 128 to
287 trillion litres of water each year (BioScience Journal (2004) 54 (10)). It takes over 9,000 litres of water to produce 450kg of beef, 1,800 litres of water to produce 450kg of eggs, 3,400 litres of water to produce 450kg of cheese, and 3,785 litres of water to produce 3.7 litres of milk (Cowspiracy). Creating these products results in the animal agriculture industry using 20 to 30 per cent of the world’s fresh water supply.
We’re also using huge amounts of land to maintain livestock systems, with 45 per cent of the global surface area currently being used. As the human population grows, so does the demand for more meat, dairy and eggs. The rise of the middle class in emerging markets has also seen a shift in dietary patterns, with developing nations now moving to consume more meat than ever before (Business Insider Australia). In order to meet this growing demand, we’re having to clear even greater areas of land for livestock. Habitats are being destroyed, oceans are being overfished, and wild animals are being targeted and killed in order to protect the livestock. We currently use 100 million hectares of land (Climate Change 911) to grow crops to feed livestock, which accounts for about one third of the world’s arable land.
According to the United Nations, one acre of land will produce around 9kg of animal protein. Alternatively, if we used that acre to grow soybeans for human consumption, we could produce 161kg of protein. That’s 18 times more protein from the same amount of land. The choice to reduce or eliminate animal products from our diets will drastically reduce how much land is needed to feed our swelling population.
Raising animals for the meat and dairy industry doesn’t just consume our natural resources and ravage our land, it also creates a huge amount of waste product. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a dairy farm with 2,500 cows will produce as much waste as a city of over 410,000 people. Two thirds of farmed animals around the world are kept
in factory farm conditions, with an estimated 500 million factory-farmed animals here in Australia alone. All of these animals are kept in housing where their waste needs to be washed away, collected, and transported.
We’re using our land resources to produce meat and other animal products to the detriment of the welfare of billions of animals, our health, and the planet, but we’re also plundering the oceans too. The United Nations Food Organisation has confirmed that 75 per cent of the world’s fisheries are now depleted or overexploited with over 90 million tons of fish being pulled from the oceans every year.
We now live in a world where super trawlers are scraping the oceans clean with no discrimination whatsoever. All kinds of sea creatures are caught, killed and discarded as byproducts for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thousands of whales, dolphins, seals, and sharks are being slaughtered each year by the fishing boats that prowl the oceans. And while it’s a tragedy that these beautiful animals are being discarded with zero regard for their right to an existence, the consequences of our heavy-handed destruction of a complex eco-system will be dire for the human race.
Healthy oceans are essential for human survival but at the rate we’re going we could be facing fishless oceans by 2048 (National Geographic News). In fact, it’s highly likely that in the next few decades we’ll see more plastic in the sea than actual marine life. Our oceans produce more than half the oxygen in the atmosphere and absorb most of the carbon from it too. Ocean species also filter out toxins and control algae blooms, which can have terrible consequences if left uncontrolled by nature, creating deadly toxins and affecting fresh water. Healthy oceans need biodiversity
but over-fishing and manmade pollution are threatening the delicate balance that we all so desperately rely on.
In Australia, we eat on average 93kg of meat per person per year (OECD.org), which is three times more than the rest of the world. Our growing population, combined with the demand for a constant supply of meat at low prices, is crippling the planet. We’re playing God, inflating the numbers of some species while sacrificing others. We’re destroying land, draining the oceans and guzzling our natural resources. None of this is in the name of survival or need – it’s all in the name of want and greed.
Vegans are sometimes criticised for appearing to put the rights of animals above those of humans even though veganism is far more complex than that. Not wanting to cause harm to any living being is of course hugely important to the movement, but veganism also advocates for equality within the human race.
Climate change, while denied by some, is causing the earth’s temperature to rise. Glaciers are melting, sea levels are climbing and we’re experiencing more frequent periods of extreme weather. This impacts us all, but it’s the poorer communities in this world who are once again getting the raw end of the deal. While richer countries have the infrastructure to deal with some of the effects of climate change, there are poor countries who simply do not have the resources to protect themselves. With rising sea levels, there are some island nations that could soon be wiped out. A report from the World Bank states that climate change will see an extra 100 million people enter extreme poverty by 2030.
Rising temperatures can promote disease and erratic weather patterns are not conducive to a good harvest. Failing crops lead to an increase in food prices, and while that may leave some of us feeling the pinch, it will see others literally starving to death. The poorest countries emit the least amount of carbon dioxide but it’s these countries that will suffer the most.
Huffington Post reports that we actually produce enough food to feed 10 billion people (the world’s population is estimated to be around 7 billion), but 21,000 people die of hunger every day. Part of the problem
is that a huge amount of the crops being grown are fed directly to livestock, which is then sold to and eaten by people in wealthier
nations. It’s an inefficient use of energy with every 100 calories of feed creating 22 calories worth of eggs, 12 calories worth of chicken, and just 3 calories worth of beef (National Geographic Magazine).
To truly be an environmentalist, you really have to consider the facts around animal agriculture and the impact that society’s demand for meat and dairy is having on our planet. Switching to a vegan lifestyle can save 1.5 million litres of water per year, 1,000m² of forest per year,
3,300kg of carbon dioxide per year and save the lives of 365 animals. That’s what one person can achieve in a year simply by choosing not to consume animal products.
We no longer live in a world where animals are kept on small scale farms or where the oceans are fished by few. We no longer live in a world where the majority of people need meat and dairy to survive - far from it - we drastically need to reduce or eliminate our consumption of animal products for our own health and for that of earth. Farming is now a massive industrial operation that has grown to unsustainable levels. We know that things need to change if we’re going to have a hope of tackling climate change, but the impact of animal agriculture is not being properly
acknowledged or addressed. The statistics are in - animal agriculture is destroying our planet and we need to do something about it before it’s too late.
We have to take care of the earth – it’s the only one we’ve got, and we need to show respect for the life that it supports. As individuals, we need to take responsibility for our actions and ensure that our day to day choices are doing as little harm as possible. We can take shorter showers, we can choose public transport, but it’s not enough. If you care about the future of the planet, then the biggest single change you can make as one person is to go vegan.
By Sarah Williams
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