Pull on the seat-belt in your gas-guzzling car, folks, and strap in for the worst ride of our lives.
This fall, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a critical report warning that humans have about 12 years — until 2030 — before global warming reaches a catastrophic level.
The report concludes, frighteningly, that the world can’t allow global temperatures to warm past 1.5 degrees Celsius, or there will quite literally be hell to pay. And unless we take drastic action, we’re already all set to get there.
Consider this your all-hands-on-deck, siren-blaring warning that we need to act comprehensively to mitigate climate change now — or forever hold our peace.
The IPCC predicts an increased risk of devastating climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food, water, security, and economic growth.
As sea levels and global temperatures rise, low-lying communities will disappear and heat-related deaths will increase, along with diseases like dengue fever and malaria. Areas that cease to be inhabitable by humans will fuel an accelerated refugee crisis, while resources like agriculture and crops will be decimated in key areas impacted by climate change.
That’s just a few of the highlights of the Ten Plagues-like punishment we’ll get for endangering our planet. We’re facing a pretty grim future — and that’s even if we manage to cap the rise at 1.5 degrees, which we’re not on track to do.
For those of us who are pretty young like me, our golden years may be anything but.
Before you slip quietly into your doomsday bunker or start praying that someone invents interstellar space travel, there’s an urgent message of hope: We’ve got a little bit of time to save the only home planet we’ve got. And it’s going to take all of us to do it.
While dire, the report also contains some critically useful recommendations.
Governments, companies, indigenous peoples, local communities, and individuals all have a critical role to play to solve this crisis. We can and must act quickly and collaboratively on a local and global scale before it’s too late. Acting alone or failing to cooperate, the IPCC report emphasizes, will fall short.
The Paris Climate Agreement isn’t going to be enough — we need massive, World War Two-level mobilization. The victory will be that we get a living, healthy planet.
The report also highlights the need to consider justice and equity as we consider solutions.
Some nations, like the United States, are leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and other accelerants of climate change. Others contribute less to emissions but are more vulnerable to catastrophic damage. A number of low-lying nations (on whose approval the Paris Agreement depended) will literally be underwater if temperatures rise beyond the IPCC’s limit.
The point being: The countries that have contributed the most to climate change need to contribute the most to fixing it — and to helping those who suffer most to adapt.
What can you do, right here, right now, besides giving up meat, your car, or plastic bags and straws?
Urge your local or state government to commit to 100 percent renewable energy in the next decade. Get your community and your state to ban the use of fracking and other fossil fuel production that will drive us to doomsday that much quicker, not to mention the other dangerous risks to people’s health.
Call on the federal government to implement the recommendations of the IPCC report, and commit to working with the rest of the world to act swiftly.
And if you vote, remember the planet when you do.
The study, published last week in the journal Nature, found that as a result of population growth and the continued consumption of Western diets high in red meats and processed foods, the environmental pressures of the food system could increase by up to 90% by 2050, “exceeding key planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity beyond which Earth’s vital ecosystems could become unstable,” according to study author Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food at the University of Oxford.
“It could lead to dangerous levels of climate change with higher occurrences of extreme weather events, affect the regulatory function of forest ecosystems and biodiversity … and pollute water bodies such that it would lead to more oxygen-depleted dead zones in oceans,” Springmann said.
“If the whole world, which continues to grow, eats more like us, the impacts are staggering, and the planet simply can’t withstand it,” said Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian nutritionist and plant-based food and sustainability expert in Los Angeles who was not involved in the new research.
Sustaining a healthier planet will require halving the amount of food loss and waste, and improving farming practices and technologies. But it will also require a shift toward more plant-based diets, according to Springmann.
As Palmer noted, “research consistently shows that drastically reducing animal food intake and mostly eating plant foods is one of the most powerful things you can do to reduce your impact on the planet over your lifetime, in terms of energy required, land used, greenhouse gas emissions, water used and pollutants produced.”
It might come as a surprise, but Springmann’s study found that the production of animal products generates the majority of food-related greenhouse-gas emissions — specifically, up to 78% of total agricultural emissions.
This, he explained, is due to manure-related emissions, to their “low feed-conversion efficiencies” (meaning cows and other animals are not efficient in converting what they eat into body weight) and to enteric fermentation in ruminants, a process that takes place in a cow’s stomach when it digests food that leads to methane emissions.
The feed-related impacts of animal products also contribute to freshwater use and pressures on cropland, as well as nitrogen and phosphorus application, which over time could lead to dead zones in oceans, low-oxygen areas where few organisms can survive, according to Springmann.
For an example of how animal foods compare with plant-based foods in terms of environmental effects, consider that “beef is more than 100 times as emissions-intensive as legumes,” Springmann said. “This is because a cow needs, on average, 10 kilograms of feed, often from grains, to grow 1 kilogram of body weight, and that feed will have required water, land and fertilizer inputs to grow.”
In addition, cows emit the potent greenhouse gas methane during digestion, which makes cows and other ruminants such as sheep especially high-emitting.
Other animal foods have lower impacts because they don’t produce methane in their stomachs and require less feed than cows, Springmann explained. For example, cows emit about 10 times more greenhouse gases per kilogram of meat than pigs and chickens, which themselves emit about 10 times more than legumes.
Like animals, plants also require inputs from the environment in order to grow, but the magnitude is significantly less, Springmann explained.
“In today’s agricultural system, we grow plants to feed animals, which require all of those resources and inputs: land, water, fossil fuels, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizer to grow. And then we feed plants to animals and care for them over their lifetime, while they produce methane and manure,” Palmer said.
Adopting more plant-based diets for ourselves could reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the food system by more than half, according to the Nature study. A mainly plant-based diet could also reduce other environmental impacts, such as those from fertilizers, and save up to quarter use of both farmland and fresh water, according to Springmann.
Palmer explained that “legumes [or pulses], such as beans, lentils and peas are the most sustainable protein source on the planet. They require very small amounts of water to grow, they can grow in harsh, dry climates, they grow in poor nations, providing food security, and they act like a natural fertilizer, capturing nitrogen from the air and fixing it in the soil. Thus, there is less need for synthetic fertilizers. These are the types of protein sources we need to rely upon more often.”
Experts agree that if you are not ready to give up meat entirely, a flexitarian diet, which is predominantly plant-based, can help. This diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and plant-based protein sources including legumes, soybeans and nuts, along with modest amounts of poultry, fish, milk and eggs, and small amounts of red meat.
Vegetarian and vegan diets would result in even lower greenhouse gas emissions, but a flexitarian diet “is the least stringent that is both healthy and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough for us to stay within environmental limits,” according to Springmann.
Palmer said that “although vegan diets, followed by vegetarian diets, are linked with the lowest environmental impacts, not everyone is interested in taking on those lifestyles. But everyone can eat more of a flexitarian diet. It doesn’t mean that you have to give up meat completely, but you significantly reduce your intake of it.”
Registered dietitian nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner described it this way: “A flexitarian is really someone who wakes up with the intention of being more vegetarian. It’s different from vegetarian in that there is some flexibility.”
A new film tells the story of a Derbyshire farmer who gave his cows to a sanctuary because he could no longer justify killing sentient individuals.
Short film 73 Cows features cattle former farmer – and vegan – Jay Wilde, who discussed how ‘soul destroying’ his profession was, but how difficult it was to break out of his family farming tradition.
His – and wife Katja’s – story made headlines when he initially revealed that he’d given away the animals and turned to vegetable farming, supported by The Vegan Society.
In the film, Wilde opens up about how he became friends with the animals, then felt as though he was betraying them when he took them to slaughter – what he describes as a ‘terrifying’ experience for the animals.
He also talks about the pressure he – and other farmers experience – being ‘locked into’ the farming tradition, as well as the positive reactions from veggies and vegans when he gave up cattle farming.
He also experienced negativity from locals and other farmers – who branded his facility the ‘funny farm’ (an old-fashioned derogatory reference to a mental health hospital) as a consequence of relinquishing his livestock.
The film is available to watch on Vimeo
Speaking to Plant Based News about the documentary, filmmaker Alex Lockwood said: “I first came across Jay Wilde’s story when my wife showed me an article she’d read about him in the national news.
“The story instantly struck a chord with me. I thought it was such a great subject that I assumed it probably would have already been covered by another filmmaker and so I didn’t do anything about it at first.
“After a few weeks I was still drawn to the story and so contacted Jay and Katja on the off-chance. Luckily, it turned out that they hadn’t yet been approached by any filmmakers other than press and were happy to have me document their story.”
Lockwood believes the Wildes were open with telling their story as a favor to him, rather than to bring attention to themselves. “Jay and Katja are both incredibly humble people and would never seek out the limelight,” he told PBN.
“In fact, Jay couldn’t even bring himself to watch the film until the Raindance premiere (to my relief, he enjoyed it).
“In my opinion, the more exposure Jay and Katja can get, the better, as they are in the process of transitioning to vegan farming and it’s not without its challenges. What they have done is incredibly brave, and it would be wonderful if they could get as much support as possible to start something amazing.”
Making the film had its challenges: Lockwood had no budget, and financed it himself. There were also issues with bad weather and snow preventing filming, with shoots having to be canceled.
“Also, the cattle couldn’t be released for Spring until the adverse weather conditions we were experiencing had settled and were suitable for the cows and filming, and so our final shoot at the sanctuary was delayed by a few months,” says Lockwood.
“In addition, when the day arrived to release the cows, the truck drivers refused to be filmed due to the stigma attached with taking farm animals to sanctuaries and for fear of repercussions.”
Despite all this, the filmmaker adds that seeing Wilde with the cattle, knowing they were free because of a decision he had taken, made the wait worthwhile.
Lockwood himself says he is vegan ‘for the most part’ but not yet 100 percent there. “To me, being vegan is about taking ongoing steps and continually reminding and educating yourself about the things you consume,” he said.
“Making this film and talking with Jay and Katja about the process of dairy farming has opened my eyes to the reality of how dairy products end up on our shelves.
“If people watch the film and decide that they want to make a change in how they consume animal products then that would be amazing.”
Ultimately though, the filmmaker says he was initially drawn to the film as it is a ‘great story of human conflict and compassion’.
“Jay is a wonderful subject and ultimately the film has a very uplifting and inspiring message,” he said.
“I really feel that for some people, a tone of this nature is more powerful for inspiring change and questions.”
You can follow the Wildes and their story on Facebook
Shifting diets away from meat could slash in half per capita greenhouse gas emissions related to eating habits worldwide and ward off additional deforestation which is a major contributor to climate change. The Environmental impact of meat production varies because of the wide variety of agricultural practices employed around the world.
By Arthur R.M. Becker
All agricultural practices have been found to have a variety of effects on the environment. Some of the environmental effects that have been associated with meat production are pollution through fossil fuel usage, animal methane, effluent waste, and water and land consumption. Meat is obtained through a variety of methods, including organic farming, free range farming, intensive livestock production, subsistence agriculture, hunting, and fishing.
The 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow, released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, states that “the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases (GHG) and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution. A 2017 study published in the journal Carbon Balance and Management found animal agriculture’s global methane emissions are 11% higher than previous estimates based on data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.Some fraction of these effects is assignable to non-meat components of the livestock sector such as the wool, egg and dairy industries, and to the livestock used for tillage. Livestock have been estimated to provide power for tillage of as much as half of the world’s cropland.
According to production data compiled by the FAO, 74 percent of global livestock product tonnage in 2011 was accounted for by non-meat products such as wool, eggs and milk.Meat is also considered one of the prime factors contributing to the current sixth mass extinction. A July 2018 study in Science asserts that meat consumption will increase as the result of human population growth and rising individual incomes, which will increase carbon emissions and further reduce biodiversity.
In November 2017, 15,364 world scientists signed a Warning to Humanity calling for, among other things, drastically diminishing our per capita consumption of meat
Changes in demand for meat in Liberia may change the environmental impact of meat production by influencing how much meat is produced. It has been estimated that global meat consumption may double between 2000 to 2050, mostly as a consequence of increasing world population, but also partly because of increased per capita meat consumption (with much of the per capita consumption increase occurring in the developing world). Global production and consumption of poultry meat have recently been growing at more than 5 percent annually. Trends vary among livestock sectors. For example, global per capita consumption of pork has increased recently (almost entirely due to changes in consumption within China), while global per capita consumption of ruminant meats has been declining.
The effects of meat consumption in Liberia like many other countries contributes significantly to the emissions driving climate change. It has been estimated that livestock production contributes:
• 14.5% of overall greenhouse emissions;
• Significant amounts of particular gases (5% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions; 44% of anthropogenic methane emissions; and 53% of anthropogenic nitrous oxide emissions);
Sources of emissions include:
• Direct sources such as enteric fermentation by ruminants (39% of emissions) and manure (26%)
• Indirect sources such as the production, processing and transport of animal feed (which accounts for 45% of sector emissions).
Wider environmental problems include the degradation of grazing land due to problems such as overgrazing, as well as pollution from animal waste and runoff from pesticides/fertilisers used to grow feed crops.
Climate change potentially affects quality and availability of fodder and feed and may accelerate degradation of grazing land (e.g. because of increased drought or flood risk) as well as the threat of disease (e.g. because of warmer temperatures). At particular risk are arid and semi-arid grazing systems in vulnerable regions such as sub-Saharan Africa.
What needs to Change in Liberia?
If the effects of meat consumption is this challenging to causes of global warming and climate change the following need to change, through Climate SMART Animal.
Farming/Agriculture in Liberia:
• Breeding more productive animals;
• Improving diets so that animals produce more protein with less feed and lower emissions;
• Better manure management (e.g. composting);
• Better herd management to improve output, including better herd health management with less reliance on antibiotics;
• Better management of grassland (e.g. sowing improved varieties of pasture, rotational grazing)
• Public Awareness raising;
• Climate SMART Animal Farming/ Agriculture policies introduced and implemented;
• Trainings on Climate SMART Animal Farming for local farmers
We need to act now in a collective and global way to ensure that the impacts of Climate Change associated with meat consumption is robustly tackled by every person and every nation through the meaningful strategies and Climate SMART change behavioral patterns/trends we employ.
We are hopeful that Liberia and other countries will choose some of these best practices associated with Climate SMART Animal Farming or agriculture; as these steps recommended will help mitigate the herculean challenges associated with tackling the impacts of Climate Change due to the effects of meat Consumption.
Every steps counts in tackling Climate Change, and that first step begins with everyone and every country of which Liberians and Liberia is of no exception.
Arthur R.M. Becker is Project Officer for Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) Environmentalist & Junior Climate Change Negotiator at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of Liberia
This year’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco got pretty heated (no pun intended). Between California Governor Jerry Brown calling President Donald Trump a “liar, criminal, fool” and protestors rallying outside against fossil fuel extraction, despite the governor signing into law the state’s commitment to 100 percent clean energy by 2045 this week, the event was certainly not lacking in high emotion. But on a cooler note, actors Harrison Ford and Alec Baldwin and everyone’s favorite primatologist, Jane Goodall, were also present at the Summit, and Baldwin and Goodall sat down for a chat on the importance of plant-based diets in regards to forests and the fight against climate change.
And although a primatologist and an actor may seemingly have little in common, the two celebrities have one very important commonality — they are advocates for the environment and promote ditching meat for the sake of the planet.
Goodall and Baldwin both ditch meat from their diets and credit environmental concerns as reasoning for it. And they are absolutely right that eliminating animal products from your life has a humongous positive effect on not only your health and the livelihood of animals, but on the environment and world as a whole as well.
Animal agriculture is a leading contributor to climate change, being responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector (cars, planes, trains, etc.) combined. In fact, a recent study revealed that animal agriculture is more harmful to the environment than fossil fuel extractors like Shell and Exxon Mobil (so maybe those protestors at this year’s Summit should have been carrying anti-meat, egg, and dairy signs instead…). Going plant-based just for one year has the potential to cut your carbon footprint in HALF, while giving you a myriad of health benefits (vegan diets are free of cholesterol, antibiotics, etc. and chock-full of vitamins and nutrients) and saving the lives of so many innocent animals. If everyone adopted a plant-based diet, then yes, we could certainly meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and keep our planet’s temperature from rising those two more dangerous degrees.
To learn more about the connections between our diets and the environment, be sure to check out the fact-filled, image-rich Eat for the Planet book!
And please remember to share this with your network as a reminder that going plant-based can literally help save the world!
Image Source: eatforclimateweek/Instagram
On Tuesday, a law goes into effect that prohibits calling plant-based meat alternatives “meat.” The legislation is supposed to clear up shopper confusion. However, not everyone is on board. Wochit
On Tuesday, Missouri became the first state in the country to have a law on the books that prohibits food makers from using the word “meat” to refer to anything other than animal flesh.
This takes aim at manufacturers of what has been dubbed fake or nontraditional meat.
Clean meat – also known as lab-grown meat – is made of cultured animal tissue cells, while plant-based meat is generally from ingredients such as soy, tempeh and seitan.
The state law forbids “misrepresenting a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.” Violators may be fined $1,000 and imprisoned for a year.
A similar argument is unfolding on the federal level.
The meat-substitute market is expected to reach $7.5 billion-plus globally by 2025, up from close to $4.2 billion last year, according to Allied Market Research.
The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, which worked to get the law passed, has cited shopper confusion and protecting local ranchers as reasons for the legislation.
“The big issue was marketing with integrity and … consumers knowing what they’re getting,” Missouri Cattlemen’s Association spokesman Mike Deering said. “There’s so much unknown about this.”
The bill was signed into law by then-governor Eric Greitens on June 1.
On Monday, the company that makes Tofurky filed an injunction in a Missouri federal court to prevent enforcement of the statute, alleging the state has received no complaints about consumers befuddled by the term “plant-based meats” and that preventing manufacturers from using the word is a violation of their First Amendment rights. Plus, it pointed out, “meat” also refers to the edible part of nuts and fruit.
The statute “prevents the sharing of truthful information and impedes competition,” according to documents filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. “The marketing and packaging of plant-based products reveals that plant-based food producers do not mislead consumers but instead distinguish their products from conventional meat products.”
The co-plaintiff is the Good Food Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.
Deering said he was surprised by the suit because the primary target of the law was lab-grown meat.
Tofurky’s main ingredient is the the first two syllables of its name – tofu.
“I have always envisioned Tofurky serving a greater purpose beyond the plate, acting as an engine for global change,” said Tofurky CEO Jaime Athos in a statement about the suit. “Using our privately-held position to extinguish threats to legal definitions of terms like “meat,” is one way we can further our mission to help reduce global dependence on animal agriculture; therefore, improving environmental sustainability, animal welfare and human health.”
In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would regulate lab-grown meat. Traditional animal proteins are the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Ernest Baskin, an assistant professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University, said consumers use the word “meat,” when applied to nonanimal protein as a shortcut to understand how they eat the food they see on supermarket shelves.
“There’s a segment of consumers that doesn’t have to eat alternative products but wants to,” he said. “In those cases, putting those options together in front of consumers gives them the thought that ‘Hey, maybe these two are similar. Maybe I can substitute.’ “
Chili’s new Boss Burger contains nearly a day’s worth of calories and a week’s worth of guilt. Nathan Rousseau Smith shows us the 1/2 foot tall sandwich. Buzz60
Peter Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University, laureate professor at the University of Melbourne and founder of the non-profit organization The Life You Can Save. His books include Animal Liberation, The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter (with Jim Mason) and The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically.
Vegans are suddenly everywhere. Restaurants that serve meals completely free of all animal products have opened all over New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, and in Britain, the number of vegans more than tripled in the decade from 2006 to 2016. But most surprisingly, Germany – where not so long ago, meat-heavy cuisine made the country a hostile terrain even for vegetarians – has Berlin showcasing itself as the European center of vegan fine dining.
Canadian consumption of beef and pork peaked in the 1980s, and has dropped sharply since. For a time, this drop seemed to indicate nothing more dramatic than a preference for chicken, but Canadian consumption of all meats has been falling since 2007. Today, restaurants that fail to offer animal-free meals risk losing millennials as customers.
The business pages, too, signal that meatless is the future: Canada’s biggest meat producer, Maple Leaf Foods, has bought plant-based food company Field Roast, known for its vegan sausages and vegan cheeses, for $120-million. Investors are flocking to startups developing plant-based alternatives to meat and other animal products. Fast-food restaurant A&W is aggressively pushing its plant-based burger, struggling to keep up with intense Canadian demand. Other companies are putting money into cellular agriculture, which produces cultured meat, fish, dairy and other animal products, all grown from animal cells but not involving the raising and slaughtering of a living animal.
With celebrities such as Beyoncé, Oprah and Pink, all singing the praises of reducing or eliminating meat consumption, veganism is undoubtedly having a moment.
There are two distinct threats that could indicate that yes, meat is on the way out. One is that a continuation of present trends against consuming meat will make it socially unacceptable for a large segment of society, as tobacco is today. The other is that a technological revolution will make producers of live cattle, pigs and chickens as irrelevant as Kodak became when the once-dominant camera and film manufacturer failed to embrace the digital revolution.
Meat – or at least meat as we have known it – may be cooked.
|Type||kg of C02 emissions per kg of protein produced|
If large-scale, commercial raising of animals for food is on the way out, that will be a very good thing for our climate and for our environment more generally. Livestock’s Long Shadow, a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, found that livestock are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector – all the cars, trucks, planes and ships put together – and second only to the burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity.
Modern meat production typically involves growing grains or soybeans – crops that we could eat directly – and feeding them to animals. The animals then need to burn much of this food energy simply in order to live and keep their bodies warm. The proportion of the nutritional value of the crops that we get back from eating the animals, or their eggs and milk, varies with the food and the species of animal. For beef, it is less than one-10th, but even for the more efficient food converters, such as laying hens and dairy cows, it is no more than one-third.
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.
Other poultrySmall ruminantsBuffaloChickensPigsCattle825967667908195,02482
Energy consumptionManureFeedEnteric fermentation5104144%5
Some people believe that eating locally produced food is the best way to make their diet sustainable. If they are eating meat, it isn’t. One study found that the average American would do more for the planet by going vegetarian just one day a week than they would by eating an entirely local diet.
Another study compared the climate impacts of what we drive with those of what we eat. It found that by switching from a standard North American car, such as a Toyota Camry, to a fuel efficient hybrid, such as a Toyota Prius, the average American driver would save about one ton of carbon emissions a year. But anyone changing from the average American diet to a vegan diet would, over a year, save about 1.5 tons of carbon equivalent. Moreover, that change needs no new technology and, in contrast to buying a new car, installing solar panels, or building wind farms, it has no upfront costs. On the contrary, plant foods such as dried beans and lentils are, per unit of protein, cheaper than meat. It is something we could all do, now.
If, however, we maintain our current levels of meat consumption while people in newly prosperous countries in Asia continue to narrow the gap between their lower levels of meat consumption and ours, we can abandon all hope of meeting the climate goals set at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015. Changing Climate, Changing Diets, a report from the highly respected London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs summarized the situation this way: “Even with best efforts to reduce the emissions footprint of livestock production, the sector will consume a growing share of the remaining carbon budget. This will make it extremely difficult to realize the goal of limiting the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”
That goal, remember, was considered necessary to implement what every major country, including the United States, pledged to do at the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro: to stabilize greenhouse gases at a level low enough to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” Some scientists, as well as the leaders of low-lying Pacific island nations, argued at the Paris conference that a temperature rise of 2 C was already too high. The conference resolved to seek to limit temperature rises to as close as possible to 1.5 C. There is general agreement that a rise exceeding 2 C could lead to feedback loops such as the release of additional large quantities of methane from the thawing Siberian permafrost. That will cause still more warming and release yet more methane. Global warming will then be beyond human control and unpredictably dangerous to the future of humanity and the other beings with whom we share this planet.
Climate change is the greatest environmental harm for which meat consumption must bear a significant share of responsibility, but there are many others. The concentrated manure of tens of thousands of intensively farmed animals pollutes rivers. People living near factory farms suffer from odours and flies. Crops fed to cattle compete for water with crops eaten directly by humans, and the need for water for cattle, for drinking, cleaning and other uses, has led to the severe depletion of underground aquifers that took millennia to accumulate.
The eminent Canadian scientist Vaclav Smil has written that for everyone in the world to eat as much meat as people in the affluent world now eat would require 67 per cent more agricultural land than the world possesses. It is difficult to justify a wasteful diet that demands so much agricultural land and water that it necessarily denies the majority of the world’s population the opportunity to eat a diet that is anywhere close to what we are eating.
When I became a vegetarian in 1970, I was a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Oxford, with a particular interest in ethics. But I had never thought that, by eating meat, I might be complicit in a moral atrocity on a gigantic scale. Today, such ignorance may seem culpable, but it was shared by almost everyone. The term animal rights did not exist, and very few would have known what vegan meant. There were so few ethical vegetarians that I had never met one until that fateful day when I chanced to have lunch with a Canadian graduate student in philosophy, Richard Keshen. As we entered Balliol College dining hall, Richard asked the person presenting the food if the sauce on the spaghetti had meat in it. When told that it did, he took a salad plate. I took the spaghetti, and later asked Richard why he was avoiding meat. He answered that he didn’t think we ought to be treating animals in the way that the animal whose flesh I was now eating had been treated.
That simple response, along with some things Richard told me about the development of intensive animal raising, or factory farming, led me to consider, for the first time, the moral status that we should accord to animals, and whether the various uses we make of them, including raising them for food, are defensible. I decided that I ought to stop eating meat, at least from animals raised in the usual commercial systems, and before long, I became a vegetarian.
In Animal Liberation, published five years later, I set out the basis for this decision. The boundary of ethical concern, I argued, ought not to determined by the boundary of our species, any more than it ought to be determined by the boundary of our race or sex. There are, of course, differences between humans and members of other species, especially in the capacity of normal humans beyond infancy to reason and to use a complex language. But a being does not have to be capable of reasoning to be able to suffer, as anyone who has spent time with an infant knows. There is good evidence that cows, pigs, chickens and fish are all capable of suffering, and so, most probably, are some invertebrates, such as the octopus.
Factory farming inflicts severe suffering on a staggering number of animals. The United States alone produces more than nine billion factory-farmed animals each year. Professor John Webster, formerly head of the school of veterinary science at the University of Bristol and a towering figure in animal-welfare science, has described the industrial raising of chickens as “the single most severe, systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient animal.”
There are many grounds for this dire judgment. To anyone entering a chicken shed, the overcrowding is obvious, as is the polluted air, which contains enough ammonia from the accumulated bird droppings to sting the eyes and burn the throat. Only a more expert eye would know, however, that these birds have been bred to grow so fast that their immature legs cannot support their grotesquely large bodies, with the result that, Mr. Webster says, a third of them show signs of arthritis-like pain for the final weeks of their lives. They cannot sit down on the litter that covers the floor, however, because it contains so much ammonia that it burns their thighs. Some birds suffer the still-worse fate of having their legs collapse under them. Then, unable to move to water, they slowly die from thirst. (The birds are not worth enough to justify the extra cost of hiring sufficient staff to pay attention to individual birds.)
I could describe equally bad conditions for other industrially raised animals, but you can find plenty of videos on the websites of animal-advocacy organizations. It is no wonder, then, that one powerful motive for going vegan is the desire to cease supporting the factory farming of animals. One could decide instead to be an “ethical omnivore,” eating animal products only when one has adequate assurance that they were raised under conditions that gave them good lives. There are also fish: They, if not raised in confined aquaculture tanks or nets, lead natural lives until they are caught. Horrible as their deaths usually are, that might be a lesser evil than a lifetime of miserable confinement. But many of those who become aware of our ruthless exploitation of animals find it simpler and better to make a clean break with all animal exploitation.
It is a sad but true commentary on human nature that if the vegan movement were driven solely by ethical considerations, it would not be as large as it is today. When Bill Clinton appeared on television in 2010, looking trimmer and fitter than he had for years, and attributed the change to going vegan, people paid attention. Beyoncé recently invited her 112 million Instagram followers to join her in going vegan for 44 days as she prepared for the Coachella festival. Oprah Winfrey isn’t vegan, but has pledged to observe Meatless Mondays and urges her tens of millions of followers to do the same. In the sports world, too, proof of veganism’s health effects are rampant: Novak Djokovic, winner of this year’s men’s Wimbledon championship, is vegan, except for some occasional fish. Venus Williams went vegan after she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and Serena joined her in sisterly support and has since become passionate about vegan eating. English footballer Jermain Defoe says his vegan diet has helped him keep his career going at 35, when most other footballers have retired.
When movie stars, actors and pop singers talk about how great they feel on a vegan diet, and vegan athletes win tennis championships, boxing titles and long-distance races, many more people are motivated to cut out animal products.
Once people appreciate that they don’t need to eat animal products, and that they feel better without them, they will be more receptive to the ethical arguments against eating meat. Scientists told some subjects that they were about to be given a consumer test that required them to eat beef, while other students were told that the test required them to eat an apple. Both before and after they were given this information, all the subjects were asked to rate the mental capacities of cows. Those who had been told that they would be eating beef rated the mental capacities of the cows lower after they received this information than they had rated them before receiving it. Subjects who were told they were about to eat an apple did not change their rating of the mental capacities of cows. In other words, it’s easier to see cows for the sensitive beings they are when you are not about to eat one of them. And the same goes, I expect, for seeing the strength of an ethical argument against eating cows.
So will meat go the way of tobacco? If you associate a vegan diet with activism for animals or for the environment, you may think that drawing an analogy between meat and tobacco is a stretch. After all, the campaign against smoking was based on the truth that smoking sharply increases the risk of dying from lung cancer or other smoking-related diseases. Although the consumption of processed meat and red meat is associated with higher levels of colorectal cancer, this does not apply to all forms of meat, and the health risk appears to be lower than it is with smoking. If, however, people find that they feel good on a vegan diet, the ethical arguments will be more widely accepted, and it could become unacceptable, at least in some circumstances, to eat animals.
In 2015, Charles Krauthammer, the conservative Washington Post columnist who died earlier this year, asked, in one of his columns, what present practice, universally engaged in and accepted by people of great intelligence and moral sensitivity, will be seen by future generations as abominable, in the way that we now see slavery as abominable? Mr. Krauthammer’s answer was: our treatment of animals. “I’m convinced,” he wrote, “that our great-grandchildren will find it difficult to believe that we actually raised, herded and slaughtered them on an industrial scale – for the eating.”
Perhaps it won’t take three generations for people to see the industrial raising of animals as an abomination. That day may be closer than we think.