Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently visited a school in Queens where a student asked the New York congresswoman her recommendations about how to combat climate change. “Skip disposable razors and switch to safety razors,” Ocasio-Cortez advised. “Give your tummy a break! Skip meat and dairy for a meal—easiest is breakfast; I do banana and peanut butter.” Ocasio-Cortez followed up with several other suggestions, telling students to shop at thrift stores, to use public transit, and to bring reusable bags on grocery shopping trips. Last month, Ocasio-Cortez took to Instagram to reveal that her favorite milk choices are plant-based varieties, stating, “I’m very into oat milk right now which, in my opinion, is the best of all the milks after cashew milk.”
According to a new study, we’re growing too many grains, fats, and sugars and not enough fruits, vegetables, and protein.
We’re not managing our crops to support global nutritional needs: In fact, we use a disproportionate amount of land used to grow grains, fats, oils, and sugar, and not enough land to grow the fruits and vegetables that we need to survive, a new research paper asserts.
Climate change has made it more more crucial than ever to produce food as efficiently as possible. Not only does climate change threaten the productivity of crops around the globe, but the agricultural sector is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases (second only to burning fossil fuels).
The researchers compared the ideal nutritional profile of a human diet with the land use and greenhouse gas emissions tied to making those foods. They found that to grow the nutrients we need for our diet, we would have to reduce the amount of land used for growing grains by 150 hectares, 105 million hectares for fats and oils, and 30 million hectares for sugars.
Meanwhile, the land given to grow fruits and vegetables would have to go up by 171 hectares. (For perspective, a hectare is 10,000 square meters.)
The researchers used the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate model as their basis of an ideal nutrition model. In doing so, they suggest that per person, we need to grow three more servings of fruits and vegetables, two more servings of protein, as well as six fewer servings of grains, and four fewer servings of sugar.
However, their recommendations don’t define how big a serving is, according to the the Harvard Nutrition Source team in the Department of Nutrition, which devised the Healthy Eating Plate system. “They [the relative section sizes] are not based on specific calorie amounts, and they are not meant to prescribe a certain number of calories or servings per day, since individuals’ calorie and nutrient needs vary based on age, gender, body size, and level of activity,” the department said in an statement.
Even so, the general narrative that we need to drastically change our food production holds up. As the world population has grown, so has the amount of greenhouse gases emitted while producing the agriculture necessary to feed everyone. From 1993 to 2013, greenhouse gas emissions due to agriculture ballooned by over a gigaton.
The paper points out that we produce enough food on an annual basis to meet the caloric needs (not nutritional needs) of every person on food. Rather, the problem we have is often poor agricultural management.
One solution is to eat less meat, says a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of climate scientists working for the United Nations. But while that would obviously help us lower emissions, the researchers admit, isn’t realistic. “A complete shift to a vegetarian diet where protein comes from leguminous crops, global agriculture would need 80 million [hectacre] more arable land and 360 million [hectacre] less pasture land to feed the world’s 2050 population,” the study reads.
Since everyone giving up meat is off the table, the researchers mentioned a variety of different problem-solving approaches to make up the difference. For instance, we could improving the efficiency of livestock production by breeding animals that produce fewer greenhouse gases (cows release an inordinate amount of methane through their farts, and methane is a greenhouse gas more dangerous to the atmosphere than carbon, or restricting grazing to a smaller area of land for a shorter period of time.
The researchers also recommended increasing our reliance on alternative proteins such as fungi, algae, or insects, as well as increasing fish consumption (which comes with its own set of environmental problems, but is better in terms of greenhouse gas emissions).
The paper takes into account scientific and technological innovation, such as genetically modified organisms, that has helped us grow enough food for the global population today. The researchers assume that we’ll come up with a new technological way to increase fruit and vegetable yields 1 percent over the next 50 years—which is still a long way off from the 8 percent they suggest in order to adapt to population growth while all following a Harvard Healthy Eating Plate-appropriate diet.
“In reality, yield increases are likely to be more variable due to factors such as climate change and other unforeseen changes to the agricultural system,” the paper states. Natural disasters such as typhoons and hurricanes, for instance, which are more likely due to climate change, can have devastating effects on crop yields. This year, farmers in Florida and Georgia have lost an estimated $4 billion worth of food due to damage from Hurricane Michael.
Other experts have also argued that we should label foods in terms of their climate impact so that consumers understand the impact of their food choices.
The findings of this paper echo some of the thoughts outlined in the IPCC’s stunning 1.5 Degree Report: we need to completely rethink the way that we manage our food, transportation, government, and production if we have any hope of supporting the human population through a dire, yet optimistic climate scenario in which we only heat the world 50 percent more than we already have.
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
It’s been almost a decade since swine flu first dominated the national news, causing people to panic after a pandemic that started in Mexico spread to the U.S. in 2009 and resulted in more than 274,300 hospitalizations and 12,400 deaths. (The global death toll may have been as high as 575,400.)
But just because swine flu hasn’t been making headlines as often as it once did —now only popping up when there’s a regional outbreak or when kids get sick after visiting a petting zoo —that doesn’t mean the disease has gone away or is any less of a threat.
Case in point: Swine flu recently sickened around 120 people from at least 25 states who attended a national letter carriers’ convention in Grand Rapids, Mich. Health officials say it was the same H1N1 strain that emerged in 2009 and has been circulating ever since.
In early August, an outbreak of African swine fever began spreading throughout China, where there are about 700 million pigs —half the world’s pig population. Authorities say that the virus can survive for several weeks, living in pork products, in slaughterhouses and on trucks used for transporting pigs.
An official with the U.K.’s National Pig Association says it’s only a matter of time before swine fever spreads to other countries. She admits that meat industry insiders believe “it’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen, it’s when it’s going to happen.”
Health officials are quick to point out that people can’t get swine flu or swine fever by eating pigs. But medical experts —and meat industry representatives —never really hammer home the most significant fact: Swine flu and swine fever exist primarily because humans raise pigs for food.
Swine flu is called “swine flu” for a reason —because it afflicts pigs. The virus thrives at agricultural fairs and on pig farms, where tens of thousands of pigs are crammed together in filthy, damp sheds that reek of urine and feces. Animals are usually kept on antibiotics so that they can survive the cramped, putrid conditions. They’re slaughtered on kill floors that are contaminated with feces, vomit and other bodily fluids, making it easy for the organisms that cause swine flu and other harmful diseases, like salmonella, listeria, and E. coli, to flourish.
A U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization representative once said that the “intensive industrial farming of livestock” was an “opportunity for emerging disease.” Intensive crowding and confinement are breeding grounds for pathogens, and animal-borne viruses like the ones that cause swine flu, bird flu and other illnesses can mutate into forms that sicken humans. An H3N2 swine flu strain, for example, sickened at least 145 people, mostly in Indiana and Ohio, in 2012.
People who are in close contact with pigs —or with individuals who are around pigs —are especially at risk. This summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report warning that pigs exhibited at fairs can infect children and other at-risk individuals with swine flu.
It should be clear by now: If we don’t want pigs or other farmed animals to be our downfall —either through animal-borne illness or food-induced heart disease, diabetes or cancer —we need to stop raising them for food and going to gawk at them in fairs and other agricultural exhibits.
We can still enjoy the taste of pork without killing pigs, because many companies offer tasty vegan versions. And if your kids like seeing pigs (who have charming personalities when you get to know them), why not watch a fun movie like “Charlotte’s Web” or “Babe”? It’s much kinder than going to an agricultural exhibit —and you definitely won’t catch swine flu by watching a talking pig plead for compassion.
Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.
The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.
The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.
The study, published in the journal Science, created a huge dataset based on almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries and covering 40 food products that represent 90% of all that is eaten. It assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use and water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification).
“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,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.
“Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems,” he said. “Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”
The analysis also revealed a huge variability between different ways of producing the same food. For example, beef cattle raised on deforested land result in 12 times more greenhouse gases and use 50 times more land than those grazing rich natural pasture. But the comparison of beef with plant protein such as peas is stark, with even the lowest impact beef responsible for six times more greenhouse gases and 36 times more land.
The large variability in environmental impact from different farms does present an opportunity for reducing the harm, Poore said, without needing the global population to become vegan. If the most harmful half of meat and dairy production was replaced by plant-based food, this still delivers about two-thirds of the benefits of getting rid of all meat and dairy production.
Cutting the environmental impact of farming is not easy, Poore warned: “There are over 570m farms all of which need slightly different ways to reduce their impact. It is an [environmental] challenge like no other sector of the economy.” But he said at least $500bn is spent every year on agricultural subsidies, and probably much more: “There is a lot of money there to do something really good with.”
Labels that reveal the impact of products would be a good start, so consumers could choose the least damaging options, he said, but subsidies for sustainable and healthy foods and taxes on meat and dairy will probably also be necessary.
One surprise from the work was the large impact of freshwater fish farming, which provides two-thirds of such fish in Asia and 96% in Europe, and was thought to be relatively environmentally friendly. “You get all these fish depositing excreta and unconsumed feed down to the bottom of the pond, where there is barely any oxygen, making it the perfect environment for methane production,” a potent greenhouse gas, Poore said.
The research also found grass-fed beef, thought to be relatively low impact, was still responsible for much higher impacts than plant-based food. “Converting grass into [meat] is like converting coal to energy. It comes with an immense cost in emissions,” Poore said.
The new research has received strong praise from other food experts. Prof Gidon Eshel, at Bard College, US, said: “I was awestruck. It is really important, sound, ambitious, revealing and beautifully done.”
He said previous work on quantifying farming’s impacts, including his own, had taken a top-down approach using national level data, but the new work used a bottom-up approach, with farm-by-farm data. “It is very reassuring to see they yield essentially the same results. But the new work has very many important details that are profoundly revealing.”
Prof Tim Benton, at the University of Leeds, UK, said: “This is an immensely useful study. It brings together a huge amount of data and that makes its conclusions much more robust. The way we produce food, consume and waste food is unsustainable from a planetary perspective. Given the global obesity crisis, changing diets – eating less livestock produce and more vegetables and fruit – has the potential to make both us and the planet healthier.”
Dr Peter Alexander, at the University of Edinburgh, UK, was also impressed but noted: “There may be environmental benefits, eg for biodiversity, from sustainably managed grazing and increasing animal product consumption may improve nutrition for some of the poorest globally. My personal opinion is we should interpret these results not as the need to become vegan overnight, but rather to moderate our [meat] consumption.”
Poore said: “The reason I started this project was to understand if there were sustainable animal producers out there. But I have stopped consuming animal products over the last four years of this project. These impacts are not necessary to sustain our current way of life. The question is how much can we reduce them and the answer is a lot.”
A Libertarian Vegan View of Trump and the Elephants – Freedom Philosophy
“Three and a half years ago my life was tumultuous. A friend suggested
yoga for health and peace of mind. Since the guy-to-girl ratio was in
my favour, I immediately signed up.
“Being obsessive-compulsive, I started looking into the philosophy
behind it and adopted portions of it.
“One of the ethical dictates is harmonious living, applying the
non-aggression principle to animals implies not causing them pain. In
short, I became a vegan (less than 30 seconds into you reading the
article, I managed to get that in there).
“About a year later, the obnoxious guy from The Apprentice rode down
an escalator. He campaigned on banning Muslims, deficit spending,
killing civilians in the Middle East, diminishing free trade, and he
called Mexicans crossing the border criminals, rapists, and drug
“Not being one to stay silent, I began blogging about what a lunatic
this guy is, which ultimately led me to Being Libertarian.
“All of this is to say that, as a vegan and prolific anti-Trump
blogger, I am comfortable saying that the majority of individuals
upset about lifting the elephant-trophy ban are engaging in vacuous
nonsense. It’s the height of virtue signaling to post a picture of
one’s lunch – a bacon wrapped steak – only to go on and post a link to
Trump’s animal cruelty.
“It’s the leftists who demand more resources for the poor; while an
analysis of their tax returns indicates a pronounced lack of charity
on their part. They’re perfectly generous with everyone’s money except
“These same people will demand others stop animal cruelty but not lift
a finger to end their own.”
Animal activists disrupt Utah governor’s turkey pardon
“SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Two animal-rights activists disrupted the Utah
governor’s Thanksgiving pardoning of a turkey Tuesday, rushing the
podium and shouting as the CEO of a turkey plant spoke to a crowd of
“Video from KUTV showed Herbert’s security detail restrained the men
and state troopers escorted them away from the afternoon ceremony in
Salt Lake City.
“Utah Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Todd Royce said the two
unidentified men were not arrested but cooperated with troopers and
left the Capitol.”
By Bill O’Boyle – email@example.com | October 5th, 2017 3:39 pm
WILKES-BARRE — The Mother Nature Vegan Cuisine food truck is no more and its owner finds herself in the middle of a firestorm for insensitive comments about the people killed in the Las Vegas massacre.
Delinda Jensen, 60, has received death threats after posting this Facebook comment: “Yes I am jaded. Fifty nine meat eaters dead. How many animals will live because of this?”
She then made a comment under the post that said: “I don’t give a (expletive) about carnists anymore.”
Jensen, a former adjunct history professor at Marywood University, said Thursday she is living in fear since her post set off an intense backlash on social media earlier this week.
She is out of business and her bright green food truck is in a secret storage area.
“I (expletive) up,” Jensen said while sitting at her kitchen table with son and business partner, Kyle, 28. “Was it poorly written? Absolutely. Do I regret it? Yes. I am so sorry I wrote that.”
Many Facebook users shared Jensen’s post, which generated hundreds of hate-filled comments and threats and little defense of her stance.
Jensen emphatically insisted she was not happy about the death of 59 people.
“Meat eaters or not, no one deserves to die like that,” Jensen said. “I wasn’t celebrating the death of those people. That’s not how vegans think — we are non-violent.”
In trying to explain her motivation for writing the post, Jensen wanted to make the point that too many animals are tortured and killed every year — she estimated 2o billion-plus — and consumed by humans. Jensen, who became a vegan two years ago, said people can eat good food without the inhumanity of abusing and killing innocent animals. She said one vegan translates to saving 155 animals per year.
Since Jensen’s post went up late Monday, she said she has received hundreds of abusive comments, phone calls and even death threats. She and Kyle said they had to install a security camera system for protection. Kyle said many vehicles have driven by their Mill Street home in Wilkes-Barre — with people shouting obscenities and threats. The Jensens said they had to call police several times because they feared for their safety.
‘Lynch mob forming’
Jensen deactivated her Facebook account, but not before her post was shared countless times, causing a nationwide controversy. Jensen said she was told that someone even contacted media outlets in Las Vegas to inform them of her post.
“It’s almost like a lynch mob is forming,” said Jensen. “It’s seems that it’s no longer about the Facebook post — now it’s about eating meat.”
Jensen is angry at herself for what she called “a moment of stupidity.” She felt her vegan business was doing good for people, giving them a healthy alternative. Jensen would bring her truck to Public Square on Mondays and it was very popular.
“We even gave food to the homeless for free,” she said.
But now, “We’re done. We canceled all of our booked events. We had a really good product, too.”
If she could, she would contact the families of all the Las Vegas victims to personally apologize. Instead, as she deals with the loss of her business and a steady stream of harsh criticism, she’s afraid to leave her home.
“There’s just so much visceral hate out there,” she said.
In addition to clearing their Facebook accounts, Jensen and her son have deactivated all of their electronic devices.
Jensen said she asked Kyle’s friends to go out and buy some paint so she could pass the time painting the walls and ceilings in her home.
“It will be like therapy,” she said. “I have nothing else to do right now. I have no avenue to apologize. I can’t even think of going back on Facebook.”
‘We are not bad people’
Jensen said she has no idea where she goes from here — she doesn’t know how she will earn a living.
“I’ll just take it one day at a time,” she said. “I understand the tragedies of history — there’s never anything to celebrate. I never once felt ‘Yay, yippee, 59 people are dead.’”
Jensen knows what it’s like to lose a loved one — her husband committed suicide.
In the past few days, she and her son have gotten a real sample of the inhumanity and hate in the world. She said people driving by her home have shouted all sorts of horrible things — profanity, threats — and they have attacked her for being a vegan.
“We are not bad people,” she said. “We are aware that there are people on social media who have been trying to organize groups to come after us.”
So at night, Jensen and her son lock all the doors and turn out the lights. They leave porch lights on so security cameras can record anyone trying to get near them.
“I did write an apology on Facebook right after the post went up,” Jensen said. “It didn’t matter. People were already running with it.”
Kyle, who has a degree in culinary arts, is sure he will find another job.
“I’m not mad at my mom,” he said. “We are a family. We’ve been through a lot. But people have destroyed our business.”
Jensen always knew people could be nasty, but never to this level.
“This was our life and now it’s gone,” she said. “I’m so scared to go out anywhere.”
Pledge to Take Extinction Off Your Plate
Meat production is one of the planet’s largest causes of environmental degradation and most significant threats to wildlife.
And the problem is rapidly getting worse: Production of beef, poultry, pork and other meat products tripled between 1980 and 2010 and will likely double again by 2050. This increasing meat consumption in a world of more than 7 billion people is taking a staggering toll on wildlife, habitat, water resources, air quality and the climate. Meanwhile, Americans eat more meat per capita than almost any other country.
By signing the pledge to reduce meat consumption by one-third or more, we can start to take extinction off our plates. Join the Center’s Earth-friendly Diet Campaign today.
Already a vegetarian? Then you’re a valuable wildlife advocate who can help others join the movement. Spread the word by taking the pledge and asking your friends to sign too.
Protect wildlife — pledge today to eat an Earth-friendly diet.
I pledge to protect the environment and wildlife by:*
Reducing my meat consumption by one-third
Reducing my meat consumption by two-thirds
Choosing a meat-free diet
I’m already vegetarian or vegan so I’ll get at least three friends to take the pledge for an Earth-friendly diet
We, the undersigned, pledge to take extinction off our plates by reducing the amount of meat we consume and/or telling our friends to join the Earth-friendly Diet campaign.
By cutting just one-third of the meat from our diets, we can each save as much as 340,667 gallons of water, more than 4,000 square feet of land, and the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 2,700 fewer miles a year.
Many of our current environmental crises are either directly caused by or worsened by our culture’s dependence on meat. By meating less, we give the world and wildlife a break.
By Ashley Braun
Environmental groups place a lot of attention on trying to stop new oil, gas and coal development since current fossil fuel projects would likely already blow us past the less-than 2°C upper limit for warming laid out in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. In fact, there’s a whole movement, known as “Keep It in the Ground,” predicated on this idea.
But when faced with a resurgence of support for fossil fuels from the White House, perhaps just as important is talking about how to “Keep It in the Cow,” according to some reports. Right now, experts predict agriculture is set to eat up half the greenhouse gas emissions the world can release by 2050 and still stay below 2°C (3.6°F) of warming.
That is, unless the world takes a big bite out of its meat consumption, especially from cattle and other livestock that chew their cud, say researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden. Raising these ruminants produces a lot of methane, a much more potent but shorter-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
While “Meatless Mondays” is one approach to this problem, their studies show that it’s not necessarily how much meat people eat that’s linked to the climate impacts of their diet. Instead, it’s the amount of beef, lamb and dairy.
A 2017 Chalmers study concluded that: “A switch from diets rich in ruminant meat to diets with meat from monogastric animals (pork, chicken) reduces [methane] emissions by almost the same amount as a switch to an entirely vegan diet.” Researchers at the University of Oxford in 2016 found similar benefits, concluding that shifting to a vegetarian diet could lessen greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds.
(If you want to eat vegan, of course, that’s also an option. In addition, eggs and dairy each have about half the climate impact of eating chicken and beef.)
It’s worth noting that many of these studies don’t take into account the land-use changes that come with supporting different diets. However, the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 70 percent of Amazon forest has been converted to pasture for livestock, and the Chalmers researchers note swapping in beans for bovine burgers likely wouldn’t drive an increase in cropland.
Agriculture at UN Climate Talks
Of course, changing what’s on your plate is only one way to cut your diet’s climate impact (though for the U.S., it’s one of the most immediate and arguably easiest ways). Two other major approaches include making farms more productive (though livestock plays a big role here too) and using climate change-mitigating techniques such as planting cover crops that store carbon in the soil.
In addition, the UN climate talks are increasingly bringing agriculture into discussions about reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the 2016 climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco, saw at least 80 sessions touching on agriculture.
This hasn’t always been the case.
“Agriculture has really lagged,” Craig Hanson, director of the food, forests and water program at the World Resources Institute, told InsideClimate News. “[I]t’s surprising it’s taken so long … But it’s finally happening.”
Furthermore, in 2014 the UN launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture. However, its efforts appear more focused on helping farmers with productivity and resilience in the face of climate change, while reducing farming’s greenhouse gas contributions comes with the caveat “when possible.”
How much this year’s climate talks in Bonn, Germany, will touch on agriculture remains to be seen.
Global Health Down on the Farm
Industrial livestock production, or factory farming, has also been called out specifically for both its climate and public health consequences. In May, about 200 experts in fields ranging from medicine to climate research published an open letter asking that the next leader of the World Health Organization (WHO) tackle the global health effects of climate change.
The letter stated, “Although many previous attempts to tackle factory farming have been largely framed around animal welfare or environmental concerns, we believe that limiting the size and adverse practices of factory farming is also central to improving global health.”
In addition to climate change, it goes on to list antibiotic resistance and the rise of obesity and non-infectious diseases (e.g., diabetes) among the harmful fallout of factory farming. The letter continued:
“Climate change does not recognize borders and neither do drug-resistant infectious diseases. Although they contribute least to the global burden of animal farming, the world’s poorest countries are also the most vulnerable to rising water levels, natural disasters caused by climate change, food insecurity, and infectious diseases.”
Encouragingly, the WHO’s new director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, listed addressing the health impacts of climate and environmental change as one of his priorities.
Of course, this issue has been on the radar of the WHO for a while. First published in 2000, the agency updated its assessment of climate change’s health impacts in 2014. This latest version found that “climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050.” The organization cites childhood malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea (from lack of safe water) and heat exposure as the primary causes of those deaths. However, it likely underestimates the full health impacts from climate change.
In addition, switching how your meat is produced doesn’t necessarily address its climate footprint. Environmental economist Fredrik Hedenus of Chalmers University authored several of the studies on beef and dairy’s climate contributions mentioned earlier. He says that producing the same level of meat by “grazing animals [is] not better from a climate perspective compared to intensive factory farming. On the other hand, without factory farming the high level of consumption would not be possible.”
The world is already feeling the impacts of a changing climate after becoming, on average, just 1.8°F (1°C) warmer than before we started burning massive quantities of coal, oil and gas. With our already slim chances of avoiding “dangerous” global warming, the science suggests we can’t afford to leave food and farming off the negotiating table.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
All systems of oppression are supported by defensive attitudes, justifications, trivialization and denial. Sometimes these claims might be fair enough, but people more often than not simply react to feeling attacked and respond from a selfish position of self-preservation.
- Anarchism impoverished
Anarchism is struggle against all forms of domination. It is a beautifully simple idea that helps call into question every oppressive norm.
But our relationships of subjugation with billions of other species on the earth is one norm that few seem to take issue with; not only are other species unable to communicate their experience to us, but to question means to challenge entrenched habits and world views. If we want to be consistent in our politics, then there’s no way we can continue to ignore the impact our anthropocentricism (human-centeredness) is having on the rest of this planet.
Yet, just because most of us are implicated does not mean that we are burdened with some kind of ‘original sin’. Quite the contrary: the beauty and power of anarchism is that it pushes us all to live lives that are more just, loving, meaningful, satisfying, and collectively free. So when we talk about speciesism, far from being dismissive, we should embrace the challenge it poses, look further into the issue, and do what we can to change the miserable status quo.
- Alienation from the land
Through civilisation and conquest, insatiable capitalist cultures have alienated most of the world’s population from the ecologies which have been our species’ life support systems throughout its existence. This in turn has desensitised us from the mass enslavement of swathes of non-human lifeforms to the service of humans and capital. Yet, since this alienation is all that many of us city-dwellers have ever known, we do not really appreciate what is being lost. If this rings true for you, then spend some quality time with other animals; look at what they do, how they interact with one another. Read about the taming of the wilderness for capitalist expansion, and learn about the key role animal agriculture plays in transforming vibrant woodland into the monocultural fields that constitute our countryside today.
- Animals are at the bottom of the dung heap
The sheer scale, intensity, and normalization of animal exploitation and suffering is greater than that of any of our species. If you don’t agree, (so it sort of goes), you just aren’t paying attention. Hundreds if not thousands of entire species have been enslaved to capitalism, being imprisoned, manipulated, selectively bred, experimented on, used as reproductive machines & killed for our satisfaction, profit, and entertainment.
Each year, around 9 billion animals are farmed and killed in the US for ‘food’; about 600 million cows and billions of chickens. In life, the vast majority of chickens are crammed into sheds with complete disregard for their needs or desires as living creatures, before being killed at 6-7 weeks (naturally, they live for around 7 years). Selective breeding of meaty birds means they’re unable to support their own weight and spend 76%-86% of their time lying down; death from thirst or hunger comes to many. Soiled litter solidifies around their legs producing painful ulcers. In the case of egg-laying hens, the majority kept in cages, the intense stress of their short, miserable lives can lead to self-harm and cannibalism, so many have their beaks cut – without anesthetic – to reduce this risk. Whereas their wild ancestors laid 12-20 eggs per year, human enslavement has produced a modern reproductive machine that lays up to 300 eggs for our pleasure and profit annually. This is to say nothing of the dairy, pork, beef or fish-farming industries. Those animals are not going to be able to tweet about their misery (there is as yet no evidence that pigs are daft enough to while away their time on social media): go read up on it yourself.
Meanwhile, each year nearly 20 million animals in the US alone are subjected to ‘research’ in the name of science; experiments to test new products like medicines and chemicals (cleaners, plastics, pesticides, food additives etc.), and military trials. The most prestigious US universities continue to cage and experiment on the same non-human primates, dogs, cats and other animals for many years on end. These include depraved invasive experiments that physically and psychologically manipulate primates (eg. implanting electrodes into their skulls, removing parts of their brains, studying the effects of deliberately inflicted stress and pain, and so on).
On top of their uses for ‘food’ and ‘science’, there’s the breeding of pets for human pleasure (including 4-5 million healthy dogs and cats killed annually in the US after being taken or from or abandoned by mostly incompetent ‘owners’), and the use of animals to make money in a host of other industries (racing, zoos, circuses etc.).
- Defensiveness maintains domination
All systems of oppression are supported by defensive attitudes, justifications, trivialization and denial. Sometimes these claims might be fair enough, but people more often than not simply react to feeling attacked and respond from a selfish position of self-preservation. An anarchist ethic should stem from a desire for individual and collective liberation, so that when a comrade challenges another’s behavior, they should be able to put their wounded pride aside for a moment and at least give the point the consideration it deserves.
Yet time and again issues raised around speciesism are mocked, trivialized and dismissed, which is both a massive disrespect to other animals and to those comrades. Ok, so this isn’t helped by the puritanical vegans out there who guilt-trip those who eat the occasional skipped cheese sandwich, but only the laziest and least committed comrade can attribute their crap, anthropocentric attitudes to encounters with the Vegan Police.
- Animal abuse is inseparable from patriarchy
Animal abuse is on the same spectrum as misogyny, homophobia, racism, and the abuse of children, the elderly or disabled. Claims that these analogies are racist/sexist/ableist only underscores the inherent speciesism of such a position, for how can we make exceptions for other sentient beings? The basic principles are there: violence perpetrated for pleasure or gain by ‘strong’ against the ‘weak’.
In one suburban family home, a woman is threatened by a male fist; somewhere in another, a pet hamster gets flushed down the loo: both are worthless rubbish in the eyes of those who wield relationships of possession over them. In the toilets of a hipster bar, a Siamese Fighting Fish lies lifeless and numb on the gravelly bottom of its barren tank; in Croydon, an Afghan refugee friend waits for years on end for word from miserly Home Office bureaucrats: both reduced to mere numbers and objects by those with money in mind.
How can anyone fail see these issues as essentially one and the same, or reject one and justify another?
In 1901, anarchist Elisée Reclus described how as a young man he struggled against almost overwhelming pressure for conformity against his vegetarian ways, “parents, official and informal educators, and doctors, not to mention that all-powerful person referred to as “everybody”, all work together to harden the character of the child in relation to this “meat on feet”…”. Over a century later, the culture of meat & dairy consumption is still maintained by ridicule and social pressure. It is especially bound up in machismo (e.g. you’re a bourgeois wuss if you can’t handle a bit of liver), and marketing that exploits masculine insecurities, even though 99% of such macho posturing revolves around meat pathetically acquired from the likes of Tescos, rather than from creatures that have been hunted (see Carol J. Adams’ The Sexual Politics of Meat for an in-depth discussion on this). If you want to prove yourself an adept hunter, I can think of much better targets than wild boar.
- Veganism isn’t a middle class ‘consumer choice’
It might sound trite, but for many ‘ethical vegans’, veganism really is a philosophy rather than just a dietary choice. Challenging how we think of animals as products and producers for our pleasure, questioning the ‘necessity’ or inevitability of animal consumption, and varying our diet beyond animal sources is just one part of that, but there are many ways to subvert our relationships with other animals – from fighting the culture of pet breeding, to carrying out acts of liberation & sabotage. In fact, a definition of veganism coined by Vegan Society co-founder Donald Watson, was the notion that animals should simply be free from exploitation and cruelty. This removes some of the emphasis on consumer choices, as favored by green capitalists & liberals. Too often, critics hone in on hipster vegan cupcake shops or fancy fake cheeses, glibly equating all veganism with shallow ethical consumerism or a bourgeois fad. But where there appears to be a market, we can always expect some corporation to cash in on it (H&M’s recent rip-off of the Kurdish YPJ’s uniform springs to mind as an example). It’s also disingenuous to claim it’s a ‘class privilege’ to eat a plant-based diet – if anything it’s cheaper if you’re not going in for fake meat and dairy substitutes. The irony about these claims is that that the animal rights/liberation movement in the UK is significantly more working class and less dominated by academics than my experience of other major ‘single issue’ movements in the UK at present. Class-based critiques of veganism from feminists with PhDs says more about themselves and where they spend their time than anything else.
There are obviously some people who can’t avoid consuming animals because conditions make it unviable (eg. destitution, certain illnesses, migrants in transit, desert-dwelling peoples…you get the picture); the point is to do what we can because we at least reject speciesism as we should any other system of domination. Unfortunately, many of us are not even there yet.
Attempts to carve out an ethical way of life under capitalism and the state inevitability tend to feel hollow. So what’s the point of changing our individual practices now? Well, apart from the obvious problem that mass insurrection still seems a distant prospect, consistency in our ideas and our actions gives us lives worth fighting for. The existence of relationships based on love, solidarity and respect spare us from unrelenting misery of life under capitalism and compel us to attack the systems which threaten them. Without the inspiring examples of my comrades around the world, I would be tempted with total resignation. Challenging ourselves and each other to question domination in all its guises builds on that affinity and breaks down isolation. Anarchy cannot be perpetually postponed; to whatever extent possible it must be lived in the present.
If respecting non-human life is negligible “lifestylism” as some suggest, then we should see treating our partners with respect (e.g. not abusing them) in the same light. I’m under no illusions about the capacity for veganism to create revolutionary change, but that is as true as for any ‘lifestyle choices’: we can’t just content ourselves with changing the way we live & treat each other – we always need to combine this with attack on the structures of power.
- Veganism is not ‘cultural imperialism’
The basic principles underlying veganism are by no means ‘Western’ (in the sense of a product of ‘Enlightenment’ thought originating in Western Europe); if anything, as capitalist land expropriation first wreaked havoc in that part of the world, quite the opposite is true. Through a close relationship with plants and animals, often amplified by animist beliefs, many indigenous peoples maintain healthier relations with the animals around them – to the point of exaggeration and romanticized cliché. The fact that some prominent English-speaking liberals began to spout loudly about animal welfare in the 19th century does not give the ‘West’ a monopoly on respecting animal life. In fact, some of the discourses in which these were embedded (particularly, seeking a scientific rationale for animal welfare), were more problematic than the practices of indigenous peoples who engaged in hunting for their food, but never sought to enslave the animals in the first place.
There have nevertheless been some overtly racist campaigns from the charity PETA, or imperialist – and frankly ridiculous – concepts such as ‘World Week for the Abolition of Meat’. But just as the existence of liberal feminist charities makes few of us dismiss feminism altogether, this is hardly basis for claims that veganism is inherently ‘Western’ or imperialist. Such an attitude is also patronizing and dismissive of the many people and cultures that avoid meat and dairy for spiritual and ethical reasons, either for most of the year or altogether.
Lastly, animal farming goes hand in hand with the continued dispossession of people from the land. It requires huge quantities of land for production of animal food; this true for both the ‘free range’ animals grazing on pastures and for those eating feed in dark animal factories. By contrast, significantly more people can be sustained on a given piece of land on a plant-based diet than on livestock, which is also far more water intensive. Land grabs from cattle ranching in South America have been a major driver of landlessness of the poor and of destruction of indigenous peoples’ lands and cultures. Arable land is both scarce and poorly distributed; we need to make major changes in our relationships with it if we are to cope with massive population rises whilst resisting unethical practices such as the expansion of human sterilization programmes or major incursions into what pockets of wilderness remain.
- Carnivorous appetites mean ecocide
Animal agriculture means habitat loss for wild animals and the precipitation of climate change. The world’s forests, for example, have roughly halved in the past 30 years . Animal agriculture has been a major driver of this, especially in regions like the Amazon, which is both the source of rich biodiversity and approximately 20% of the world’s oxygen output. As anarchists we need to stop supporting the breeding of other living beings and the reproduction of destructive relations with the land – not just as an end in itself, but as one tactic among many in the fight against the immiseration of the earth.
In a world beyond capitalism, neither animal agriculture nor hunting are going to be viable means of survival on a wide scale. The continued breeding and rearing of animals, ethical implications aside, will be unfeasible for many communities due to the intense land and water requirements that it entails. The romantic hunter fantasy of the millenarian primitivists, more ethical on the surface, harks back to an era when the land was carpeted with verdant forests and human was at one with beast. Unfortunately, the post-industrial landscape we are going to be left with is likely to be very different to the forests and steppes we roamed prior to the growth of civilisation. What little wildlife remains will be relegated to the margins and no doubt threatened with extinction by human hunters. Although hunting skills may be useful for individuals in emergencies, it is not a collective solution and will ultimately be suicidal if we see it as such.