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Eating Ourselves Into Extinction

29 March 2017


It is no secret that we are heading towards an apocalypse that would give even Buffy the Vampire Slayer a run for her money. The 21st century has nine out of the ten warmest recorded years of history. We are well on our way to securing the two degrees Celsius increase in our global temperature. One only has to spend one day in Melbourne to see that we are already living with the erratic weather patterns that mark the beginnings of our spiral into global weather chaos.

In fact, this is the best possible outcome that we can hope for. Australia’s National Centre for Climate Restoration believes that even if we stopped emissions at this very moment, there is still a ten per cent chance of us exceeding a two degree increase. With the fossil fuels we have already farmed, we can meet this limit five times over, and it does not seem that we’re going to stop farming any time soon. The effects of global warming are no longer something we can fear happening in the next hundred years. They are taking place right now. At the rate we are going, it is unlikely the effects will be reversed and if anything, they will be accelerated.

Not only this, but climate change will have a massive impact on small island nations. Professor Mike Beners-Lee, the Director of Small World Consulting says, “Climate change will result in huge droughts, massive wildfires, loss of many species, the collapse of cultural productivity, and the rising sea levels could make our coastal cities uninhabitable.”

During my last family gathering, my cousins, aged eight and nine, looked at me in disgust when I begun eating a burger made of chickpeas and chia seeds. In an attempt to explain my dietary choices, I asked them what they knew about global warming and its leading causes. The answer for them both was obvious; plastic and transport were to blame for the earth’s heating. The idea that their delicious burger could be to blame was completely unfathomable too them. I had to ask myself why on earth any school would fail to teach children about what the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation now believe to be the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions – the livestock industry.

There is a strange taboo about talking about vegetarianism in public. The attitude that ‘it is my business what I choose to eat’ prevails and so we go on the attack as soon as someone starts flashing pictures of animal cruelty outside our favourite steak joint. Unfortunately, that attitude no longer applies. What you choose the eat has become everyone else’s business, because these decisions are going to impact not only the current generation, but the future of human generations to come.

Conversations about the meat and livestock industry should be encouraged at the dinner table, rather than shunned, because at the moment, a vegetarian diet may be the easiest and most efficient way to prevent the impending apocalypse.

Peter Singer, well-renowned moral philosopher and professor of bioethics says, “Cutting out meat would do more to help combat climate change than any other action we could feasibly take in the next 20 years.”

Conservative estimates say that the livestock industry is answerable for one third of greenhouse gas emissions. More recent accounts by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang have found the industry to be accountable for an alarming 51 per cent of total emissions.

The facts are all there in the public eye, but we continually ignore them in our developed world. As scholar Vaclav Smil explained, if those in developing worlds modelled a diet off our meat based one, the earth would require 67 per cent more agricultural land than it currently possesses.

A meat-based diet simply is not sustainable. Forgetting the excessive amount of methane that is released from the enormous amount of cows we breed for consumption, the act of farming meat is utterly wasteful. In order to raise an animal for consumption, they must be fed a large amount of grains and soybeans – food that we could be eating directly for our own nutrition. For every pound of boneless meat produced from beef cattle, 13 pounds of grain must be fed to it.

According to the United Nations, 795 million people on this earth are malnourished. The reality of this wasteful behaviour should hit us hard. On top of that, the water used by farms raising livestock for consumption is accountable for nearly half of the water used in developed countries each year. This is water that could have been used for countries struggling with droughts and excessively dry areas.

In a world currently facing extreme problems of overpopulation, it also seems utterly stupid that 30 per cent of our total land mass is going to growing food for land stock, and raising and slaughtering it. Our decision to stop eating meat could solve not only world hunger, but also overpopulation, droughts and global warming.

From switching to a plant-based diet, one person can save the world 1.5 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. This number greatly exceeds the emissions that would be saved in switching to a fuel-efficient car, or remembering to turn light switches off when you leave the room. Undeniably, this is the biggest impact that an individual can make towards creating a more sustainable world.

It is completely fair to admit that if all the world’s population decided to boycott the meat-industry today, the world would fall into economic chaos. Instead, to ensure this pattern doesn’t continue, we have to acknowledge the dire impacts that eating meat has upon the world. All of this starts with education. It is our generation that will be most heavily hit by the consequences of global warming and it is our generation that must so desperately be made aware of its leading causes, so that we can find a solution.

As it is, eating meat is an unnecessary privilege in the developed world, as we have so many other meal options available to us, with equal, if not greater, nutritional value. We are fortunate enough to have freedom of choice over what we consume ever day – a freedom that is not available to the majority of the world. As a result, we make an ethical decision with every meal we choose. As we enjoy such a comfortable lifestyle, we have a responsibility to make decisions that will positively impact the rest of the world, especially if eating meat has no real benefit upon our lifestyle.

Sadly, it is people living in extreme poverty that will be most greatly impacted by the effects of global warming. For example, as many of these countries lack the technological advancements that we freely enjoy. Agricultural practices rely greatly upon the predictability of the weather. If weather patterns become more erratic, the effects may become disastrous for food harvests, as farmers have no way to combat changes to the seasonal cycle. If the decisions over what we eat can help to counter the catastrophic changes to others around the globe, who already lack the endless options of food we enjoy, it is without a doubt our responsibility to choose that which will benefit the natural world and survival of the human race.

It may be the case that we just forfeit eating meat until more sustainable means can be found to farm livestock without killing our earth in the process. Advances in this area are already being made at the Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who have found a way to create meat in a laboratory by using an animals stem cells.

The absolutely fatal effects for humanity greatly outweigh the positive taste experience of biting into a burger. Especially since there is now countless vegetarian alternatives available, with the same, if not better, taste experience and twice the amount of required nutrition. Unless you can find a way to defend the disastrous environmental, ethical and social impacts of meat consumption, it’s time to put the burger down and kindly encourage others to do the same.