Tag Archives: climate change

Is a vegan diet less sustainable than an omnivorous diet?

References to one particular study on diet and land use requirements keep popping up around the web, from various blogs and news organizations.

rude-151093_640Most of them have been quick to jump on this study because it seems to offer them an opportunity to thumb their noses and blow raspberries at the vegan community, for example, “Sorry vegans: Sticking to a meat-free, dairy-free diet is NOT as good for the planet as you might think”. Many of them start with some kind of elbow to the rib, something about how we like to think we’re better than everybody else or some such nonsense. Some are more respectful.

What all of them have in common is a serious lack of understanding of the specific point made by the authors, and even the authors themselves seem to miss the forest for the trees. I’ll explain.

First, here’s a link to the specious article under discussion: Peters et al. 2016. It’s licensed under the CC attribution license and available for everyone to read for free (yay!).

salad-1570673_640The key measure under investigation was the carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land – basically, the annual per capita land requirements vs. amount of land available for food production when that food is in keeping with different diets. More simply, how many people can be fed with the amount of land that we have? The authors look at various levels of omnivorous diets, lacto-ovo and lacto-vegetarian, and vegan, as well as 2 variants of current consumption.

They begin with 2 fundamental assumptions: there is a relationship between diet and sustainability, specifically, “dietary change is essential for meeting future human food needs”. Agreed. Second: “sparing land from conversion to agriculture may be important for protecting biodiversity”, so it’s vitally important to understand how dietary patterns impact land use. So far, so good.

cows-1029077_640The authors caution against simplistic thinking because, though animal agriculture is the most land-intensive, the largest fraction of land it uses is for foraging and grazing, often on non-arable land – land that can’t be used to grow any crops for human consumption, though grasses and other ‘weeds’ will grow which the animals eat. So, as they point out, eliminating animal agriculture does not necessarily mean turning all its land over to cultivation.

So, I can definitely see where they’re coming from. It’s a logical argument. If we want to make the most of our land for food production purposes, then we need to use it for what it’s good for. Attempting to make non-arable land supportive of crops causes environmental devastation (just look at the Aral Sea crisis). And it’s clear from the numbers in Peters et al. (2016) that the most efficient use of land for food would include using non-arable land for animal agriculture.

There are 2 implicit assumptions the authors are making which are simply untrue. First, that there is such a thing as an omnivorous diet that is healthy. Nope. Not only is the ingestion of animal products devastating to human health, but the killing and handling of dead animals causes psychological disorders in the people who do that kind of work, and passes unknown numbers of diseases on to anyone who handles raw meat, producers & consumers alike.

Second, that the most efficient diet in terms of land use is the most sustainable diet. Efficiency does not equal sustainability, and animal agriculture is far too devastating to the environment to be considered as part of the future of a sustainable food supply. The following information and more is available on the Cowspiracy website’s fact sheet.

  • ocean dead zones, water pollution, & habitat destruction are largely driven by animal agricultureclean-1223168_640
  • livestock and their byproducts account for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions
  • animal agriculture is the leading driver of desertification
  • the U.S. could feed 800 million people with just the grain that is currently fed to livestock (that’s more than double the current U.S. population and slightly more than the total number of starving people in the world, according to United Nations World Food Program statistics)
  • more than 80% of the world’s starving children live in countries who export their grain to feed livestock, which are then consumed by people in wealthier countries – an absolute crime against humanity

What I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t actually matter what the most efficient use of land is, because any animal agriculture at all does more harm than good and, if we turn over all the currently arable land to cultivation for human consumption, we could easily feed the global population with room to grow, and if we eventually do outgrow it, we can still work with what we’ve got and use our technology to find better solutions like vertical farming.

Something I often hear vegans say, and see in vegan blog posts is that we don’t need to consume animals and their products to be healthy and happy, but we can make a much stronger statement than that – because it’s true – consuming animals and their products at the rate we currently do is not only antithetical to human health & happiness, but even to our survival as a species.

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Manufactured Climate Change Denial

protest-455717_1280There’s a really interesting phenomenon that’s been happening in the United States. In most countries, if you ask people about climate change – whether it’s happening and whether it’s a man-made problem, you get a resounding yes, to the tune of percentages in the 90’s. Japan and the U.K. are notable exceptions, with 78% and 65%, respectively. When American citizens were polled, we came in last at 58%. This information is from an online opinion poll, carried out from July 5 to August 6 of 2012 by the poll group Ipsos for the insurance firm Axa. Read more about it here.

This is truly outrageous if you consider the fact that the U.S. education system, though in sad decline, is world-renowned for good reason, and that most people can learn anything they want, whenever they want. You have only to get on the computer or go to the library and you can inform yourself by watching documentaries and sifting through articles, from both scientists and journalists, with a discerning eye. Of course, most people have no desire to do that, and allow themselves the luxury of believing that it doesn’t matter.

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Boycott list for Koch Industries
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If we approach it from another perspective, it becomes more comprehensible. Charles and David Koch, which I’ve just discovered is pronounced like ‘coke,’ two of the wealthiest people in the world, have essentially manufactured (and funded with over $67 million) the entire climate change ‘debate.’ Koch Industries is well-diversified and in involved in all sorts of things, from raising cattle in Montana to manufacturing spandex in China, but the vast majority of their wealth comes from petroleum.

They financially support a massive team of highly conservative special interest groups, think tanks and lobbyists, whose jobs are to oppose green energy, fight environmental regulations, ease limits on industrial pollution, and influence public opinion, for example by appearing on news programs as “experts” and questioning the legitimacy of science. You can see a profile of lobbying spending data for Koch Industries at the Center for Responsive Politics website opensecrets.org. They’ve been highly successful in their efforts, because the public has fallen for their lies, and the politicians have fallen for their money and influence.

false-98375_640By having managed to convince people to be extremely dismissive of scientific fact and to frame this issue as a ‘debate’ (which it clearly is not) we have enabled a massive section of society to basically say, “Well, the jury’s still out, and there’s really no sense in taking drastic action until we have a clear answer.” This is an extremely dangerous viewpoint and the adage applies here – All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. ~ Edmund Burke. Make no mistake, this can most definitely be called an evil, because it’s a construction of powers-that-be aiming to look after their own short-term financial interests, and nothing else. It’s not based on good science and it’s not founded on principles that include protecting the welfare of society in general and preserving the life-supporting qualities of the environment.

While the majority of society sits back and waits rather than taking action, the real scientists who look at climate change are seeing a growing list of reasons to be very concerned, and are now starting to realize that even the more radical estimates of the changes that we’re going to be experiencing may have been too conservative, in part because greenhouse gas emissions have risen precipitously, which wasn’t expected.

The earth won’t blow up or anything, but complex life is actually quite fragile, and it’s easy to suppose that most of it will not survive drastic changes. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that we’re already well into the beginning of this process, and as fossil fuel extraction and consumption increases (which it is doing), and as we continue to manufacture and spread more and more chemicals which appear in our earth, water, air, food supply and our own bodies, as well as those of many different species of animals, the effects will also increase, becoming more rapid and more drastic. You need only point to the many massive die-offs that we’ve seen in recent years, including fish, dolphins, bees, coral reefs, and certain birds, among others.

It’s notable that there’s far more recognition of the basic truths of this issue in poorer countries. As floods and droughts, etc increase, these are the people who have been effected first and harshest. They have a higher stake in being a part of the solution, while the inventors and perpetuators of the myths of the climate change ‘debate’ are exactly those that stand to lose the least, and have the higher stake in being part of the problem because they have enough money to do whatever is necessary to protect themselves. Most of us don’t have any options in that regard.

We need to work harder to educate everyone about the truth. As long as half our population is being lulled into complacency, meaningful changes can’t takes place, and they desperately need to. Spread this information any way you possibly can, and help fight against the Koch brothers’ multi-million dollar machinations. They’re spending so much of that money on one thing – disseminating information. In this case, we CAN fight fire with fire, without spending much at all outside of time.

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