Are Meat & Dairy Really Bad for Sustainability & the Planet? UN Scientist Says Not

“As a Livestock Policy Officer working for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, I have been asked many times by the press to report on the negative environmental impacts of livestock.” Anne Mottet, PhD.

“Doing so, I came to realize that people are continually exposed to incorrect information that is repeated without being challenged, in particular about livestock feed. This study [will] better inform policy makers and the public.”

Anne Mottet’s study concludes that farming livestock is “a much smaller challenge to global food security than often reported.” I remain unconvinced.
Dr Mottet is an enthusiast for livestock farming Here are her reasons:
  • Meat makes up 18% of global calories and 25% of global protein consumption and provides essential micro-nutrients, such as vitamin B12, iron, and calcium
  • Livestock use large areas of pastures where nothing else could be produced
  • Animals add to agricultural production through manure production and draught power
  • Tending livestock provides income for people in rural areas
  • Because cattle graze and forage, they only need 0.6kg of protein from human food to produce 1kg of protein in milk and meat
  • Milk and meat are of “higher nutritional quality”. Livestock “turn edible crops into highly nutritious, protein-rich food.”
Dr Mottet’s points suggest livestock farming is an efficient use of resources

But is it? Critics of livestock farming say, because the animals consume food that could be eaten directly by humans, and need a lot of it to turn it into comparatively small quantities of meat or dairy, it’s a hugely inefficient food system. For example, it takes 7 kg of grain to produce 1kg of beef.

Not true, says Dr Mottet. Her study appears to show that only 3kg of cereals are needed to produce 1 kg of meat. To me that still sounds wasteful, just not quite so wasteful. In any case the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) does not agree with her figure:

“The production of meat, milk and eggs leads to an enormous loss of calories grown in fields, since cereals and oil seeds have to be cultivated to feed to animals. According to calculations of the UNEP, the calories that are lost by feeding cereals to animals, instead of using them directly as human food, could theoretically feed an extra 3.5 billion people. Feed conversion rates from plant-based calories into animal-based calories vary; in the ideal case it takes two kilograms of grain to produce one kilo of chicken, four kilos for one kilogram of pork and seven kilos for one kilogram of beef.”

And according to the Union of Concerned Scientists Nearly 60% of the world’s agricultural land is used for beef production, yet beef accounts for less than 2% of the calories that are consumed throughout the world.”

If we are left in any doubt about livestock farming’s wastefulness, how about this? Thousands upon thousands of indoor cows – not outdoors grazing and foraging –   dutifully turning food humans could eat themselves like grain, into human food of “higher nutritional quality” (we’re talking the cows’ milk Nature intended for their own cow babies, so ‘human food’?) – Only then for niagaras of the stuff to be tipped straight out into fields or dumped in manure lagoons. Because that’s where 43 million gallons of US milk got jettisoned in the first 8 months of 2016. 43 million gallons surplus to requirements – not needed as ‘higher nutritional quality’ food for humans, but simply wasted. Efficient? Not so much.

Grazing and Foraging – The CAFO

The trouble with Dr Mottet’s ‘grazing and foraging’ point is, the vast majority of farmed cattle in the world never get the chance to graze and forage. Modern day cattle and dairy farming have given us the prison that is the CAFO.

“In the United States and other parts of the world, livestock production is becoming increasingly dominated by concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In a CAFO, animals are crammed by the thousands or tens of thousands, often unable to breathe fresh air, see the light of day, walk outside, peck at plants or insects, scratch the earth, or eat a blade of grass.”

“With the rise of factory farming, milk is now a most unnatural operation. The modern dairy farm can have hundreds, even thousands of cows. The animals spend their lives being fed in an indoor stall or a crowded feedlot. One of the largest dairy farms in the world is under construction in Vietnam and is slated to hold 32,000 cows.”

 Healthy food?

As for the “higher nutritional quality”, you certainly get plenty of extras in your milk: the hormones and growth factors produced in the cow’s own body, and with them synthetic hormones such as recombinant bovine growth hormone, used to increase milk productivity. Perfect to knock your own delicately balanced hormone systems out of whack. Then there are the antibiotics. And the poisons: pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, melamine, and carcinogenic aflatoxins. So the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine tells us, based on a multitude of reliable research studies.

What about the cattle’s flesh. How many warnings have there been in the last few years about the risks of meat consumption, especially red meat? For trustworthy mortality risk statistics, check out Harvard Health Publications from Harvard Medical School, Cutting red meat for a longer life.

Dr Mottet’s cattle feed piechart

livestockpro

Unusable for human food?

Dr Mottet’s pie chart suggests that only 14% of crops fed to cattle would be suitable as human food. But statistics from her own employer, the FAO would appear to tell another story altogether: “Livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources, with pasture and land dedicated to the production of feed representing almost 80% of the total agricultural land.”

Of the 330 million acres of agricultural land in the U.S., 260 million acres are used to grow fodder crops. That is 78.78% of all land in the States available to grow food, that is at present growing food to be fed to animals so they can be turned into food for humans. Are all of those crops unsuitable for humans? And is all of that land unsuitable for growing food for humans?

Globally, 33% of the Earth’s arable land is growing fodder crops for livestock. 40% of the world cereal production goes into their stomachs. Fodder crops are commonly alfalfa, barley, soy, kale, canola, swede, turnip, maize and millet – all of which can be eaten directly by humans. Dr Mottet’s figure of 14% doesn’t seem to tally with the statistics from her own organization of crops taken to feed farmed animals which could go straight to our kitchens instead.

Livestock farming’s environmental impact

Dr Mottet’s focus is on the sustainability of farming livestock, but apart from the briefest reference in her opening sentence, she does not mention the damage livestock farming wreaks on the environment. Yet environmental degradation inevitably impacts the very global food security she says farming livestock provides, because it impacts the health and viability of the planet itself. Are any of these aspects addressed in this study?

Fertilizer Growing crops to feed livestock in itself causes a massive amount of pollution. Take for example this year’s ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico spreading over an area bigger than the size of Wales – de-oxygenated sea, death to all the marine life in it. “The environmental campaign group Mighty Earth has blamed the meat industry for the dead zone, claiming much of the nitrate and phosphorous pollution came from fertilizer used in producing vast quantities of corn and soy to feed meat animals.” And incidentally naming as the main culprit Tyson, America’s biggest meat producer.

Manure Is the animals’ manure a valuable commodity boosting agricultural productivity? Its disposal is in reality often problematic: “Algae blooms, salmonella and E. Coli, groundwater contamination, and bad smells are just a few of the problems animal manure can cause. In small doses, it’s the stuff of life—the fertilizer plants need to grow. Mishandled, it’s an environmental disaster in waiting. Each year, farm animals in the United States produce over 335 million tons of manure. That’s roughly the weight of 1000 Empire State Buildings.” Modern Farmer

Meat processing plants There is no question that industrial agriculture is polluting the nation’s waterways, but huge factory farms are not the only culprits: processing plants also dump millions of pounds of toxic waste into rivers, lakes, and streams” Read more – USA: Meat is Murdering American Rivers

Water “The production of one kilogram of beef requires 15,414 litres of water on average. The water footprint of meat from sheep and goat (8,763 litres) is larger than that of pork (5,988 litres) or chicken (4,325 litres). The production of one kilogram of vegetables, on the contrary, requires 322 litres of water.” (A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products)

Extinctions Think Amazonian rainforest.Diets rich in beef and other red meat can be bad for a person’s health. And the practice is equally bad for Earth’s biodiversity, according to a team of scientists who have fingered human carnivory—and its impact on land use—as the single biggest threat to much of the world’s flora and fauna. Already a major cause of extinction, our meat habit will take a growing toll as people clear more land for livestock and crops to feed these animals, a study in the current issue of Science of the Total Environment predicts.” Science Magazine. Read more

Greenhouse gases Total emissions from global livestock: 7.1 Gigatonnes of Co2-equiv per year, representing 14.5 percent of all GHG emissions” produced by human activity.

And this from ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’ 2006: “A 2,000 kcal high meat diet produces 2.5 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as a vegan diet, and twice as many as a vegetarian diet. Moving from a high meat to a low meat diet would reduce a person’s carbon footprint by 920kg CO2e every year – equivalent to a return flight from London to New York. Moving from a high meat diet to a vegetarian diet would save 1,230kg CO2e per year.”

Both reports from the UN Food & Agriculture Organization – interestingly, Dr Mottet’s own organization.

“According to a recent analysis, just a single dietary change — substituting beans for beef — could nearly satisfy the United States’ emissions reduction goals under the Paris Agreement.”

To be fair, Dr Mottet does say, certain [livestock] production systems contribute directly to global food security”, and her points do make some sense if she’s talking about rural economies in less developed countries. Then the animals may be ‘useful’ to pull carts and carry loads and their manure may be beneficial to the land. And the animals may graze pasture unsuitable to grow food for humans. But in those places livestock numbers are minuscule in comparison with the numbers in the biggest livestock farming nations such as India, Brazil, China and the USA, where none of these things is true. Quite the opposite:

“The present system of producing food animals in the United States is not sustainable and presents an unprecedented level of risk to the public health and damage to the environment, as well as unnecessary harm to the animals we raise as food.” Robert Martin, Director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. And the same is just as true of all other major meat and dairy producing countries too.

130617-pulse-interview-2016-international-year-of-pulses-charlie-higgins-320x202Only last year the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (Dr Mottet’s own employer) promoted the vision of plant food, not livestock as the future for global food security, and designated 2016 ‘The International Year of the Pulse’

Pulses  are economically accessible and contribute to food security at all levels [They] are an inexpensive source of protein – a crucial component of any healthy diet, but especially in poorer areas where meat, dairy and fish are economically inaccessible. Pulses can also serve as a source of income, as smallholder farmers who grow pulses can sell them at markets,” and turn them into added value products for additional income.

“FAO also added that as an affordable alternative to more expensive animal-based protein, pulses are ideal for improving diets in poorer parts of the world, where protein sources from milk if often five time more expensive than protein sourced from pulses.” UN News Centre

The FAO specifically recommends the farming of peas, beans and lentils, not cattle, in those rural economies where Dr Mottet wishes us to believe farming livestock makes such an important contribution.

But still, Dr Mottet’s conclusion is:

“Animal production, in its many forms, plays an integral role in the food system.”

She ends her report with the FAO’s estimate that given the ever-increasing global demand, 70% more animal products will be needed to feed the world by 2050 – and that will of course require still more land. Yet already, with 50 billion food animals being raised and slaughtered each year, the Earth is being overwhelmed by food animals that consume massive quantities of energy and resources, whose wastes foul waterways and farmlands, and when eaten excessively, degrade our health.” CAFO the book

But Dr Mottet places her faith in science to provide ever-improving FCRs – feed conversion ratios. “FCR is a ratio measuring the efficiency with which the bodies of livestock convert animal feed into the desired output.” Or, as I prefer to put it, it’s the science of bleeding ever more out of the farmed animals (genetically engineered to maximize their ‘productivity’) while feeding ever less in (in terms of resources).

It doesn’t add up

As we have seen, Dr Mottet study appears to directly contradict other United Nations’ reports, some emanating from different branches of the UN, and some from her own, the FAO.

A report from United Nations Environment Programme’s International panel of sustainable resource management 2010 reported in The Guardian “A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.” 

Another report, this time from the UN’s International Research Panel (IRP) August 2016. Technocracy News’ headline ran: “The United Nations would like to remove every meat animal from the face of the planet if it could, and especially cattle.”

And then of course, there is the United Nations’ “International Year of the Pulse”, for which they produced an altogether wonderful book (pdf here) – so much more fascinating, appealing, and colourful than the humble bean and lentil might lead you to imagine. I would urge everyone to take a look.

“Thanks to their high levels of protein, fiber, and other nutrients; low requirements for water and other agricultural inputs; long shelf life; and cultural and culinary relevance around the globe, [pulses are] an uncompromising enemy of hunger and malnutrition worldwide and a genuine superfood for the future.”

The future is beans, Dr Mottet. Not beef. Even the FAO says so.

Help yourself, help the planet  Go vegan

Update

28th September 2017 – Even the President of Unilever agrees! Read her piece: Plant-Based Diets: A Game-Changer For Our Food System, Our People And Our Planet

Also Global methane emissions from agriculture larger than reported, according to new estimates 11% more, in fact.

Dr. Julie Wolf, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS), senior author of the study said: “In many regions of the world, livestock numbers are changing, and breeding has resulted in larger animals with higher intakes of food. This, along with changes in livestock management, can lead to higher

 

Dr Mottet is wrong on at least 4 counts:

3rd Oct 2017 Firstly, the fact that some cattle graze on grass does not make farming them less problematic in terms of sustainability.

“Rising animal production and consumption, whatever the farming system and animal type, is causing damaging greenhouse gas release and contributing to changes in land use. Ultimately, if high consuming individuals and countries want to do something positive for the climate, maintaining their current consumption levels but simply switching to grass-fed beef is not a solution. Eating less meat, of all types, is.”

That is the conclusion of a recnt study by Dr Tara Garnett of the University of Oxford, Cecile Godde from CSIRO and a team of international experts. Phys.Org

5th Oct 2017 Secondly, the Extinction & Livestock Conference hosted by CIWF and WWF in London. WWF’s report Appetite for Destruction with staggering statistics about how the production and consumption of meat and dairy is devastating the planet. Their particular focus was Dr Mottet’s own area – crops grown for animal feed. In 2010 an area the size of Yorkshire was needed to grow soy for cattle feed just in the UK. Now in 2017 the amount of land needed to produce crops for animal feed worldwide is equivalent to the size of the EU. The threat to food security is near its tipping point. WWF, like the FAO before them and many national governments around the world, urgently advises us to eat more plants, and cut back on meat and dairy. Meat and dairy are destroying the planet and driving 60% of Earth’s species into extinction.

And thirdly, meat and dairy are not of “higher nutritional quality” as Dr Mottet claims. Apart from the health risks I referred to above, feeding animals energy- and protein-rich crops produces animal products containing less of the healthy omega-3 and more saturated fat. You would need to eat 6 chickens today to obtain the same amount of omega-3 you would have got from one chicken in 1970. “There are serious concerns that our current food system will not be able to meet the future fatty acid needs of our growing global population.”

Fourthly, soil degradation and depletion. 80% of Earth’s land used for agriculture is given over to livestock grazing or growing feed. Philip Lymbery of CIWF quoted at the conference a 2015 FAO report that agriculture as a whole has degraded the soil to such an extent that there are only 60 harvests left in it. “The techniques that were supposed to feed the world threaten us with starvation.” George Monbiot in the Guardian Sorry Dr Mottet, your improved FCRs are simply not going to  cut it.


Disclaimer
I am no match for Dr Mottet either in terms of qualifications or access to the data. However, it seemed important to draw attention to other statistics and expert opinions, with which her arguments and conclusions appear to be in conflict.

PS There are 58 varieties of pulses around the world. I counted them!



Sources

Livestock production, a much smaller challenge to global food security than often reported

Agriculture at a Crossroads – Global Agriculture Org.

Welcome to the World of CAFO Farms become factories. Rivers of waste. Communities under siege. Declining health.

America’s mega dairy farms

The Wall Street Journal

Scientists find polluted sea ‘dead zone’ that is bigger than Wales – The Independent

What to do with all the poo? – Modern Farmer

Sustainability heavyweights take aim at environmental impacts of soy, beef, palm oil – Conservation International

 UN urges global move to meat and dairy-free diet – The Guardian

Tax Meat Until It’s Too Expensive To Eat, New UN Report Suggests – Technocracy News

FCR – Wiki

Related posts

When Everyone is Telling You Meat is the Bad Guy Revisited

Don’t Care About Animals? Meat & Dairy Are Poisoning Your Land Air & Water

Another Nation Trims Meat From Diet Advice

If everyone on Earth ate a Western diet, we would need two Planet Earths to feed us. We’ve only got one and she’s dying

The Living Planet Report: Our Dinner Plates are Destroying Life on Earth

Which is Your Burger of Choice for the Future of Food?

Favourite Food for Cows?

 

 

The Brexit Effect- What next for Nature?

“We’re calling on UK Governments to turn leaving the European Union into an opportunity to create a countryside richer in nature.”

Martin Harper for the RSPB

Earlier this year science proved, as it so often does, something we already instinctively knew: spending time in nature is good for our health, and for our happiness.

forest-907742__340The ’30 days of random wildness’ study conducted by Derby Uni and the Wildlife Trusts invited 18,500 people to get hiking, biking or whatever they had a yen for, out in the countryside, imagination the limit.
The results? Measurably significant improvements for them in “life satisfaction, vitality, meaningfulness, happiness, mindfulness, and [lowered] anxiety.”

Taking the kids out into Nature is even better. If we get them climbing trees, bug hunting, or just sploshing through muddy puddles, it helps raise their self-esteem and gives their creativity free rein. Fresh air, exercise and rosy cheeks are to be had in the park too. Even green spaces in cities do the business for us it seems, whatever age we’re at.

Our Nature, the ecosystems and the wildlife in them, are something we absolutely need to cherish, even if we’re only thinking of their benefits to ourselves.

But, and it’s a big but, barely a month ago the State of Nature 2016 report delivered its damning indictment – the UK is now one of the most nature-impoverished countries in the world. One in seven of our British species face extinction, and more than half are in decline.

And it doesn’t stop there. We “worryingly face losing much more if we don’t take action today and step up our efforts in the years ahead.”  Martin Harper

Right now, the future fate of our wildlife and environment all rests on two moves we are awaiting from Prime Minister May which will be truly pivotal for them. These are the post-Brexit Great Repeal Act, and the 25 Year Plan for the Environment. At this moment, we are standing on the threshold of history in the making.

swan-1412233__340But before you yawn and mumble that history is not your bag, just pause a minute to cast a quick eye over what this means for us, for our animals, and for our iconic British countryside. It matters. Those two enactments could be the making or breaking, environmentally speaking, of the UK as we know it.

First, a quick look at the Great Repeal Act

The Great Repeal Act will revoke the act that took us into Europe in the first place, the European Communities Act 1972. At the same time, the GRA will incorporate into British law all the laws passed since 1972 by the European Parliament.

When the European Communities Act was passed, all subsequent legislation from Brussels, obviously, became binding on us here in the UK too. (The press at the time was full of hysteria about Brussels bureaucracy – the EU will force straight cucumbers and bananas on us, and other such nonsense.)

From that entire 44 years of EU law, the Environmental Chapter which concerns us here, contains more than 200 provisions. It’s almost entirely these we have to thank for our cleaner beaches, cleaner air, cleaner countryside and cities, and protection for our wildlife. Before 1972, we could boast here in the UK only 27 beaches not polluted with sewage. Now in 2016 we can swim without fear of encountering something gross at more than 600 beautiful clean beaches around the land – courtesy of EU environmental law.

butterfly-1507031__340Some of those 200 provisions, for instance the EU-wide ban on the use of neonicotinoids, so deadly to our bees and butterflies, were actually opposed in Brussels by the Tories. It’s a fact that under EU law we benefit from some environmental protections our government did not want us to have.

You might be wondering, if all 200 provisions are going to be incorporated into British law anyway after the Great Repeal Bill, why should we be worried about the ‘Brexit Effect’ on Nature here in the UK?

The problem is that there are multiple ways the Tories will be able to simply  ‘lose’ EU provisions they don’t like. :

  • The Awkward Bits  Minister for Energy & Climate Change Andrea Leadsom says that there is between a quarter and a third of EU law it would be ‘impractical’ to move into UK law. Whichever way you look at it, that’s a lot of laws. Considering the Tories’ opposition to some of the EU environmental laws, there’s every chance those will find themselves on the ‘Impractical’ List.
  • Bits to Unpick  The Tory cabinet is keen on deregulation. Minister for Defra George Eustice described the EU Nature Directives as ‘spirit-crushing’, and has already declared, “The birds and habitats directives would go.” There will undoubtedly be other bits they want to unpick, such as planning restrictions in protected areas, to give business more of a free run.
  • Parliamentary Scrutiny  In “the largest scale legislation process ever carried out”, to have Parliament deliberate on every detail would just not be do-able. In consequence many decisions will be left to individual Ministers, bypassing Parliament altogether. Very convenient for the Tories.
  • Updates  Things change fast. The government may just not bother keeping pace with post-Brexit updates from Brussels to existing environmental law.
  • Money  Funding for environmental protections gets a high priority in the EU budget. Who knows what our government will do with the money it no longer contributes to Europe. If its track record is anything to go by, environmental and animal issues may soon be taking a back seat.
That’s the bad news. Let’s shine the light of hope into the picture and take a look at the 25 Year Plan for the Environment – “a chance to imagine a wildlife-rich natural world in the future.”

Catherine Weller for ClientEarth.

We don’t actually know yet what is going to be in the Plan. After Mrs May’s election to PM in July, publication of the Plan was put back until the end of the year. But we hope it will reference the Red List of Ecosystems, and the Green List of Protected Areas drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Closer to home, the UK’s biggest Nature organisations – the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust and WWF-UK – have been working together to lobby the government with their ideas for a post-Brexit environment, farming and wildlife plan.

They think it should look something like this:

  • Replacing the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy with codes that give high priority to environmental standards in land management
  • Setting up an Independent Policy Commission for the environment that would encourage open debate and public input
  • Joined-up working for farming and environment in the government, with all future proposals measured against the 25 Year Plan
  • Keeping existing EU schemes that reward farmers for environmental work on their land

What we need at this turning point for our country, is the government to take a good hard look beyond its blinkers. To change its mindset. Protecting wildlife, the countryside and the environment is not an expensive nuisance, a luxury to be trimmed off the budget, or unpicked to free industry of ‘unnecessary’ constraints.

It’s tragic if money really is the only thing this government understands. Let’s at least hope they pick up on that health and happiness study, and that when drawing up the 25 Year Plan, the study results remind them to factor in Nature’s huge savings to the NHS.

No-one puts the value of Nature better than David Attenborough.

quote-it-seems-to-me-that-the-natural-world-is-the-greatest-source-of-excitement-the-greatest-david-attenborough-1-23-18

But true as that is, and wonderful as Sir David is, he is still presenting there the human-centred view of Nature – its benefits to us.

Even more than making our lives worth living, and in fact providing for our lives, Nature is something that does not belong to us. It exists for its own sake, and we have a duty to honour that, and protect its rights. My hope would be that our government might see beyond money, beyond even the UK population’s health and well-being, beyond what Nature gives to us. To see  “that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights.”

We could not do better than emulate Ecuador: “By recognizing rights of nature in its constitution, Ecuador – and a growing number of communities in the United States – are basing their environmental protection systems on the premise that nature has inalienable rights, just as humans do.” Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature

It’s time to stop regarding Nature as human property. Time to redress the balance –  a balance which has placed far too much weight on human interests, especially monetary ones, and nothing like enough on the best interests of other species and the land we share, habitats, ecosystems, the Nature we hold in common.

Petition the government:

Protect UK Environment & Wildlife – adopt EU legislation here

Keep the EU’s environmental protection laws for the UK here

Keep the EU laws that protect our environment here

As EU law is still binding on the UK until Article 50 is triggered, tell the EU to prevent a ‘Silent Spring’ here

Petition the UN:

Sign The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth here

Update

5th December 2016 New petition to Sir Julian King, UK Commissioner attending meeting of the European Commissioners on Wednesday 7th December. Save our nature laws. Click here

4th January 2017 Brexit legal changes ‘could put countryside and wildlife at risk’ – itv NEWS

Sources

Environmental law endangered – Wildlife and Countryside Link

How nature is good for our health and happiness – BBC Earth

Brexit would free UK from ‘spirit-crushing’ green directives, says minister – The Guardian

Our nature needs proper policies – RSPB

*The UK’s 25-year plan for nature – all eyes on wildlife – ClientEarthBlog, Catherine Weller

The Rights of Nature – Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature

Related posts

UK one of “least natural countries in the world”

Hope for the Animals & the Planet?

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

Brexit: The Animals’ View

Mountains of Cheese, Lakes of Milk, & What We Can Do About It

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Hope for the Animals & the Planet?

In the week WWF’s Living Planet Report disclosed the terrifying rate we’re losing life on Earth – animal and plant – we really could use some hope.

Well, hope might just be at hand in the form of ‘Natural Capital’, ‘Ecosystem Services’, the ‘Economic Capital of Nature’. But what does the jargon mean? And how can it help us save the planet?
What it means is bringing two enemies to the negotiating table. Two enemies who’ve been engaged in outright battle for decades: The Economy and Ecology.

One one side the ruthless aggressor, in the form of mega corporations like Dow, Monsanto, Walmart, Unilever, Nestle, Bayer, Exxon Mobil, for whom Nature exists only as the supplier of resources, “or worse still an economically costly distraction that gets in the way of economic growth”. They despoil the Earth in the pursuit of profit. I imagine them in black and red, the colours of blood and death.

In the defending army, naturally in green, the eco-warriors, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, The Wildlife Alliance, The World Conservation Trust, The Rainforest Alliance, WWF, and so on. Not forgetting the foot soldiers, we who care.

forest fire red black destruction reflection lake
Clearing forest for palm oil

The Greens fight valiantly, but limited resources mean limited success. The Black and Reds wield the immense power afforded them by almost unlimited cash – and the shameful abetment of national governments they seem able to mould to their will. So they continue to gain ground, leaving a wasteland in their wake.

Up against such odds, it’s time for the army in green to change tack. They must move the conflict off the battlefield and into peace talks. The problem is how to talk when the two sides just don’t speak the same language. In the words of environmentalist George Monbiot, the Greens talk ‘values’, and the Black and Reds, only ‘value’. There is only one language the latter understand, and it looks like this $$$$$$$$$$$.

“One source of hope comes from the growing realisation that nature is essential for economic development. That could soon lead to a new era of policy-making. One in which ecology and economics go hand in hand, but only if we have the tools to build bridges between these worlds that are so alien to each other. And that is where the economic valuation of nature can come in.” Tony Jupiter in The Guardian

It may go totally against the grain for the Greens to see “a tropical forest as a collection of ecosystems services for humans to use, rather than to see it as a priceless heritage.” But the truth is Capitalism understands nothing else. Jupiter again, “Making the moral case in the face of such [capitalist] beliefs won’t work. If, on the other hand, such scepticism can be met with economically compelling logic, then we might get a bit further.”

Natural Capital is that ‘economically compelling logic’. It means putting a price on Nature. So yes, it is the ‘commodification’ of Nature. But the potential prize is so great – saving the planet and its treasure trove of life no less – doesn’t the end justify the means? Shouldn’t we grab at this way forward with both hands?

The Green camp is split. Some like George Monbiot see it as the ultimate sell-out: “Rarely will the money to be made by protecting nature match the money to be made by destroying it. Nature offers low rates of return by comparison to other investments. If we allow the discussion to shift from values to value – from love to greed – we cede the natural world to the forces wrecking it.”

He has a point. It’s a sad world where a price tag has to be put on animals, people even, and Nature itself. But how else to appeal to Earth’s exploiters than by showing them what’s in Natural Capital for them?

Anyway, regarding Nature’s economic value Monbiot may be unduly pessimistic. Massimiliano Morelli in Voices for Biodiversity writes:

“One way to estimate the value of a tropical forest is to calculate the cost to replace what ecosystems do if humans had to perform the services. When ecosystem services are estimated in this manner, such services provide approximately twice the world gross national product. If we lose these natural ecosystem services, we are losing that much of the global economy.

Each time we harm ecosystems, we also harm our global economies. In addition, there are non-use values for nature and biodiversity. Mental health is maintained by a close relationship to nature. The cost to society of nature deficit disorder in children is now very high.

 

deer yellowstone national park snow wildlife natureNatural landscapes, national parks, zoological and botanical gardens, and recreational activities (e.g. bird watching, diving, eco-tourism, hiking, fishing, photography, etc), keep people not only mentally healthy, but also physically fit, and represent a significant and growing income for businesses and governments.”

So in truth we need the warring parties to see the light. Urgently. Stop fighting. Work together. Because like it or not the causes you fight for – Ecology and Economy – are inextricably entwined.

Now enter one of the ‘special envoys’ for those peace talks, The Natural Capital Project. The NCP is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, WWF, and the universities of Stanford and Minnesota, founded specifically for the complex task of quantifying nature’s benefits before we lose them all.

And good things are happening! These are a few of the Natural Capital Project’s success stories to date:

A five-year collaboration with Dow to help identify the true value of fresh water, clean air and other “green infrastructure” to the corporate bottom line – a perfect example of the two ‘armies’ laying down arms and working together for the benefit of all

More than a dozen water funds in South America where the water producers contribute to conservation, and 40 million people get fresh clean drinking water

Establishing scores of marine protected areas in the Caribbean and Pacific to safeguard coral reefs and other ocean life

Working with farmers in the BirdReturns Project, rotating crops with wetlands to improve habitats

Sustainable Rivers Project striking the right balance between using and protecting rivers

Working Woodlands managing forests for high quality ecological and economic values

Restoring oyster reefs, one of most endangered habitats on Earth, which protect coasts from storms, filter pollutants and create habitat for marine life

river washington state USA american shallows beauty spot waterThe NCP is not the only collaborative project implementing the idea of Natural Capital. Take Part cites the Elwha River Project in the USA, a joint venture between the National Park Service and the Lower Elwha S’Klallam Tribe to quantify the economic capital value of restoring the river by removing two hydroelectric dams.

Environmental economics expert John Loomis calculated taking out the dams would generate $3.5 billion in non-economic benefits. “Once we incorporate those, we see that doing agriculture the cheapest way possible, or producing goods in the most profitable way, doesn’t incorporate these environmental costs. We need to shift our production and consumption to account for these costs [and] not squander that natural capital by treating it as having zero value.”

But what about here in the UK? Well, you may not have heard about it, but we have the SEA and the NEA. The first is the EU’s Strategic Environmental Assessment. The second our own National Ecosystem Assessment 2011, the most comprehensive assessment of the UK’s natural environment and resources ever undertaken. Its key finding was “that the benefits we derive from the natural world and its constituent ecosystems are critically important to human well-being and economic prosperity, but are consistently undervalued in economic analysis and decision-making.”

But where does this leave us as individuals who want to do our bit for the planet?

My first post on the Living Planet Report shows how each of us has the power to help the planet simply by cutting down on, or cutting out altogether, the meat and dairy on our plates. Or better still, cutting out animal products in every area of our lives. It’s not hard.

The Nature Capital approach to saving our Earth operates at corporate or even governmental level. So is there any way we can get behind this as individuals to make a difference? Well yes, there is. Here in the UK, we can support the Wildlife Trusts. You can be sure they will do all in their power to keep our government in line with the NEA. You can also join the Ecosystems Knowledge Network. They greatly value individuals’ input.

In the USA, there is the truly wonderful Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club. Both would welcome your support.

All of us also have votes. Natural Capital – a positive way to reverse the decline of life on precious Planet Earth. What do our electoral candidates have to say about that? It’s just about the most important question they need to answer. Shall we ask them?

Sources

Mass Consumption Is Causing Mass Extinction. Can We Stop Ourselves? – TakePart

The Economic Value of Nature – Voices for Biodiversity

Ecosystem Services – Science in Action

National Ecosystem Assessment – The Wildlife Trusts

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The Living Planet Report: Our Dinner Plates Are Destroying Life on Earth

Now is the time to stop hiding our heads in the sand. Planet Earth is in a mess. And we, the human race, are entirely to blame.

This week the WWF published its Living Planet Report. It makes a chilling read.
“Populations of wild animals have plummeted 58 percent in the past four decades as humans have pushed them into ever-smaller habitats or killed them for food.”
“Global wildlife could plunge 67 per cent in the fifty-year period ending this decade as a result of human activities. The report shows how people are overpowering the planet for the first time in Earth’s history.”
Put it this way: there’s now only one third of the wildlife left that there was when a person now 50 was born.

How has it come to this desperate state of affairs? Sad to say, like this:

  • We have overfished the oceans
  • We have wiped out natural habitats to graze farmed animals, and grow crops – crops largely to be fed to farmed animals
  • We have polluted air, land and water, in some large part through farming animal
  • We have caused climate change, farming animals being the single biggest contributor
  • We have introduced invasive species (like the mink in the UK, escaped into the wild from fur farms, and predating endemic species such as the endangered water vole)

“All five threats [to the Earth] are symptoms of overconsumption of natural resources, the report states, which has far outstripped the capacity of ecosystems to restore the fertile soil and clean water that support wildlife as well as human health and welfare.”

Feeling overwhelmed at the enormity of the crisis? What if I told you each and every one of us can take back the power into our own hands? That our individual actions could make ALL the difference?

It’s really very simple, and no hardship – we can reverse the frightening decline of life in all its glorious forms on Earth, by taking meat off the plate and tucking in to the cornucopia of delicious plant foods instead.

Better, much better still, maximise our personal impact by transitioning to a fully vegan lifestyle where no animal products are used, for food, medicine, entertainment, clothing, experimentation, transport or anything else.

Our chance, perhaps our last chance, to take the pressure off the planet is NOW!

So, is the problem truly as big as WWF says it is? And is it all about humans’ use of animals? Well, let’s take a look at our plates and see.

Most of the world’s arable land is dedicated to livestock production

grazinglivestocklivefeed2We’re using precious land resources to produce food for our food. Not exactly efficient

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Only a small portion of all the grain grown in the U.S. actually goes to feed people

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If we fed these grains to people instead of to livestock, it could make a huge dent in world hunger

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As the amount of land to grow livestock feed and graze cattle grows, the need to convert forests into agricultural land grows. This comes at a huge cost to native wildlife and plantslivestockgrazing21

Animal agriculture’s track record for water use isn’t much better

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The bulk of our water footprint comes from ‘virtual’ water in the meat we eat

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In addition to land and water, fossil fuels are also used to produce fertilizers for livestock feed, as well as in transportation and processing of animal products

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As if pollution from fossil fuels weren’t bad enough…

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When you combine the greenhouse gases emitted from fossil fuel use, deforestation, and the animals themselves, animal agriculture has a huge carbon footprint

greenhousegases2_720

Bad, isn’t it? But denial is no longer an option. And we know what we have to do.

Reducing, or preferably eliminating altogether our consumption of animal products will –

  • help save species from extinction
  • conserve land, water and grain resources
  • remove a major cause of pollution
  • and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact, simply taking meat off the plate will cut your personal carbon footprint in half.  Who would not want that?

Ready to swap that burger for a tasty Earth-friendly veggie burger? Here are some mind-blowing veggie burger recipes. With so many delicious plant-based alternatives available, kicking out those damaging animal products is easy as pie. Join the #EatForThePlanet movement and start using your daily food choices to make the change that is so vital to the fate of every creature on Earth, humans included.

People can’t act unless they know the facts. Please share with family and friends.

Help to go vegan here or here or here or here

Petition to the next President of the USA to make wildlife a priority in first 100 days in office – here

There is one more important thing humans can do to reverse the despoliation of Planet Earth. Coming soon.

Graphics by Elizabeth Lee

Sources

10 Shocking Environmental Facts That Make This Veggie Burger More Delicious Than Ever – One Green Planet

Mass Consumption Is Causing Mass Extinction – Take Part

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USA: Meat is Murdering American Rivers – Will America Act, or have Another Burger?

Another Nation Trims Meat from Diet Advice

German Meat Companies Are Investing in Veg Meats

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