Saturday, June 5, 2010

Veganism for the Environment

Many of you might already have known I wrote an article for the Brock Press several months about about the reasons to go vegan for environmental concerns. I decided (better late then never) to add it to my blog.


Veganism for the Environment

Anthropogenic climate change, mass extinctions, and environmental degradation, has more people in Canada than ever citing environmental issues their greatest concern. Many organisations have provided guidelines for reducing our ecological footprint. Most have fallen short on THE most effective way of helping the environment: a transition to a plant-based lifestyle.

Reports, such as the United Nation’s, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” often get ignored, instead favoring reducing pollution from other industries. This document details the effect of meat production on the environment. It found that 18% of anthropogenic greenhouse gases are created from animal agriculture. This makes animal usage a greater threat to climate change than the entire automotive industry. So why all the hype about capping industrial sources when one need look no further than their plate to reduce their personal emissions is beyond me. Don’t get me wrong; I am for reducing any source of pollution to the best of our abilities. A Vegan lifestyle is the most effective way to do this.

That just entails the emission impact of terrestrial animal exploitation. Many consume fish as a ‘healthier’ meat alternative. This also has negative consequences. All bony fish sequester carbon by secreting calcium carbonate. Therefore, over-fishing removes a major source of carbon sequestration. The removal of plankton eating fish doubly impacts climate change. Instead of carbon being consumed by these fish, it goes to the ocean floor, decomposes and then erupts into the atmosphere as methane gas. This affects the coastal environment by creating dead-zones and contributes vastly to atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Climate change is not the sole concern when we consume animal products. ~60-70% of corn and soybeans go to feeding livestock. The energy input-output is only that high because factory-farmed animals aren’t even given enough space to perform simple bodily functions. According to natural energy pyramid economics, only ~10% of plant matter’s energy makes it to the average meat consumer’s body, making it an enormously inefficient farming practice. This requires more land, and greater energy input for extraction. With over 1/3 of Earth’s arable land used for agriculture, ~30% of the Earth’s arable land going to use for animal agriculture. This has lead to mass desertization, deforestation, soil erosion, etc.

With ~50 billion animals slaughtered annually to satiate human demand, meat production requires copious amounts of resources. The amount of water required to produce the pound of meat versus a pound of vegetables is enormously higher. Clean water being scarce for many, this is a huge waste of water.

Dealing with farm animal waste environmentally prudently is nearly impossible. Especially when you’re injecting hormones and antibiotics into the animals, waste run-off and the use of manure leads to water contamination, outbreaks of bacterial infections, and ecological dead-zones.

Hunting also creates environmental detriments. While natural predation contributes to evolutionary adaptation, human hunting diminishes wildlife populations (sometimes causing extinction). Fishing tends to target stronger animals, as they lunge at lures. This leaves fewer, less aggressive fish to mate – if they are able. This is paralleled in land-based hunting, where the strongest animals would be the ones to venture closest to human encampments. Trap-’hunting’ and long-lining for animals is also ecologically destructive by its haphazard approach, sometimes even killing endangered species. All of these have serious and irreversible ecological consequences.

This isn’t an extensive list of environmental devastations from animal usage, just the more consequential ones. This ultimately begs the question, ‘Can a person even be an animal-utilising environmentalist?’