At the company where I work, we have an annual get together (known to us as the “Grand Meetup”). One thing that we all have to do at this event is deliver a four minute “flash talk” on any topic of our choosing. I gave a talk about my decision last year to adopt a vegan diet.
I’ve been meaning to write something about this for some time, but I haven’t got round to it, so I have figured I will just paste what I said into a blog post.
In November last year I decided to become a vegan. Until that point I pretty much ate everything. I really enjoyed steaks, burgers etc. For some time I had been trying to eat more sustainably and I had focussed on eating locally and seasonally.
I can perfectly understand some people switching off at this stage. A couple of years ago I might have done the same. To be perfectly honest, I was, and to some extent still am, in a state of utter despair of the direction our planet appears to be going in. I had resigned myself to the fact that there are far too many people on this planet and that ultimately we’re doomed.
However leading up to last November I had become increasingly aware of the unbelievably disproportionate environmental impact of animal agriculture and the devastating way that it is destroying our planet. While it’s an incredibly depressing subject, the disproportional nature of it gave me a bit of hope.
Yes, there are 7 billion people on this planet. In terms of sustainability, that’s bad. But there are approximately 70 billion animals on this planet that have been raised for us to eat. And actually, that is a much more scary fact than it sounds. Because the turnover rate of those animals is far greater than that of the human population. The resources that go into raising these animals is truly staggering.
So how bad is this? Well it’s estimated that of CO2 emissions produced as a result of human activity, 13% of that is all of the world’s travel (planes, trains automobiles etc.) And yet, an estimate of somewhere between 30 and 51% is given for the emissions caused by farming livestock.
And the numbers get more and more astonishing. The world’s human population consumes 5.2 billion gallons of water every day, and eats 21 billion pounds of food. But just the world’s 1.5 billion cows alone consume 45 billion gallons of water every day and eat 135 billion pounds of food.
It gets a lot scarier than just CO2 emissions and wasted resources too. For example, it’s estimated that 91% of rainforest deforestation in the Amazon area is to make way for ranches. In fact globally, we cut down an acre of rainforest every second.
The more you look at this, the more scary it gets. And part of the problem is that no-one seems to want to talk about it. Our governments encourage us to drive more efficient cars, use energy-saving lightbulbs, turn off the tap when we’re brushing our teeth etc. But no-one seems to want to question our apparent god-given right to eat animals. For example, in Indonesia it’s estimated that animal agriculture is responsible for 15 times more rainforest deforestation than the palm oil industry. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the palm oil industry, but nothing about animal agriculture.
There’s also a massive biodiversity problem. 10,000 years ago, free-living, wild animals made up 99% of the planet’s animal biomass (zoomass). Human beings made up 1% of the zoomass. Today, we human beings and the animals that we own as property make up 98% of the zoomass, and wild free-living animals make up 2%. We’re living through a period of the worst mass extinction in 65 million years and the primary cause of this is habitat loss, which is primarily driven by ever-expanding farming and fishing activities.
So this has probably brought you all down nicely. I felt the vibe here was getting a bit too happy so I wanted to cancel some of that out. But from the depths of this incredibly depressing situation, there is hope. We can change this. And in the word’s of the environmentalist George Monbiot, an ounce of hope is worth a ton of despair.
If you’re interested in this, I’d recommend watching this talk by Dr Richard Oppenlander:
There’s also a very interesting film called Cowspiracy that has been crowd-funded and is showing across the US. Its focus is on the environmental impact of farming and why so many charitable foundations completely ignore animal agriculture in terms of the damage it’s causing.