A Voice for Earth

Environmental and social justice and my personal experiences in the area.


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Giving a Fuck Sometimes Sucks

(Image Source: Journey of a Thousand Miles)

So I haven’t blogged in months, pretty much because I’ve been hating on the world. Well, maybe not hating but getting apathetic, a state I don’t want to be in but bombarded by so much negativity on a daily basis, it’s hard not to succumb to it occasionally. I regret that this has taken me away from blogging, my Facebook page and group, even my vegan Instagram account, not that I’ve been totally absent, but I have dialed my exposure back for my own sanity.

What specifically has been bothering me lately? Pretty much everything to some degree. I suppose the overriding issue for me is always going to be climate change because there are so many feedbacks and so many other issues that it affects, it pretty much has an impact everywhere and on everything. Ever since the Paris climate accord last year, my level of optimism has dropped off. Solving the issue has seemed further away when it should have drawn closer after the ‘historic’ agreement. Why do you ask am I so pessimistic all of a sudden? Why am I being a downer even?

Because it just ain’t gonna cut it, that’s why!

Paris would have been absolutely fantastic had it been negotiated in the 80s, it would have been appropriate in the 90s, it would have fallen short in the 00s and for this decade, it’s a band aid on an open artery. I think we’re all sick to death of half-measures, if only governments and corporations were giving us even that. Instead we’re being given platitudes and green-washing and trade agreements that undercut what little we have already achieved. Fun times!

I’m completely over politics, as well, from the efforts made by establishment politics to suppress the rise of democratic socialist politicians like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, to President Obama, a supposed progressive, pushing a regressive trade agreement like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to the recent insanity that was the Brexit and how all these things are negatively impacting effective climate and environmental policy even more.

It’s hard everyday to log into Facebook and see Florida’s coast swallowed by an algal bloom probably a result of warming waters and nutrient enrichment from animal agriculture and fertilizer runoff. It’s hard to see flood after flood after flood hit parts of Texas and the Midwest and have the political leaders there deny that there’s even a problem. It’s hard to watch the Great Barrier Reef slowly die. It’s hard to watch Rhinos and Elephants get slaughtered for a single body-part that only has extrinsic worth that some witch doctor gave them. It’s hard to watch species like the vaquita, the orca, the orangutan march towards extinction, to watch the seas get depleted of fish, to watch plastics pollute everything, to watch rainforests torn down for ranches and palm oil, it’s all just hard!

This all probably sounds very self-pitying and, of course, none of this is about me, this isn’t why I care, even though we all have something to loose if the shit really hits the fan. Also, I can say all this is hard to watch, but it is infinitely harder for the people who actually have experienced these disasters, who are physically present to watch the lands they call home change for the worse, to watch the creatures they know disappear, and to have homes and livelihoods lost. If watching all this on a screen diminishes my hope, how must these people feel? I can’t imagine.

I’m starting to come around again and feel motivated once more. Nothing in particular has spurred me on, maybe a combination of things. My wife has told me that if I don’t like what I see, change it. It’s a simple solution to my problem, but positive thinking and reading about the things that are going right really helps. I’m trying to post more about positive political and activist action that has changed the course like how Europe has seriously curtailed the extension of approval of glyphosate, in no small part because of public pressure. Recently, pipeline proposals by Enbridge in Canada have been shot down, thanks again to actions of people. Then there’s how San Francisco banned styrofoam, Morocco banned plastic bags, and Germany is mandating all cars be electric by 2030 with Norway considering an even more ambitious version of this policy for 2025.

I think it’s been good, as well, to get more involved with the online vegan community. It’s nice just to know that there are people out there who care as much about animals, people, and planet as much as yourself. It’s difficult when no one in your personal life is as involved as you, and I mean immediate friends and family, not online friends and passing acquaintances.That’s not to downplay those connections because they are the only thing really reassuring me that I’m not just some hippie loon and that I’m actually going crazy. Other people see what I see,  other people care and even though we are few and far between, that restores my hope.

That is what I plan to focus on in future now whenever I’m feeling low about the world, about the way things are going, and how meaningful my impact is. For that, I guess I can thank everyone I’ve interacted with online and all those writers out there putting out hope rather than doom-saying. I know I’ve written a piece with both. I am still being realistic in that I know there’s a lot that still needs to be done to remedy the Earth’s environmental and social problems, but giving into despair about the world did nothing for me or anyone else. If anything, it just made me more depressed and less interested in involving myself, making me no better than anyone who carries on day to day in apathy and ignorance of what’s going on in the world.

A quote by Jane Goodall stands out to me especially:

“In 200 years, people will look back on this particular period and say to themselves how did those people at that time just allow all those amazing creatures to vanish. But it would be very little use in me or anybody else exerting all this energy to save these wild places if people are not being educated into being better stewards than we’ve been. If we all lose hope, there is no hope. Without hope, people fall into apathy. There’s still a lot left that’s worth fighting for.”

It’s worth it to fight against apathy, hopelessness, depression about this world we live in and where it’s headed at the moment because if we don’t, how will we ever change the course for the future? These things sap you of the strength to do anything but bemoan the problems instead of being a part of the solution and no matter how small your part may be, as was said in the documentary Racing Extinction, “It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”.

That’s something I plan to take to heart from here on out as best I can, and I know there’ll be setbacks, both personal and in the wider world, but what’s important is that we all pick up and carry on, and maybe the solutions for the future we all wish for will come to pass.


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Three Documentaries That Shaped My 2015

When it comes to activism and doing my part to help the environment and curb my footprint on the Earth, I think 2015 marked the point at which posting articles to social media to raise awareness wasn’t enough anymore. Anyone sitting at home at a computer can do that and make no mistake, I continue to do that because although sometimes it can feel like you’re shouting in an echo chamber, preaching to the choir, it’s worth it to reach even a few people who’ve never considered these issues before and perhaps change their outlook a little.

Yet, increasingly, I’ve felt the need to take real action myself, to consider what I do on daily basis that I could tweak or stop to make my impact less. There are a number of things that influenced me onto this course in 2015, but perhaps none more than documentaries on the subject of how our activities are damaging the environment and risking our futures and those of the generations to come.

That way I’ve come to see it is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s so much potential for innovation and remediation of harm already done but between painfully slow, gridlocked politics and incessant corporate lobbying, they are not being implemented fast enough. So perhaps leadership on the issues facing us is not to be found with government or Big Business, it is within ourselves. It lies with us. Every person, everywhere, has the power to create some kind of positive change that taken together could shift the balance towards clean energy, better agricultural practices, protection of habitats and biodiversity, preserving air and water quality, and leaving a world with possibilities other than mere survival for our descendants.

In that spirit, I’ve laid out, in my opinion, the three best and most important documentaries of 2015, and how they influenced me to makes changes in my life currently and also in my plans for the future.

 

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

Cowspiracy came out back in April. I knew the basic premise beforehand from the trailer and reading up on it prior to watching it. Simply put, animal agriculture, more than any other human activity, is devastating our planet. Nothing contributes more to climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation, water depletion, species extinction, and ocean dead zones.

It’s one thing to hear that, it’s another to see it in images, in undeniable science and numbers. Feeding animals to feed us is remarkably inefficient, consuming fossil fuels, water, and arable land at an unsustainable rate, and the return on calories and nutrition is far less than if we actually ate the plants used to feed livestock.

This changed my whole outlook on issues of the environment, especially climate change. Everyone was so focused on fossil fuel burning and, of course, it is an important contributor to climate change, but it is merely a feed-in to the emissions total for animal agriculture, which by some estimates is responsible for over 50% of all emissions. On top of this, we have emissions of methane and CO2 coming directly from animals and destruction of carbon sinks to create more pastureland such as the deforestation of the Amazon.

What got to me even more was the fact that major environmental groups were largely ignoring the issues in favour of combating relatively softer targets like fracking or the tar sands, which are climate disasters in their own right, but tackling them seems to be a lot easier to swallow. As I said in a blog post I wrote after initially watching Cowspiracy, I think these groups underestimate the willingness of their members to combat these issues, but I can’t speak to whether or not they have other motivations to ignore this one in particular.

I think this documentary inspired my biggest personal change, the choice to become vegan. I’ve wavered about it before, having initially come across the subject in relation to the health benefits of a wholefood plant-based diet portrayed in Forks Over Knives. However, concern for my own personal well-being was only enough to get me to reduce my meat intake and cut eggs and dairy. However, having seen how much my dietary choices were flying in the face of my environmental concern, I made the choice to go fully vegan late last year.

The decrease in my carbon footprint, my water footprint, my use of arable land, grain, my contribution to deforestation, the tainting of our oceans with excess nutrients from animal waste, the lessening of animal suffering. Even if my contribution is small, that’s the point. A lot of people making this one decision could make a massive difference to the state of our planet.

I think it was one of the most influential documentaries of 2015, and I cannot wait to see what Kip Andersen, it’s creator, has in store with his follow-up documentary, What the Health, coming this year.

 

This Changes Everything

This Changes Everything was influential to me for one main reason, it verbalizes an idea that almost all people, especially in the West, have, but that we never really think about. It is the concept of Earth as machine and man its wielder. It is the idea that the Earth is an animal whose spirit must be broken and tamed, that we must and can become its masters. Everything it has to offer, all it can provide for us, can be exploited without limit and without consequence.

It is this plot that we have been following since the beginning of the industrial revolution, when fossil fuels allowed us to detach ourselves from the rhythms of nature. It was this supposed decoupling that gave us the notion that we humans are somehow apart from the rest of the biosphere, that our choices and actions could be carried out irrespective of Mother Nature and that any negative impacts would only affect the environment, not us, as if we live somewhere other than the environment.

We have crowned ourselves kings of the mountain and so have perpetuated an economic model based upon the concept of infinite growth on a finite planet. The only problem is that nature has caught up with us in the form of climate change, probably the biggest environmental problem to come back and bite us on the ass.

This documentary tells it how it is. Our consumerist culture, our free-for-all capitalistic system, has overshot the Earth’s ability to sustain it, and we are now in ecological debt that we sink into deeper every single year. We have a mammoth task on our hands if we want to change that. We not only have to turn our ship around, but we have to completely overhaul it so it sails causing the smallest wake possible.

The fossil fuel era is coming to a close. We can all see that, even those who are heavily invested in keeping it alive as long as possible. Climate change does change everything, but whether that change runs its course quickly or not, whether fossil fuels croak quickly or peter out with painful slowness is, once again, up to us.

In most cases, our governments have done a poor job at standing up to the fossil fuel industry and have even promoted it with the Obama administration’s support for fracking, and the Canadian government’s overwhelming support for the Alberta tar sands. At the moment, Big Energy is rowing our boat through their political oarsmen. Only we can wrest the oars back by making better energy choices.

I currently do not have my own home, and I drive a ’97 1.3 litre engine Toyata Starlet. I hope that once I get on my feet, and my energy and transport choices are in my own hands that I can afford to use renewable energy sources and purchase an electric car. For now, all I can do is not be wasteful with energy where I live, turning off lights and appliances not in use, minimising their use also, air-drying clothes, not leaving heating or the boiler going for longer than absolutely needed, walking if I can, and trying to consume as little as possible in terms of unnecessary purchases, or choosing digital media where possible rather than physical copies. In time, I hope to be free of fossil fuels completely and the consequences of their use.

 

Racing Extinction

As much as the other two documentaries had a great impact on me, I think Racing Extinction touches a more personal note. I think it’s because it’s one of the first I shared with my new wife and because of the impact it had on her. She’d told me before that the state of world makes her angry and when I asked her why, she said she believes the people of the world have both the intelligence and the technology available to fix what we have broken. However, from her point of view it didn’t seem like anyone could be bothered to do it, and this had left her feeling hopeless. I have to admit I often shared those feelings even if I did my best to stay positive.

However, as dire as the message of this documentary is, that we risk losing 50% of all species in the next hundred years, that we risk compromising the habitability of our world, that we are poised to cause a sixth mass extinction of life on Earth, that we have become the meteor with the power to change everything for the worse on our planet, and it comes down to our own inability to change with anything like the urgency needed to avert catastrophe, it still gave both of us hope. Why? Because despite all the negatives portrayed in this documentary, it was moving for both of us to see so many who do care and who are working to save our world.

Having watched it, my wife said she found it moving, and it had taken her from a state of pessimism about our world to one of cautious optimism, and it encouraged her to watch the documentaries above, including Cowspiracy which she laughed at every time she heard the name because it sounded silly but has now actually become her favourite.

If it showed me anything, it is that other people do care, a lot of them, and they are willing to take bold actions to force change if they have to. It is knowing you are not alone when it comes to wanting to protect the only home we have, to protect something that was billions of years in the making and is irreplaceable.

Together, we can make better choices about the food we eat, the cars we drive, the sources of our energy, how we dispose of our waste, and taking care of what industries we may be supporting. We can all be doomsayers, we can all resign ourselves to defeat and extinction and the collapse of society as we know it, perhaps even our own demise, that’s easy, but I don’t choose that. My favourite quote from the documentary was that it’s “better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”. I truly believe in that statement, and I know there are others who do, too. We are in a race against extinction and time, but we still have enough time on our side to change the course, and that is what I want to be a part of.

So, here’s to 2016, and making better choices for our planet and ourselves.

 

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.

 


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Cowspiracy: The Greatest Environmental Threat Hiding in Plain Sight?

I have been waiting a good deal of time to watch this documentary, having heard rumblings about it for months and months. When I saw the trailer, it seemed as though, like so many I’d already seen, that it would be informative and provocative, but what I imagined had nothing on the reality of it.

Since the release of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, everyone to some extent knows about climate change and even if they aren’t clear on the exact science, know that the planet is getting warmer and that we human beings are responsible. Generally when one is asked to point to a cause of climate change, they will say fossil fuel burning. The petrol burned in our cars, the oil and gas we burn to heat our homes, the coal we burn in our power plants, all of it is creating carbon dioxide emissions that increase the greenhouse effect, which in turn warms the Earth’s atmosphere, and a warmer atmosphere is a more violent one.

Whilst we can all point to fossil fuels, few know that cutting down forests increases emissions or general changes in land use. What might you ask drives such destruction? One would assume it’s to do with lumber but especially in places like the Amazon, the main driver of logging and rainforest destruction is not for timber but to open up land for cattle ranching and growing feed.

It’s not just what we do to facilitate animal agriculture, though, it’s the animals themselves. Methane is also a greenhouse gas and is produced in large quantities by the digestive processes of cattle. It is 22 to 100 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. This means that raising livestock contributes more to climate change than the whole transport sector at 18% versus only 13% for all cars, trains, planes, and shipping. A World Bank report puts the figure even higher, at 51%, when including the clear-cutting of forests for grazing, animal respiration, and the amount of waste they produce.

It would be bad enough if animal agriculture only significantly contributed to climate change, but that is definitely not the case. It is the main driver of deforestation, as I’ve previously mentioned, but it all drives habitat loss, species extinction, water depletion, and the formation of ocean dead zones. The original UN report that found it to be a greater emission source than transport also stated that it is major cause of resource consumption.

This is staggering. This is a profound realisation, that our demand for meat and dairy is fuelling climate change and every other major environmental crisis of our age. It also contributes to poverty and starvation, as the world has more than enough food grown to feed the world’s human population, but so much of that is diverted to animals that we then eat anyway, losing the majority of the nutritional value of the original crop.

Given all of this, why did it take this documentary to really bring it home for me? Why with all the environmental organisations that I follow am I only hearing about this issue now, let alone its significance? The movie answered that question for me, it’s too sensitive an issue to tackle.

Really? These environmental groups have no problem going after the fossil fuel industry, GMOs, loggers, poachers, whalers, industrial fishing operations, and yet the meat and dairy industry are not even mentioned. How is it that despite these reports that Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, Oceana, Amazon Watch, Friends of the Earth, how come all of them aren’t up in arms about this issue and telling their members not to consume meat and dairy. Perhaps because they don’t want to lose their members.

After all, people who genuinely care about the environment, who are willing to sign petitions, picket the streets, commit civil disobedience, are totally going to be turned off the whole green thing if you tell them that their dietary choices are damaging the very thing they want to protect.

Personally, I think these groups grossly underestimate their members but in the end, I can only speak for myself. I tried almost complete veganism for a few months. It wasn’t a hardship and indeed, I found ways to really enjoy the food I was eating. We seem to forget that despite the Western diet being very heavy on meat and dairy that far more variety is found among plant-based foods. I’ve backtracked a bit since then, eating a diet that is 70-80% plant-based but still not consuming any dairy. However, this film has really convinced me that long-term, I should be thinking of moving back the other way again.

One person can’t change much and like Kip Andersen, the co-director of Cowspiracy, we can all get efficient light bulbs, turn off lights and appliances when they’re not in use, turn off our taps when brushing, drive less, and maybe that’ll make some difference. What I’ve come to realise is that I could do all these things, and they would amount to less than if I just chose a plant-based diet. That’s not to say that all the things you typically hear to do to be more green are for naught, they’re just less effective.

Imagine that we all did the most effective thing. Imagine we all collectively divested from meat and dairy, mostly if not completely and utterly. It’s hard to fathom the forests and wildernesses that would be spared destruction, the water that would be saved, the additional food we would have, the emissions cuts. We could create a better world with an agricultural system not based upon the consumptive industrial processes that we have in place today. However, we have to demand that.

This is where I think these organisations that should be championing diet as a means to protect the environment fall down. They are either afraid of backlash from their members, or, as was alluded to in the movie, may be taking hush money from the meat and dairy industry to keep their interests off their radar. I can’t speculate much on that. It would be quite dispiriting if it were true, akin to finding out that Oil Change International were taking money from TransCanada not to advocate against tar sands development.

Whatever the case may be, the fact remains that our food choices play a significant role in environmental destruction and social injustice. Can one really chow down on a Big Mac Burger, knowing that the cost of that meal in water, in emissions, in trees cut down, wildlife lost, and others going hungry is so high? I personally couldn’t, and I think many like me, having all the facts available to them, would feel the same.

So my message to Greenpeace, to Sierra Club, to Climate Reality, to 350.org, to all the environmental organisations is simply this, give your supporters a chance. I’m not asking you to shout from the rooftops “meat and dairy bad, you eat it, you bad”. All I’m saying is that it’s likely that your members are all intelligent, thoughtful people who when presented with the facts, will be able to make their own determination and respond accordingly. I don’t believe that even if they choose not to change their dietary choices that they will then withdraw their support for your organisation, simply because you told them something they didn’t particularly want to hear. These are people who believe in protecting animals and wild places, who believe that clean air and water should be a given, that our oceans should not be a dumping ground, that we should not consume our Earth, overwhelm its natural systems in a frenzy, leaving nothing for future generations.

Yet that is what our food choices demand that we do. We must clear more forest, we must use up every last drop of water, graze every acre, all the while creating huge quantities of waste and emissions that pollute our rivers and oceans and destabilise our climate. Presented with this, anyone who considers themselves an environmentalist, such as myself, has to act. Perhaps the leading environmental organisations who I and many others look to should hold themselves to at least that standard.

P.S. Watch Cowspiracy, I think it is one of the defining documentaries of our time, and the information presented should be everywhere, high and low. Let’s make it so!

Links:

http://www.cowspiracy.com/

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.

 

 

 


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Burrenbeo Volunteer Work: Plastic Clean-up

(Image Sources: Myself & Burrenbeo Volunteers)

On the 31st of March, I travelled up to Fanore, Co. Clare for my third time volunteering with Burrenbeo who manage clean-up and conservation sites across the Burren region. I was originally there back in September when I volunteered via the People’s Climate March as a joint event. Back then, we were cleaning up a different section of beach along the mostly rocky shore of Fanore. As I mentioned in my last volunteering blog post, that day had been a warm, sunny day. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t totally favour us this time around either. It was quite breezy and cool, but luckily we avoided the majority of the showers rolling in off the Atlantic.

What we were doing there was straight forward. We all patrolled an area of the rocky coast with plastic bin bags and picked up any rubbish we came across. Below is an image of the clean-up area:

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A lot of plastic debris is washed up by storms and high tides, but there is also littering to consider, which thankfully there didn’t seem to be much of as the items we picked up mostly showed signs of being battered and worn by the sea. At first, as I moved along the stone walls where most of the garbage gathers, I found the usual suspects, bottles, plastic wrappers, containers such as two butter tubs that I found side by side. However, these easy to retrieve items (even when tangled in briars!) were quickly replaced by a multitude of other things.

Out away from the walls, I came across a large patch of flotsam. It mostly consisted of a tangle of seaweed and wood pieces, including a pallet, but throughout the pile were countless pieces of plastic. Corks, broken pens, cigarette lighters, and lots of other unidentifiable pieces spread throughout an otherwise largely natural conglomeration. When I knelt down, it looked as if someone had come along and cast confetti across the beach. I did my best to recover the pieces that could be readily retrieved, but even if all eight volunteers got down on their knees and tweezed the smallest pieces from the seaweed, we wouldn’t have gotten it all even if we stayed at it all day. I’ve included a picture below, but it’s hard to discern anything but the largest fragments.

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I continued on with the group to try and recover the biggest pieces before they were washed back out to sea to be broken up into more smaller pieces which are the greater threat to the environment. Most of what I collected was packaging from domestic products, including intact storage containers, but there were also drums and barrels which were probably of agricultural or industrial origin.

One thing I noticed a lot of was aero-board. Aero-board is ubiquitous. It was everywhere, in big chunks and tiny particles which would probably look like a nice bite-sized morsel to an unsuspecting bird or fish. It was painful to try and recover as it often jammed into crevices in the rocks, and it broke up easily into more fragments if you tried to pry it out. It’s easy to see how this kind of contamination has become such a threat to nature. Between aero-board, micro-beads, and broken-down plastics, the ocean has become a plastic soup.

Awash in an apparent endless manna of colourful and deceivingly edible-looking particles, small fish gobble them up where they provide no nutrition and can even kill them by clogging their guts, and then this cascade moves up the food-chain where larger creatures eat the plastic-clogged smaller fish, or directly eat larger pieces of plastic, capable of incapacitating them. What comes to mind most is the story of a beached whale that was killed by a DVD case.

In Western countries like Ireland, recycling is pretty much a universal service. I mean there were recycling banks at the side of the driveway down to the beach, and Fanore is fairly remote. There are no longer excuses to litter, to chuck perfectly recyclable items in the waste bin just because it’s easier than cleaning them. Industrial operations have even fewer excuses for not ensuring the maximum percentage of their waste is recycled. You have to consider that when you send these items to landfill or throw them out the window of your car, they can find their way into waterways, which all eventually lead to the ocean, our universal dump site. A meme I recently posted to my Facebook puts it best:

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As this final image demonstrates, that could not be more true. This is all the garbage that eight volunteers collected in two and a half hours with breaks over a stretch of beach that was less than a kilometre at most.

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This is what we do. This is the result of our indifference and our carelessness. Rather than re-purposing, reusing, or disposing of items responsibly, we cast them away, thinking that out of sight, out of mind. Not true, for they become someone else’s problem, or is likely the case here, they return to us.

It’s not just our coastlines where this is a problem. I often walk in the green areas and along the Riverwalk in Shannon to see litter everywhere, including bin bags full of garbage disposed of in amongst reeds or brush where no one can be caught dumping. I could blame those responsible but if waste collection were less expensive then maybe this wouldn’t be an issue. Still, people who throw coke bottles in the ditch or leave beer cans in the grass can be blamed for just not giving a crap. That, however, is just the nature of our throw-away society. Something is used for a few minutes and discarded. Just remember next time you go to improperly dispose of some plastic item, it could linger on longer than your great grandchildren and their great grandchildren. Plastic bottles could take six centuries to completely decompose. Just think that means all the plastic that has ever been made is still in existence somewhere.

There are consequences to our choices, so make the right ones. I’d like to finish this blog post by reiterating how our actions impact even the remotest corners of the Earth with this video:


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Helping the Planet through Diet

(Image Source: USDA)

Vegetarianism, Veganism, whichever lifestyle you follow, the commonly known reason that you are doing it is to save animals from cruel living conditions and horrible deaths. Make no mistake, that alone is more than enough reason to choose to go meat and/or dairy free. However, most people don’t realise there’s a lot more to be accomplished by these choices than saving the lives of farm animals. There are less direct but no less significant benefits to the health of our planet as a whole from choosing to be vegan or vegetarian. It all derives from the impact that the meat and dairy industries have on the environment. There are a good many to cover. A short list would be:

  1. River and lake algal blooms due to nutrient loading (Lake Erie last year is a prime example, http://tinyurl.com/kgbks29)
  2. Water depletion (e.g. it takes over 1’800 gallons of water to get a pound of beef, http://tinyurl.com/kgfhb74)
  3. Ocean Dead Zones (similar to the first point, ocean dead zones occur because of a combination of high nutrient levels and pollution entering ocean water via rivers or through direct human activities, de-oxygenating coastal waters, making them uninhabitable to most sea life. Most of the nutrient loading comes from farming and releases of effluent.)
  4. Deforestation (Most forest is cleared to make way for animal agriculture or crops meant to feed livestock. Brazil’s Amazon is a prime example. From 2000-2005, 70% of all deforestation in the Amazon was for the purpose of establishing cattle ranches, http://tinyurl.com/c6q7tt)
  5. Species Extinction (Given all the previous points, it goes without saying that animal agriculture is a primary driver of species loss through habitat destruction, and nearly all ecosystems are directly or indirectly affected by agricultural activities.)
  6. Climate Change (Animal agriculture is a carbon intensive process. Land usage changes to graze animals and grow their food produce CO2 emissions, as does the energy required to keep them alive, slaughter them, process them, and all the transport involved in all those steps. However, it doesn’t stop there. Animals respiration and the carbon-intensive medical treatments that millions of animals require every year are disputed but potentially huge contributors to GHG emissions. Animal agriculture also contributes to emissions of two other greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, which are 86 and 268 times more potent respectively than carbon dioxide, http://tinyurl.com/ljhml2w)

 

That’s a lot of environmental damage just to bring a steak to your dinner plate or to have the convenience of purchasing a burger from your fast-food restaurant. Most people, in fairness, aren’t aware of any of this. The fact remains that compassion for animals is the main driver behind people choosing to change their diets. I’ve personally seen videos of the kinds of cruelty that livestock are subjected to in industrial farm set-ups, and I can tell you that watching another living creature cry in pain and fear as it struggles for life tugs on the heartstrings a lot more than being told about the invisible gases they emit contributing to climate change. Still, as much as I don’t want to see animals harmed, the environment as a whole is my focus.

We have to consider what kind of world we’re going to leave to our children and grandchildren. A lot of them who are under ten now will be middle-aged by 2050, and I imagine they’ll curse us for the problems we leave them to solve. Our governments are slow to respond to these growing crises partly due to the inherent nature of our democratic systems and partly due to intense lobbying interests who would be affected negatively by any attempt to address the problems I mentioned above. That means the most immediate success can be achieved on the local and individual level. That means you, your choices can have a much greater impact than you think. What if I told you that being vegan would cut your carbon footprint more than giving up your car?

Okay, let’s be honest here. No one’s giving up meat and dairy just like that to be eco-friendly.

It is a huge lifestyle change that you can’t just dive right in to, and it is not easy to maintain. I, myself, am not a strict vegan. Though I avoid meat and dairy at home and when I’m eating out as much as possible, I’m not going to go hungry because there isn’t a vegan option on the party platter, or because there might be an animal product in the sauce on my takeaway veggie burger. It has to be done gradually, and it has to be sustainable. Let’s face it, though, there are people for whom veganism or even vegetarianism will never be legitimate options, and that’s okay, too. There are still dietary changes you can make to have a positive impact on the environment and even animal welfare. Here are some quick and easy ideas that are somewhat easier to maintain than a complete diet overhaul:

  1. Try having a meatless Monday, or any day of the week that suits. Even though you are not excluding meat from your diet, just eating less meat can still reduce all of the impacts mentioned above by decreasing demand for the product, which correspondingly reduces industry production. I started my mostly plant food-based diet by doing it just one day of the week, then two, and so on.
  2. Try reducing your red meat intake in favour of white meats like poultry, or you could go with fish. Whilst certainly not perfect, eating chicken is far better for the environment than eating beef. Chickens require less water, less feed, and less energy is invested during the course of their life cycle. Some people avoid all land-based livestock and depend on fish and other seafood. However, you have to be careful here, as they can be contaminated with heavy metals and other pollutants they bioaccumulate in their bodies, and the fishing industry has probably as much to answer for in terms of damage to the environment as dairy and meat.
  3. If you can, buy organic and/or free range. This can be tricky, as the products are often more expensive, and the companies involved might just be labelling their product as such to appeal to concerned customers. Organic, of course, has to be certified but even then, it doesn’t speak to the how the animal lived, it just means the animal was fed organic feed and wasn’t drugged. Free range (chickens and other poultry) or grass-fed (cattle and other mammalian livestock) also just means the animals weren’t caged or penned and had a bit more room to roam, and possibly a more varied, natural diet. So getting what you’re looking for, which I imagine is animals who grew up on a wide open farm, eating grass, and who were happy out until they got shipped to the abattoir, requires some research on your part, and you might be best off going directly to local farmers or to farmers’ markets rather than going to a supermarket.

 

So, there you have it. Even these small fixes can have a positive impact but still, they require a little work, but nothing worthwhile is easy, and it is worth your time. I can say I feel a lot better knowing that I’ve made a change that has such a positive impact on the health of our planet, but it’s not just the planet’s health that benefits. Studies have shown a diet that involves significantly more plant foods than those derived from animals is better for your body, largely due to the negative impacts of excess animal protein and fat on our systems, which contribute to our risk factors for the two big killers in modern society, cancer and heart disease. There’s also evidence to support the fact that as hunter-gatherers, humans were often unsuccessful hunters and depended during lean times on plants to provide as much as 70% of their calories. So, plant-based diets are not only environmentally friendly, they are natural and far more healthy than eating mostly meat and dairy, especially in the form of highly processed products.

I think if you are truly concerned about animals and the environment, you can choose to eat less animal products. It’s a small sacrifice for a big return, for you and the Earth.

Links:

The Evolution of Diet

Reduce GHG Emissions

Health Benefits

Livestock’s Long Shadow

Disclaimer:

All opinions put forth in this post are my own. I respect other people’s rights to their own opinions, and no offence is intended to anyone.