PEOPLE AND THE ENVIRONMENT
PEOPLE AND THE ENVIRONMENT
The world is facing an increasing environmental crisis in terms of global warming, air, soil and water pollution, melting of polar ice and rising sea levels with the potential to submerge coastal areas, negative health effects such as chronic respiratory diseases, loss of habitat and wildlife, loss of topsoil and land degradation and desertification, adverse weather conditions and many unforeseen deleterious effects. Scientists all over the world are giving dire warnings of the impending disasters if man does not make significant changes in his lifestyle to ease the negative environmental burden. We are in “shrinking world” due to increasing world population at the rate of about three people per second on the world population counter. Wiser use of resources in all aspects of life is essential, and urgently necessary. The U. N. Conference in Copenhagen did not result in adequate measures for the protection of the environment.
A few of the causes of global warming are energy generation, transportation, factories and automobiles, and food production and consumption. Let us look at the last of these.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U. N. in 2006 stated: “…livestock production contributes to the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, and air and water pollution. Since 1950, some two million sq km of rainforest and its associated biodiversity has been lost, with livestock ranching being a major culprit, especially in Latin America.
“The livestock sector is by far the single largest anthropogenic user of land. Grazing occupies 26 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial surface, while feed crop production requires about a third of all arable land. Some 70 percent of previously forested land in the Amazon is used as pasture, and feed crops cover a large part of the remainder. About 70 percent of all grazing land in dry areas is considered degraded, mostly because of overgrazing, compaction and erosion attributable to livestock activity.
“FAO estimated that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, nine percent of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, as much as 37 percent of anthropogenic methane, mostly from enteric fermentation by ruminants, and 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide, mostly from manure.
“Livestock production also heavily impacts the world’s water supply, accounting for more than 8 percent of global human water use, mainly for the irrigation of feed crops. Evidence suggests it is the largest sectoral source of water pollutants, principally animal wastes, antibiotics, hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops, and sediments from eroded pastures.
The sheer quantity of animals being raised for human consumption also poses a threat of the Earth’s biodiversity. Livestock account for about 20 percent of the total terrestrial animal biomass, and the land area they now occupy was once habitat for wildlife. In 306 of the 825 terrestrial eco-regions identified by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, livestock are identified as “a current threat”, while 23 of Conservation International’s 35 “global hotspots for biodiversity” – characterized by serious levels of habitat loss – are affected by livestock production.
Based on the best scientific evidence to date, in a report from Compassion in World Farming calculates that to reduce our impact on climate change we need to reduce consumption of meat and dairy products in line with government carbon reduction targets, that is, by one third by 2020 and by 60 per cent by 2050.
About a year ago, in “How Canada Performs: A Report Card on Canada,” the Conference Board of Canada ranked us 14th out of 17 industrialized countries on a range of environmental indicators (Belgium, Australia and the United States rounded out the list).
In 2004 in “Sustainability Within a Generation: A new vision for Canada.” the David Suzuki Foundation concluded, “Among the 30 nations that belong to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, Canada ranks 28th in its performance on such key indicators as energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution,
Douglas Dunnin “Eating Without Killing – Vegetarian Health without animal cruelty”,stated,“The amount of land needed to produce a one-year food supply for a person who has to support a meat-eating habit is 3.25 acres, for a pure vegetarian is 1/6 acre”. As cited by John Robbins in his book Diet for a Small America, Lester Brown of the Overseas Development Council has estimated that if Americans would reduce their consumption of meat by only 10%, the amount of grain wasted on animal feed that could be diverted for direct human consumption, would be sufficient to adequately feed every one of the 60 million people who die from hunger each year”.
If people are serious about the environment, then a disciplined approach in modifying our lifestyles is paramount. Making meaningful changes will serve as a commitment and example for others to emulate. Let us strive to make the world a better place for future generations.
Dr. Jagessar Das