We are now experiencing the sixth major extinction period on our planet. A fact confirmed by the scientific observation of the evidence. A recent study by the World Wildlife Fund concluded that in the last 40 years alone, there has been a 52% loss invertebrate populations. Biologists estimate that extinction is now happening at least one hundred times faster than the natural rate and it may be as high as a thousand times faster. In a special report, the National Audubon Society has concluded that we will lose 314 bird species in North America by 2080 if current trends continue.
Many people, if they are aware at all of past mass extinction periods, think they occur rather suddenly. Even the fifth extinction period, which was caused by a meteor strike, didn’t happen overnight. The greatest extinction period occurred during the Permian Period and was caused by massive volcanic eruptions in the area which is now Siberia. 95% of all life forms were lost in this period. In our human arrogance we forget that we are biological creatures totally dependent on a fully functioning biosphere. We are one of the creatures which will face extinction unless we get our act together.
Many scientists are now calling the present time in our earth’s history the Anthropocene because it is human activity which is the most dominate factor affecting the earth’s life and climate systems. The current extinction period has been set in motion by many factors: climate change, habitat destruction, consumerism, invasive species, an amoral economic system guided only by the quest profits, and over 80,000 chemicals in the environment. One species of vertebrates not in decline is the human species. These factors are all interconnected.
There is a considerable amount of evidence that human consumption of meat, dairy, and fish is the single most destructive of all human activities. Animal agriculture is the largest contributor to global warming, water pollution and depletion, habitat destruction, and erosion of our topsoil. Our over consumption of fish is putting over 70% of all fish stocks under threat.
Humans raise and kill 70 billion creatures for food each year which produce 89,000 pounds of waste each second. This amounts to 130 times more waste than human waste. Anyway you think about it, this is a lot of ….. stuff. Much of it ends up polluting our streams causing dead zones in places like the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. While cow burps play their share in producing the powerful greenhouse gas methane, all of this waste makes its contribution. An especially egregious contributor to this waste problem are concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO).
Animal agriculture makes the single largest use of the earth’s land area and the destruction of its soils and forests. 70% to 90% of grains raised in this country goes to feed animals. We could produce all the food we need with plants on far less land. Over grazing has transformed entire areas of rangeland with an estimated 700 million acres of destruction. Desertification is a world-wide problem. Our precious top soil is being washed and blown away. All the crops being grown for animal feed greatly increase pesticide an herbicide use. Livestock occupies 30% of the earth’s land mass. Slash and burn destruction of the rainforest to raise cattle is the leading cause of rainforest and species loss.
Not only is animal agriculture directly responsible for polluting water, it is also putting a tremendous strain on clean water resources. While we in the eastern part of the United States may not be conscious of the problem, the Western United States consists of much arid and semi-arid land. A great deal of the cattle raised in this country are raised in this area. The Colorado River is so over used that it never makes it to the sea. The vast Ogallala Aquifer is rapidly being drained mostly to grow feed for cattle. Vast quantities of water are needed to meet livestock’s direct needs, to grow crops to feed them, and to process and package. Each quarter pounder you eat requires 660 gallons of water.
There is a simple way to end this colossally destructive practice. Stop eating animal products! We are morally responsible for the consequences of our behavior. We should consider the consequences of our decisions when it comes to our food choices. Willful ignorance and denial do not absolve one from that responsibility. We as individuals do not have to wait for society to change before we act because we each comprise a society of one. We are free to eat animal products, but freedom should be guided by responsibility.
Meat, dairy, and fish are such an ingrained part of our diets and everyday lives that changing from this destructive eating pattern may be difficult. Much of this pattern has been built on misinformation. The dairy, meat, and fish industries have long pushed the idea that meat and dairy should be part of a healthy diet. There is a great deal of evidence brings this into question. Many believe that we must eat meat to get needed protein, but we can get all the protein we need from a plant based diet. Beef cattle are natural vegetarians, yet produce all that meat. While giving up all animal products may require a great change, one can transition over time. Meatless Mondays are only a beginning, but it may be a way to start.
Many have come to the conclusion that if one wants to protect the planet for future generations, we must greatly reduce our use of animal agriculture. A change that will not happen overnight, but a change that will happen because of environmental destruction or a rational plan. We have the choice. The only question is if we are too selfish to make the change.