Climate Change, Animal Farming and World Hunger: how changing our animal-based diets can combat the ecological and food crisis

Every day two billion people wake up in the morning to food insecurity. The lungs of our planet are breathing fire, as the Amazon rainforest’s oxygen and biodiversity are being reduced to dust. Globalization, far from resulting in progress and reducing suffering and inequality in the world, is actually leading to greater disparities in wealth and development within countries.

Our reality is now one in which humanity is driving an infinite production of a finite amount of global resources. Over the past 20 years, more than 90% of natural disasters have been climate related. And currently, our animal based global agricultural system and consumption are more lethal to our climate than the whole transportation sector.

But we have agency in this story. Our food choices can directly drive or work to combat climate change and world hunger.

Our global agricultural system currently produces enough calories to feed 10-11 billion people worldwide. Yet these abundant resources are not reaching the starving. This surplus in calories is directly used to feed livestock, instead of the two billion people who are suffering from severe food insecurity. In fact, 70% of our crops and 85% of our farmland is used for animal agriculture.

Yet this animal-based model, which caters to our current diets, is extremely inefficient. One acre of land produces a mere 250 pounds of beef. If it were used for crop farming, the same area of land could produce 30,000 pounds of carrots or 53,000 pounds of potatoes.  On top of this, generating one calorie derived from animal protein uses eleven times as much fossil fuel than one calorie of plant protein.

Our current animal-based intensive agricultural system is depleting our biodiversity and driving climate change.

The animal agriculture industry is one of the strongest drivers of climate change. Its greenhouse emissions – primarily from the methane released by cattle- ­ exceed those of all our cars, trains, and airplanes combined. The land used to produce cattle-crops is also spearheading deforestation and desertification as well as water shortages.

It takes 15,415 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of beef, and just 322 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of vegetables. And although public concern over the impact of our diet on climate change has been mostly directed at beef, it’s also important to note that 1 litre of dairy milk requires 1,020 litres of water to produce.

Our consumption of meat and dairy products is degrading terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems: Today, 60% of biodiversity loss is due to land cleared for meat-based diets. Our oceans are also suffering from vast dead zones caused by agricultural pollution.

The diets of meat eaters create seven times the greenhouse emissions as those of plant-based diets.

Significant efforts have been made by the farming industry to divert our attention and make us believe that people simply need to cut back on large American burgers wrapped in bacon and dripping in butter to resolve the issue. But raising poultry and dairy farming also has a devastating environmental impact, as well as diverting land use from crops that directly feed the population. Oxford University highlights that the impacts of the lowest-impact animal products significantly exceed those of vegetable substitutes.

We continue to endorse, practice and defend this unequal system. But the study realized by Oxford University shows that changing our diet to one that excludes animal products would reduce global greenhouse emissions by 49%. It would also the reduce amount of land required to produce our food by about 75%. For instance, you’d save more water by not eating one pound of meat than you would by not taking a shower for 6 months. This means that following a vegetarian diet would cut emissions by 63 percent while eating a vegan diet would cut emissions by 70 percent.

Our food choices in developed countries directly divert resources from reaching the malnourished.

Today, 82% of starving children live in countries where their grains are used to feed animals that are largely exported to the West. London School of Economics Professor Ece Kocabicak asserts that Global Southern countries with the greatest food insecurity are predominantly sending their agricultural resources to the Global North. Producing these animal resources for exportation instead of producing grain to feed the local population means that this food is then too expensive for the locals to purchase. These global supply chains, instead of reinforcing development, are spearheading inequality and hunger.

We further exploit these resources by directly dictating the agricultural production and distribution across the world. Currently, several Western corporate monopolies control the extraction of resources from the poorest countries. They do this by determining global standards for patented seeds, agricultural practices and slaughter-house practices.

For example, patent-protected seeds sold by major producers like Monsanto and DuPont require buyers to sign agreements limiting how the seed can be used. Monopolies like these have control over 65 percent of all seed and grain production and over 80 percent of all final animal products in the world.

On top of this exploitation of the natural resources of the most vulnerable, the poorest communities will also be the most significantly affected by the climate change related disasters ignited by agricultural pollution. Time Magazine reports that the countries that are likely to be most severely impacted by climate change are low-income regions that have not been the leading contributors to global warming. Farmers in these communities will have to adapt to more intense weather patterns, droughts and floods, as well as their land decreasing in yield.

We are bleeding our world’s resources dry to momentarily satisfy tastes that at any other time in history were a luxury.

For many years, we have been socialised into the regular consumption of meat. Meat has become associated with affluence, masculinity, athleticism. But these are all social constructs. In fact, it wasn’t until the surge of industrialism and capitalism that animal farming became institutionalized and the average population gained access to affordable meat on a daily basis.

After World War II, there was a huge investment in the meat and dairy industries to rebuild the post-war economy. But, alongside this boom in animal agriculture, there was a boom in processed food, greenhouse emissions and a surge in cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Furthermore, the shift from traditional farming to mass farming practices and lower production costs was realized at the expense of exacerbated animal cruelty.

But this is not a story of guilt and blame. We can all change the course of this global narrative and combat climate change and world hunger by changing our diets.

Changing our habits and our very economic and social structures can be daunting. But we owe it to future generations to consider what is at stake: their rights to enjoy the same resources we have today and to live in safety, not fear, pollution and hunger. We hold immense power: we can excercise it by simply changing the way we eat.

We hold the power to breathe life into this earth, to create abundance and to feed, not only future generations, but the two billion men, women and children who are hungry today. We breathe the same air as every species on Earth and it is our duty to cherish and protect the planet.

We need to seriously consider changing our form of nutrition to a plant-based diet and look at this issue not as an issue of deprivation. But as a humanitarian and an ecological cause.

When we know that what we eat is creating a more equal and plentiful world, the word diet can be substituted by the word freedom.

By Carlota Nunez Strutt.

Leave a Reply