Go Vegan. Save the World!

Go Vegan. Save the World!


After reading George Monbiot’s Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet, I decided to summarize each chapter — that’s how much I appreciated the book. Here’s my summary for Chapter 3, Agricultural Sprawl. (You should read this AND read the book).

In chapter 3, Monbiot bemoans the destruction of ecosystems from unregulated chicken farming and lack of enforcement of regulations. Warehouse-like buildings are popping up in the countryside filled with scores of chickens. Their waste is fouling rivers and streams. It is distressing to read about the damage from animal agriculture on fragile ecosystems — at a time when we know better.

Because of the problems brought on by consolidation described in chapter 2 (increased efficiency, decreased resilience, and the creation of consequences we do not want), we end up with situations like the following along the River Culm:

As prices of meat, milk and eggs have fallen, farmers have increased the number of animals they keep. Regions have specialized in particular livestock species, often to meet the demands of factories and packing plants set up by the multinational companies that dominate the trade in commodities such as chicken meat, eggs, pork and milk. The farmers are often little more than subcontractors to these firms.

Monbiot describes in detail the problems of antibiotics and resistant genes, and when you think it couldn’t get any worse, he adds sewage treatment and microplastics!

Across Europe, thousands of tons of plastic are added to fertilizers to prevent them from caking or to delay the release of the nutrients they contain…Fertilizer pellets are coated with plastic films, polyurethane, polystyrene, PVC… Some of which are known to be toxic… I find myself asking the same question over and again, ‘why is this legal?’

I don’t believe he answers that question but he does pose that the balance of power in the sparsely populated rural areas lies with the larger farming operations and not those suffering the effects of degradation of the environment. Even those in charge of enforcement are affected. Monbiot writes, “as one official told me, ‘I live in this community. If I start enforcing the letter of the law, I’ll be ostracized, my kids will be ostracized. Life will get very unpleasant.’”

Toward the end of the chapter, he focuses on agricultural sprawl — in particular, how much land specific livestock practices take up.

Just as chickens in the valleys demand a profligate use of nutrients, grain and wood, sheep in the hills demand a profligate use of land. My estimates suggest, conservatively, that some 4 million hectares of hill and mountain in the United Kingdom are used for sheep farming, 22 percent of the entire farmed area, roughly equivalent to all the land used to grow arable crops in this country.

Monbiot gets to the heart of the matter with this opinion:

I have come to see land use as the most important of all environmental questions. I now believe it is the issue that makes the greatest difference to whether terrestrial ecosystems and earth systems perish.

That sentence sits benignly at the bottom of page 77!

He continues:

The more land we require, the less is available for other species and the habitats they need, and for sustaining the planetary equilibrium states on which our lives might depend. It is also among the most neglected of environmental issues. Like soil ecology, total land use is a subject that the great majority of us have unconsciously agreed to ignore; another fatal chasm in public understanding. We obsess about certain alarming topics, often with good reason. But I suspect the most dangerous issues of all are ones we scarcely consider.

He dives into the topic of pasture grazed meat concluding that “if, on the other hand, we all stopped eating meat and dairy, and switched instead to entirely plant-based diets, we would reduce the amount of land used for farming by 76 percent.”

Also discussed in the chapter are the conflicting goals of ecosystem re-wilding, biofuel production (which he is absolutely against) and food production.

The total demand for new farmland — driven partly by human population growth, partly by biofuels, but mostly by the shift in diets toward meat and dairy — could amount to 10 million square kilometers by 2050. This is the area of Canada. Most of the expansion, unless something changes, will happen in South America and sub-Saharan Africa, sweeping not only through tropical rainforests but also through wetlands, savannas, and seasonal woodlands. By eating farm animals, we arrogate to ourselves the right to a diet using more land than the planet can safely provide.

Not only does farming affect our land budget, but our carbon budget as well:

The climate costs of farming mirror its land costs. Raising a kilogram of beef protein releases 113 times more greenhouse gases than growing a kilogram of pea protein, and 190 times more than a kilogram of nut protein. Again, pasture-fed beef and lamb have by far the worst impacts, three or four times worse, according to a scientific review, than beef raised intensively on grain harmful as this is.

Cattle and sheep farmers and ranchers, understandably, don’t want to believe that their animals are a problem — a major cause of climate breakdown.

False Solutions

People often think that buying locally will have benefits for the climate, that the…

best way to cut green house gasses is to eat food that is locally grown. There might be good social and cultural reasons to buy local food. Local markets might help to enhance the food system’s modularity and resilience. But there are seldom good climate reasons. This is because the greenhouse gases emitted by moving food are tiny by comparison to those emitted by growing it.

Animal Farming Cannot Reverse Climate Breakdown either.

Monbiot rebuts claims that “if managed in a particular way, animal farming can restore the living world and reverse climate breakdown.” I first heard this proposition in the documentary Kiss the Ground. Although Monbiot personally likes one of the lead proponents of this idea, Allan Savory (who is featured in Kiss the Ground), he undeniably shows that this isn’t true — and does the math to prove it.

In order for us to feed the world, we simply cannot continue with today’s practices.

While the number of vegans has been climbing, mainly in the rich world, this shift is much smaller than the global rise in meat eating… How can we resolve this dilemma? How can we ensure everyone is fed while farming becomes both less intensive and less extensive? How do we meet the demand for food as conditions in some parts of the world become hostile to agriculture? How do we do all this without causing systemic collapse?

In the following chapters Monbiot highlights different farmers working to answer these questions noting that ‘there are no perfect solutions in an imperfect world’ and as time passes ‘opportunities for action contract and possible answers’ become more challenging.

This post was previously published on Andrea O’Ferrall’s blog.


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The post Go Vegan. Save the World! appeared first on The Good Men Project.

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