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:
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!
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.
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 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.
Not only does farming affect our land budget, but our carbon budget as well:
Cattle and sheep farmers and ranchers, understandably, don’t want to believe that their animals are a problem — a major cause of climate breakdown.
People often think that buying locally will have benefits for the climate, that the…
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.
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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