Five ways the meat on your plate is killing the planet


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Francis Vergunst, Université de Montréal and Julian Savulescu, University of Oxford

When we hear about the horrors of industrial livestock farming – the pollution, the waste, the miserable lives of billions of animals – it is hard not to feel a twinge of guilt and conclude that we should eat less meat.

Yet most of us probably won’t. Instead, we will mumble something about meat being tasty, that “everyone” eats it, and that we only buy “grass fed” beef.

Over the next year, more than 50 billion land animals will be raised and slaughtered for food around the world. Most of them will be reared in conditions that cause them to suffer unnecessarily while also harming people and the environment in significant ways.

This raises serious ethical problems. We’ve compiled a list of arguments against eating meat to help you decide for yourself what to put on your plate.

1. The environmental impact is huge

Livestock farming has a vast environmental footprint. It contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef degeneration and deforestation.

Nowhere is this impact more apparent than climate change – livestock farming contributes 18% of human produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. This is more than all emissions from ships, planes, trucks, cars and all other transport put together.

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Climate change alone poses multiple risks to health and well-being through increased risk of extreme weather events – such as floods, droughts and heatwaves – and has been described as the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century.

Reducing consumption of animal products is essential if we are to meet global greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets – which are necessary to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

2. It requires masses of grain, water and land

Meat production is highly inefficient – this is particularly true when it comes to red meat. To produce one kilogram of beef requires 25 kilograms of grain – to feed the animal – and roughly 15,000 litres of water. Pork is a little less intensive and chicken less still.

The scale of the problem can also be seen in land use: around 30% of the earth’s land surface is currently used for livestock farming. Since food, water and land are scarce in many parts of the world, this represents an inefficient use of resources.

Inside the milk machine.
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3. It hurts the global poor

Feeding grain to livestock increases global demand and drives up grain prices, making it harder for the world’s poor to feed themselves. Grain could instead be used to feed people, and water used to irrigate crops.

If all grain were fed to humans instead of animals, we could feed an extra 3.5 billion people. In short, industrial livestock farming is not only inefficient but also not equitable.

Livestock production may have a bigger impact on the planet than anything else.
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4. It causes unnecessary animal suffering

If we accept, as many people do, that animals are sentient creatures whose needs and interests matter, then we should ensure these needs and interests are at least minimally met and that we do not cause them to suffer unnecessarily.

Industrial livestock farming falls well short of this minimal standard. Most meat, dairy and eggs are produced in ways that largely or completely ignore animal welfare – failing to provide sufficient space to move around, contact with other animals, and access to the outdoors.

In short, industrial farming causes animals to suffer without good justification.

5. It is making us ill

At the production level, industrial livestock farming relies heavily on antibiotic use to accelerate weight gain and control infection – in the US, 80% of all antibiotics are consumed by the livestock industry.

This contributes to the growing public health problem of antibiotic resistance. Already, more than 23,000 people are estimated to die every year in the US alone from resistant bacteria. As this figure continues to rise, it becomes hard to overstate the threat of this emerging crisis.

The meat industry also poses a threat to global food security.
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High meat consumption – especially of red and processed meat – typical of most rich industrialised countries is linked with poor health outcomes, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and various cancers.

These diseases represent a major portion of the global disease burden so reducing consumption could offer substantial public health benefits.

Currently, the average meat intake for someone living in a high-income country is 200-250g a day, far higher than the 80-90g recommended by the United Nations. Switching to a more plant-based diet could save up to 8m lives a year worldwide by 2050 and lead to healthcare related savings and avoided climate change damages of up to $1.5 trillion.

Ultimately, it’s unethical

Most people agree that as a basic rule an action that promotes the overall happiness of others is morally good, while an action that causes harm or suffering without good justification is morally wrong.

Meat eating is wrong not because there is something special about pigs or chickens or dogs or cats, but because of the harm it causes, whether that harm is caused to animals, humans, or the wider environment.

Love animals, don’t eat them.
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Most people living in industrialised countries have historically unprecedented dietary choice. And if our nutritional needs can now be met by consuming foods that are less harmful, then we ought to choose these over foods that are known to cause more harm.

The ConversationEating less meat and animal products is one of the easiest things we can do to live more ethically.

Francis Vergunst, Postdoctoral researcher, Université de Montréal and Julian Savulescu, Sir Louis Matheson Distinguishing Visiting Professor at Monash University, Uehiro Professor of Practical Ethics, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What pigeons do in grass

After rain, pigeons often flock to grassy areas and people often wonder what they are doing there.

Well, some time ago, I was on a camp site with lots of pigeons. Mostly wood pigeons, no rock doves (city pigeons).

They were very relaxed and walked up very close to the tent with me sitting in the opening, while they foraged.

I saw one eat an entire worm, but I noticed that they also actually eat the tips of grass.

Tackling climate change could bring North and South Korea closer and help stabilise the region

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North Korea is no doubt watching closely as the region moves forward on energy cooperation.
House Committee on Foreign Affairs/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Hun Park, Yonsei University

The Paris Agreement, signed in 2015 requires every country to make pledges to tackle climate change. North Korea is no exception.

Given that air pollution doesn’t recognise borders, there are already several emissions-reduction projects underway that will require cooperation between Asian nations.

To meet its obligations, South Korea has pledged to buy emissions credits on the international market, offsetting 11.3% of its business-as-usual emissions in 2030. That is 96.1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions – already more than North Korea’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2013 (78 million tonnes).

Because North Korea has its own obligations now, foreign countries including South Korea can no longer earn carbon credits from their carbon-offsetting projects in the country.

But if South Korea provides technical assistance such as satellite monitoring of North Korea’s reforestation progression and then can obtain the country’s “informed consent”, a mutual effort to generate carbon credits could be discussed.

Air pollution

Addressing transboundary air pollution is the latest development in regional cooperation. North Korea has been an inaugural member (since 1993) of the North-East Asian Subregional Programme for Environmental Cooperation (NEASPEC), one goal of which is to mitigate transboundary air pollution.

A recent study by the Seoul Metropolitan Government (written in Korean) revealed that 38% of pollution particles in the city’s ambient air come from China, and another 7% from North Korea.

A Japanese air-transport model estimated that more than 45% of ambient PM2.5 (fine particulate matter) concentration in Nonodake (350km north of Tokyo) is from China. Although reducing this pollution in a coordinated way will be a difficult task, real-time data exchange (as proposed by NEASPEC) might be relatively easier.

If the Northeast Asian countries share real-time emissions data as well as the currently available meteorological data, they could generate more reliable pollution forecasts and help people prepare for high-pollution events. The harder task of particle pollution mitigation will be better addressed when the level of negotiating partners is upgraded from the current ministerial level to head of state level.

Developing neighbour-friendly energies

If Northeast Asia is to have a sustainable energy future, more regional cooperation will be required.

The trilateral Russia-China-Korea natural gas pipeline is bringing Russian natural gas to South Korea. Natural gas is not a sustainable energy source, but it can be a “bridging fuel” to help countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by replacing coal until their renewable energy technology and systems evolve. Then, a natural gas pipeline is an attractive option for South Korea, the world’s second-biggest LNG importer after Japan.

Currently, South Korea’s natural gas imports consist entirely of more expensive LNG. In the early 2000s, the Trans-Korean natural gas pipeline proposal was planned to supply Russian natural gas to South Korea using a shortcut pipeline passing through North Korea.

Reportedly, South Korean President Moon has shown interest in the project too. However, the project is not possible until the nuclear crisis in the Korean Peninsula is resolved.

Instead, there is an alternative for South Korea to seek a regional détente with a natural gas pipeline. Russia’s “Power of Siberia” pipeline is planned to connect into the capital region of China. If this happens, extending the supply chain to South Korea via an undersea pipeline between China’s Shandong peninsula and Korea’s Incheon will be simpler. The pipeline would enhance the three countries’ economic ties and political cooperation.

Asia clean grid connections

The other energy option, the Asia international grid connection, is a project promoted by South Korea, Japan, and Mongolia. The basic idea is that vast solar and wind energy potential of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert can be utilised by South Korea and Japan. A super grid would connect the countries in Northeast Asia.

This option’s most prominent supporter is Masayoshi Son, chief executive of SoftBank, Japan’s third-largest public company. Several research institutions and the Korea Electric Power Corporation, South Korea’s only operator of the national grid, have been studying its feasibility.

The Asian Development Bank is conducting a technical feasibility assessment, at Mongolia’s request. In April, the Renewable Energy Institute, an organisation founded by Mr Son in Tokyo, found the project will benefit all participating countries, citing many successfully operating international grid connections. But it lacks China’s active participation.

If further research can find evidence that the project will significantly improve China’s air quality by reducing coal consumption, national governments of the region might help make it happen.

The ConversationOf course, true green détente in Northeast Asia cannot happen without North Korea’s support and participation. However, if any of the reviewed four options become reality, it will give North Korea a strong incentive to cooperate.

Hun Park, Research Professor, Sustainability, Yonsei University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.