As we saw in the last article, the global adoption of plant-based lifestyles can approximate, if not fully meet, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, 17 global goals designed to achieve a better and more sustainable future for everyone, regardless of race, gender or origin.
The idea is for these goals to be met by 2030. But the likelihood of more than half of them being met, considering the current rate of animal consumption worldwide, may not be very high. Here we’ll look at the targets negatively affected by animal agriculture, and what we as individuals can do about it.
One of the most common arguments against a vegan or plant-based lifestyle is “if everyone went vegan, people would lose their jobs and an entire industry would collapse.” For one, just because a given industry creates jobs doesn’t mean it should exist for eternity. If everyone stopped smoking many jobs would also be lost. World peace would be catastrophic for the weapons industry, and those employed by it would also lose their jobs.
The meat industry is not only the most environmentally destructive and cruelest of all industries, it has also proven to be among the worst for workers, who are often forced to work in unhygienic and outright dangerous conditions. In the US, slaughterhouse workers have the “highest rates of occupational injury and illness,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Some of the worst outbreaks of Covid-19 have been in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants around the world.
For this and numerous other reasons, the meat industry is dying, while the burgeoning plant-based foods industry is among the fastest growing in the world, and has created over 55,000 high-wage jobs (as of August 2019) in the US alone.
The countries that consume the most meat are generally in the higher income category. The top biggest meat consumers are the US, Australia and Kuwait. Among those that consume the least are India, Bangladesh and Burundi.
Meanwhile, about 85% of the total grains on Earth that are fed to livestock are fed to those destined to be eaten in wealthier countries, and the majority of the world’s beef, pork, poultry, turkey, soybeans and corn (the last two are mostly used as animal feed) are in the hands of four companies. This concentration of buyers forces farmers to accept lower prices, contributing to more inequality.
If farmers could use fertile land to nourish themselves and their families, as well as trading plants, fruits, grains and seeds, either locally or to neighboring regions or countries (instead of using that land to feed livestock controlled by the world’s biggest corporations so people in rich countries can eat meat), more people throughout the world could be fed (approximately 4 billion more, to be exact), and global inequality could potentially be reduced.
Our over consumption of raw materials is eating away at the planet. These materials require land. Lots of it. One example is palm oil, which has resulted in extensive rainforest deforestation, particularly in Indonesia. But the leading driver of tropical deforestation on Earth is the beef industry, especially with regards to the Amazon. The soy industry also leads to tremendous amounts of deforestation, but most of that is used to feed livestock.
If enough people around the world eradicated these products from their lives, all that land could be freed-up, and much of it could be used to feed the world’s undernourished. Much of it could also be subject to reforestation or afforestation, re-establishing the world’s natural carbon sinks, slowing down global warming and potentially providing habitat for the world’s endangered species.
Though eerily insidious, climate change is the most pressing issue we face today. Unlike other natural occurrences that can leave a disastrous wake behind them, like hurricanes and earthquakes, modern day climate change in itself is not immediately perceivable. Like the curvature of the Earth, we can’t just see it like we can a tornado. And it’s not exactly “natural”.
In fact, animal agriculture contributes more to climate change than the entire global transportation industry, mainly due to the belching and flatulence of cows, which releases methane, a gas with way more global warming potential than C02. The deforestation and land degradation caused by the industry also contribute to anthropogenic climate change, as carbon capturing trees are eliminated to make room for belching and farting cows and/or food for them and the billions of other land animals bred into existence for consumption each year.
Unfortunately, what happens on land also affects the liquid world far below and away from us. As mentioned in the previous article, animal agriculture is the leading cause of ocean dead zones, where pesticides, residue from growth hormones and antibiotics for farm animals, as well as their excess manure (7 million pounds of excrement are produced every minute by animals raised for food), seep into rivers which flow into the ocean, eventually depriving marine wildlife of oxygen, and killing them.
Of course, we can’t talk about the ocean without talking about the fishing industry. Approximately 75% of the world’s fisheries are exploited or depleted due to overfishing.
Then there’s the issue of bycatch, which is basically non-target fish and ocean wildlife that get entangled in fishing nets and pulled out of the ocean, including sea turtles, whales and dolphins. Each year hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins and seals are killed as a result of bycatch around the world.
If enough people abstained from consuming fish, this would become a problem of the past.
The goal here is to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.” This one is flagrantly obvious. The fact that livestock systems have literally plowed through 45% of the Earth’s global surface area is a good indicator of how plant-based diets could significantly mitigate the problem of deforestation, soil erosion, land degradation, species extinction and nearly every problem humans have caused to the surface of the Earth.
Some people like to argue that if everyone went vegetarian or vegan, this would cause more land degradation because of all the vegetables needed to feed the almost 8 billion people on Earth. This argument is ridiculous when we consider how each year approximately 70 billion land animals -bred into existence by humans to be killed for meat- must be fed so that people, mainly in wealthy nations, can feast on their carcasses.
So there you have it, at least 9 out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (the first ones are mentioned in part 1) could be addressed or perhaps met entirely if enough of the world’s citizens adopted a plant-based lifestyle, which has also been recommended by the United Nations University.
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This article was originally published on June 2, 2020 on our original website which has been blocked from Facebook on the grounds that it promotes “offensive content”. We will let our readers decide what may actually be happening behind the scenes here.