by Dr Gina Shaw

In this article, let us examine how we can help save our environment within our daily lifestyle.  Here a few tips to get you started:

1.Do you travel unnecessarily by car, train or plane?  They use non-renewable fuel and add pollutants to the atmosphere.  IS YOUR JOURNEY REALLY NECESSARY?

2.Do you buy articles you don't need?  - these may use non-renewable resources, the manufacture of which adds environmentally damaging substances to the atmosphere.  It is best to purchase clothing, bedware and household items, etc. from ethical charity shops such as animal charities, hospices. Avoid charities such as the Cancer Research Campaign, Imperial Cancer Research, The British Heart Foundation, etc. as they partake in unscientific animal experiments which further pollute the environment.  (For a full list of these charities, please request further details from the author).

3.Do you buy food grown with artificial fertilizers and pesticides?  Their manufacturer uses tones of fossil fuel, thus adding to the carbon dioxide levels and hence to global warming.  They promote erosion and poison people and wildlife.

4.Do you buy food grown in countries where people go hungry?  Often they have been driven off their land so that it can be used to grow crops for export.  In their efforts to grow subsistence crops they fell forests and erode hillsides.

5.Do you buy meat or animal products?  Animals yield nothing  not even fertilizer  that cannot be had more economically, direct from plants.  They compete with humans for vital resources of land, water, energy and plant foods.  They emit methane that could become the major greenhouse gas in 50 years or less.  If animal farming where phased out, large areas would be released for re-afforestation.  Trees of the right species can yield maximum food per acre, meet most other needs and check global warming.  Methane emissions would be much less.(1)

6.Do you invest in renewable energy i.e. Green tariffs from your energy provider?

7.Do you recycle as much as possible of your household waste, i.e. newspapers, magazines, fruit and vegetable peelings, bottles, etc?  Also, do you try to purchase environmentally-friendly products such as stationery, greetings cards, etc?

8.Are the household and cosmetic products used in your household environmentally-friendly, such as Ecover or Bio-D?

Some people may be a little surprised by some of the above-mentioned points, so I thought I would expand a little on some of them. Throughout the 20th century growing populations and ever-increasing industrialisation have had devastating effects on our environment. Global warming, widespread pollution, deforestation, land degradation and species extinction are just some of the problems we now face. The full consequences of such large-scale environmental degradation are impossible to judge, but what we do know is that the impacts on humanity will be most devastating in the developing world. With hundreds of millions of people already not obtaining enough food to meet their basic needs and billions of people lacking access to safe water supplies, it is imperative that we find sustainable methods of food production that do not further degrade planetary health.(2)

"Removing the causes of environmental degradation is often more effective than seeking to control the symptoms."   Cornelis de Haan, Livestock Adviser to the World Bank

Agriculture in general is one of the most resource-intensive and environmentally- damaging aspects of industrialised living. What this means for us as individuals is that if we are trying to reduce our car use, limit the amount of water we waste, become more 'energy-efficient' and generally lessen our environmental impact, then we should also examine our eating habits.(2) 

Also, commercial fishing is devastating the world's oceans and fish stocks are plummeting.  People are increasingly becoming aware of the direct correlation between what they eat every day and the health of the planet. Environmentally-conscious consumers are concerned not only with food miles, over-packaging, pesticide use and GM foods, but also question environmental sustainability. Farmers used to be seen as 'custodian's of the countryside,' but the overriding image of modern industrial farming is one of destruction and waste.   World meat production has quadrupled in the past 50 years and livestock now outnumber people by more than 3 to 1. In other words, the livestock population is expanding at a faster rate than the human population. This trend contributes to all of the environmental problems already outlined.(2) 

A report commissioned by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank concluded that factory farming, "acts directly on land, water, air and biodiversity through the emission of animal waste, use of fossil fuels and substitution of animal genetic resources. In addition, it affects the global land base indirectly through its effect on the arable land needed to satisfy its feed concentrate requirements. Ammonia emissions from manure storage and application lead to localized acid rain and ailing forests."(2) 

Whether it's overuse of resources, water and air pollution, or soil erosion, raising animals for food is a prime contributor to ecological problems. In fact, raising animals for food requires more water than all other uses combined, causes more water pollution than any other source, and is responsible for 85 percent of U.S. soil erosion thus far.(5) 

Today's factory farms are taking an environmental toll that generations to come will be forced to pay. The Western World's meat addiction is steadily poisoning and depleting our land, water, and air. Many mainstream environmental groups, including the National Audubon Society and the Union of Concerned Scientists, are recognizing that meat-eating is one of the worst things we do to the planet and are encouraging people to reduce their meat intake.(5)

Consider this: 

·Raising animals for food consumes more than half of all water used in the U.S. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat, but only 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat. A totally vegetarian diet requires 300 gallons of water per day, while a meat-eating diet requires more than 4,000 gallons of water per day.

·Producing just one hamburger uses enough fossil fuel to drive a small car 20 miles. Of all raw materials and fossil fuels used in the U.S., more than one-third are used to raise animals for food.

·A typical pig factory generates raw waste equal to that of a city of 12,000 people. In fact, the meat industry is the single greatest polluter of U.S. waters. In December 1997, the Senate Agricultural Committee released a report stating that animals raised for food produce 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population, roughly 68,000 pounds a second. A Scripps Howard synopsis of the report (April 24, 1998) stated: "It's untreated and unsanitary, bubbling with chemicals and disease-bearing organisms. ... It goes onto the soil and into the water that many people will, ultimately, bathe in and wash their clothes with and drink. It is poisoning rivers and killing fish and sickening people. ... Catastrophic cases of pollution, sickness, and death are occurring in areas where livestock operations are concentrated. ... Every place where the animal factories have located, neighbors have complained of falling sick." This excrement is also generally believed to be responsible for the "cell from hell," pfiesteria, a deadly microbe, the discovery of which is detailed in Rodney Barker's And the Waters Turned to Blood.

·Of all agricultural land in the U.S., 87 percent is used to raise animals for food. That's 45 percent of the total land mass in the U.S. About 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to produce our meat-centered diet.

·The meat industry is directly responsible for 85 percent of all soil erosion in the U.S., because so much grain is needed to feed animals being raised for food. In the U.S., animals are fed more than 80 percent of the corn and oats we grow. The world's cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people-more than the entire human population on Earth. According to the Worldwatch Institute, "[T]he easiest way to reduce grain consumption is to lower the intake of meat and milk, grain-intensive foods. Roughly two of every five tons of grain produced in the world is fed to livestock, poultry, or fish; decreasing consumption of these products, especially of beef, could free up massive quantities of grain and reduce pressure on land."

·Each vegetarian saves one acre of trees every year! More than 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to grow crops to feed animals raised for meat, and another acre of trees disappears every eight seconds. The tropical rain forests are also being destroyed to create grazing land for cattle. Fifty-five square feet of rain forest may be razed to produce just one quarter-pound burger.(5)

Professor Pimentel argues that national governments should be imposing taxes on meat eating due to its devastating environmental impact.  The Professor's ecological credentials are virtually unmatched, his research spans the fields of basic population ecology, ecological and economic aspects of pest control, biological control, biotechnology, sustainable agriculture, land and water conservation, natural resouce management, and environmental policy.  With the assistance of Robert Goodland PhD  (currently Environmental Adviser to the World Bank where he received Presidential Excellence Awards in 1998 and 1999), they argue that perhaps the greatest threat to maintaing freshwater supplies is overdraft of surface and groundwater resources used to supply the needs of the rapidly growing human population and the agriculture that provides its food. Agricultural production "consumes" more fresh water than any other human activity.(3)

Worldwide, about 82 percent of the fresh water that is pumped is "consumed" by agriculture. In the U.S., this figure is about 85 percent. All people require a minimum of 24 gallons/day for cooking, washing, and other domestic needs, while each American uses about 106 gallons/day for domestic needs. Add to that a 1/4-pounder with cheese, and you've added more than 3,000 additional gallons of water to your daily consumption.(3) 

About 80 nations in the world are already experiencing significant water shortages. For instance, in China, more than three hundred cities are short of water and the problem is intensifying.Surface water in rivers and lakes and groundwater provide the freshwater supply for the world. However, groundwater resources are renewed at various rates but usually at the extremely slow rate of 0.1 - 0.3 percent per year. Because of their slow recharge rate, groundwater resources must be carefully managed to prevent overdraft.(3) 

Yet humans are not effectively conserving groundwater resources, the researchers note, and their overdraft is now a serious problem in many parts of the world. Goodland and Pimentel cite several examples worldwide to support this assertion.   Pimentel and his colleagues focus on the concept of environmental sustainability. A big part of that equation, they note, is to reduce demand for food, overall:

Reducing demand can be achived by eating more efficiently on the food chain. Diet matters: environmental sustainability (ES) can be brought about by reducing feeding inefficiencies, such as those existing in producing grain-fed livestock, and encouraging more efficient diets, such as plant-based ones.(3)

The environmental sustainability ratings for where people eat on the food chain, and a proposed tax logic to reflect the true environmental cost for various foods.  Pimentel and Goodland note that incentives are needed to promote grain-based diets by applying good economics and good environmental management to food and agriculture. In particular, conversion efficiency and "polluter pays" principals should be used in setting full-price policies, which internalizes environmental and social costs. They note that cattle feedlots and slaughterhouses consume much water and generate much highly polluting waste. Wastes often are not efficiently reused but are instead disposed of in the nearest watercourse. Feed and forage production consume even more water. These costs need to be internalized.(3)

In the researchers' view, the highest taxes would fall on the least efficient converters, namely hogs and cattle. Slightly lower taxes would be assessed on sheep and those cattle grazing natural grassland.   No taxes would be paid on grains (rice, maize, wheat, buckwheat), starches (potatoes, cassava), and legumes (soy, pulses, beans, peas, peanuts). Modest subsidies on coarse grains (millet, pearl millet, sorghum) would alleviate hunger and are unlikely to be abused (as the rich usually won't eat such foods).  Encouragement for domestic or village-scale beneficiation, such as of peanuts to peanut butter and cashew fruits to roasted nuts, often doubles or triples the profit to the grower. Peanut butter and cornflakes were invented expressly to increase the consumption of those low-impact foods at the bottom of the food chain.   The authors conclude that "Adoption of such policies will not solve world hunger overnight, but it will certainly help."(3)

In an article entitled 'Meat Consumption Taxing the World's Water Resources Published on Monday, August 23, 2004 by the Guardian/UK, John Vidal argues that meat-Eaters are soak Up the World's Water and that A change in diets may be necessary to enable developing countries to feed their people, say scientists. The article argues that Governments may have to persuade people to eat less meat because of increasing demands on water supplies, according to agricultural scientists investigating how the world can best feed itself.  They say countries with little water may choose not to grow crops but trade in "virtual water", importing food from countries which have large amounts of water to save their supplies for domestic or high-value uses.(4)

Research suggests that up to 24% more water will be needed to grow the world's food in 20 years, but many of the fastest-growing countries are unable to devote more water to agriculture without sacrificing ecosystems which may be important for providing water.  With about 840 million people in the world undernourished, and a further 2 billion expected to be born within 20 years, finding water to grow food will be one of the greatest challenges facing governments.Currently up to 90% of all managed water is used to grow food.  "There will be enough food for everyone on average in 20 years' time, but unless we change the way that we grow it, there will be a lot more malnourished people," said Dr David Molden, principal scientist with the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), which is part-funded by the British government and is investigating global options for feeding growing populations.(4)

"The bottom line is that groundwater levels are plummeting and our rivers are already overstressed, yet there is a lot of complacency about the future," the IWMI report says. 

"Western diets, which depend largely on meat, are already putting great pressures on the environment. Meat-eaters consume the equivalent of about 5,000 liters[1,100 gallons] of water a day compared to the 1,000-2,000 liters used by people on vegetarian diets in developing countries. All that water has to come from somewhere." (4)

The consensus emerging among scientists is that it will be almost impossible to feed future generations the typical diet eaten in western Europe and North America without destroying the environment.A meat and vegetable diet, which most people move to when economically possible, requires more water than crops such as wheat and maize. On average, it takes 1,790 liters of water to grow 1kg of wheat compared with 9,680 liters of water for 1kg of beef.Anders Berntell, the director of the International Water Institute, based in Stockholm, said: "The world's future water supply is a problem that's ... greater than we've begun to realize.  "We've got to reduce the amount of water we devote to growing food. The world is simply running out of water." (4)

Research suggests that up to 24% more water will be needed to grow the world's food in 20 years, but many of the fastest-growing countries are unable to devote more water to agriculture without sacrificing ecosystems which may be important for providing water.(4)

The authors say Western governments need to change their policies: "Agricultural subsidies keep world commodity prices low in poor countries and discourage farmers from investing [in water-saving technologies] because they will not get a return on their investments.  "Land and water rights are also needed so people will invest in long-term improvements." (4)

Another way of helping the environment is tree-planting.  If enough forest were established we could go a long way towards keeping in check or even reversing global warming.  Enough land would be available if lifestock farming way phased out.  Trees take in carbon dioxide and store carbon in their wood.  When wood is burned, CO2 returns to the atmosphere.  However, if forests are of mixed species and those grown for their wood are selectively felled and saplings immediately planted in their place, the forest unit would be a permanent sink for carbon.(1)

1. Movement for Compassionate Living literature
2. Vegan society website
3. Meat & Dairy: The Devastating Environmental Cost
4. Guardian newspaper website article
5. website

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