Island Voices: Eating our way to environmental ruin

Students all over the world skipped a day of school recently in protest over inaction on climate change on the part of politicians.

Protest signs in B.C. screamed: “Save our future!” and “Roses are red, violets are blue. The Earth is dying because of you.” Another read: “The climate is changing so why aren’t we?” That’s a good question, and one I’d like to direct to the students themselves and to everyone else concerned about the state of our planet.

article continues below

While I’m encouraged that today’s youth are adequately motivated by this existential issue to take to the streets, I’d be interested to know how many of the strikers have committed to taking the single step that is more effective than any other at reducing their impact on the earth’s climate: Changing their diets — and by that I mean forgoing animal products.

Getting our food from animal products such as hamburgers, steaks, bacon, chicken wings, omelettes, cheese, lattes, ice cream and the like is destroying the planet, even more so than driving SUVs and flying around in airplanes. Not that we shouldn’t leave fossil fuels behind. We need to, and the sooner the better.

However, giving up animal products reduces human impact on the planet in a lot more ways than the latter, and has the advantage of not requiring the approval of government, industry, your teachers or — if you’re old enough — even your parents.

Do students in B.C. schools learn about the rate at which forests are being cleared to provide grazing land for beef cattle turned into hamburgers? Do teachers explain to them that, by conservative estimates, such beef generates more than 35 times more greenhouse gases than, say, tofu, and more than 40 times as much as beans and lentils? That the amount of cheese required to cover two crackers produces 70 times more GHGs than a handful of nuts?

Do we teach them that our voracious appetites for meat and dairy are sucking up land and water resources at a suicidal pace, killing water bodies, polluting air and land beyond remediation, and destroying wildlife habitat? That the water required to produce 10 hamburgers is the equivalent of a whole year of showers? Do they know that 83 per cent of all farmland is currently being used to raise animals for meat and dairy, and that animal agriculture contributes more to global warming than all forms of transportation combined?

Are they learning that one-third of all cereal crops produced around the world are fed to the animals we are raising for food, while one in 10 people on the planet go hungry? That it takes 2,500 gallons of water and 12 pounds of grain, not counting land and energy, to produce one pound of beef, versus one-20th the land and one-10th the water to produce the equivalent amount of protein from, say, kidney beans?

That only about one per cent of the calories fed to cattle are actually transformed into calories edible by humans, and that this extravagantly inefficient way of feeding ourselves is one of the key drivers of climate change?

A 2017 study by four universities in the U.S. found that if Americans just substituted beans for beef, that country would instantly meet half to three-quarters of its 2020 GHG emission targets, and that’s just one simple change. The principle obviously holds true on our side of the border, as well. If we, and today’s youth, are serious about trying to roll back or at least minimize the effects of climate change, we have no excuse for not taking in hand the aspects of the equation that are entirely under our control — the food we put in our mouths.

There’s no point in going on strikes or blaming politicians or prior generations for a problem they created if we are intent on perpetuating it by eating our way into a climate apocalypse. If we are serious about fighting climate change and stewarding the planet responsibly, there are no two ways about it: We have to stop consuming animal products forthwith. It’s the single most powerful step we can all take, and we can start today.

Lisa Warden, PhD, is an independent scholar affiliated with the Animals and Society Research Initiative at the University of Victoria.

Read Related Topics

© Copyright Times Colonist