“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”
- Gus Speth, US advisor on Climate change
Disconnected from our environment
Our human brain is designed to focus on immediate problems that need to be fixed straight away.
Despite having access to a wealth of information in the palm of our hands, It is much easier for people to doubt or deny something than actually do something about it especially if they are uncertain and don't fully understand it.
Modern life has made us extremely disconnected from our environment and nature. Most people stay indoors about 90% of the time and spend most of it behind their screens.
For most of us, the effects we have on the environment are invisible and cannot be felt yet. From our perspectives, the trees are still green, the air and water seem to be fresh and clean and the planet is still as beautiful as it has always been. So what to be concerned about?!
“Our global storm is invisible, unprecedented, drawn out, and caused by us all. For most people, at least so far, it has only indirect personal impact”
- Mary Pipher, author
Even though we might not feel the direct impact of our actions in our busy city and suburban lives, there are very real effects happening in different parts of the world.
Sir David Attenborough points out that while many people think their actions don't really matter because they're not personally affected by it, “in fact, it does matter because it matters to the whole world. And the first people to feel the consequences are, of course, the poor. Those at the bottom of the heap. Those that are really vulnerable to what is happening in the climate."
One habit makes all the difference
Our individual choices are much more important than we think they are. The decisions we make as individuals today will shape our future and the future of many generations to come.
Amongst these choices, there is one crucial choice we all have the power to make today that would have the greatest impact on reducing our ecological footprint on the planet.
A simple change that would - without a doubt - have the greatest positive impact on the earth we all share and how it would look like in the future for us and generations to come.
Don't worry, this choice doesn't require much effort, time or money. It doesn't involve attending protests, writing petitions to governments or trading your car for a bicycle or anything that might inconvenience your life in a major way. (However, please don't be discouraged from doing all these things and more if you want to, they still help.)
And if you're a climate change sceptic who thinks climate change is only pushed into people as part of a political agenda or as a means to tax people, then rest assured, this choice is completely a-political so won't benefit any political party or political agenda either, just the earth and all life it sustains.
But before I get into what this simple change actually is, I want to show you some facts about what our current actions are causing to the environment right now and what the scientific consensus says on what would happen in the future if we continue our destructive behaviour.
What if they are right?
In 2014, NASA has declared that the effects of climate change are not coming, they are already here.
A 2018 study published by the prestigious science journal Nature found that Antarctica’s ice sheet is melting much faster than scientists previously thought.
The study showed that Ice melting has accelerated by threefold in the last five years alone. It was found that this may lead to sea level rising to ten inches by 2070, which would cause an adverse catastrophic impact around the globe.
"Things that normally happen in geologic time are happening during the span of a human lifetime... It's like watching the Statue of Liberty melt."
- Ecologist Researcher Dr Daniel Fagre
The impact of climate change on the planet can already be considerably observed and felt. Glaciers have shrunk at an unexpectedly rapid rate, ice on rivers and lakes is breaking up earlier, plant and animal ranges have shifted and trees are flowering sooner.
Not to mention the direct effects on our human health...
“Health is inextricably linked to climate change.”
- The American Public Health Association
A report by the American Public Health Association declared that the effects of climate change have been linked to respiratory disorders, infectious diseases, water-borne disease and mental health disorders.
And It’s not slowing down either
If what scientists are predicting turns out to be right about how these effects would carry out in the future then the risk we are all taking is terrifyingly immeasurable.
Temperatures would continue to rise, more droughts and hurricanes would get stronger and more intense, more people would become dislocated, suffer and die, more species would go extinct and our health would worsen as a consequence.
"Taken as a whole, the range of published evidence indicates that the net damage costs of climate change are likely to be significant and to increase over time."
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
A major global U.N report on climate change stresses out that we could be facing major floodings of cities around the world, food shortages and mass extinctions.
Nonetheless, climate change is not the only issue we're causing that threatens our planet. Our human activities are also the cause of many seriously concerning environmental issues.
Water pollution, deforestation, fisheries depletion, biodiversity loss and ocean dead zones are all as pressing and carry significant implications on our environment.
So what's the main culprit to all these issues?
Food Matters... A lot
When most people think of all these environmental issues, they think of fossil fuel, transportation and energy use. They never think that the food they put in their mouth is actually the biggest contributor to the destruction of the planet. At one point, I didn't either.
“Livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.”
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations (FAO)
So how exactly do our food choices affect the environment in such a major way?
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Farming animals for food contribute more to greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation combined worldwide. While transportation emits only about 13.5% of the carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere; animal agriculture contributes to at least 18% of it.
Livestock also accounts for 37% of the methane produced into the atmosphere which is 23 to 27 times more toxic to the ozone layer than carbon dioxide, And it also contributes 65% of nitrous oxide from manure which is 296 times more toxic to the ozone layer than methane.
Land Use and Deforestation
Animal agriculture causes the planet to become less green by the minute. Humans cut forests because farmed animals require substantial areas of land for grazing and planting crops to feed.
This causes loss of habitats to millions of species, the dislocation of indigenous communities, species extinction and contribute massively to the climate change issue in itself.
Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of the Amazon forest destruction.
"The livelihoods of more than 1 billion people in some 100 countries are threatened by desertification. Nearly 1 billion of the poorest and most marginalized people, who live in the most vulnerable areas, may be the most severely affected by desertification"
- United Nation Decade for Deserts and The Fight Against Desertification (UNDDD)
"Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption"
- United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service
The animal agriculture industry requires an enormous amount of water used mainly for growing the grass and crops that feed these animals over the span of their lifetime. Plus water for drinking, cleaning and processing.
The huge water amounts used by animal agriculture make it the biggest contributor to the global water scarcity crisis.
“Agriculture runoffs are the leading cause of river and stream impairment and the second leading cause of impairment in lakes, ponds, and reservoirs.”
- Centre for Disease Control and prevention
Raising animals for food is not only the leading cause of water shortage around the globe, but it's also the leading cause of water pollution.
A single cow produces about 120 pounds of manure a day, that's twenty to forty times more waste than a human.
What's more, water pollution from animal agriculture contaminates drinking water and disrupts aquatic ecosystems, killing wildlife and poisoning humans—disproportionately the communities—who live nearby.
"Water pollution is a global challenge that has increased in both developed and developing countries, undermining economic growth as well as the physical and environmental health of billions of people."
- The Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations (FAO)
The most comprehensive analysis to date
A 5-year long independent study conducted by researchers in the University of Oxford is considered the most comprehensive analysis to date exploring the relationship between food, land use and the environment.
The study published in the science journal Nature in 2018 discovered that while some kinds of meat and dairy production are more damaging than others, all are more harmful to the living world than growing plant protein.
The study has concluded that 'avoiding animal products is the single biggest way we can do to reduce our impact on the earth.
The study showed that animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land, but delivers only 18% of our calories, where a plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution that are caused by food production worldwide.
It was summarised at the end of the study that the single biggest way to reduce your impact on the environment is to live a vegan lifestyle.
The Clock is Ticking
I have to admit that a while ago, like many others today, I was comfortably unaware of the consequences my food choices cause to the environment and the seriousness of its effects on the health and well-being of our planet and ourselves.
But this all changed when I watched a documentary called Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret which I highly recommend everyone to watch or at least look up their easy-to-read facts sheet on their website.
Our 2019 Global Vegan Survey taken by over 12,000 people from 97 different countries showed not only that watching feature films was the most effective means of turning people vegan, but also that Cowspiracy itself was the second most influential feature film ever.
We don't really need to wait for slow governments and politicians to act and we don't really have time to debate whether climate change is natural or human-induced.
Even if you're a climate change sceptic or denier, wouldn’t you agree that with something this serious, we better be safe than sorry?
It’s great to see that many people use less plastic, recycle more, spend less time in the shower, walk or cycle to work and so on. However, rest assured that nothing comes close in term of reducing your ecological footprint than joining the fastest growing movement in the planet.
A movement that consists of people from all walks of life, racial, cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds who decided to make that one simple change in their daily life habits for the sake of the earth, their health, the environment and the animals.
The simple act of eliminating animal products from your diet and lifestyle, knowing that you are not contributing to the leading cause of our environmental problems and knowing that the choices you make today can determine how this planet would look like in the future is not only hopeful for all of us and many generations to come but is also very empowering right here and now.
"Now it is time for a new revolution, almost as profound as those other great shifts: the switch to a plant-based diet. It’s time to abandon the excuses, the fake facts and false comforts. It is time to see our moral choices as our descendants will."
- George Monbiot