We Are Eating Our Way to Mass Extinction – Liberal Article
Despite those in the Western world having an entire supermarket at the touch of a button, eating a poor diet killed more people than smoking in 2017. The causes? Obesity and malnutrition – almost seem oxymoronic; a paradoxical product of the Western diet. It’s not that, for most of us, we are not eating enough, it’s that we are simply not eating a balanced diet.
In the US, the annual bill for obesity-related illnesses comes to a huge $150 billion. An unjustified additional expense when, in the US, 35 million Americans are left hungry. Obesity is not the only cause for concern. Strokes, diabetes, various cancers, and cardiovascular diseases, all leading causes of deaths, directly correlate with how we fill our plates. But ultimately it is not the monetary costs that matter, it is the increasing numbers of premature deaths.
However, whilst one’s diet may be the end of their world, it is not the end of the world. Right?
Actually, the Western diet is both a core driver of climate change. Our food choices are killing us.
If you have visited a developing country one of the obvious differences is the locality of food supplies. Eggs are from the chickens you see walking around, or that goat you see today could be on your plate tomorrow. There’s little in terms of food transportation and therefore little in terms of environmental impact.
On the other hand, the average Western consumer demands products that are flown in from all across the world. There are no real limits on consumption or thought about its production. But when food accounts for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, we can no longer ignore how food is produced. At least, not if we are to have any chance of achieving food security by the end of the century.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but agriculture is completely dependent on environmental conditions. The output of staple crops such as wheat, rice, maize, and soybean are expected to decrease by nearly 20% with each degree increase. According to this maths, the predicted 4°C increase means an 80% decrease in the crops that provide two-thirds of global calories.
With the population predicted to double by just 2050, how do we expect to feed the next generation? Since 2014, hunger, food insecurity, and malnutrition have been increasing. Already half of the deaths of those under five are due to insufficient diet. Even now, when enough food is produced, 690 million people don’t have enough to eat. As climate change threatens agricultural productivity and reduces the nutritional content in food, food insecurity rises.
This trend is not sustainable, for the planet or human life.
If we are to meet the second sustainable goal of Zero Hunger, food habits need to change. If we don’t change our eating habits then we will also miss climate targets. With the end of the world comes the end of choices.
In a world full of increasing demands on our time, it is of course important to offer a convenient solution. So home-growing our dinner is not an option. Instead, we should adopt a plant-based diet.
Not only is it better for your health – meaning fewer trips to the hospital– but, it will also cut an individual’s carbon footprint by over a third. To put this into context, with the CO2 saved from being vegan you could run the average household electricity usage for that year. Unfortunately, these scientific facts get neglected in favour of meat-eater arguments, most of which hold no truth.
Firstly, it is not food miles that pollute the planet. Yes, local will always be better, however, transport only accounts for 11% of food production emissions. Whereas livestock consists of 56%. So, importing avocados from Mexico isn’t as damaging as a daily bacon sandwich.
In fact, the meat industry alone produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector. What is often ignored is the unavoidable production of nitrous oxide from all the farty cows; a greenhouse gas with 300x the warming power of CO2.
But what about protein?! Obviously, you need protein to be healthy, but it’s the nutrients, not the meat, you need. There are many plant-based sources of protein, so much so that livestock only provides 37% of global protein. It’s more than possible to bulk up on a plant-based diet.
And what about how vegans demand for soybean is destroying rainforests? This is a valid argument seeing as soybean planting is the primary cause of global deforestation. But, the majority of soybean goes to feeding livestock. In fact, nearly 80% of deforestation in the Amazon alone is due to the livestock industry. So it would be more efficient to cut the cow out.
If everyone became vegetarian, an area the size of India could be reforested. But if we continue with this demand for meat we will need an extra 50% of cropland by 2050, something we simply don’t have.
It’s clear to see that reducing our impact on the climate is really as simple as changing what we have for lunch.
If, after all this, you still cannot fathom living without meat, fear not. A group of 37 world-leading scientists recently published a new food table that can sustain the growing population within planetary boundaries. Not only is it scientifically proven to be the best balance between health and the environment, but it also doesn’t require eliminating anything from your diet, just reducing certain eating habits.
Thus, there is no moral or logical defence for not reducing meat consumption when people are already dying due to the overconsumption of meat. If everyone just plays their part in reducing their meat consumption, global veganism won’t be necessary.
Ultimately, eating a plant-based diet is not just for animal lovers, health enthusiasts, or environmentalists. It’s for anyone who values their future.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Abby Milnes
Point of Information
‘Meating’ the brave new future – A Conservative response
I enjoy eating meat. In the UK, I can eat it safe in the knowledge it had a humane death and a rich life. In the debate of veganism being the answer to saving the planet, I profoundly disagree as I usually find those making the argument to be ill-informed and often carry an air of self-righteousness. However, the article above has done something a little different. Rather than pose the vegan argument (as done by most extremist environmentalists) they have offered a balanced conclusion, a reasonable expectation from the population.
Demanding people to give up meat ‘cold turkey’ is not the solution; it is people’s liberty to choose their preferred diet. This is something that cannot be taken away from them. But the suggestion of eating in moderation seems quite feasible to me. Partially switching to more environmentally friendly alternatives appears like quite a civil request in my opinion.
But how many people would listen and acknowledge this request? How many people would be willing to spend that little bit more on Quorn, or oat milk? Statistics show that it is an increasing amount of people who follow more ‘environmentally friendly’ diets but will the general population follow suit? Only time will tell.
Usually, in my responses, my critique of the article is aggressive and pugnacious, looking for falsifiable arguments to target and break apart. Quite depressingly in this instance, there is very little I can find in the way of contradiction towards the points made. In a world where the ever-present threats from climate change perniciously attack us in so many different ways, we do need to do something, and soon.
Climate change is the issue killing us softly, it is everywhere, and is it anthropogenically made. We are not just “eating our way to mass extinction”, we are driving our way there, consuming our way there, exploiting our way there. We as a species do need to make changes. Reasonable changes that can be expected from everyone in order to protect ourselves from a dystopian future. I can see the merits of being vegetarian and/or vegan, but I will not commit to such a lifestyle. Instead, I am more inclined to follow something in line with the article’s key message, “in moderation.”
Written by Junior Conservative Writer, Peter Pearce
‘Eating your way to an early grave’: your diet’s environmentally racist – A Labour Response
Thank you Abby for raising this incredibly important topic! You’ve managed to touch on two serious issues that we see throughout the world: food insecurity and meat consumption’s contribution to climate change.
Food insecurity is increasing at an alarming rate, primarily due to the extreme weather conditions and unreliable seasons that farmers are facing due to the climate crisis. Environmental scientists predict that, due to soil erosion, we only have 60 harvests left. Billions of people across the world are faced with greater instances of extreme weather and unreliable seasons; harvests have been destroyed along with livelihoods.
Unfortunately, developed nations stand by and watch idly as their citizens live a life of luxury. Climate injustice and environmental racism have seen the West already decide to sacrifice the Global South. In exchange, for the continuation of excessive consumption, multilateral agreements like Kyoto and Paris are signed, where little effort to keep to the 2°C target is made.
So, when state negotiations are failing to fulfil our moral obligations, our attention falls to the individual consumer. Someone once said to me that you could not call yourself an environmentalist if you weren’t vegan. As someone who wasn’t vegan but was a loud advocate for the environment, it horrified me and forced me to do some serious soul-searching and research. An air of self-righteousness – although rife throughout the vegan community – doesn’t change the fact that reduction in overall consumption is not only necessary but the only way to the survival of the planet. It is true, the easiest way to reduce your individual carbon footprint is to stop eating animal products.
However, we only have roughly a decade left to stop irreversible damage to our planet. Does anyone really think it’s feasible to enact a worldwide reduction in meat consumption within that small timeframe?
As my Conservative colleague has shown, too many of us are too selfish. And fair enough! Emissions are literally built into our way of life. Unless I excused myself from society to go live in a forest and grow my own food, my very existence creates emission. Of course, I could vow to only shop ethically and sustainably (which I definitely can’t afford), but even then, my efforts won’t make enough of a difference to save the planet.
Reducing our impact on the climate is definitely not as simple as changing our eating habits. Climate change is a multifaceted issue; one that is incredibly difficult for our brains to comprehend, let alone prioritise. How can our moral compass equivocate the potentially devastating effects that turning up our thermostat do to a Malawian 20 years in the future? Our ability to effectively assess threats was evolved from having to spot the tiger in the bushes. It has not evolved to foresee an existential problem, which we might be able to avoid and that you definitely don’t contribute to because you recycle, …right?
When 71% of carbon emissions are made by 100 companies, it becomes apparent that individual consumers are not the ones that should be held to account. But time and time again, we let opportunities to make radical change happen fall through our fingers, Paris being the most egregious example.
Personally, I am a vegetarian; I only buy clothes second hand; I don’t drive; I try to avoid plastic packaging as much as possible. These are my (small and rather pathetic) attempts to reduce my emissions. I personally can’t justify such a lifestyle. But globally, I recognise that individual consumers are not the ones to be held to account. I personally believe we need a serious, radical rewiring of our consumption patterns, and we need it now.
The President of Kiribati has bought land in Fiji as a precautionary measure for when, not if, his people have to evacuate do the rising sea levels. To ensure that developed countries can continue their lifestyles of luxury, we are literally sacrificing nations and peoples.
So, knowing this, ask yourself, does your right to eat meat really trump someone else’s right to living a life free from drought, food insecurity, flash-floods, or even life at all?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: eat the rich while you still can, we need all the sustenance we can get for the oncoming famine.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Abi Smuts
I am going into my second year at the University of Exeter studying a flexible combined honour in Geography and Politics. My interest in politics and geography stems from an interest in current events and the wider world, with geography being the study of all world processes.
Hi, I’m Abi, a final year at Uni of Exeter studying International Relations and English. To me, it was only in A Levels that I realised how important politics was, when I was stuck in my male-only, extremely conservative Politics class having to constantly justify and defend my opinions to them.