End industrial farming or we’ll eat our way into oblivion

Here’s something we all agree on: the planet is heading in a warming direction.

As temperatures around the world continue to rise at an alarming rate, people are wondering what kinds of changes they can make to reduce their environmental impact. Some are choosing to buy electric cars and power their homes with green energy. Others drive and fly less, shorten shower times and buy locally produced food. The transition from fossil fuels to renewables is a good thing and, when done collectively, can significantly help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The current emphasis clearly tends to be on the deployment of low carbon energy solutions as the main way to reduce emissions. And for good reason: most greenhouse gas emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels. However, there is another highly underestimated source of emissions. According to an already large and growing body of science, the high intensity animal agriculture industry, more commonly known as the “intensive livestock” industry, is also a main source of emissions.

But how much does this industry, which includes more than 80 billion land animals raised and slaughtered each year for human consumption, and represents more than 90 percent of all meat production, contribute to emissions?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), when taking into account the emissions generated by the production of feed, the transport, processing and packaging of animal products, enteric methane (which are basically the emissions of cows that pass animal gases and waste) and the energy of the farm used for production. livestock management, intensive farming represents a staggering 14.5 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, or about 7.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide. That roughly equates to the direct emissions from the world’s transportation vehicles, cars, trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes. set. If FAO’s calculations are correct, then the ranching industry is surprisingly the second largest contributor emissions after fossil fuels.

But the FAO figure is probably too conservative. According to several researchers, the FAO estimate omits a significant range of direct and indirect emission sources. Importantly, the calculation excludes or underestimates, among other things, emissions from livestock respiration, methane emissions, waste disposal, and loss of photosynthesis resulting from the clearing of large areas of forest to graze livestock. and produce food.

If these and other types of factors are taken into account, industrial agriculture represents about 30 to fifty percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

But the factory farm industry is not simply a major source of emissions. It also has devastating effects on the environment. It causes the destruction of natural habitats and grasslands, ocean acidification, air pollution, species extinction, and ecosystem collapse.

It is also the leading cause of zoonotic diseases, along with a litany of debilitating bodily ailments. And if that weren’t enough, industrial agriculture also causes intense suffering to tens of billions of land animals annually through brutally inhumane husbandry and slaughter practices. After all, nothing hits the planet harder than the factory farming industry.

Climate change is a serious existential threat. If we are to tackle it seriously, we must switch to renewable energy sources. But as things stand, we are not prepared for the widespread use of renewable energy.

Opinion: Nothing hits the planet harder than the factory farming industry; it’s time to shut it down, writes Colin Ruloff. #Intensive breeding

Certain “deep decarbonization“requires a series of technological revolutions in at least half a dozen different emitting sectors, and many of the technologies that are needed for decarbonisation in these sectors are not even close to being ready.

What we need now is some time to allow renewable energy technologies to develop to the point where we can scale them up for widespread use in the future. According to a growing number of researchers, the best way to save this time is to eliminate the ineffective, highly wasteful and carbon-intensive practice of intensive agriculture.

By abandoning the slaughter of animals for human consumption on an industrial scale, we effectively eliminate at least 14.5 percent of current emissions, giving us the time to transition to a decarbonized energy infrastructure.

In fact, since it now seems to hit the Paris AgreementThe goal of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 C not possible by decarbonizing global energy systems aloneShutting down the factory farming industry is essential to avoid catastrophic global warming.

The surprising thing, and this is also an underrated point, is that this can happen immediately. Shutting down the factory farm industry does not require building any new infrastructure. It does not depend on the development of new technologies or scientific discoveries. It simply requires placing an immediate moratorium on the construction of new factory farms and a concerted phase-out of all existing factory farms. This is something we can do right now. In fact, it is something that should to do right now, as it would have much faster effects on greenhouse gas emissions than the current race to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.

So what exactly should we do?

Here’s a suggestion: we – that is, politicians, industry leaders, policy makers, scientists, educators, the media, food writers – along with the general population, We must focus our efforts not only on phasing out fossil fuels, but also on decarbonizing fossil fuels. world food system.

This specifically means that we must stop slaughtering animals for food on an industrial scale, significantly reduce our intake of animal products, and change our eating practices towards a plant-centered and climate-friendly diet. In fact, this is precisely what the 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on land use and climate change.

According to that report, which includes 107 IPCC scientists from 52 countries, there must be a rapid global shift from overconsumption of meat and dairy products towards a vegetarian or vegan diet to avoid catastrophic climate change – a diet that emphasizes consumption. of sustainable foods such as coarse grains, legumes and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and other plant-based foods.

A change in the diet of industrially produced animal products would feed more people and use much less land and water. It would also improve air quality, restore grasslands and natural habitats, regenerate soil and vegetation, and sequester carbon, among other things. The environmental and public health benefits of such a change would be monumental. Most importantly, however, shutting down the emissions-producing factory farming industry would give us much-needed time to successfully navigate the transition to a fossil-free future.

We can put the point here in terms of a useful, if not disturbing metaphor: Climate change is largely the product of two very large machines that we have created: the combustion engine, which is represented by the fossil fuel industry, and machine slaughter, represented by the factory farm industry.

We need to turn both off to avoid catastrophic climate change. But since we are not yet at the point where we can turn off the combustion engine, we should, at least temporarily, turn off the killing machine.

Some may object to this proposal. Some may think that shutting down the factory farming industry is outrageous.

Outrageous? Really?

I don’t think the idea is outrageous. Consider the alternative, which is incomprehensibly more outrageous: If we don’t shut down factory farms and continue to consume industrially produced animal products, we will invariably generate a series of climatic tipping points and increase the prospects for a hellishly uninhabitable planet. along with the possibility of our own self-annihilation.

If, in short, we don’t shut down the high-intensity animal agriculture industry and evolve our feeding practices in a climate-friendly direction, we may well be eating ourselves into oblivion.

Colin Ruloff is Professor of Philosophy at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.


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