Environmental Ethics in Challenging Times

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Ruhh's picture
Ruhh
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Environmental Ethics in Challenging Times

In light of the many challenges we face as outlined in the Crash Course, particularily in the case of environment, I'd like to attempt opening the floor to discussing possible solutions to lessen our impact on the planet's ressources.

I'd like to offer this short article written by my girlfriend, Corrie Rabbe, intended as a leaflet for Ottawa's National Capital Vegetarian Association on the subject of diet and the environment.

__________________________________________________________________________________ 

So
you're an environmentalist: Why
are you still eating meat?

In recent years,
awareness about global climate change and other environmental issues
has increased considerably. Environmental activists who were once
ridiculed are now accepted and even praised. Unfortunately, those who
do not receive a lot of attention are vegetarians and vegans.

According to Geophysicists
Eshel and Martin from the University of Chicago "where the
environment is concerned, eating meat is like driving a huge
SUV...Eating a vegetarian diet is like driving a mid-sized car. And
eating a vegan diet (no dairy, no eggs) is like riding a bicycle or
walking." Shifting away from SUV-style diets to much more
energy-efficient alternatives, is key to fighting the warming
trend.1

A
few other 'meaty' facts regarding meat and the environment:

  • In
    2006 a UN report summarized the devastation caused by the meat
    industry as "one of the top two or three most significant
    contributors to the most serious environmental problems"

    Overall, animal agriculture creates 18% of all human-caused
    greenhouse gas emissions, and is the leading cause of methane
    emissions.2 In
    comparison the world's transportation industry produces 14% of the
    worlds CO2.

  • An enormous amount
    of the worlds already limited fresh water resources is consumed by
    the farm animal production. A vegetarian diet requires only 300
    gallons of water per day, while a meat-eating diet requires more
    than 4,000 gallons of water per day.3,4

  • Vast tracts of land
    are needed to grow crops to feed the billions of animals we raise
    for food each year. Raising animals for food is grossly inefficient
    because while animals eat large quantities of grain, they only
    produce small amounts of meat, dairy products, or eggs in return.

Of course we need start developing
alternative sources of power, better transportation systems, and
stricter regulations against polluters. But as we're struggling and
waiting for these and other structural changes, we need to make
personal changes.

If you already are vegetarian/vegan,
power to you! If your not a veg*an, maybe its time to consider it, or
at least try it for a few days a week. Taking the meat-free plunge
has never been easier or more essential than it is today. For more
information, please see our website at www.ncva.ca.

Resources:

  1. Eshel, G. and P. A. Martin, 2006:
    'Diet, energy and global warming,' Earth Interactions, 10, 1-17.
    http://geosci.uchicago.edu/~gidon/papers/nutri/nutriEI.pdf
  2. H. Steinfeld et al., "Livestock's
    Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, Livestock," United
    Nations Environment and Development (2006).http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.htm
  3. Robbins, John. Diet for a New
    America
    , 1998, p. 367.
  4. Frances Moore Lappé, Diet
    for a Small Planet
    , Ballantine Books: New York,1982.
  5. Robbins, John. The Food Revolution, 2001, p. 236.
  6. Mark Gold and Jonathon Porritt, "The
    Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat," 2004, p. 22.
    http://www.wellfedworld.org/PDF/CIWF%20Eat%20Less%20Meat.pdf

__________________________________________________________________________________ 

Food for thought to give thought to your food.

Just another aspect of how to buy into the True Cost Economy which I stand by.

barrt's picture
barrt
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Re: Environmental Ethics in Challenging Times
Ruhh wrote:

So you're an environmentalist: Why are you still eating meat?

Its hard to get out of that one for sure without wriggling around a great deal! unless of course you keep chicken and dairy as part of a permaculture design, in which case it is the way forward, one of the only ways forward.

Only the giant agribusiness is the problem, not our old old friends the chicken and the pigs.

But great post Ruhh, clearly you and your girlfriend have taken the red pill and are not part of the Meatrix;

http://www.themeatrix1.com/

http://www.themeatrix2.com/

http://www.moremeatrix.com/

If we all went vegan tommorrow, wouldnt chickens pigs goats and cows all become endangered species? isnt it much better (from a permaculture viewpoint) to shut down the giant agribusiness and keep a few chickens and pigs in the backyard? i hear there's loads of suburban land coming down in price

Live long and prosper friends

 barrt

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Ruhh
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Re: Environmental Ethics in Challenging Times
barrt wrote:

Only the giant agribusiness is the problem, not our old old friends the chicken and the pigs.

...

If we all went vegan tommorrow, wouldnt chickens pigs goats and cows all become endangered species? isnt it much better (from a permaculture viewpoint) to shut down the giant agribusiness and keep a few chickens and pigs in the backyard? i hear there's loads of suburban land coming down in price

I fully agree that giant agribusiness is the problem and wholeheartedly support permaculture. It's also really hard to grow vegetables in the Canadian snow and ice that surrounds me for the most of the year. As an aboriginal I also have a stong cultural connection with hunting and fishing but I don't think that's a sustainable venture for a world with a population as large as we have now. I still believe in raising and hunting meat but only in a radically different way that we've adopted lately.

Unfortunately for most the only food we can find in our grocery stores and served at restaurants has gone to the cheaper, more environmentally (and health) damaging not to mention tasteless, prepackaged crap that giant agribusiness has been feeding our cites for the past few decades.

As for letting certain species of commercial livestock going extinct I think they only exist as perversions of man and would be better off doing so and letting nature take it's course.

cheers and a safe and happy new year to you and yours

r.

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Damnthematrix
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Re: Environmental Ethics in Challenging Times
from "The restaurant at the end of the universe" page 176 :
He rose to his feet.
"If," he said tersely, "we could for a moment move on to the subject of fiscal policy ..."
"Fiscal policy!" whooped Ford Prefect, "Fiscal policy!"
The Management Consultant gave him a look that only a lungfish could have copied.
"Fiscal policy ..." he repeated, "that is what I said."
"How can you have money," demanded Ford, "if none of you actually produces anything?  It doesn't grow on trees you know."
"If you would allow me to continue ..."
Ford nodded dejectedly.
"Thank you.  Since we decided a few weeks ago to adopt the leaf as legal tender, we have, of course, all become immensely rich."
Ford stared in
disbelief at the crowd who were murmuring appreciatively at this and
greedily fingering the wads of leaves with which their track suits were
stuffed.
"But we have also"
continued the Management Consultant, "run into a small inflation
problem on account of the high level of leaf availability, which means
that, I gather, the current going rate has something like three
deciduous forests buying one ship's peanut."
Murmurs of alarm came from the crowd. 
The Management Consultant waved them down.
"So in order to
obviate this problem," he continued, "and effectively revalue the leaf,
we are about to embark on a massive defoliation campaign, and ... er,
burn down all the forests.  I think you'll all agree that's a sensible
move under the circumstances."
The crowd seemed a
little uncertain about this for a second or two until someone pointed
out how much this would increase the value of the leaves in their
pockets, whereupon they let out whoops of delight and gave the
Management Consultant a standing ovation. 
The accountants among them looked forward to a profitable Autumn.
"You're all mad," explained Ford Prefect.
Damnthematrix's picture
Damnthematrix
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Re: Environmental Ethics in Challenging Times

The problem with eating meat is not in the eating, it's in the extractive methods employed by industial meat farming....

It is entirely possible to raise animals, chickens, ducks and goats (and there are others) humanely and sustainably. 

 http://www.abc.net.au/rural/telegraph/content/2006/s1989970.htm

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Liam
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Re: Environmental Ethics in Challenging Times

damnthematrix,

I've been thinking about that passage from the beggining of my exploration of this site, I've just been too lazy to go and find it. Thanks for posting, humour makes everything so much better.

 

In relation to this thread, I eat lots of meat. Fortunately, most of is is either locally, organically, and sustainably raised, or wild. I do eat out and have no qualms about it, perhaps I should, but I estimate that I consume about 30 pounds of commercial meat a year. This seems pretty small to me, but I could probably cut it down. Meat is somewhat necessary nutrition for us humans though. I know many vegetarians and a vegan, and they either suffer symtoms that I assume are of malnutrition: easy bruising, low immune system, low cold tolerance, or they take supplements. Essentially, the healthiest diet for a person is influenced by genetics, so i think that phasing meat out of people's diets should be taken on a case-by-case basis. Good luck trying to tell someone of eskimo or masai ancestry that they should stay away from meat.

I entirely agree that commercial food is not good. 

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Ruhh
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Re: Environmental Ethics in Challenging Times
Liam wrote:

Meat is somewhat necessary nutrition for us humans though. I know many vegetarians and a vegan, and they either suffer symtoms that I assume are of malnutrition: easy bruising, low immune system, low cold tolerance, or they take supplements.

I've met many meateaters that suffer from these same symptoms as well as increased rates of heart disease, colon cancer, high blood pressure and more. Malnutrition comes with poor diet weither you eat meat or not.

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barrt
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Hitchhikers Guide

that was a great post Dtm, the Hitchikers Guide has quite a few paralells with us at the moment, that one was perfect

Not sure about the Guineapigs one though, sounds like they might be difficult to feed. Surely pigs and goats are the easist to feed and therefore raise? am i right in thinking that?

how about brining back the Dodo?
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126905.000-ten-extinct-beasts-that-could-walk-earth-again.html?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=mg20126905.000

and while were on food, I've just given up wheat, 5 days and counting and its not easy at all, but my Party 7 (large beer barrel) has gone down to a more managable One Pack already, 6 pack now in sight (haha) seriously though i feel much better already, much less bloating and easier movements. Apparantly a huge % of us might have wheat intolerances but be unaware

Ruhh's picture
Ruhh
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Re: Environmental Ethics in Challenging Times
Damnthematrix wrote:

The problem with eating meat is not in the eating, it's in the extractive methods employed by industial meat farming....

It is entirely possible to raise animals, chickens, ducks and goats (and there are others) humanely and sustainably. 

http://www.abc.net.au/rural/telegraph/content/2006/s1989970.htm

Fully agreed and that is why I'll never be 100% veg*an. My point again is that most people buy their meat at the supermarket which comes from factory farms. Also, the argument on sustainability/ethics/plausibility of the larger scale we would need to feed our current and future overpopulation is as far and wide as the arguments on peak oil and climate change.

But really I'd like to get more into permaculture etc and plan on learning more in my spare time through WWOOFing. I think it would also be a good idea of going back to some of the old ways of using animals vs. mpg equipment. I read somewhere (can't remember where) that using conventional farm equipment has poor (maybe even negative) ERoEI. I'm sure you already know more about that than I do but an interesting topic nonetheless.

Cheers
Ron

PS: I dunno about Guinea Pigs though. I'm not sure if my neigbours would appreciate me keeping 365 of them in my spare room to keep up with my diet alone. The folks in that photo are great poster childs for the health benefits tooTongue out

Where do you get your protein?

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Aaron M
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Re: Environmental Ethics in Challenging Times

So... how does this have anything at all to do with Environmental ethics?

Personally, I have a lifestyle that requires that I eat meat. That means I don't sit on my hindquarters all day. Vegetables don't cut it. Neither do legumes or tubers mixed in.

Further - why should you be working towards a vegan tomorrow?

I am totally at a loss as to why any of this is relavant to the CM website, and I actually thought it'd be an interesting thread, so I'm disappointed as well.

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Ruhh
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Re: Environmental Ethics in Challenging Times
Aaron Moyer wrote:

I am totally at a loss as to why any of this is relavant to the CM website

It's about resource depletion. The fact is that a vegetable based diet is far less taxing on the environment.

I'm not trying to turn the world into vegans, I'm just trying to make people think about their food and the consequences of their choices.

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Damnthematrix
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Re: Environmental Ethics in Challenging Times

<http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/06/meat-production-veganism-deforestation>

I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it properly

The ethical case against eating animal produce once seemed clear. But a new book is an abattoir for dodgy arguments

This will not be an easy column to write. I am about to put down 1,200 words in support of a book that starts by attacking me and often returns to this sport. But it has persuaded me that I was wrong. More to the point, it has opened my eyes to some fascinating complexities in what seemed to be a black and white case.

In the Guardian in 2002 I discussed the sharp rise in the number of the world's livestock, and the connection between their consumption of grain and human malnutrition. After reviewing the figures, I concluded that veganism "is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world's most urgent social justice issue". I still believe that the diversion of ever wider tracts of arable land from feeding people to feeding livestock is iniquitous and grotesque. So does the book I'm about to discuss. I no longer believe that the only ethical response is to stop eating meat.

In Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Simon Fairlie pays handsome tribute to vegans for opening up the debate. He then subjects their case to the first treatment I've read that is both objective and forensic. His book is an abattoir for misleading claims and dodgy figures, on both sides of the argument.

There's no doubt that the livestock system has gone horribly wrong. Fairlie describes the feedlot beef industry (in which animals are kept in pens) in the US as "one of the biggest ecological cock-ups in modern history". It pumps grain and forage from irrigated pastures into the farm animal species least able to process them efficiently, to produce beef fatty enough for hamburger production. Cattle are excellent converters of grass but terrible converters of concentrated feed. The feed would have been much better used to make pork.

Pigs, in the meantime, have been forbidden in many parts of the rich world from doing what they do best: converting waste into meat. Until the early 1990s, only 33% of compound pig feed in the UK consisted of grains fit for human consumption: the rest was made up of crop residues and food waste. Since then the proportion of sound grain in pig feed has doubled. There are several reasons: the rules set by supermarkets; the domination of the feed industry by large corporations, which can't handle waste from many different sources; but most important the panicked over-reaction to the BSE and foot-and-mouth crises.

Feeding meat and bone meal to cows was insane. Feeding it to pigs, whose natural diet incorporates a fair bit of meat, makes sense, as long as it is rendered properly. The same goes for swill. Giving sterilised scraps to pigs solves two problems at once: waste disposal and the diversion of grain. Instead we now dump or incinerate millions of tonnes of possible pig food and replace it with soya whose production trashes the Amazon. Waste food in the UK, Fairlie calculates, could make 800,000 tonnes of pork, or one sixth of our total meat consumption.

But these idiocies, Fairlie shows, are not arguments against all meat eating, but arguments against the current farming model. He demonstrates that we've been using the wrong comparison to judge the efficiency of meat production. Instead of citing a simple conversion rate of feed into meat, we should be comparing the amount of land required to grow meat with the land needed to grow plant products of the same nutritional value to humans. The results are radically different.

If pigs are fed on residues and waste, and cattle on straw, stovers and grass from fallows and rangelands – food for which humans don't compete – meat becomes a very efficient means of food production. Even though it is tilted by the profligate use of grain in rich countries, the global average conversion ratio of useful plant food to useful meat is not the 5:1 or 10:1 cited by almost everyone, but less than 2:1. If we stopped feeding edible grain to animals, we could still produce around half the current global meat supply with no loss to human nutrition: in fact it's a significant net gain.

It's the second half – the stuffing of animals with grain to boost meat and milk consumption, mostly in the rich world – which reduces the total food supply. Cut this portion out and you would create an increase in available food which could support 1.3 billion people. Fairlie argues we could afford to use a small amount of grain for feeding livestock, allowing animals to mop up grain surpluses in good years and slaughtering them in lean ones. This would allow us to consume a bit more than half the world's current volume of animal products, which means a good deal less than in the average western diet.

He goes on to butcher a herd of sacred cows. Like many greens I have thoughtlessly repeated the claim that it requires 100,000 litres of water to produce every kilogram of beef. Fairlie shows that this figure is wrong by around three orders of magnitude. It arose from the absurd assumption that every drop of water that falls on a pasture disappears into the animals that graze it, never to re-emerge. A ridiculous amount of fossil water is used to feed cattle on irrigated crops in California, but this is a stark exception.

Similarly daft assumptions underlie the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's famous claim that livestock are responsible for 18% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, a higher proportion than transport. Fairlie shows that it made a number of basic mistakes. It attributes all deforestation that culminates in cattle ranching in the Amazon to cattle: in reality it is mostly driven by land speculation and logging. It muddles up one-off emissions from deforestation with ongoing pollution. It makes similar boobs in its nitrous oxide and methane accounts, confusing gross and net production. (Conversely, the organisation greatly underestimates fossil fuel consumption by intensive farming: its report seems to have been informed by a powerful bias against extensive livestock keeping.)

Overall, Fairlie estimates that farmed animals produce about 10% of the world's emissions: still too much, but a good deal less than transport. He also shows that many vegetable oils have a bigger footprint than animal fats, and reminds us that even vegan farming necessitates the large-scale killing or ecological exclusion of animals: in this case pests. On the other hand, he slaughters the claims made by some livestock farmers about the soil carbon they can lock away.

The meat-producing system Fairlie advocates differs sharply from the one now practised in the rich world: low energy, low waste, just, diverse, small-scale. But if we were to adopt it, we could eat meat, milk and eggs (albeit much less) with a clean conscience. By keeping out of the debate over how livestock should be kept, those of us who have advocated veganism have allowed the champions of cruel, destructive, famine-inducing meat farming to prevail. It's time we got stuck in.

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deggleton
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Re: Environmental Ethics in Challenging Times
Damnthematrix wrote:

Let them eat meat – but farm it properly

Thanks for your post.  Please join me at http://groups.google.com/group/soil-age

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