Last summer, I took a seven hour bus ride specifically to attend an animal rights march that was to take place in London. I had been stirred into action by reports I’d seen about the fate of beagle dogs that are bred at a facility in Huntingdon, sold, and then used in all manner of horrendous experiments. A like-minded online friend had very kindly offered me a place to sleep, and so I set off.
The march was well attended and, as such events tend to be, very loud and colourful. I hasten to add that this particular march was also perfectly peaceful. Above the din of drums, megaphone slogans, whistles and sirens, I managed to chat with several fellow travellers about the plight of those poor dogs.
But as the march progressed, I noticed, without surprise, that a lot of the banners and placards related to environmental issues. There was even a huge pink octopus taking part in the march (on wheels, of course).
I was heartened by these marchers, whose aim was to highlight the inextricable link between animal agriculture and climate issues. Having carried out my own research, I found the scientific consensus is that animal agriculture is responsible for about14% of global greenhouse gas emissions and it causes significant environmental degradation, from biodiversity loss to deforestation.
So, I was pleased to see that the environmental message was being pushed on the march, because there’s a lot of misinformation out there; some deliberately spread by mischief-makers, and some as falsehoods inadvertently passed off as fact.
An example of the latter came one day, when I was listening to a phone-in on BBC Radio 5-Live. The topic was animal agriculture, and its impact on the planet, and I was pleased to hear that many callers spoke knowledgeably on the subject, and overall the industry got a bloody nose.
Then, right at the end of the show, the presenter undid everyone’s good work in a single sentence, when she said; “But what can we do? Because there are issues around soya as well, with soil erosion.”
Now, I know that those who present a daily phone-in that covers a vast array of topics can’t be expected to be up to speed with the finer points of every issue they discuss. I get that. But I found this piece of misinformation, the clear implication of which was that soya products are just as bad for the environment as their animal agriculture counterparts, particularly galling, as there was no time for anyone to call in to correct the presenter.
Because yes, there is a problem with growing soya and soil erosion (and deforestation, for that matter). But that presenter was clearly unaware that over seventy percent of the world’s soya bean harvest goes towards feeding animals for the meat and dairy industries. And therein lies the soil erosion culprit.
Only six percent of that same harvest ends up in products for human consumption, like soya milk, tofu, tempeh and suchlike. So little Johnny can ignore the words of the misinformed lady on the radio, and enjoy his soya latte at the local coffee house without feeling that his choice of beverage is contributing disproportionately towards the destruction of the planet.
But getting back to animal agriculture, the statistics that emerge from that sector are eye-watering. The fact that we, as a species, breed and slaughter some eighty billion animals each year is horrendous, but it also begs the question asked on many a meme, how is it that we can feed 80 billion animals, but not 7 billion people?
Numbers in Context
To put some of those numbers into context, I put together a graphic for a social media post, which I cannot reproduce here for copyright reasons. The image was a still from the TV quiz show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, and it showed former presenter Chris Tarrant in his seat, and at the foot of the image was a question and four possible answers, as in the show. One of the answers was highlighted. The question was
Laid wing-to-wing, chickens slaughtered by humans would go twice around the equator every . . .
I’d highlighted answer A, and a speech bubble coming from Mr Tarrant said, “Well done. It’s the correct answer.”
But, of course, there are always those naysayers who claim that climate change is fake. One such of my acquaintance dismissed the entire concept with the line;
The planet goes through climate fluctuations all the time.
I find it astonishing that those good folk who spent years studying climate at university, and who are now working in that particular field as scientists, were never told such a fundamental fact. Their entire careers have been built on the lie that climate is constant and unchanging, when all the time it was fluctuating.
Of course, I jest. Climatologists know perfectly well that the planet goes through climatic changes all the time. They also know that the events we are witnessing now are unprecedented, hence their alarm.
But, whether you believe recent weather extremes have been caused by climate change or natural fluctuation makes little difference, because it’s happening anyway. There are cities on the planet that are becoming too hot for habitation. Floods are on the news almost daily, and here in the UK, we recorded our hottest day ever this summer.
You may dismiss climate change as a concept, but you cannot deny that the climate is changing. And none of us knows how it’s going to play out.
(Originally published in Medium)