Lowering Meat Production is Just the Veganning: 60% of wildlife lost calls for intervention on a global scale

Lowering Meat Production is Just the Veganning: 60% of wildlife lost calls for intervention on a global scale

By: Kathryn Waller  

In college I studied abroad in India and was surprised at some of the lifestyle differences that Indians had adopted for environmental conservation. For example one night we went to dinner with our student group and our Indian professor. He ordered food for us and despite our pleas, he refused to order any meat options. He reasoned that we had meat last night for dinner. This made no sense to me, as I eat meat two to three times a day in America but this rationing of meat may be a necessary step to save civilization.

            A recent report by the World Wildlife Foundation found that “humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilization.”[1] The decimation of the animal population is a result of the growing consumption of food and resources by the global population.[2] Mike Barrett, the executive director of science and conservation at WWF explains that, “This is far more than just being about losing the wonder of nature, desperately sad thought that is. This is actually now jeopardizing the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’- it is our life support system.”[3]

            This rapid shortening of the animal population is a result of natural habitats being destroyed to create farmland, the killing of animals for food, chemical pollution and the spread of invasive species and diseases as a result of global trade.[4] The most drastic killing of wildlife has occurred in South and Central America, with an 89% drop in vertebrate populations.[5]  Barrett explains that “It is a classic example of where the disappearance is the result of our own consumption, because deforestation is being driven by ever expanding agriculture producing soy, which is being exported to countries including the UK to feed pigs and chickens.”[6]

            While it would take 5-7 million years for the world’s wildlife to recover there are steps society can take to halt the destruction and start taking steps to recovery.[7] The best place to start is by eating less meat. Its been discovered that “meat and dairy production is responsible for 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, while the products themselves providing just 18 percent of calories and 37 percent of protein levels around the world.”[8] The lead scientist on the study, Joseph Poore suggested that the best thing society could do to save the environment is go vegan.

            Forcing all of humankind to give up meat, cold turkey is an impossible feat, a conservation effort would be more widely accepted. A notable effort that has had success is the tiger conservation, that has resulted in the first increase in the tiger population in 100 years.[9] This increase was a result of 13 countries coming together at a high level and setting goals and guidelines.[10] The mass extinction of the animal population is a global problem that would likely have to be addressed with a Multilateral Environmental Agreement. These agreements often take the form of treaties and follow a UN format.[11] This will likely occur at the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity in 2020.[12] While it would be a more effective solution to begin rationing meat like my professor did in India, it is unlikely that cultures could shift that fast. A place to start would be to limit the amount of farmland that can be cleared each year as this destroys ecosystems that animals rely on and to reduce or limit the cattle industry as cattle require the most space and produce a substantial amount more greenhouse gasses than other livestock.[13] 

[1] Damian Carrington, Humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970, report finds,The Guardian, (Oct 29,2018) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/30/humanity-wiped-out-animals-since-1970-major-report-finds.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Olivia Petter, Veganism is ‘Single Biggest Way’ to Reduce Our Environmental Impact on Planet, Study Finds, Independent, (June, 1 2018), https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/veganism-environmental-impact-planet-reduced-plant-based-diet-humans-study-a8378631.html.

[9] Wild tiger population rising for first time in 100 years, CBS, (April 10, 2016) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/worlds-wild-tiger-population-rising-for-first-time-in-100-years/

[10] Id.

[11] International Environmental Agreements Database Project, University of Oregon https://iea.uoregon.edu/ (last visited Nov. 2, 2018).

[12] Damian Carrington, supra note 1.

[13] Damian Carrington, Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth, The Guardian, (May 31, 2018) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/31/avoiding-meat-and-dairy-is-single-biggest-way-to-reduce-your-impact-on-earth.