LET’S DO IT FOR THE KIDS
We all want to do our bit for the environment.
We turn off air conditioners, buy energy efficient light bulbs and put timers on our showers. Even though these things are inconvenient, we do them because we care for this planet and for those who will live here after us.
We have been repeatedly and correctly told by governments and experts to turn off idling engines, fit water-efficient shower heads, stop using plastic bags, and turn off appliances when we are not using them.
What we haven’t been repeatedly told is that we can do one thing that is more effective than all of these measures.
Twenty years ago I heard a radio interview with the environmentalist and diplomat, Sir Crispin Tickell. The interviewer asked Sir Crispin what the single most effective thing that anyone could do for our planet was. He replied that the most powerful action that anyone could take would be to give up eating animals and fish.
A couple of years ago I met Sir Crispin when he came to Hong Kong to give a talk to the Royal Geographical Society. I asked him if his advice about eating more plants still applied. He explained to me that most people now aspire to a western lifestyle, including the high consumption of animal products that goes with it. He said that the earth can only sustain that lifestyle for about two billion people, and yet there are now seven billion of us.
Reports such as “Livestock’s Long Shadow” back this up. Let’s look at three ways that consuming animal products harms our planet:
Meat requires far more land than vegetables, fruit and grains do. Growing pasture and crops to feed livestock is also inefficient. It takes much more than one kilogram of feed to “grow” one kilogram of meat, so forests are cleared to get the extra land, resulting in loss of vital forests and other eco systems.
Loss of vital natural land and ecosystems is not the only problem caused by our meat consumption. The deforestation this causes is the start of livestock’s disastrous contribution to climate change. Here are some of the ways that livestock farming increases the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere:
Cutting down forests to grow pasture and feed crops causes huge releases of carbon
Feeding our billions of livestock animals and getting them and their products to the consumer requires massive amounts of GHG (greenhouse gas) producing transport
Powering our massive livestock production uses immense amounts of electricity
Grazing and feeding livestock causes immense daily production of powerful GHG’s such as methane as the animals go about their normal bodily functions
Supply of Fresh Water:
A third big environmental problem facing the world today is the availability of fresh water. Again, livestock farming is a major culprit. A kilogram of beef can take over a hundred times the amount of water to produce as does a kilogram of potatoes. Fruits, grains and vegetables require comparatively less water. Even a water expensive crop such as rice requires far less water per kilogram to produce than the average kilogram of meat requires.
Doesn’t it seem odd to limit our shower to three minutes, then eat a meal that took more water than a fortnight of showers to produce?
Of course, we should all keep doing the little things. We should have short showers and we should fix leaking taps. These are good things, but drastically reducing or even eliminating our consumption of animal products is far more effective.
The Choice Is Ours:
When we know these things we must make a choice - we can use our knowledge to help us to better care for the earth we will leave for those that follow or do nothing. When we see children going off to kindergarten with their whole life before them, our hearts are uplifted. If we really want the best future for them, we must understand that it is these very children, and their children, who will pay the highest price for our inaction.
If we drastically reduce, or better still, eliminate our consumption of animal products, we will thank ourselves for doing the best we can do for our planet and for those children.
And do you know what else? Our bodies will thank us too.
by Wayne Furlong
Wayne Furlong is a teacher from Australia who has lived in Hong Kong for nine years. He is a keen cook who loves hiking, cycling and eating plants, lots of plants, and nothing but plants.