Yes: Human Population Is a Vegan Issue

The one thing young people can do that eases their impact on animals, habitat, and the climate more than anything else? Opt out of having children. Humans have already far exceeded the Earth’s capacity to “produce resources” for us, and this is the culmination of decades of ever-increasing growth in our numbers.

Fun fact: About 2.3 billion humans lived on Earth in 1944, when the vegan movement began. The founding members pointed out that two billion people was too much for a small planet with limited energy to sustain all its life! 

Today our population is fast approaching 8 billion. And that’s not all. We humans tend to breed other animals into existence who, like ourselves, are domesticated and don’t fit into nature’s scheme of things. There is little hospitable space left where free-living animals can evolve.

Could voluntarily decreasing our numbers to somewhere between 1 and 2 billion possibly be on our things-to-do list? Yes, there are social, economic, and religious reasons why this would not be easy in some regions of the world. But vegans who do have parenthood planning prerogatives could be doing much more to lead this urgent conversation.

If we don’t commit to easing our pressure on the planet, the planet will commit for us. How? Viruses. Droughts and food collapse. Right now: “The World Bank predicts that more than 1 billion people are at risk of being driven from their homes for climate-related reasons.” (As for the World Bank’s own contributions to bringing this risk about, well, that would be another blog piece. Or series.) 

China and India are projected to suffer famines. Large swaths of the Middle East and equatorial regions of the global south are now certain to experience military conflicts and refugee crises as climate disruptions worsen. 

Isn’t it appropriate to ask that people who can avoid having kids do such avoiding, if only to head off a ballooning disaster?

Of course, we vegans are helping by feeding ourselves protein straight from plants. The more who join us, the more we all avoid the breeding of animals to be raised on monoculture crops or pastures (then killed for us to eat, when we could have used the land for growing food, not for grazing and growing feed). 

The less space we farm, the less untamed habitat we usurp.

Psychologically, our population growth could have something to do with our fear of predation.

Most humans seem to have a strikingly low tolerance for animals such as mountain lions and wolves. There are so many reasons to respect them, but we have constantly imposed population control on them. Sheesh!

Wolves, coyotes, and other carnivores and omnivores play roles on this Earth that we’ve failed to understand. They don’t just naturally curb herbivore populations. Their activity also protects the biosphere.

According to some scientists, it works like this. Where we suppress predators herbivores, don’t need to move so much. Then these herbivores tend to trample the local foliage. The stressed-out plant life breathes out the carbon it would naturally have stored.

Now, if we do acknowledge and encourage the predator-prey relationship as a sound process, what does that mean for ourselves—the human primates? Maybe we don’t like our position as prey. Maybe we don’t like our population to be kept in the Earth’s natural balance, as it was, back in the day. But disrespect for that natural cycle of life and death isn’t working out so well for us.

As our numbers rise and we spread out, our (perhaps fear-driven) belief in our supremacy is constantly weakening Earth’s living communities. And if the web of life unravels because of our presumptuous stance, we are likely to destroy all we’ve known. Life will go on, though—over the stratum of Earth that will store remnants of our history.

But if we change radically—and that includes slowing our rate of population growth—we just might learn the elusive art of co-existence with the forces of this planet. We can curb our sprawl, and become fair-minded members of the entire community of conscious life on Earth.

Those of us in the world’s affluent regions (even vegans) use an especially large share of the globe’s natural resources.

Our grandparents and parents created our home region’s reputation for affluence. Our massive consumption level is responsible for deforesting great expanses of living habitats. Our forebears’ lifestyles can’t be ours. Simplicity must be reconceived as elegance.

We live in a region where controlling our numbers, without oppressive results, is largely possible. We also happen to live on a land that will be pressed to nourish more refugees who are fleeing places that cannot support them. Treating refugees as family? That’s adoption, of a sort, on a national scale. 

Becoming vegan and spreading the word about veganism is action. Capping our car use, cutting out discretionary flying: these, too, are action. Yet “family planning” gets to the root of all the consumption pressures. Moreover, destructive activities would do far less damage if there were fewer people doing them.

As people who care deeply about sustainability, could we encourage adoption over reproduction, understanding that human care is meaningful not because it nurtures our biological offspring specifically, but because our love is a gift to anyone who receives it? Can we discuss how adopting (or educating, or caregiving) is as fulfilling as bearing children?

The vegan definition, with its emphasis on the reintegration of nature, obliges us to consider the territory and evolutionary freedom of other animals as well as their individual life experiences, and what we must do in accordance—including limiting our own population growth. Not theirs.

My thanks to Deb Thompson and Patricia Fairey for our helpful conversations on the topic. I welcome further thoughts in the comment field.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

___
Photo source: PatoLenin, via Pixabay.

It’s an Animal Liberation Thing; They Wouldn’t Understand.

I’m talking about pollination. It’s not what they say it is.

They say it’s significant because we need it for our almonds. They talk about conserving bees to the extent they can get them to keep working to produce our food supply.

They don’t talk about the interest of the bees.

We can exploit the beejeesus out of animals until, one day, legal panic sets in because we’ve just about cleared them completely from the face of the Earth.

American Bumble Bees Are in Crisis.

The population of American bumble bees dropped by 89% in the past two decades. The bees no longer live in much of the United States. What if the bees are listed under the Endangered Species Act? Will we see increased attention to bee habitat? Agribusiness could have to make changes. We might need to look at the impact of pesticides, climate crisis, and sprawl. Grazing businesses, “green” energy sites, and real estate developers are all implicated in sprawl.

The National Association of Home Builders has opposed ESA listings for other bee communities, so we can guess what they’ll do here. At its core, home building sprawl is a human population issue.

The Answer Is as Plain as the Peas on Your Plate: Go Vegan.

Stop supporting grazing. Just stop. Join the conscientious objectors. We don’t need animal ag. It’s bad for us, for other living communities, and for the Earth as a whole.

Farm animal waste, runoff, and feed operations are detrimental. The very complexity of animal agribusiness multiplies the harm done by our food systems.

We can opt out today, right this second.

And there’s more to being vegan than what’s on our plates. Consider human population a vegan topic; let’s talk about it (without xenophobia). Consider how we maintain our immediate physical surroundings. What we do to the climate, we do to habitat. And what we do to habitat is at the core of veganism.

Good Gardening Helps: Veganism Respects Our Shared Habitat.

Leaf blowers not only emit toxic gases; Doug Tallamy has explained that when leaves are banished, the land loses a form of temporary stormwater holding, and therefore leaf blowing exacerbates erosion and flooding. And bees have connections with leaves. Some bees and wasps try to nest under leaves.

Homo suburbanus has decided that lawns are necessary, and that chemicals are needed to maintain them. Common lawn sprays are tested on animals. What kind of people are we, that we’d blind rabbits to have a dandelion-free lawn that repels bees?

Native plantings matter so much, in so many ways. Never mind the birdfeeders; get natural nourishment rooted in any green space you might have. Of course there is a money incentive that keeps the landscapers in their old habits. Contracts for toxic chemicals communicate entrenched economic relationships among human businesses. But new relationships can be forged.

New year; new us. We need to strive to coexist with the naturally evolving life on our patch of Earth. This is a matter of liberation ethics.

“Veganism Is the Only Answer to Climate Change.”

I’ve been hearing some vegans say cutting transportation emissions won’t matter. That a plant-based diet is the answer to climate change. Here are my two main concerns:

  • These assertions run counter to a great deal of research, including research done by scientists who have spent many years examining agribusiness and climate and whose results provide strong cases for veganism. 
  • The assertions would position vegans as outliers. (I mean, more so than we already are.)

Will assertions like these put off some of the people already confronting emissions in the energy arena who might be amenable to join us in the climate work? If so, is there, nevertheless, some strong inherent reason for making these assertions?

To Start, What’s the Real Percentage of Greenhouse Gases Emitted By Animal Ag?

It’s hard to pin a number on the emissions factor of animal ag. Fossil fuels used for transportation and refigeration are highly intertwined with animal agribusiness. And much depends on how the land would be used (or not) if the animal farm weren’t there. But very roughly speaking, say the animal ag emission factor is somewhere in the area of 30 to 40%, as is accepted by a number of leading food and ag emissions researchers. Don’t those percentages look like a really huge problem? They are indeed.

I don’t think we have to prove animal ag accounts for some certain overwhelming percentage of emissions. There is a strong argument for divesting from animal ag with what’s in the peer-reviewed material today.

And it does not take the help of law and policy making and infrastructure replacement for us to divest. It’s just like the old question: What if there was a war and no one came? You just say no to the use of other animals: “I’m out, I’m a conscientious objector. Done.”

Here are some questions we might ask of ourselves as climate-aware vegans.

Why Do Vegans Focus on Food Exclusively When Discussing Greenhouse Gases?

It’s practically intuitive for vegans to argue for ditching animal agribusiness or some facets of it. Cows (and, by extension, all ruminants) are on most people’s radar screens; but aquaculture is also harmful, and so are the pig and chicken businesses and their connected elements like feed and waste. 

We vegans might understandably be keen to know the effects of animal ag and its satellite industries. We might be keen to read, write, and talk about them. 

And in any case, fossil fuel use already gets a lot of attention, whereas “our issue” is pitifully neglected and typically left to us to point out.

Why Shouldn’t Vegans Keep on Focusing on Food Exclusively When Discussing Greenhouse Gases?

I think the best vegan response to climate crisis is comprehensive. It’s aware of the interconnected impact of animal ag and fossil fuel energy. 

I also think we have to look out for our tendencies to stay within our comfort zones. On a personal note, to press outside of mine, I set a cap on my fuel use a few years back. The annual goal is to stay under 1,000 miles; but no penalty for public transit. It is uncomfortable, in the sense that I really need to be mindful. I guard my milage allowance. I avoid driving for a lot of reasons. (If I were treating this the way I treat diet, I’d say no use of petroleum is ever acceptable!) 

I don’t want to get caught in the trap of thinking a vegan approach exclusively involves dietary commitment. I’m used to my vegan commitment and I’m used to arguing for it, but I’m a more responsible advocate if I take into account everything we humans are doing to imperil our biosphere. 

What About the People on the Other Side of the Issue, Who Keep on Focusing on Cars, Carbon Taxes, and EV Incentives When Discussing Greenhouse Gases?

I expect the people who are working on the fossil fuel side of the issue to also be comprehensive. Even though it means going out of their comfort zone.

I expect them to renounce animal agribusiness, not just cap their consumption at a certain level. In other words, I am not going to urge anyone to eat less meat when simply rejecting animal products is so simple to do (where we are, in this time) and when animal confinement is so unfair, and so utterly atrocious from a land and resource use standpoint.

One of the most noted decarbonizers, Elon Musk, dismisses veganism, saying the greenhouse gas problem is chiefly about “moving billions of tons of hydrocarbons from deep underground into the atmosphere and oceans.” I think I detect a comfort zone challenge. How can Musk not concede that animal ag is a massive greenhouse gas emitter?

Marco Springmann, the University of Oxford’s senior researcher on environmental sustainability and public health, states:

There are lots of different sectors that have an impact on emissions and the food system is surely one of the most important ones as it is globally responsible for about a third of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Springmann adds that the overwhelming majority of those food-related emissions connect with flesh and dairy production, so without confronting animal agribusiness “it is hard to make progress.”

Both major forms of divestment matter, then, right? Divestment from hydrocarbon energy, and divestment from animal-derived protein. 

Elon Musk is more interested in electric vehicles than veganism. In contrast, vegans understandably put vegan climate answers first. But I am understanding from some vegans that fossil fuel use hardly matters at all, or to the extent that it does, we should avoid accounting for it in our climate conversations and presentations. That seems like Musk in reverse, and I’m uncomfortable with it.

As always, I’m open to persuasion. I’ll be looking into the arguments and connected information further, and likely reblogging this column when I’ve added substantial content.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

________________

Photo credit: Jan-Rune Smenes Reite, via Pexels.

Beefmongers

I couldn’t help making a biting comment about National Beef Burger Day, which this Friday supposedly is. 

How long will the USDA tout animal products that contribute heavily to climate crisis and mess up our health? 

How long can the extinction of the untamed, ancestral cows be ignored, as we “celebrate” the “iconic foods” we take from the purpose-bred ones? 

Published today, at CounterPunch: National Beef Burger Day Is a Shame.

“For Africa and Other Poor Countries…”

Bill Gates: “Now I’ve said I can actually see a path. But you’re right that saying to people, “You can’t have cows anymore”—talk about a politically unpopular approach to things.

James Temple (interviewer): Do you think plant-based and lab-grown meats could be the full solution to the protein problem globally, even in poor nations? Or do you think it’s going to be some fraction because of the things you’re talking about, the cultural love of a hamburger and the way livestock is so central to economies around the world?

Bill Gates: For Africa and other poor countries, we’ll have to use animal genetics to dramatically raise the amount of beef per emissions for them. Weirdly, the US livestock, because they’re so productive, the emissions per pound of beef are dramatically less than emissions per pound in Africa. And as part of the [Bill and Melinda Gates] Foundation’s work, we’re taking the benefit of the African livestock, which means they can survive in heat, and crossing in the monstrous productivity both on the meat side and the milk side of the elite US beef lines.

Full source: Interview dated 14 Feb. 2021 in the MIT Technology Review.

Yes, Gates said to the interviewer: “For Africa and other poor countries [sic], we’ll have to use animal genetics to dramatically raise the amount of beef per emissions…” 

But Bill Gates! There is a richness in the culinary arts of simpler cultures. 

There is so much for us to learn about the traditions of cooking with lentils, peas and beans—which need very little water and energy to produce, which can survive droughts, and are the most environmentally responsible proteins on Earth. Instead we find ways to fix other cultures’ problems (often introducing or reinforcing their dependence on the global corporate grain market).

Sometimes, when looking at these big “solution” plans, I wonder if we’d be better to consider the need to heal ourselves rather than the need to fix others. 

Dang, Gates has such a massive platform. Some technology (WordPress included) seems so helpful, but the above quotes show the other side of what the money and status can bring. I’ve never met Bill Gates, but this sounds like a person who values complexity, and things that make a splash in the stock market, and therefore misses some clear answers to life’s most important challenges.

Why pick the side of manipulating animals even further? 

Each of us can make a very big emissions difference—generally halving our overall emissions!—with a dietary commitment. And that difference isn’t about spending more money on changing infrastructure or re-engineering the genetics of cattle. Without genetically forcing more “monstrous productivity” on the animals.

Opting out of animal agribusiness is as simple and as cost-effective as a commitment can be. And it can happen more quickly than the big solutions. In fact, it’s always been accepted. People have always had a cultural love for fruits and vegetables, from potato pancakes to falafel to pasta marinara.

Let’s also be sure to notice what’s happening around us now, right where we are, in addition to what will happen in ten years or 12 or 20 or 30 years globally. Climate disruption is right now causing loss of bird communities in our area, shifting planting zones in our area, flooding homes in our area, and posing risks to the most vulnerable of us.

There are two forms of divestment that matter in addressing our climate disruption. 

One is divestment from fossil fuels. Many people already know this.

The other is dietary divestment. Many people still need to receive the information on food impact, but when they do, the shift can happen quite quickly.

A $40 billion foundation and a crowd of genomics experts cannot tell us how to start. 

_____________________________


The banner image is a work of the U.S. federal government, found in the public domain.

The Year of the Aurochs

Groups of aurochs could trample us. Cows still can. This, I found out on a walk across a pasture with friends.

Suddenly, as though alerted by some silent signal, a group of cows stampeded in our direction. We panicked, but managed to slip through a fence. That day we glimpsed an ancient law of nature…

Read the full piece at CounterPunch.

Photo by Helena Lopes, via Unsplash.

Life Below Water

Humans like to achieve economic growth and the highest standard of living possible. And now we’ve pressed Earth’s biological systems beyond their safe limits. Aware of a dangerous conflict, the United Nations set forth 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

As a consultant (I contributed a chapter called “Nonhuman Rights and Human Sustainability”) for the Encyclopedia of UN Sustainability Goals, it occurred to me that all 17 Goals should be realigned to be compatible with, and informed by, the vegan ethic.

As you see here, the public conversation about Goal 14 – Life Below Water is mainly about how we should “support small fishers” and buy “sustainable seafood” to “conserve and sustainably use” the waters.

Life Below Water. This is the 14th focus of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

A vegan humanity would stop talking about so-called sustainable seafood and simply get out of the water. Maybe we’d still harvest algae, but we’d put a halt to most of the looting and pillaging of the rivers, lakes, and seas.

Where do we start on the political scale? BAN SUBSIDIES.

The global fish catch has rapidly expanded in recent decades, supported by technology, commercial demand, and government subsidies. The fleets of Spain, South Korea and Japan can take catches throughout the Atlantic and tropical waters because the industry is so heavily subsidized. The Chinese bottom-trawling fleets would lack any viable existence without massive subsidies.

Sea turtles are trapped by the hundreds of thousands per year in shrimp nets, gill nets, and by longline hooks.  Photo credit: Jeremy Bishop, via Unsplash.

Where do we start on a community advocacy level? Asking people to commit to STOP EATING SEA ANIMALS.

This straightforward message should replace so-called sustainable seafood campaigns that so many nonprofit and for-profit groups push. From sea turtles to penguins, many non-target animals would be spared if humans would just…

Stop thinking of sea animals as food.

We also need to address the farming of sea animals, which is becoming a massive industry.

U.S. residents eat 100 billion+ fish and shellfish yearly.

  • Opt out, and people can individually spare more than 225 fishes each year — so many, because fish farming uses large number of sea animals as feed. 
  • Opt out, and we can individually spare more than 150 shrimp and other shellfish each year.

Fish farming is

the fastest growing

sector of agribusiness for the past 40 years.

Let’s turn this around.

As always, your input is welcome. This post is intended to offer blog readers a window into the ongoing Patreon studio project Veganizing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


Vegans Coping With COVID-19

So, how is everybody this weekend?

My freezer is jammed with vegan Indian dinners that I got at Trader Joe’s before Friday the 13th, when a declared national state of emergency sunk in (and Tom Hanks got COVID-19: that was a big yikes! moment for the jetsetters of the Philly burbs). Suddenly, frozen items started selling out as fast as staffers could stock the freezers.

Starting yesterday our local vegan restaurant SuTao closed its doors for two weeks.

Vegan restaurants are generally small, independent businesses, and will be hit hard. Their staffers are unlikely to receive any of the federal government’s weirdly patchy emergency paid leave. (The bill, just passed, guarantees sick leave only to about 20% of workers. Staffers of big corporations including McDonald’s and Amazon are left out. Staffers of companies with fewer than 50 people will be left out because of exemptions. And the bill simply wasn’t drafted with independent businesses, tip-earning workers, high-turnover sectors, or artists and educators in mind.) Point is, most vegan-run businesses are taking a heavy hit. Kindly support them when they reopen.

I’ve had to stop work on planned public presentations as the college events aren’t happening. But I’m not the worst-off here. People who sell their goods where people meet – vegan festivals or physical stores – could go out of business.

So, on top of fear of the virus itself, vegan craftspeople, vendors, educators, writers, and creators have the agony of watching event after event get cancelled around the arrival of Spring and the month of Earth Day and we have to find the ability to connect with people through videos, Zoom interviews, or the written word. The people at Patreon, which now enables all my vegan advocacy to happen, have been wonderfully supportive and caring. I mean the people running it as well as my patrons. If you are a vegan educator, writer, or artist I recommend Patreon not only for its platform but also for its efforts in creating a sense of community.

What COVID-19 TELLS US ABOUT OUR COLLECTIVE FUTURE
Speaking of community, we human apes need to find ways to share our prosperity, or we’ll share our inability to survive. Real “resilience” in the face of changes in climate, and land and ocean health, must mean we become capable of widely empathetic responses. And real resilience must involve asking deep questions about why the climate, the land, and the waters are changing.

We can’t simply conquer the coronavirus threat. Consider our interconnected, sprawling population, and the way infections will evolve with the climate crisis. There will be more of this. What are we going to do about it?

Well, veganism will help, insofar as it means:

  • Living a low-carbon, resource-frugal life.
  • Stopping the farm run-off that compromises the oceans and kills off marine bio-communities.
  • Halting deforestation and human incursions into the space of the free-living beings (i.e., staying out of the way of “wildlife”).

I think we have to think of self-isolation in terms of letting up on our continual invasions of nature. Have we given some thought to this?

Stay well if you can, live simply if you’re not already forced to, and keep up your outreach.

Love and liberation,

Lee.

_________________
Banner image: [Friday 13 March 2020 1700 local time] at Trader Joe’s grocery in Wayne, Pennsylvania. Restaurants are shut, and vegan Indian dinners are getting hard to find!

Donald Trump Jr., Mongolian Sheep Killer

Mongolian dignitaries made an Eastertime pilgrimage to see the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago. And whoosh…By September, Donald Trump Jr. had a Mongolian permit to kill one of the world’s few remaining argali sheep.

Read on, in this weekend’s edition of CounterPunch.

__________________________________

Image licensed by CC0 / Public Domain