Tag Archives: biodiversity

We’re Ruining the Planet

Sir David Attenborough is blunt in his view of the state of the planet.  “We’ve not just ruined the planet, we’ve destroyed it” he said.  “Our species has cleared 3 trillion trees, cultivated half its fertile land and now fishes across most of the ocean,” he explained in Our Planet. “In the last 50 years, the populations of wild animals have reduced by 60%. We’ve replaced them with ourselves and our domesticated animals and plants. Today, we, plus the animals we raise, account for 96% of the mass of mammals and 70% of the birds on Earth. There’s very little wild left.”

Let’s take a look at why these shocking statistics are occurring. The world’s 7.8 billion people, plus all the livestock we raise, now account for 96% of all the mammals on Earth.  Only 4% are wild animals. Humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of the plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds.

There are several major factors at work here. The first factor is that the earth’s human population is now at 7.8 billion.  All those people need food on a daily basis to survive.

The second factor is that the amount of meat each human consumes has risen steadily over the past 60 years, although last year there was a slight decrease for the first time, possibly due to Covid-19 reducing income levels. While the production of beef has been slightly declining since 1975, the consumption of pork and especially chicken has risen dramatically. As long as people choose to eat meat, farmers will continue to raise the animals needed to produce it.

The third factor is that around 85% of the world’s production of soybeans go to feed animals, and farm animals use almost 40% of the world’s grain for feed as well.  In the US, this last figure rises to 70% of grain, since rice and corn aren’t the staple foods that they are in other countries.

The result of these 3 problems is that we are clearing land to raise livestock or to grow crops to feed them on a massive scale.  That’s leading to deforestation, soil degradation, loss of habitat, water pollution and ocean dead zones

The destruction of wild habitat for farming, along with deforestation and development, has resulted in what many scientists consider the sixth mass extinction of life to occur in the Earth’s 4 billion year history. About half the Earth’s animals are thought to have been lost in the past 50 years. This biodiversity loss is not just a tragedy, it’s the single biggest problem we face, according to David Attenborough.

By choosing to avoid consuming animal products, we can reduce the level of this devastation, and help the world’s animal and plant populations to recover their diversity.

Monoculture: yet another way meat hurts the ecology

The majority of vegetation crops grown in the United States are used to feed animals not people. To grow sufficient crops as efficiently as possible, many farmers resort to monoculture.

Monoculture is the agricultural practice of growing a single plant species across a vast land area. Instead of growing a variety of crops, as farmers have done throughout most of human history, they instead choose to farm land in such a way that it produces only a single type of crop. Monoculture farming has become more common over the last few decades, and while it can improve yields, sometimes with the help of genetically modified organisms, artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, it is causing great harm to the local ecology and environment, as well as the world as a whole. Because monoculture involves the farming of a single species, it can drastically reduce the biodiversity necessary for a healthy ecology.

Healthy ecologies may be home to many species of plants and animals. These diverse collections of species help to protect the habitat, as each of the species fills a different niche and provides different environmental services. Deer and other herbivores help keep plant populations in check, while mountain lions and other predators prey on these herbivores and keep their populations in check. Bacteria and fungi, for their part, help to break down the dead plants and animals, thereby releasing the nutrients they contain back into the soil.

But monoculture farms lack this type of diversity. Because they are aiming to raise only a single species, these areas don’t support a diverse collection of animals or other plants. This throws the ecosystem out of balance and makes it susceptible to serious problems including plant diseases. While some farmers practice crop rotation year to year, this only replaces one monoculture with another, so doesn’t allow for a wide diversity of species.

Cornborer – larval stage

Another risk of monoculture farms is that if an insect pest likes the crop, that insect has a large food supply to draw from all in one place, leading to that insect multiplying rapidly. Conversely, a field containing a variety of plants doesn’t provide such a large block of food for the insect, so it is less likely to find the nutrients it needs to survive and thrive. Left to its own defenses, a farm field growing a variety of plants tends to attract fewer insect pests than a field growing just one type of crop. The result of this is that monocultures require the use of more pesticides, further reducing the biodiversity.

If we stopped eating meat, we wouldn’t have to resort to raising monoculture crops so often, and our food system could be more in harmony with nature, allowing many more species to flourish.

Rainforests: the impact of livestock

Rainforest deforestationThe rainforests are dying and raising livestock is killing them. The problem is only getting worse. For instance, according to recent reports, deforestation in Brazil has already increased by 30 percent in just the last 12 months. 1,600 trees are chopped down every minute just to make room for cattle to graze and to grow livestock feed. If these rates of deforestation continue, it’s likely that there won’t be any rainforest left in 100 years. It is this all-time record destruction that has set off a loud alarm bell ringing among scientists, environmentalists and many others. Read more