climate change

January 11, 2020
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We have a waste problem. To anyone with even a cursory understanding of human consumption patterns, it is frustratingly apparent that we use and dispose of things in the worst way possible. In our mad dash for riches, to cram our lives with possessions to distract and numb ourselves, we have left behind reason and sense. 

To have any hope of remedying this metastasizing issue, we must completely overhaul our relationship with things. Why? To give the planet a fighting chance in the war against climate change. 

When buying gifts for others or items for ourselves, we ought to be mindful of the manufacturing process and consumerism we are actively enabling. When we shop the biggest brands, our hard-earned money goes directly to supporting the corporations in their ongoing assault of the planet’s natural resources, while lining the bulging pockets of the wealthiest individuals.

As we accumulate unnecessary knick knacks, we fill our homes with useless garbage that doesn’t sustain us but distracts us. Far too frequently, these toys, decorations, novelty mugs, $5 t-shirts, etc. follow a damning path from big box store, to a brief period of glory used for its intended purpose, before their truly nefarious fate is realized. When discarded, these items either add to the endless accumulation within a landfill or they occupy the overflowing shelves of a secondhand shop, destined to curse another’s home. Best case scenario, someone finds true value in this hastily manufactured thing. However, we would be ignorant to believe this happens to every piece of junk that once graced our lives. 

Unfortunately, the manufacturing-marketing-buying-accumulating complex operates on far too grand a scale to be remedied by passing off a few possessions here and there to Salvation Army. We need systematic change within several industries to pull this off. More importantly, consumer culture at large must be disrupted. The intent is not to dismantle people’s generosity or hobbies, but to elicit a healthy reconsideration of why we buy what we buy. It’s a worthwhile question to ponder as our environment suffers the consequences of our thoughtlessness. There is simply too much production of disposable and cheap products for a sustainable recycling system to do more than band-aid our waste problem. 

The global shift towards urban living has radically changed the norm for billions of humans. While our ancestors subsisted off the land for millennia, either foraging, hunting, cultivating crops, the city lifestyle of services and automated production has severed us from responsibility and knowledge of self-sufficiency. 

A longitudinal analysis of British children reported that teenagers raised in the city were twice as likely to experience psychosis as those from rural environments. Factors such as the lack of neighbourhood cohesion, social isolation, pollution, noise, and exposure to higher crime rates are associated with depression, anxiety and mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse. City life is primarily characterized by removal. We are not involved in the production of our own food, limiting our sense of ownership and challenging the very nature of what historically made us human. Of course our food system is dysfunctional, it relies on our ignorance and greed. We have more abundance and indulgence at our fingertips than ever before, but this bounty comes at a great price to ecological stability and our own health. 

One could easily argue that all our subsequent technological and information revolutions have done little to serve us. Naturally, our lives on the whole appear to be much richer than our ancestors. Blind nature would suggest that we have succeeded in the Darwinian battle for domination of our habitat. Infant mortality has plummeted in the last few decades, our population has exploded to nearly 8 billion, we have unprecedented access to food, energy, and the ability to cure or combat diseases that could paralyze less sophisticated civilizations. Yet with all these gifts, we concurrently ravage the very planet we depend on in the mindless quest for more. 

To make it through the climate crisis that poses one of the greatest known risks to humanity, we need to reassess, redirect and refuse that which does not serve us. As diverse as our interests are across the world, as different as our perspectives may be, the ongoing health of Earth is a genuine call for unification. Rich and poor, right and left, every race, creed and culture – we all suffer from a neglected environment and benefit from a healthy one. 

To fix our grand predicament, we need to face the reality of our behaviour. Removal has enabled our apathy, but this sentiment is unsustainable in every sense of the word. The future of our species cannot afford our prolonged ignorance. It is time for governments, businesses, and individuals to hold themselves accountable for their actions. Consumers can question what they buy and which companies they support – fortunately we have the internet to inform us and provide transparency. Businesses should be scrutinized for their practices, while governments are kept in check by the collaboration of concerned citizens who actively strive for a better world that benefits future generations. No longer should it be our priority to consume more, more, more, but to critically think about what kind of world we are leaving for our children. The world is burning, glaciers are melting, and the ocean is brimming with plastic. Is this the legacy we want to create? 

 

Documentaries and Resources for further study: 

The True Cost

Broken: “Recycling Sham”

 


November 11, 2019
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Far from a millennial fad, vegetarianism as a philosophy and practice has existed in some form since ancient human history. In fact, there is significant anthropological evidence to suggest that our Neanderthal ancestors subsisted off plant and fungi-based diets. We were not always the pinnacle of the food chain – for this lauded status we relied on the leap that technology and weaponry facilitated. Early scavenging humans could count on vegetation to support their dietary needs when hunting was not possible or animals were not plentiful. 

Beyond scientific conjecture, classical texts from the Mediterranean basin and Mauryan dynasty suggest a legacy of meatless diets. Philosophers, kings, and emperors alike espoused notions of ahimsa, or non-violence, as they applied religious and social ideas towards animals.  The Buddhist and Jain philosophical awakenings promoted vegetarianism as an ethical, practical, and healthy lifestyle. Pythagoras was the main proponent of vegetarianism in Ancient Greece. He presented the idea of kinship between animals and humans, with the rationale that human benevolence depended on mercy towards other creatures. In fact, before the 19th century, those who practiced what we now consider a vegetarian diet were known as “Pythagoreans”, so influential were the considerations of Pythagoras. 

On a holistic level, monotheistic religions and their respective societies have been less likely to advocate vegetarian diets. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (the dominant monotheistic religions of Western society) have subjected certain limitations on diet, but generally have encouraged the reign of men over animals as a guiding principle. These faiths guide humans on a moral path governed by interpersonal relationships and responsibility towards ‘God’ or ‘Allah’, disregarding our connection to animals and nature. Larger, organized religions obscured the pagan values and folk religions of cultures they colonized, bringing humans away from our natural habitat and under the control of the power-hungry elite. 

By the start of the Renaissance, a resurgence of vegetarianism as an ideal occurred, as some artists and intellectuals revisited the classical values of ancient Europe. Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas More, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and Rene Descartes all were known to practice or advocate cruelty-free lifestyles to lessen harm towards animals. The philosophic, scientific, and political awakening of that era naturally connected with an expanded consideration of sympathetic behaviour. 

Within Europe, the dawn of the Enlightenment spurred new perspectives on animals and humanity’s moral obligations to fellow creatures. Social and political organization evolved rapidly during this era as new ideas flourished. Darwin’s incredibly impactful Theory of Evolution encouraged the widespread adoption of the ideology that animals and humans are interconnected, which was extrapolated upon by philosophers such as John Locke, who believed animals could communicate, feel pain, and express emotion, thus they were deserving of empathy and consideration. In the United States, the abolitionist (aim to end slavery) movement was largely supported by Quakers, who were also likely to discourage meat consumption. 

Between the 18th and 19th centuries, the age of Enlightenment ushered in the “Romantic” art movement. This era featured a renewed sense of connection to the natural world, as the prominent artists and thinkers called for an “aesthetic experience” linked with compassion and communion with nature. Eating meat was largely associated with indulgence and elitism. While the poor subsisted off of potatoes, vegetables, milk and porridge, the wealthy could afford to regularly consume meat. Vegetarians, therefore, were almost exclusively middle class intellectuals who hoped to emulate their values through their consumption choices while affording their own livelihoods. In their viewpoint, a simple vegetarian diet would be the keystone feature of an egalitarian society, as it would increase food supply, decrease land competition, and theoretically discourage class conflicts over these resources. Romantics were likely to denounce the class-ism, consumerism, and moral hypocrisy that animal agriculture produced. By establishing this connection, this artistic movement was grounded in harsh political and economic realities that influenced many subsequent thinkers and leaders. 

A parallel development in England produced the Vegetarian Society in 1847. A utopian spiritual community known as the Concordium, the Christian Bible Church, and readers of a popular journal at the time, the “Truth-Seeker”, were the founding members of the charity. They believed the movement was popular and influential enough to merit a formal organization. Gandhi was one of the society’s most popular members, as his philosophies of nonviolent resistance and compassion for animals influenced many around the world. The Vegetarian Society has operated consistently since its inception, advocating for cruelty-free policy and social movements through documentaries, publications, and celebrity endorsements. 

Still mostly a niche lifestyle movement, vegetarianism was brought into the spotlight in 1971 with the publication of Francis Lappe Moore’s highly influential Diet for a Small Planet. Moore advocated a simpler lifestyle that excluded meat due to its taxing effect on the environment. Her groundbreaking argument was that world hunger resulted from ineffective food policy, and the solution to food insecurity is the worldwide adoption of a vegetarian diet. Peter Singer introduced the animal welfare viewpoint into the discussion with his 1975 work, Animal Liberation. Singer popularized the concept of “speciesism”, a discriminating practice that involves treating animals from one species as superior to another for arbitrary reasons. 

A remarkable uptick in vegetarianism has occurred throughout the 2010s as the Internet and social media have made sharing information about climate change, animal treatment, and health effortless and incentivized through social approval. For the first time in history, vegetarianism is flooding mainstream culture as more people wake up to the harsh realities of these global issues. With an abundance of foods available year-round in all climates, fast food restaurants and grocery stores constantly broadening their offerings for plant-based customers, and parallel developments across consumer industries, there are fewer excuses than ever to ditch meat.


September 4, 2019
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Before the Industrial Revolution, it was not common for the majority of people to eat meat on a daily basis. Most people were farmers or foragers before urbanization and technological change made other occupations more common. If these individuals did have access to meat, it was infrequent (i.e. a pig is slaughtered annually for a Christmas feast), and treated like a luxury item. This notion remains popular in comparatively less developed countries, where the consumption of meat is linked to a higher disposable income and social status. 

The capitalist-consumerist doctrine that thrusted countries like the United States into wealth and global prominence provided a seemingly endless supply of meat products. The consumer quickly learned the lesson that no matter what, how much, or when they wanted it (provided they had the funds to back up their desires), the market would provide. Thus ushered in a frightening era of factory farmed animals – billions of animals in the U.S. alone enslaved and tortured so the industry can spend as little money as possible while maximizing profits. 

Our current global population is approximately 7.7 billion, and we are straining the world’s resources as it is. One in nine people are hungry, and one in three are malnourished. Demographic projections estimate that humans will number 10 billion by 2050, with the majority of growth centered around Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. 

Research and historical trends have shown that as the population grows and more people are brought out of poverty, the demand for meat will increase as well. Although we should be wary of paternalistic international policy that attempts to control consumption patterns of other nations, the ongoing climate emergency demands immediate collective action. If we look to culture and ancestral dietary patterns rather than dangerous fast food propaganda, we have a much greater chance of doing better by our health, the environment, and the animals. Let us focus on encouraging and celebrating healthy plant-based foods, rather than condemning others’ choices, we can share, educate and inspire. Provide the information, and let them choose for themselves. 

Our globalized economy has at least as many drawbacks as advantages. While consumers in wealthy countries may enjoy unprecedented access to food, wealth and services, this comes at a great human cost. Our clothes and smartphones are manufactured by slave labour in developing countries, most often in East and Southeast Asia. Western corporations benefit from the cheap labour while their customers clamour for the cheapest price points. 

The situation with the global trade is just as bad, if not worse. Cereals are grown en masse in poorer countries and shipped to wealthier countries to feed livestock, robbing local populations of their food supply while fattening the animals that inefficiently feed the West. It takes 25 kilograms of grain to produce 1 kilogram of beef. 

Animal agriculture is also hugely resource-intensive. The same kilogram of beef requires 15,000 liters of water to produce. Approximately 30% of global arable land is used for livestock farming. The livestock industry uses a third of the Earth’s freshwater. If we were to reallocate resources to feed the hungry rather than stuff the obese, our planet could actually accommodate the projected population increase. 3.5 billion more people could be fed on vegetarian diets, where grains would be consumed by humans directly, efficiently, and ethically. 

Beyond the argument of pure resource efficiency, the consumption of meat impoverishes the world by straining our environment beyond its limits. 2019 has seen dire climate news come to the forefront of public awareness. Every day it becomes harder to ignore that sea levels are rising, the atmosphere is brimming with carbon dioxide, and biodiversity is declining rapidly. 

The poor will be hit first and hardest by the disastrous effects of climate change. They will be poisoned by polluted water sources and further malnourished by the lack of food, dislocated from their homes, and suffer disproportionately from extreme weather events. 

When our eating habits are responsible for elevated emissions and excessive use of land and water, meat consumption becomes a human rights issue. Far from putting the interests of animals ahead of humans, we can simultaneously help humans, the environment, and animals. The only losers in this scenario are those who profit off animal cruelty, and we ought to stop paying our own executioners.