environment

July 4, 2020
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What is this utopia that the extremists campaign for? Would it ever even be possible to diversify human behaviour, push our neighbours and friends to forgo the pleasures of eating animals for the good of all life on Earth?

The environmental realities of 2020 leave human societies with some very crucial decisions to make. Although it is no small challenge to overhaul global diets, significant adjustments may become necessary to ensure future human prosperity. We cannot ignore the deforestation, desertification, pollution, sea level rise, biodiversity loss and countless other global crises as we favour wealth, greed, pride, and inaction.

Many who have chosen to follow a vegetarian or plant-based diet feel that meat consumption is linked to a larger carbon footprint (mainly due to the larger proportion of land needed to support livestock, in growing their feed and providing grazing/pasture land). In fact, in 2019 the UN and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that drastically reducing worldwide consumption of animal products will help curb greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change. Livestock require more freshwater, land, and grain than the calories they provide. By 2050, Earth will face the enormous challenge of providing enough food and freshwater for 10 billion people. Even if one completely ignores the ethical realities of factory farms, the future of humanity depends on a radical dietary change.

If every person on planet Earth adopted a plant-based diet, global food-related emissions would drop by 70%. This could be a massive boon to the economy, as these emissions are valued at more than $700 billion. The diet of a meat-eater requires 17 times more land, 14 times more water and 10 times more energy than a vegetarian’s, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. In facing the demographic and environmental realities of our changing world, we must not ignore these remarkable statistics. As we learn to accommodate billions more humans within a planet of already dwindling and poorly distributed resources, any strategy that encourages energy, land and water conservation while saving billions of lives should be the obvious choice.

The populations of our favourite livestock species; cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, etc., grossly outweigh natural ecosystem levels. This was facilitated by removing these animals out of their habitats and sheltering them in human habitats for our own gain. Interfering to such a drastic degree in the population levels of these animals has had a profound effect on biodiversity levels of non-domesticated species, their habitats desecrated to serve the ever-expanding territory of factory farms.

Without the steep subsidies that fund cruel, overzealous slaughterhouses and meatpacking companies which enable them to keep consumer prices absurdly low and continue to profit off of torture, governments may actually be able to subsidize healthy plant foods for their citizens. Livestock subsidies could be redirected towards regenerative farming initiatives, support wildflower replanting efforts to provide pollinator habitats, and fund food programs for the food-insecure.

Additionally, as the over-consumption of meat is linked to heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and obesity, the move away from this diet could save billions in healthcare costs, or trillions globally. Heart disease and strokes alone cost the American healthcare system almost $200 billion annually. It is also worth accounting for the lost economic productivity that the sick populations could have otherwise provided. As a smaller country with a socialized medical system, Canada spends more than $20 billion on cardiovascular disease through direct and indirect costs. With a healthier population adequately nourished by plant foods, countries could redirect the exorbitant health expenditures towards more practical investments. The most vulnerable and poorest communities could be supported by national health and nutrition programs. Reorganizing and redistributing investments in food security could be particularly advantageous to the indigenous peoples of Canada’s North. The Inuit are considered by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food to have “the highest documented food insecurity rate for any aboriginal population in a developed country”. In 2014, almost 47% of households in Nunavut were reported as food-insecure.

Collected savings from healthcare and animal agriculture will not only support the millions suffering from food insecurity but will ultimately fund relief efforts for the negative implications of climate change. We all deserve an egalitarian society that cares for its suffering and vulnerable populations, while providing everyone with the option for a healthier future. This future is not only possible – it will be for the betterment of billions of lives. 700 million people do not need to live on less than $2 USD a day. Our planet has ample resources to provide for sensible, conscious lifestyles for 10 billion humans, we need only adjust our standards of consumption. A better world is possible when cruel, unsustainable, selfish behaviours are left behind. When we value the lives of animals and respect the environment, we can ensure the livelihood of future generations and reverse the catastrophic climate change that would otherwise doom us.


March 25, 2020
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The world is on lockdown – it’s epidemic time. In a few short weeks, the previously dismissable coronavirus has gone from a benign Chinese contagion to a global monolith with grave health and economic implications. 

Coronavirus is not the problem, it’s a symptom of the problem. We have a careless attitude towards our planet. Although this Earth is our home, we do not value it for everything it provides us. The reason we are here today with such prosperity and “infinite growth” is because we ravaged our planet. We have got it completely wrong. In this mindless quest to satisfy every desire, we have doomed our own species’ future livelihood. 

The Earth cannot sustain the harsh demands of our bloated industrial and technological empire.  Our greedy lifestyles have evolved to strip innumerable natural resources from our planet and doom entire ecosystems.  

Nothing about our current way of life is natural or sustainable. Merely the fact that there are nearly 8 billion people with economic activity that creates widespread extinction events shows how unreasonable we’ve become. So many of our daily habits are toxic to our home environment. 

One should consider our lifestyles in comparison to the rest of the animal kingdom to grasp how absurd we truly are. We are too many revolutions removed from a lifestyle that our ancestors thrived in. It would be simple for someone to defend our current society – to talk about progress, technology, communications illuminating our lives. However, the lives we enjoy in the 21st century came at a steep price that we are still paying. 

Even Vancouver, our seaside gem of glass and emerald, suffers from chronic issues that bear healthy consideration. The wealth disparity between the West Hastings penthouses and the street markets of Strathcona is unsettling to say the least. Our neighbours are experiencing debilitating poverty, yet we consider the vulnerable in our population no more than a nuisance. We have rejected the condition and environment of our natural human communities. Cities of 1 to 20 million people are the norm, yet alienating to our natural state. 

Simply put, we have overcomplicated our lives. Monks and Buddhists, ascetics and minimalists are seen as extremists, while the lawyers, bankers, and politicians are the everyday-man. We are ignorant and careless regarding the natural world, when in fact it should be our first priority. We do not value the plants and animals, the environment around us when we would be nothing without them. 

Technology has bought us time; it has bought us Band-Aid solutions, but one must only peak at the chaos that is unfolding around us in March 2020 to understand that there’s a fundamental issue in the way we operate our lives. 

We ought to take stock of our immediate surroundings – to disconnect ourselves from the world economy to build self-reliance. Our global network brought a pandemic, a climate disaster, countless wars, and countless other casualties. We have alienated ourselves from our innate condition and forgot every aspect of what used to anchor us to our ecosystems. How could people be healthy when they’re fed deep-fried battery-cage chicken tenders, greasy fries, “diet” cokes, and carcinogens wrapped up in deli rolls? Our diets in the West are not nutritious. They have nothing to do with their local environments, and rely on society’s love of convenience and speed to barely fuel our busy lives. 

Once this virus runs its course, we have to reassess. We ought to seriously consider how we source our food, clothing, raw materials, technology, and household products. The origins of these possessions define our global economic system. We are mutually dependent. This has spelled success for many a businessman and export-oriented economy, yet with a tangible cost that may be too much for us to bear. The shock waves of our irresponsible lifestyles reverberate throughout the world to the tune of COVID-19. This pandemic ought to be the wake-up call we need to live more mindfully, sustainably, and well. Once the social isolation measures are relaxed, we have a tremendous opportunity to source more food locally, support our local economy, and build community resilience. These changes are absolutely possible and beneficial in our ongoing fight against climate change as global health scares radically shake up every societal norm we once took for granted. 


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”

 


September 4, 2019
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Traditional thinking has asserted that our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate copious amounts of animal protein. For modern adherents to paleo or keto diets, to follow in their footsteps is the perfect solution to our health woes. However, this thinking pattern neglects a vast body of anthropological evidence pointing to the contrary. 

Granted, humans have subsisted off an incredibly wide range of foods. It was to our evolutionary advantage to eat as broad of a diet as possible, particularly with the geographic range of our habitat and comparatively low position in the food chain. Yes, with tools, humans are adept hunters. We owe our status of predator to our brains, which have allowed us to use fire and weapons to circumvent our lowly prey status. However, this does not indicate that we are biologically designed to eat meat. 

For natural carnivores and omnivores, tools and fire are not necessary for transforming flesh into food. A lion has no issue tackling an antelope on the plains and eating the corpse raw. Carnivores use their incredibly acidic stomachs to break down the bacteria and parasites in raw meat that could poison herbivores with more alkaline systems. Humans are capable of eating raw meat, as sushi restaurants prove on a daily basis, but generally uncooked flesh can be dangerous and unwise for human consumption, leading to trichinosis, giardia, or toxoplasmosis. 

There are a few physiological characteristics which denote humans as something other than natural omnivores or carnivores. The length of our intestinal tract, approximately 6 meters, is much more closely related to that of herbivorous animals. Carnivores have shorter intestinal tracts that quickly expel rotting and decaying matter from the flesh they eat. 

While humans do have canine teeth, the majority of our teeth are flat-edged; better suited for crushing, grinding and chewing, rather than shearing. When humans do eat meat, knives do the work typically done by the sharp incisors and canines of a natural meat-eater. 

Before the widespread use of weapons, technology, and agriculture, humans would have had to rely on foraging through their natural environment for food. The majority of pre-agricultural societies were predominantly plant-based (with the exception of seaside settlements relying on seafood or northern communities that had little access to vegetation), with the occasional spoil shared amongst all members of the tribe. 

If humans were designed to eat meat, we ought to have more carnivorous instincts. Before societal conditioning kicks in at full force, presented by families, religious institutions, schools and media, children are generally compassionate to other forms of life. We will gladly take children to gardens and farms, but it would be traumatizing to take them to a slaughterhouse. Many children’s stories and movies feature farm animals as the protagonists. If we were honest with kids about how we serve up Bambi or Wilbur on their plates at dinnertime, we would likely have many more young vegetarians. 

An omnivorous diet was strategic in times of desperation. We cannot blame our ancestors for eating what was available in order to survive – we would likely do the same in their position. However, we live in an incredibly different world now. Simply because animals foods are available does not mean they are advisable. Given the environmental and ethical conditions of animal consumption today, the more humans that eat animal foods, the more we dig our collective grave. It is simply not sustainable or practical for 7 billion plus humans to eat so much animal protein. The nutrients that humans need from animal products (generally understood to be an assortment of amino acids, omega 3s, and Vitamins D and B12), are either easily supplemented or absorbed from plant foods with the right dietary planning. 

The decision to refrain from eating meat is an important, empowering, ethical stance. It means that you are willing to stand up for what you believe in – that you value compassion over tradition, and that you are in charge of your own health. In a society trying to turn us all into sheep, we must dare to break from the herd.