Livestock causes 10 times more deforestation than the palm oil industry but seems to get less media attention.
While the human population has doubled since 1970, the number of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians have dropped by more than half. At its root is widespread environmental destruction as a result of our growth as a species and increasing food consumption to sustain ourselves.
Recent research suggests transforming large swaths of forest into farmland could render almost one-third of local wildlife extinct.
Wildlife would disappear most dramatically in the remaining forests and grasslands of Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. The greatest species loss would occur in the Peruvian Amazon basin where as many as 317 species could vanish as a result of agricultural development.
We have already altered some 75 per cent of the ice-free land on this planet. If we continue along our current course, we will need to double our crop production to feed a growing world population that demands more resource-intensive foods such as meat and dairy.
Feeding the world without damaging nature is one of the greatest challenges humanity faces. But with a little foresight, better land governance and some simple meal changes, many of the solutions are attainable.
What can we do now?
A simple step we can all take right now, that would have a far greater impact than any other, is to cut out our intake of grain-fed beef.
Feeding grain to livestock to turn them into food for humans is highly inefficient and makes a diet heavy in animals particularly harsh on the planet’s resources.
In the US, it takes 25 kilograms of grain to produce one kilogram of beef. Pigs have a grain-to-meat-ratio of 9:1, and chickens are 3:1. This is essentially like throwing away 25 plates of perfectly good food to get one plate of beef. When put into perspective, it is an absurd and irrational idea but that is precisely what we are all unknowingly doing by eating resource-intensive meat.
The grain we feed animals is the leading cause of deforestation in the tropics. Cows, pigs, and poultry devour over one-third of all crops we grow. Indeed, the grain used to feed animals in the US alone could feed an additional 800 million people if it were eaten by us directly — more than the number of people currently living in hunger.
Furthermore, animal agriculture is responsible for 21% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.
Universal veganism would reduce agriculture-related carbon emissions by 17%, methane emissions by 24%, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21% by 2050. Although universal veganism is highly unlikely in the near future, going veggie is the single most impactful behaviour you can change to reduce your carbon footprint and help contribute to the conservation of the earth’s wildlife.