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By Avi Sharma* (4-minute read)

As the human population has grown five-fold over the last century, increase in demand for food and improvement in lifestyle has started taking its toll on the planet. We are currently witnessing the sixth mass extinction this planet has seen, the key difference being that humans are responsible for this one.

Scientists at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity have estimated that we could be losing up to 150 species a day [1]. What do humans have to do with this? One way we are contributing to this mass extinction is through animal agriculture.

 

Land clearing

Land clearing
  Land clearing in Petrie, Queensland (Neil Ennis, CC licence)

Over half of Australia’s land is used for agriculture.  Though you may think that most of this is for humans to eat, the truth is that 91% of this land is used to grow crops for animal feed and for grazing cattle. A report by the World Wildlife Fund Australia found that millions of native animals are killed annually as a result of clearing forest and woodland habitats for animal agriculture [2].

Tree clearing throughout Queensland, for example, kills about 34 million native mammals, birds and reptiles every single year. Bulldozing of habitat is largely responsible for the 80% decline in koala population in Queensland’s koala coast. 90% of native vegetation cleared in Australia is done to open new areas for grazing pasture for animal farming.

As mentioned above, 91% of Australia’s agricultural land is used solely for animal agriculture. By comparison, about 4% of Australia’s land area is used to grow plant foods for direct human consumption, including export.

 

Greenhouse gas emission

You may be familiar with the widely cited statistic claiming that 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to animal agriculture. Though this finding is startling on its own, it [1] obscures another fact. If we focus on an immediate 20-year time scale, rather than the more abstract 100-year time scale, we find that upwards of 50% of Australia’s greenhouse emissions are caused by the animal agriculture industry [3]. We have mere decades to reduce Australia’s emissions, and phasing out animal agriculture needs to be part of the solution.

The Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) report shows that a zero-carbon agricultural sector can be achieved with only a 20% reduction in ruminant animals [4]. Continuing to reduce animal agriculture beyond this point, and allowing the industry to phase out entirely, would mean that agriculture would become a clean green and positive sector – offsetting emissions from other sectors such as power generation and transport.

 

Water use

The average Australian uses about 5000 litres of water per day, half of which is because of the consumption of meat and dairy products. It takes 15,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef, and only about 300 litres of water to produce one kilogram of vegetables. Put another way, every steak consumed is equivalent to leaving your shower on for 24 hours straight. Animal-based foods thus use far more water to produce than plant-based foods.

What does overuse of water have to do with species extinction? Consuming meat and dairy means supporting industries that deplete Australia’s water supply, worsening our problems with chronic drought. Our dietary choices have a major impact on freshwater resources, which directly affects wildlife.

 

What can you do?

The way we treat animals has consequences on our planet and our health. The special report on climate change and land by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes plant-based diets as a major opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change [5].

If the world shifted to a plant-based diet, we could sustainably feed an additional 4 billion people with current land use. Adopting a plant-based diet is the single biggest thing we can do for people, the planet, and for the animals.

Click here for help getting started on your plant-based journey!

 

References

[1] Message from the executive secretary on the international day for biological diversity 2007. https://www.cbd.int/doc/speech/2007/sp-2007-05-22-es-en.pdf

[2] Tree clearing in Australia report https://www.wwf.org.au/what-we-do/species/tree-clearing#gs.drh9oc

[3] Implications of excluding short-lived emissions and near-term projections when accounting for greenhouse gases. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283881657_Neglected_Transformational_Responses_Implications_of_Excluding_Short_Lived_Emissions_and_Near_Term_Projections_in_Greenhouse_Gas_Accounting

[4] Beyond Zero Emissions report. https://bze.org.au/research/agriculture-farming-land-use/

[5] IPCC report https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/

 

* Avi is a volunteer for the Animal Justice Party South Australia. He is currently studying for his Bachelor of Mathematical Sciences (Advanced) degree at the University of Adelaide.

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