The Conversation: Oct 2018
“Not too much food, but the wrong type of food.
Huge reductions in meat-eating are essential to avoid dangerous climate change, according to the most comprehensive analysis yet of the food system’s impact on the environment. In western countries, beef consumption needs to fall by 90% and be replaced by five times more beans and pulses.
That means animal agriculture should be phased out and replaced with sustainable crops.”
Tony Dickson in reply:
Whilst the greenhouse emissions associated with the production of ruminant livestock are indeed a major problem, the attention given to the issue is largely focused on those parts of the world where intensive meat production is the norm. The emissions are a complex mix of the energy requirements of feedlots, the production and transport of feed and of course, animal burps.
I have absolutely no issues with either vegetarians or vegans who have a philosophical perspective which determines their behaviour.
However, I do get frustrated when they selectively conflate complex broader issues to support their philosophy. This is where our homocentric culture collides with the real world; the point where philosophy becomes ideology.
The prime example of this is invoking environmental concerns to argue that we should stop eating meat. I agree that individually and collectively, we would be wise to reduce our consumption meat, particularly where that meat is produced intensively.
However, in Australia (and presumably in many other cultures and ecologies) the cessation of animal husbandry would be an environmental disaster.
European invasion has been catastrophic for the fragile ecology of this continent. The genocide waged against the indigenous inhabitants, who brilliantly managed the biological economy that sustained them for so many millennia, has profoundly disrupted the ecological balance. There is no aspect of our current consumer culture that is sustainable. This reality will not be changed by the population simply becoming vegans; indeed such a transition would significantly exacerbate the situation.
The reasons for this are many and varied, but I will list a few:
#Agricultural activity accounts for about 60% of the land area of the continent.
# The vast majority of that activity consists of animal husbandry.
# Most of the third of the population who live in regional areas are significantly dependent (directly and indirectly) on primary industries for their economic existence.
# The cessation of animal husbandry would result in the depopulation of most of the country; which may be seen as a positive thing from an environmental perspective. Unfortunately, the reality is that the ecology of these lands has been so damaged that the feral animals and plants would be left to finish the work begun by the invasion.
# The first Australians used their primary management tool, fire, to not only manage their knowledge based economy, but to strategically manage what remains as our most egregious security threat: wildfire. Having displaced the ancient regime, abandoning vast areas of the continent would not only exacerbate our national ecological disaster but also profoundly add to our carbon dioxide emissions. Certainly, if we declared these vast areas as national parks and employed a vast army of park rangers and fire-fighters to do the work currently done by the farming community for nothing, we could conceivably offset the damage. But I wonder whether the largely urban based anti husbandry lobby would be willing to pay the price?
On a different note. The vegan philosophy is essentially a moral one, based on an acknowledgement that all life has innate rights. I am not unsympathetic to this idea. Unfortunately, it reflects a homocentric and anthropomorphic mindset.
Implicit in its moral judgements is a condemnation of the cultures of the large number of societies and individuals whose existence was dependent on predating on their fellow creatures; in other words, on all societies prior to the agricultural revolution.
As a farmer, I often argue that agriculture was humanity’s big mistake. Not only did it set us on a course that has led to our current determination to commit ecocide, but was responsible for the invention of private property; hierarchical and paternalistic political/economic systems; and the consequent enslavement of women.
The vegan moral argument also implicitly condemns the course of evolution which invariably sponsors dominant predators. Thus the vegan philosophy must of necessity disavow the fundamental natural systems that created our species and many others.
The problems that homo sapiens has created for all life on this beautiful planet are many and complex and I suggest require more profound moral and cultural changes than adopting simplistic ideologies. On the contrary, our sophisticated, multifaceted consumer culture’s most existential problem is its dissociation from the real world; by which I mean the biosphere upon which we are entirely dependent but which does not need us at all.
In conclusion, the moral implications of eating our fellow creatures pall to insignificance compared to the dissociation from reality inspired by our vast urbanized consumerist economies, that are underpinned by ever increasing expressions of narcissism. Facebook anyone?
In reply to Tony Dickson
Let’s not hinder our moral sense by an argument over semantics. You are sentient, as is your dog, cat, budgie, and goldfish. So are all farmed animals.
We slaughter 150 billion animals a year for food. Hopefully, one day we’ll look back on this holocaust with repugnance.
So I am advocating a cultural paradigm shift.
In reply to Andrew Mounsey
Andrew, I asked those two questions deliberately. If your position is simply a personal one, then the semantics are, of course, quite irrelevant.
However, if you are advocating a paradigm shift in global food production, then you must be prepared to take some moral responsibility for the remote possibility that your aspiration is fulfilled.
Given that you admit to be advocating for a vegan revolution, the definition of “sentient ” is of great importance, because replacing the food provided by free ranging grass fed livestock with plants, will have huge environmental implications and cost incalculable loss of life.
The additional demands for water, land and fertilizer would be significant, as would the use of pesticides and herbicides. The animals killed by ploughing more of our fragile soils and by the poisons that have become intrinsic to our cropping and horticulture, will dwarf those we slaughter for meat.
The moral equation becomes very complex. How do you compare the life of a cow to the lives of huge numbers of animals who live in the soil: the insects, worms, nematodes, mice; and the carnivores that depend upon those animals for their food? Perhaps birds should be of less value than cows or sheep because they are wicked predators like us.
The inescapable reality is that broad scale cropping kills vastly more animals per unit of protean than does free ranging husbandry.
So, if you are going to assert that we must not harm sentient animals to provide our food, the definition of which animals are included in the favoured few, becomes focal.
And then there is the issue of wild fire. Given the reality that the management of this continent by indigenous Australians has been entirely disrupted by the European genocide, it has become extremely vulnerable to catastrophic wild fire. Currently, our best defense against this catastrophic threat to both wild life and humans is grazing.
In reply to Tony Dickson
You clearly don’t understand the biology of food chains if you think eating meat has less of an environmental impact than eating plants. Grazing land was once wild habitat that is now denuded and degraded by grazing animals. Grazing in Australia causes soil erosion, species loss and reduces the capacity of the land to absorb carbon.
A recent article in Science (01 Jun 2018: Vol. 360, Issue 6392, pp. 987-992) states that we can reduce the amount of farmland worldwide by 76% if we cut out animal products.
Australia imports 800 000 tonnes of soy meal every year. Virtually all of it is fed to animals and most it grown on land in S. America that was once forest.
The environment simply can’t sustain our meat-eating obsessions.
In reply to Andrew Mounsey
Thank you for your response Andrew. I am indebted to you for several reasons. First I must thank you for pricking my bubble of hubris that had led me to imagine that being an environmental activist for nearly fifty years and a farmer for forty, that I would know anything about food chains, or soil health, or carbon emissions, or biodiversity.
Secondly I would like to thank you for supporting my observation that the point at which vegan philosophy becomes ideology, is when adherents commit to doctrinaire certainties. The real world is just so much more complex than simple mantras can embrace. Your dismissal of my post is a case in point, in that it made no attempt to rebut my points of argument, but just repeated the mantra.
The article you linked also supported my position that these issues are incredibly complex; that was the whole rationale of the research conducted: to create a broad structure to impose some degree of coherence to the mass of data and influencing factors. The conclusion that you cherry picked is impossible to test, as the article was merely an over view which provided little detail of the meta data and no peer reviews.
The article was also not convincing support for your dogmatism because it entirely failed to address the complexities I have canvassed in my responses to you.
Taking your position at face value would mean that a subsistence goat herder in Somalia, should start ploughing up the desert to plant a crop that had little or no chance of succeeding. You would have me cut down the native forests I have planted, because they depend upon grazing sheep to reduce the fire risk, and instead plough up the steep hillsides to plant …what?
No? Then presumably we should just move to the suburbs and leave the land to the rabbits, foxes, cats, goats, deer and the hundreds of invasive types of weeds. Oh yes, and the ever present and growing threat of cataclysmic wild fire to countless animals inhabiting the isolated refuges that remains for them. But after 35 years as a volunteer fire fighter what could I possibly know of such things.
By the way, are you aware that the number of arthropod species that exist only in the canopies of Eucalypt trees is estimated at around 250,000?
I suggest that you actually consider my posts with a more open mind. You might then perceive that I am not promoting eating more meat, in fact, as I have stated, we should collectively reduce our consumption as part of a phasing out of intensive meat production.
I suggest you will achieve more for your cause if you accept, as I try to, that 50% of something, is better than 100% of nothing. No one has a monopoly on wisdom, morality, or indeed anything. In my career as a full time environmental activist, I have had far more arguments with ideologue, urban greenies than I have with farmers.
An alternative perspective: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/sep/06/meat-production-veganism-deforestation
Whenever there’s an article on Vegetarianism or Veganism it generates a massive number of comments (489 for this article so far).
Why do meat-eaters feel the need to defend their lifestyle so vociferously? Is it because they feel deep down that they’re on the losing side of history? That one day we’ll view meat eating in the same way we now view slavery or infanticide?
Dan de Leau
In reply to Andrew Mounsey
Seems most of the comments here are by vegetarians/ vegans eager to defend their lifestyle choice. Oh, and I haven’t seen any comments by non vegetarians comparing eating habits with ‘slavery’, ‘infanticide’, ‘murder’, ‘racism’, ‘sexism’ etc – as some of the comments by vegetarians here have done.
7 days ago
In reply to Andrew Mounsey
Actually Andrew, many of the posts from the non vegan side of the debate have had little to do with lifestyle, or aesthetic issues; but rather the actual consequences of entirely abandoning animal husbandry.
There are a great many of such pragmatic considerations, which of necessity, also have a moral dimension. The two broad concerns are those of food security and environmental consequences.
This complexity of implications for universal veganism, is confronted by a very simple black and white philosophical position: killing sentient animals for food is morally wrong and should stop. That’s it. No shades of grey, no fuzzy edges, no room to move. No correspondence will be entered into.
I suggest that the whole debate is rather pointless, (said he who got sucked in) because long before the vegan lobby wins the day, we will probably be eating each other; when climate change and the collapse of the global ecology have sponsored global famines. Nothing banishes the niceties of moral philosophy more effectively than watching your children starve. I suspect that many vegans may revert to “nature, red in tooth and claw.”
7 days ago
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