Let's kick things off in far from optimistic fashion with a phenomenally gloomy, scary as fuck stat. The current average population increase is estimated at 81 million people per year.
Yep, EIGHTY ONE MILLION. The entire population of Iran stepping out into the world EVERY SINGLE year.
That's 81 million new hungry little caterpillars entering into an already wildly overcrowded, resource scare planet, placing never before experienced stress on a delicate climate system blinkering on collapse where the obese already outnumber the starving.
With this population increase, clearly comes a greater need for food production and an increase in
agricultural intensity on our resources and subsequently our environment.
As a result, farming practices have to find ways to keep up, and this is of course, was never going to be an organic route.
To keep up with demand, mass farming has ensued, whether thats land claimed for the production of crops or the large swathes of the rainforest hacked down to make way for cattle pasture or feed production.
These changes have been having a major impact on emissions produced by agriculture.
Current annual emissions are around 540 million tonnes and are growing at nearly 5% every year.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has concluded that the livestock sector is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas production. And unsustainable farming practices are affecting this increase; from fossil-fuel powered farm machinery to clearing fields (by burning to grow crops), these are significantly contributing to potentially irreversible environmental impacts.
Food production is one of the main causes of biodiversity loss through habitat degradation,
overexploitation of species, pollution and soil erosion. With increases in population, wealth
and animal consumption, it is expected that we will see a dramatic increase in agriculture
which will accompany the continued decrease in habitats for wild animals.
This pressure is further heightened by the increasingly unequal distribution of land use between livestock and crops for human consumption in favour of livestock.
Livestock produces 18% of the world’s calories, and 37% of total protein yet, combining land used for grazing and crops for animal feed, 77% of global farming land is used for this purpose.
If every single person worldwide were to stop eating meat products, the area of land used for global agriculture could be reduced by around 75%. This would correspond to the combined size of the USA, China, Australia and the EU; such a reduction would lead to a significant decline in greenhouse gas emissions.
The remaining agricultural land would be sufficient to feed the world’s population, according to scientists and the knock on affect of this would be huge considering the loss of natural habitat due to agriculture is the main cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.
Grazing animals can damage native vegetation, disrupting the food chain for wildlife and disturbing the ground for species beneath the surface.
Of the 28,000 species considered to be threatened with extinction,
agriculture and aquaculture are a threat for 24,000 of them. And, with half the world’s
habitable land being used for agriculture, wild habitats have inevitably been destroyed for
Whilst there are differing environmental issues at each stage of agriculture, one of the main
contributors to global warming, are the high quantities of greenhouse gases produced;
which are over a quarter of global emissions.
These include CO2 from deforestation (carbon stored in intact forests is released into the atmosphere when trees are felled) and transportation, methane from livestock and rice production, and nitrous oxide from artificial fertilisers and burning of crop lands once they reach their end of life - The main sources of emissions are: feed production and processing (45 percent of the total), outputs of GHG during digestion by cows (39 percent), and manure decomposition (10 percent). The remainder is attributable to the processing and transportation of animal products
Land use for livestock contributes twice the emissions than for crops for direct human
consumption. This means that overall, animal-based foods tend to have a higher
environmental footprint than plant-based due to all of the associated energy inputs.
The majority of CO2 emissions are produced through land-use change (either from deforestation or removal of other native plants) and from burning of biomass (animal or plant material burnt for fuel)
Whilst CO2 is considered a damaging greenhouse gas, methane is over 20 times more
powerful in its warming action and is a major short-term contributor to climate change.
Agriculture contributes nearly half of all methane emissions, and livestock alone contribute
to nearly a third of this. Methane is released in higher quantities by cows and sheep who
digest their food through a fermentation process. (Basically farting)
With agriculture being so engrained into our lifestyles, it can be difficult to escape from a
looming sense of dread with respect to the future of our environment. Meeting food
production head on lies at the heart of tackling climate change, and we should be making steps to address the main issues of biodiversity (and land use) and greenhouse gas emissions.
There are opportunities for agriculture to make these shifts by working towards
more sustainable farm and land management practices. For example, land can be used to
grow more forests which can significantly increase the amount of CO2 taken up (and reduce
its quantities in the environment).
Farms can also diversify by switching to less intensive practices, looking towards harnessing biodiversity to help to support the land and should be encouraged to do so my government back schemes and investment.
On an individual level, becoming a more conscious consumer and increasing your awareness of these issues allows you to make environmentally conscious decisions through your food choices.
Switching to a plant-based or Vegan lifestyle is of course, a sure fire way to not only reduce your carbon footprint, but you'll also be free from the contribution to animal suffering, a fact which is scientifically proven to help you sleep better at night
If you're reading this the chances are you're already standing two footedly aboard the good ship sustainable and are already sailing in the right direction, but to sway you if you're not quite there yet, studies by the university of Oxford indicate that converting to a vegan diet is the “single biggest measure” that can be taken to reduce environmental pollution and found that not eating meat and dairy products can reduce a persons carbon footprint by an average of 73%.
So, when you feel like the planet is burning around you and shit is hitting the fan, try not to feel too disheartened; instead begin to make changes to your lifestyle that will help to alter the course of our current systems. And of course, share, share, share (not a shameless plug we promise), information that will educate and shock in equal measure, those around you that haven't yet woken up to the absolute necessity to think about our food sources and take actions in consideration of them.
Words by Alice Harrison