Talking about the pros and cons of veganism has become a sort of war of words. Anyone who holds a position on either side will come up against a barrage of critics waiting to weigh in on the matter with their words of wisdom. But an opinion, and that’s what this article is, is just a bunch of ideas in your head that fluctuate and change when they come in contact with other people’s ideas. In this age of correction, it can be assumed that giving an opinion is not the same as giving a judgment. But, to the point:

The problem: animal suffering

Here’s the premise: it’s a reality that animals in intensive livestock production chains suffer. If we assume that most people have, or could have, empathy for animals, this leads to another simple premise: not consuming animal products will prevent the suffering of such animals.

This is the basis for most vegans, respect for the life of others. That’s why I think veganism as a life choice is admirable, even though I think it’s not enough and, in some hypothetical cases, ineffective. Leaving aside the fact that a healthy vegan diet requires a great deal of information and responsibility, I would venture to say that veganism is only functional when it is followed in conjunction with other practices. What about the loss of wild species and ecosystems due to agriculture?

The basis of it all: intensive livestock farming and its environmental impact

Ever since humans began to adopt agriculture and livestock farming as their livelihoods, abandoning our nomadic roots, the impact on the planet and its ecosystems has been overwhelming. Agriculture, capitalism and technological advances gave way to industrial livestock farming, with animals being turned into objects of consumption.

Chicken Farm, Poultry. By branislavpudar | Shutterstock.com
Chicken Farm, Poultry. By branislavpudar | Shutterstock.com

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), some 63 billion captive-bred animals are killed each year for human consumption, in addition to 140 million tons of fish. That’s about 2,000 dead animals every second. In fact, for every person born, 2,000 food animals die. The impact that this number of animals has on the planet is difficult to calculate, but here are some significant statistics:

  • The livestock sector generates 18% more greenhouse gases than the vehicles we use.
  • It uses 30% of the Earth’s land surface.
  • It occupies 33% of the arable land to generate fodder (animal feed).
  • And 70% of the forests in the Amazon have been cleared to create pasture for livestock.

Clearly, the responsible, sustainable consumption of animal products, far from where we are now, would mean a major change for our ecosystem. But this is where the second big problem arises:

Agriculture and the grave consequences it has for our planet

Reducing animal consumption could substantially improve many aspects of our food production chains. Fewer food animals would mean less intensive or even extensive livestock farming, favouring transhumant, pastoral and self-sufficient livestock farming. This involves animals raised in the wild and with more natural life cycles. But we would still have an even bigger problem:

Around 200 species of living creatures disappear from the world every day, due in large part to our use of the land for agriculture. Some of the most obvious causes are: poisoning of wildlife populations, reduction and disruption of their habitats, damage caused by invasive species introduced by humans, or adaptive problems due to climate change. In addition, we have other environmental problems such as soil erosion, salinisation and flooding, the excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides, depletion of groundwater, deforestation and the consumption of fossil fuels and the subsequent release of greenhouse gases.

Canterbury Plains showing Lake Ellesmere, Te Waihora looking towards Kaitorete spit and banks peninsular on the South Island of New Zealand. Showing mostly intensive agricultural land. By Chris Hellyar | Shutterstock.com
Canterbury Plains showing Lake Ellesmere, Te Waihora looking towards Kaitorete spit and banks peninsular on the South Island of New Zealand. Showing mostly intensive agricultural land. By Chris Hellyar | Shutterstock.com

But this is an animal blog, and if we’re talking about animals, the loss of wildlife is undeniable. Ecosystems are like wheels. Those that form part of an ecosystem revolve, interconnected and balanced, in such a way that allows for the development of life. Breaking that balance has serious consequences, and in the long run there is no turning back.

So if ceasing to consume animal products, or consuming them in a responsible manner, gives us a more ethical and sustainable system but doesn’t help with the loss of wildlife and ecosystems, what is the solution?

Human Overpopulation: Developments, Demographic Changes and Capitalism

In the year 1800 a billion people lived on Earth. Today there are more than 7.6 billion of us. This year alone the world population has grown by 50 million, that’s 150,000 more people every day. The resources the planet has to offer are not enough to sustain this growth, which brings us on to the big problem: there are simply too many of us. But how did it come to this?

In general and very brief terms, we can say that demographic changes are a result of various factors throughout history. With the advent of agriculture (with higher yields), advances in technology, medicine and literacy, life expectancy increased and mortality decreased. In addition, the arrival of capitalism favoured an increase in consumption, in demand, an increase in export and import, which led to the consolidation of patriarchal societies where women played a very clearly defined role: to procreate and care for the family (the epicentre of all capitalist societies).

Top view on chaos of colored buildings - the heap of houses in the Asian cities caused by big overpopulation. By Denis Dymov | Shutterstock.com
Top view on chaos of colored buildings – the heap of houses in the Asian cities caused by big overpopulation. By Denis Dymov | Shutterstock.com

Thanks to contraception, the incorporation of women into educational systems and labour markets, the elimination of dogmas about sexual relations, and the emergence of the welfare state, among other factors, population growth has slowed in many of our societies. Unfortunately, many parts of the world are still experiencing wild population growth. And of the many things that could be done to control this growth, there is one that particularly stands out to me as a very important issue:

Feminism as a weapon on several fronts

A feminist society is one where women and men live in equal conditions and with equal opportunities, where social gender roles don’t exist.

Much of the discussion and debate that takes place about feminism nowadays is in relation to rights. As important as this is, there’s another aspect that’s just as relevant. Promoting the equality of women around the world could be one of the key factors of change that can save the planet.

The collapse of patriarchy favours the development of women. Among the many advantages this offers modern societies, there is a key consequence: a reduction in the birth rate and stabilisation of the population. Obviously, this statement is somewhat bold and simplistic, but it gives a general idea of what I mean. In fact, it was by reading Lierre Keith (even though I do not share many of her arguments) that I began to consider and reflect on this idea. Which brings us to the final point:

Education and self-awareness. Do you know how what you eat makes its way to your table?

Another essential factor for change is education. We have become accustomed to consuming everything that we can get our hands on without considering its origin, the cost to other people, and above all, to the planet. Until each individual takes responsibility for their actions with the awareness of what they imply, we will never get anywhere.

Most children do not associate the steak in front of them with a living animal. The industries involved in animal farming and slaughter remain hidden. We are constantly bombarded by advertising campaigns. The Internet is a realm of opposing and uncontested truths, and in the end, the easiest thing to do is to act without thinking too much about anything.

Perhaps this is where we have to ask ourselves, look around and decide what we could do better individually and as a society to leave a sustainable and a planet with a wealth of biodiversity to the next generations. The answer may not be to stop eating meat and having no children, but to teach them how to respect others, in order to abandon capitalist ideas of consumption and the precursors of the planet’s greatest problems.

Agriculture and livestock farming should return to individuals and to local trade, and away from the markets of speculation and the large multinationals whose economic interests are in direct opposition to the interests of ecosystems.

Translated by James Venner


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