Our Planet

Here we are, around 7 billion or so of the human race, living on our small blue planet, spinning and gliding through space. It still is a wonderful place to be, but it was a whole lot better about 150 years ago when there were only 1 billion people on this planet. The damage directly attributable to human activities since then has been immense and if we keep up the destruction at the ever increasing rate that we are, the consequences could be dire. Looking at things another way, we are trapped here. There’s really nowhere else we can go, so we must really look after our planet a lot better than we are.

The health of our planet should be more important to you than your own health. What’s the point of good health if there is nowhere left to enjoy it? Consider what we are leaving our children or grandchildren. We have the inheritance of all future generations in our hands.

Things are becoming critical but it’s still not too late to turn things around. All we need is the knowledge of what to do and the political will and international cooperation to do those things. We are not making much headway presently with either of those. There are two main problems to solve-

The first problem is population growth.

Around 1000AD there were around 250 million people in the world. In 1850 we reached 1 billion. By 2050 we are expected to reach over 9 billion. We are quite literally in plague proportions.

Every person needs food and space and we are running out of both. One obvious solution is to reduce our population and there is really only one acceptable way to achieve that – birth control. Let’s face it, without some sort of birth control to reduce our population, we are going to run out of everything – food, water, soil; there will be massive flooding and violent storms due to climate change; oceans becoming more polluted and dead and a huge loss of natural habitats causing mass extinctions. We might even be amongst them.

Government legislated birth control could be one way to go. However it has been tried in India and China and although it worked it was very unpopular and eventually, abandoned. In China, where a one child per couple policy was in place from around 1979 to 2015, it was estimated that 400 million births were prevented. So it would work but there is a better way other than by laws and government intervention. Education is the key; particularly for women. In many third world countries where the people tend to have larger families, it has been found that if it is explained to them they understand on a local level and international level the reasons we all need to have fewer children.

If it became culturally desirable and was universally adopted, one child per couple would shrink the world’s population to about 1.5 billion by the end of the century.

The question then is what is the long term sustainable population for our planet? Experts disagree, some argue as low as 500 million. Whatever the figure it is not going to help our current situation. We cannot reduce our population overnight, so with our 7 billion people, we are still going face the same problems of climate change, pollution, loss of forests, destruction of the oceans etc. which will lead to shortages of land, food, soil and water which could still lead to wars, invasions and anarchy.

Therefore – the second problem – How to stop destroying our planet and even turn things around – right now!

Our modern meat eggs and dairy diet is not only killing us, it is killing our planet. Not only would a universally adopted plant based diet stop destruction of our planet, it would have an immediate effect. Certainly there are a lot of other things we have to do – renewable energy, planting forests, more thoughtful use of resources. But these will take time. The biggest impact which can happen right now is a universal shift to a plant based diet. This is the best option available to us.

The proof of that again is overwhelming. I’ll provide a bit of a summary. Again there is such a lot of information which is readily available on the subject. I suggest reading the following –

Any John Robbins book

This Is Hope – Green Vegans and the New Human Ecology; by Will Anderson

Food Choices and Sustainability; by Dr Richard Oppenlander

Livestock’s Legacy

cow

It is internationally accepted that global warming due to human activity is the most serious issue facing us. Global warming will result in extremes of climate – higher and lower temperature extremes; longer and more severe droughts; more flooding and landslides; more frequent and more damaging storms. The ocean levels will rise due to the melting of polar ice caps and glaciers and due to the heating and expansion of the ocean. That alone is likely to displace over 600 million people.

Global warming is occurring due to an increasing concentration of certain gases in our atmosphere that have a greenhouse effect. These greenhouse gases restrict the radiation heat losses from our planet. The Sun heats up the Earth but because less heat can escape from the Earth it is warming up.

There are a number of these naturally occurring and man-made greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide plus a number of other less important gases such as water vapour and ozone.

There is international concern and conferences to address climate change but it’s all a complete fiasco which is not going to achieve anything. This is largely because the main problem is not even being discussed.

The aim of the agreements coming from these conferences is to limit global warming to 2 degrees C above the levels prior to the industrial revolution (around 1850). That 2 degree figure was universally agreed upon by all international researchers. More importantly, the window of opportunity to limit the rise to 2 degrees will close in 2017. Beyond that “irreversible and catastrophic changes” will occur.

I don’t know exactly what they all are, but I do know that above that 2 degree rise, large volumes of methane gas will be released from those permafrost regions of the Earth and from the oceans beds and more CO2 will be released as our soils warm. Methane has a very powerful greenhouse effect and would certainly result in a very hot planet. We haven’t got far to go to reach that 2 degrees. Is there some way we can avoid it?

There are still a couple of things that can be done that may stop climate change from wiping us out –

The first thing we must do is –

Universally adopt a plant based diet and close down the livestock industries. Those industries are producing greenhouse gases that are causing more than half of the problem.

In 2006 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization committee produce a report (Livestock’s Long Shadow) that concluded 18% of greenhouse gas emission was due to the livestock industries. That was a surprise to everyone because that figure was almost 50% higher than all the global transport industries produced; all the cars, trucks, ships, trains and aircraft worldwide produced. That committee was in fact pro-livestock. So would you expect the truth? – Not likely. Two environmental researchers, Jeff Anhang and Robert Goodland, working for the World Bank, went over those figures from the report and found, even conservatively rounding down, the real figure was 51%. Data in the original report had either been underestimated or overlooked or improperly assigned to other non-livestock sectors. That report also used outdated data (from 2000), understated land use, underreported methane production and completely left out the respiratory CO2 from all those billions of livestock animals. Sounds like a conspiracy really.

Why don’t any of those climate change delegates mention that? – half of the problem is not even being discussed? Perhaps the truth would threaten their indulgent dietary excesses and extravagant lifestyles; perhaps they might be seen as hypocrites. Their hot air and hollow promises are worthless. They would do more for climate change if they just ate vegan food at those conferences.

How can it be that the livestock industries can have such an enormous effect? It’s to do with the gases that they produce; not only CO2 but methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). CH4 has around 25 times the greenhouse effect of CO2 and N2O around 310 times the greenhouse effect of CO2. Later thinking is that CH4 could even be up to 50 times worse than CO2 due to a greenhouse effect of air pollution ozone formed from CH4, carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen oxides.  Livestock industries account for 10% of all CO2 emissions, 40% of the CH4 and 65% of the N2O gases put into our atmosphere. Both CH4 and N2O are more reactive than CO2 and don’t last long in the atmosphere. CO2 has a half-life of 100 years whereas the half-life of CH4 is only 8 years

With our looming climate change crisis we need to look at the fastest and most acceptable way to reduce that greenhouse effect. Climate change conferences seem to be concentrating on the energy and transport industries to reduce CO2 outputs. It’s all about carbon. But moving to renewable sources of energy just can’t happen fast enough. Some researchers believe the best way to dodge the global-warming-bullet would be through control of CH4 which is a softer and easier option than controlling CO2.

Our best option is for worldwide adoption of a plant based diet. I think people would prefer the option of a healthier plant based diet rather than face power shortages. And there are so many benefits of a plant based diet other than just good health and stopping climate change. Consider the following –

Prevent world hunger: Just in the USA alone, the grain being fed to livestock animals could feed 800 million people. Livestock is an incredibly inefficient method of food production. When comparing a population consuming grain to one that feeds grain to livestock and then consumes the livestock, beef is less than 2% efficient, lamb 2%, pork 6%, eggs 4%, milk 7% and poultry 25%. If we keep going as we are there is expected to be 2 billion starving people on our planet by 2050.

Reafforest our planet: About 30% of the world’s ice free area is devoted to livestock production. If those industries were closed down, that would release millions of hectares of land for other uses. Assuming those livestock industries were 5% efficient, you would only need 5% of those millions of hectares to be devoted to crop raising to make up for the food the livestock formally produced. Add a few more hectares to wipe out world hunger; you still have a lot of land left. Some of the land would be fairly unproductive, but varieties of certain food crops can grow almost anywhere. The rest of the freed land could be used to reafforest our planet.

The only way available to us to start getting the CO2 out of our atmosphere is by growing trees.

Where ever possible plant a tree. I realise some of the livestock-freed-land would be unsuitable for growing trees. There would be a sweet balance of trees/crops and good/poor available land. It’s a matter of land management and good farming practices.

Crops are great to feed our plague proportions of people but they are carbon neutral. Their sugars, starches and cellulose are consumed by animals, changed back to water and carbon dioxide and then released back into the atmosphere. Trees make the same sugars, starches and cellulose, but they also make lignin (wood) and this is nature’s carbon storage material.

Those former livestock ranchers should be paid by the government to manage their livestock-to-crops/forest changeover and then paid to farm and manage their crops, forests and new national parks.

Once we have our forests back then our native animals can return. Help slow extinction of those animals.

To slow climate change we will have to pull out every stop –

 First priority would be to universally adopt plant foods; Grow trees in every available space and encourage the use of timber for building (framing and cladding), and for every other possible use, even landfill, but never it as a fuel. (wood is about 50% carbon; burning 1kg of wood produces almost 2 kg of CO2).

Use education as a tool to teach future generations the need for smaller families. Simple methods of birth control are here. The Pope and the Catholic Church need to change their thoughtless and selfish attitudes toward birth control. They would do a lot better at saving us all if they taught birth control rather than preached against it.

Move to renewable energy, battery powered modes of transport. Use nuclear energy – I believe modern nuclear power plants are safe. The failures that have occurred in the past were in plants that were crumbling and out of date; they needed replacing. They were put in geological unstable areas. Just not enough thought put into their design or location. Modern plants are far safer. We have moved on. Waste can be managed. We have ideal geologically stable storage areas in Australia. We need the time that nuclear energy can give us to get those renewable energy sources up and running.

From my personal observations and limited scientific knowledge I have the opinion that we must cut down on light pollution from those more densely populated, built-up areas of our planet. Those domes of brightness that form over our cities during darkness would behave the same as cloud cover and prevent heat radiating from our planet into the zero degree absolute darkness of space. My quantitative experience is there’s around a 5 to 10 degree rise in morning temperatures from undeveloped, unpopulated land to built-up city areas. Assume that this effect occurs on only 1% of the Earth’s surface (looking at satellite images I believe this would be conservative). Let’s make a very, very rough guess that the heat retained in that 1% surface area was equivalent to the Sun shining on that area for just 5 minutes. This retained heat of 5 minutes of sunshine for 1% of our planet would equate to 9.42 X 10 to the 17th joules of heat over a 24 hour period. Over the last century global warming has been estimated at around 250 trillion joules per second, which is 2.16 X 10 to the 19th joules over a 24 hour period. On my estimates that would mean heat retained during darkness due to light pollution would amount to 4% of global warming. I could be completely wrong. No one else that I know of has suggested such a theory and my 4% conclusion is a very rough guess. However I am convinced that light pollution is causing some night-time heat retention and it’s something we could easily fix.  

Livestock’s wastage of water –

Next to climate change the next greatest concern we have is the shortage of fresh water. Presently there are around 1 billion people in the world without adequate drinking water. 55% of fresh water is being given to livestock. By the year 2030 it is expected there will be a shortfall of around 40% of water requirements. By just 2025 around 1 out of 3 people will be living in areas of water stress. But this is not really due to a lack of rainfall; it’s due to poor management of a limited resource. That poor management is largely due to poor food choices. It takes around 100,000 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of beef but only around 100-200 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of vegetable/fruit. It takes 2,400 litres of water to produce 1 litre of milk.

Expert opinions vary somewhat but the ballpark figures all show a ridiculous waste of a valuable resource by consuming livestock rather than adopting a plant based diet.

What they all leave out of their calculations is where those litres of water go in either crops or in livestock, because that difference is probably more important than those impressive ratios. Not a lot of the water with either crops or livestock ends up in our foods. In plants most of the water is lost by transpiration. The stomata (pores) on the leaves of plants take in carbon dioxide and give out oxygen. They must get the CO2 into their cells where the magic of photosynthesis occurs to produce glucose and oxygen. To get the CO2 into the cells, the cells must be covered in water. Some of the water covering the plant cells will evaporate and pass out through the stomata. This is quite useful for the plant because the leaves are cooled by that evaporation. That’s what transpiration is and that’s how plants use water; effectively just evaporation. The water plants use actually just ends up back in our atmospheric water cycle – not such a bad thing. Some of the water used by animals is used to cool them but most is used to flush waste out through their kidneys. This is not a good thing especially when animals are contained in factory farms. The large amount of nitrogen rich urine from the animals ends up in waterways and causes tremendous damage to our rivers and oceans (algae blooms, dead zones)

Livestock and soil loss –

One of the most vital resources of our planet is our soil. It’s a mix of organic and inorganic materials and contains one of the most complicated and diverse ecosystems on our planet. The importance of soil is as a medium for healthy plant growth which supports all life on our land. Good soil must provide structural support for plants, store water, gases and all the nutrients, in an available form, required for plant growth. One gram of soil can contain billions of organisms consisting of thousands of species. It contains most of the Earth’s genetic diversity. Soil is a recycling system for nutrients and organic wastes. It regulates water quality and modifies atmospheric composition. Soil, after our atmosphere, is actually the second largest storage system of CO2 and probably the most sensitive to human disturbance and climate change. As our planet warms, the soils will add more CO2 to the atmosphere due to the increased biological activity in soil with higher temperatures.

Our soils have taken thousands or even million years to develop from the bare parent minerals into the fertile, nutrient rich medium required for plant growth. However human activities are causing the loss of our soils either by erosion (water and wind) or by soil degradation. We have already lost about 1/3 of the Earth’s soils. It’s a serious problem because that directly affects how much food we are able to produce from our planet. So not only do we have to stop soil loss we have to reverse it.

The main cause of soil loss has been the livestock industries. It is estimated that 2/3 of the soil loss over the last 50 years was primarily due to grazing livestock. There is no place on our planet for those inefficient, destructive and cruel livestock industries that produce foods that cause massive worldwide health problems.

“The Centre for Biological Diversity, as part of a review of grazing, referenced over 150 peer-reviewed articles that detailed the detrimental environmental impacts of livestock grazing on soil fertility, wildlife, water systems, topsoil loss, and damage to ecosystems”.

So our meat, eggs and dairy food choices cause most of the problem. The other problem we have to address is how to restore our lost soils. The answer is already here. It’s already in use and, in places, has been in use for centuries. It’s simply a matter of thoughtful organic farming.

A recent, spectacularly successful, shift to organic farming was started in 2003 in the Indian state of Sikkim. The chief political minister for that region, Pawan Kumar Chamling, made a momentous declaration that the state of Sikkim would become organic with no chemical pesticides and fertilizers to be used in their farms. The chief minister Chamling had been re-elected 5 times in a row in Sikkim giving him the confidence and ability to make the declaration. Indian politicians tend to be far more educated and up to date than a lot of the world’s politicians. It was a bold move but a successful one. Organic farming was taught in schools; penalties and even jail terms were introduced for farmers who did not farm organically. In 2016, Prime Minister Modi declared Sikkim the first organic state in India. A state that could barely feed itself with rough, mountainous terrain was transformed and farmers raised their incomes 20% by producing popular organic foods.

We have examples from centuries ago showing that clever organic farming methods can build soils and make productive land even in extreme locations. Consider the Incas and civilizations before them who were able to cultivate some of the most unlikely land; the stony slopes of the Andes. They could grow sufficient potatoes, quinoa and corn to feed their empire from millions of hectares of terraced land on those harsh mountainous slopes.

The Oceans –

“The oceans are in trouble. We are at a crossroads in history, and the actions we take-or fail to take-in the next decade will decisively impact the future of our seas and of our planet”

That statement by the Save Our Seas Foundation is the belief of nearly all associated researchers and is considered an understatement by many. The oceans produce more than half of the oxygen produced on Earth and absorb 70% of the world’s CO2. They contain 80% of all life on our planet. They control the world’s climate and rainfall and act as an inertial temperature buffer for our planet, helping to modify extremes of heat and cold. The fact is, without healthy oceans, we are doomed.

There are 6 main threats to our oceans – climate change, overfishing, predator loss, pollution, destruction of habitat and bycatch. The three causes of these are – climate change, fishing and pollution. And the underlying reason for all the problems is our diet.

The livestock and fishing industries are literally driving our planet to extinction. The livestock industries cause global warming. Much of the extra heat is absorbed by our oceans. This causes stress and death of various organisms that are sensitive to temperature rises. It also causes temperature stratification that can lock nutrients in lower water levels and stop the photosynthetic conversion of CO2 into plant matter by phytoplankton in shallower water. This affects the whole of the oceanic food chains. Photosynthetic marine organisms annually remove around 500 million tonnes of carbon from our atmosphere and convert it into plant matter.

The warming of the oceans is largely responsible for those weather extremes of temperature and rainfall. The higher levels of CO2 in our atmosphere also cause the oceans to become more acidic due to the formation of more carbolic acid. This can devastate shelled organisms like corals and shellfish.

The livestock industries also dump huge quantities of nitrogen wastes into our oceans causing dead zones. There are about 400 of these zones throughout our oceans occupying around 250,000 square kilometres (slightly larger than the state of Victoria). They have grown eightfold since 1960 and now are doubling every 10 years.

What global warming, acidification and pollution damage from the livestock industries isn’t doing, the final damage, the final nail in the coffin of our oceans is being done by the fishing industries. There are over 4 million commercial fishing vessels on our oceans. Since 1950, the numbers of large fish in our oceans has been reduced by 90% and 7% of all fish species have become extinct. By 2048 all species of fish and seafood will be extinct or close to extinct.

Commercial fishing today can exploit the oceans like never before. They can bottom trawl up to 2000 metres depth and literally bulldoze the ocean floors, leaving nothing but devastation, taking up to 250 tonnes of fish in a catch. Often 90% of that catch is bycatch – unwanted species or organisms. These are just dumped, dead, back into the ocean.

Another method of fishing uses long lines, often over 150 klms. long, covered in hooks and barbs that can snag any sea life, even birds and sea mammals, immensely destructive and cruel. There’s also an estimated 800 klm. of unbiodegradable fishing net cut and released annually from fishing vessels that traps and kills countless numbers of sea creatures. Add to that immense destruction is the use of explosives and poisons to stun or kill everything and totally destroy the marine environment. So is there really any wonder our oceans are becoming silent and empty?

The reason for all this destruction and waste is, of course, our diets. Somehow people have been convinced that eating fish is a healthier alternative to eating other types of meat and that we need those omega fats, that we can only get from eating fish, to keep us healthy.

Well believe that and you’ll believe anything. It’s absolute nonsense. In fact eating fish, particularly some species, can be a lot less healthy. Eating fish presents the same problem as eating any meat – full of animal proteins, saturated fats, cholesterol and containing absolutely no vital fibre and none of those hundreds of phytonutrients from plants that are essential for our health. And because we use the oceans as our sewers, fish are full of our toxic wastes – those heavy metals (mainly mercury and lead), those PCB’s and DDE. Those toxins are concentrated in larger fish by biomagnification to such a level as to be classified as toxic waste. For example the safe level of PCB’s in fish is regarded as 0.094 ppm.  Levels of 2000ppm have been found in bottle nosed dolphins which is 40 times the amount regarded as hazardous wastes. Fish eating communities like the Inuits have levels of PCB’s in their fat and breast milk that would classify them as hazardous waste.

All these toxic wastes from fish cause serious health problems like cancer, heart disease, mental retardation, physical disability and reproductive problems. People who consume more than 10 kg of fish per annum will have memory and learning problems.

Today around half the fish consumed by humans comes from farmed fish. This fish has been tested and found to have even higher concentrations of toxins than wild fish. Farmed fish have about twice the fat but less of the good fats and more hormones and antibiotics than wild fish. Around one million people in the US have an increased risk of cancer due to consumption of farmed salmon. Dyes used in farmed salmon to make their flesh pink like wild salmon can cause retinal damage.

 The omega 3 argument for eating fish is also nonsense. 100g of cod (an unsustainable food) contains 200mg of omega 3. Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp and walnuts are much better sources of omega 3 and sustainable. 100g of chia seed contains 10,000mg of omega 3 and 100grms of flax seed contains 6,000mg.

Fish farming is harsh on the environment. Salmon farms in Scotland produce around the same nitrogen waste as 9 million people. They require huge amounts of energy to run the pumps and water recycling mechanisms. Land based farms use and pollute large volumes of water. Fish farming produces fewer fish than the number of fish being removed from the oceans to feed them. The current rates are 9 to 1 for tuna, 5 to 1 for salmon and 4 to 1 for trout. That seems pretty stupid to me.

Cruelty is another consideration with fishing. Fish are a very different species to ourselves and therefore it is easier for people to feel no connection to them. They are treated as though they can feel no fear or pain. Scientists are finding out more and more just how wrong this conception is. Fish can show intelligence, compassion and certainly fear. They have been seen to guide other fish away from danger, they protect each other. I had pet fish as a child. Depending on the species, they could become your friends. They would swim into my hand to be fed. I remember being very upset if one died. I’m not going to eat those beautiful creatures and if you want to restore our oceans, save our planet and improve your health you should stop eating them. Oceanic ecosystems can recover very quickly, except for extinct species. Our great barrier reef is doomed unless we close down the livestock industries and unless we stop fishing. Removing the top predators by fishing can change a marine ecosystem in such a way that results in the death of the coral.