Last week, British environmental critic and guardian journalist George Monbiot posted on the newly state-sanctioned ‘pro-active non-selective badger cull‘ in Wales to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis, despite ample scientific evidence suggesting that this practice actually increases its spread, sardonically reminding us that 2010 is indeed the International Year of Biodiversity. In many ways, it seems funny that 2010 should be the one we choose to be the year of biodiversity, given that there has never been a year in human civilisation with a lower number of species across the planet. In light of this contradiction, I thought now might be a good time to remind ourselves of the link between meat eating and biodiversity.
Quantifying the importance of biodiversity is no easy task. Last year, in the journal Nature a group of 29 scientists created a scale for assessing environmental threats in terms of global ecological health. Ranking climate change third in importance, biodiversity emerges as the greatest threat, arguing, ‘…humanity has already entered deep into a danger zone where undesired system change cannot be excluded, if the current greatly elevated extinction rate … is sustained over long periods of time.’ Biodiversity encompasses the expressions of life through genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity, and has a fundamental impact on human well-being. Understanding the grinding ecological halt engendered by a loss of biodiversity requires a truly global mindset, however its implications are regional and pervasive.
The 2006 UN Report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, describes some of livestock farming direct and indirect impacts on biodiversity. The major category threat to global biodiversity is the destruction, fragmentation and degradation of habitats. This process began with the deforestation and fragmentation that occurred when humans began domesticating animals 10000 years, however the scope and efficiency of modern livestock systems have significantly accelerated this process. A WWF study shows that 306 of the world’s 825 terrestrial ecoregions is currently threatened by livestock farming. Increasingly large tracts of forest are being felled for the production of feedcrops, and many of the most biodiverse regions, such as the Neotropical rainforest stretches of Latin America, are being integrated into the framework of industrial agriculture. Fragmented and smaller habitats host fewer and fewer species, provide opportunities for invasive species to intrude with natives and disrupt natural equilibria between predators and prey.
To compound the problem, between 1990 levels to 2050 global meat and milk production is expected to double. So what does it mean that 2010 is the international year of biodiversity? Like climate change, biodiversity is a global phenomenon and accordingly requires an individual response, as well as systemic change. If you’re already a vegetarian or vegan, there are plenty of ways you can try and encourage the increase of regional biodiversity which I will look into in coming posts. And if you’re not, how bout trying to reduce the amount of meat you do consume each meal? Surely we can sacrifice our steak dinners for the sake of planetary survival?