Are we using Natural Resources in a Sustainable Way?

During the first session of Environment and Natural Resources Management we discussed the difference between sustained and sustainable practices. To use the example from the class, a sustained practice would be cutting 4 trees and then planting 4 trees again; a sustainable practice would consider other factors, for instance, the affected species that live in those trees.

While doing some research for the next post I’m going to publish about a key development issue, the topic of factory farming came up after I was told to read the blog post of a former IMSD student called Daniel Salter. It really caught my attention, but I want to focus on the following ideas he highlighed and quoted from the Animals Autralia video:

“According to the UN, raising animals for food, contributes more to climate change than all of the world’s trains, planes and automobiles combined… not to mention water pollution, species extinction, and almost every other major environmental threat.”

“The reality is, factory farms use more food than they produce, which means less food for everyone else. At a time when globally, more than one billion people are suffering from malnutrition, one third of the worlds edible cereal harvest is being fed to farm animals… that cereal would be enough to feed around three billion people.”

I wasn’t aware of this issue, I see factory farming as a cruel practice, but I never thought about it from the point of view of how sustainable it is based on the amount of food livestock needs. The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) talks about this challenge in the document Why animals matter in achieving “The Future we Want”, they believe that it is necesssary to include animal welfare in the Sustainable Development Goals (Rio+20) to have a positive impact in poverty eradication and economic development, food security, public health, climate change and the preservation of biodiversity.

The figures are really disturbing, the WSPA states that, globally, 53% of all oil crops (soybeans, palm oil and rapeseed) and 38% of all cereals (mainly wheat, maize and some rice) are used for livestock feed, and this production occupies large areas of land and forest. When it comes to the food chain, meat production accounts for 18-25% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and by 2050 this number could increase to 70%. The increasing use of livestock production is generating overexploitation of the ecosystems, affecting biodiversity and the natural habitat for animals.

The American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) also raises factory farming and climate change as one of the Grand Challenges 2012, where they mention that animal agriculture affects climate change, but it also works the other way around. According to them, the major concern is the prediction that the global human population will double by 2050. As a result, animal agriculture will have to produce more food with fewer resources in a changing environment.

Philip Lymbery is the Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming and in the following video he exposes the competition between feeding people and feeding farmed animals, as well as the impact on the environment and our resources:

Imagen de previsualización de YouTube

In another video Philip Lymbery talks about the commission they formed with Friends of the Earth, The Institute for Social Ecology (Austria) and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (Germany) to find a way to feed the world without factory farming and moving to a model that is better for the people, for the animals and for the planet. Compassion in World Farming prepared a report with a series of recommendations to provide humane conditions to animals and at the same time face the challenge of the increasing population. One of them is changing our diet into a sustainable one by eating a better quality meat, but less of it.

To complement the recommendations from the report, I think sometimes it is useful to go back to basics and think about how indigenous people lived and adapt it to our reality. Apparently this strategy has been successful to the WWF, as they state the following:

“(…) We can often learn from the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples. Their local wisdom and survival skills, often learned and passed down over generations, can teach us a lot about the natural world and how to live in harmony with it.

Our community-based projects show that with local people involved it’s possible to find the delicate balance between development and conservation.”

Maybe not for our own sake, but for the ones to come, we better  reflect on how we can contribute as consumers to tackle this issue.

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