It’s easy to get bogged down with the enormity of the problems that taunt humanity in the 21st century. Climate change, environmental degradation, resource scarcity, species loss, pollution, environmental injustice, animal suffering, poverty, hunger, human rights violations, inequality, discrimination corrupt governments, economic recession… The list goes on.
But over the last couple of days I’ve come across a couple of ideas that really lend weight to the “it’s all gonna be okay” dialogue.
Firstly, this newspaper article by The Guardian claimed that if everyone ate a plant-based diet, we’d be able to feed 9 billion people. Today we have 7 billion people but 925 million go hungry*. To be honest I think it’s a shocking waste that all this perfectly good food is fed to cows and other livestock just so people can eat meat. Within the article it says:
Vegfam, which funds sustainable plant food projects, estimates that a 10-acre farm can support 60 people by growing soybeans, 24 people by growing wheat or 10 people by growing maize – but only two by raising cattle.
People tend to get very upset when I start talking about this kind of stuff, and I’m well aware that it pushes many buttons regarding free-will and personal choice for meat eaters. I don’t want to alienate any of you lovely readers, but I will just say this: don’t you think all this seems highly inefficient? In a world where so many children are starving to death every day, shouldn’t we be going for the sixty people per farm rather than the two? There, I’m done.
More positively, I actually took this as a huge piece of good news. I’ve often heard people sigh and say ‘‘well the planet just can’t support this many people…” But this suggests that in terms of food at least, it actually can. I think the idea that there is actually enough food for everyone is greatly encouraging! It’s backed up by www.worldhunger.org as well.
The other thing I found out about was this dude’s TED talk about reversing desertification. Basically he reckons that desert-like areas in Africa and America can be brought back to fertile grasslands not by reducing grazing as ecologists thought, but by changing grazing patterns to mimic nature. Allen Savory says that in wild savannas, buffalo and other grazing mammals wander over vast areas in huge herds. They graze the grass continuously but over a huge area, so no one part gets overly trampled or over-grazed and all of it gets manured. He says it’s only when humans make their cattle and goats graze in small enclosed areas that they are forced to overgraze. The bare soil is vulnerable to wind and rain erosion and the land gets degraded.
Crucially, vegetation also takes carbon out of the air and locks it up in the biosphere. Allen suggests that desertification (a huge loss of vegetation occurring over 2/3 of the global landmass) is a huge contributor to climate change. He’s been working on this natural grazing method throughout 5 continents and has had some stunning results. There are some impressive pictures in his video, linked above.
The really exciting thing here is this: he says climatologists have estimated that if his method was carried out on all desertified land, atmospheric CO2 would be brought down to pre-industrial levels!
The transformation of the land is also hugely beneficial to local people who can make a living from their land again, and of course for biodiversity as well.
These two little discoveries may not be accurate. I have no guarantee that either of these people are actually right. But they might be. And just take a moment to fully imagine how great it would be, if we totally reversed climate change and eradicated world hunger…?
Those two achievements would really go down in the history books.
They’d be right up there with abolishing slavery and women getting the vote.
They’d make me proud to be human.
* Statistic from www.worldhunger.org
Interesting post. I agree that in some parts of the world, especially the richest parts, people eat too much meat. But livestock are important for food security. In many places, the land is suitable for raising animals but not for raising plants. And then there are the waters of the world, in nearly all of which food can grow as animals more usefully than as plants.
You might like to read what I’ve said about this in my blog.
Very inspiring and excellently written as usual :)
Chance – thank you so much! I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Argylesock – Thank you for your comment. I guess this is true, especially in drylands like the ones mentioned in the second half of my post. Although to be fair if Savory’s method was taken up extensively, the land would gradually increase in fertility until it could easily support crops. I do take your point about the oceans though. I’ll be sure to check out your blog. (: