Friday, September 08, 2006

Mass Extinctions of Wildlife Related to Our Diet Choices

Mass Extinction Underway...
A mass extinction is a catastrophic, widespread, or global event that wipes out 25 to 75 percent of existing species. Most of the mass extinctions that occurred prehistorically — before humans evolved — resulted from global climate changes that killed thousands of species and left behind those able to adapt to the new conditions.

According to a recent survey, 70 percent of biologists believe we are in the midst of a new mass extinction. Although the Earth has experienced other mass extinctions before humans evolved, biologists point out two important differences between the current mass extinction, and those of the past:

1) This mass extinction is taking place in a very short period of time, during a few decades, rather than over thousands or millions of years.

2) We are eliminating or fouling many environments, such as tropical forests, coral reefs, and wetlands, that in the past fostered the evolution of new species during the 5 to 10 million years after a mass extinction.

What’s Going On?
The destruction of habitats by humans is responsible for about 75 percent of the current extinctions. Another major cause is unregulated hunting and fishing. The introduction of nonnative species such as wild boars, Gypsy moths, and European starlings is another leading cause of extinctions.

How Are Extinctions Related to Meat Consumption?
The production of meat requires much more land than producing an equally nutritious amount of plant protein. Because most Americans eat animal products two or three times a day, we devote a hefty portion of our land to either grazing livestock or raising grain or hay to feed livestock. About 40 percent of all land area in the United States is used for grazing livestock for our dinner tables.

Consider this. In the United States, we feed 66 percent of our grain to livestock. But the rest of the world feeds only 3 percent of their grain to livestock. If we weren’t eating so much meat and dairy and eggs, think of all the agricultural land that could be restored to its natural state as forests, prairies, and wetlands. We could also slow the conversion of natural lands to agricultural lands. Our population here in the U.S. is still growing rapidly and our food production will have to increase. This year we reached 300,000. By the year 2025, just 18 years away, we'll add another 50,000 people to the United States population! See, or International Data Base, for more information about that.

The adoption of a vegetarian, or better yet, a vegan diet would vastly improve the outlook on the future for both humankind and wildlife.

Is Our Diet Making Us Healthy and Happy?
About 65 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. We also have high rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, colon cancer, and other ailments related to a diet high in meat, eggs, and milk fat. We’re not healthier.

But are we happier? No. Although our consumption of resources has doubled since 1957, the proportion of Americans who report they are “very happy” has remained the same.

But Wait…
Raising livestock doesn’t have to take so much land and cause so much pollution, if done on a smaller scale. Only a few decades ago, manure naturally fertilized crops and enriched the soil, rather than winding up in “waste lagoons” that leak and spill into rivers. Livestock consumed crop waste and kitchen waste. Animals and people maintained a balance. It’s only since the production of meat, milk, and eggs has become industrial in scale that it has begun to damage the Earth so severely. The damage includes ocean habitats and fish populations as well as land ecosystems.

The average American eats 248 pounds of meat a year, far more per person than any other country. It’s not possible for everyone on the planet to have that much meat. We would need four more Earths to raise enough livestock and fish, if everyone on our planet ate as much meat as Americans do.

The Union of Concerned Scientists says that our American diet is second only to our transportation as our most environmentally damaging consumer activity. We can make better diet choices for a sustainable future.

The loss of countless plant and animal species is at stake.

See our post of September 9 for an example of a wildlife population that's threatened by our consumer demand for animal protein.

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