Saturday, September 09, 2006

Orcas, Habitat Loss, and American Meat Consumption

In yesterday's post, I said that 70% of biologists believe we're in the middle of a mass extinction of wildlife species. I also said that 75% of the extinctions are due to habitat destruction by human activities. A lot of those activities are related to the way we eat.

Here's an example
I thought about that when I read in the NY Times yesterday (9/8/06) about the clash between fishermen, farmers and developers on the one hand, and environmentalists on the other, over the 90 resident Orca whales in Puget Sound in Washington state. The article featured the community of whale-watchers and researchers on San Juan Island, a place we visited a month ago. I had a post about the island's whale supporters, and the whales themselves, on August 17.

The conflict over these Orcas is a prime example of how our fixation on animal protein (248 lbs of meat per person per year in the U.S.) leads to habitat destruction for wildlife. Habitat includes animals' food sources, as well as their breeding territory, etc. One of the main threats to the Orcas is competition with the fishing industry over salmon. Another major threat is livestock farmers, and farmers raising grain for livestock, whose agricultural runoff pollutes the Puget Sound and the coastal rivers where salmon spawn.

Simply stated, our appetite for salmon is a threat to the whales. And to other marine and coastal wildlife that depend on salmon, such as bears and eagles.

Our appetite for meat is a threat to wildlife throughout the country - to every animal species whose survival depends on water quality, or on the continued existence of woodlands and prairies and wetlands that we instead convert to agricultural lands to feed our meat habit and our growing human population.

A Whale Lawsuit
Farmers and developers have filed a lawsuit to strip the Orcas of their endangered status. The protection of water quality in Puget Sound, as critical habitat for the Orcas, will interfere with farmers' and developers' efforts to provide us with the meats we clamor for, and with coastal real-estate development.

We can exercise control over so much with the simple act of eating. Every meal selection gives us an opportunity for grassroots activism. We don't have to be eating that salmon, or any salmon. We don't need to eat 248 pounds of meat per year. The average meat consumption per person in the world's developing nations is only 66 pounds per year. We're way ahead of even the European countries in our demand for meat. See Danielle Nierenberg's paper "Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry," available from, for more details about global meat consumption. The article isn't free, but if you're really interested in understanding how global patterns of meat consumption impact the environment, it's worth the $7.

I'm not asking everyone to give up meat altogether - I don't believe that's a realistic goal. We'll never be a meatless nation. I'm asking that we eat less meat. We don't need meat every day. Our book Veggie Revolution is about cooking without meat (including recipes) and about the benefits of eating less meat - benefits to our health, to the welfare of farmed animals, to the environment, and to wildlife. Wildlife is, to me, the most precious gift our planet has to offer.

No comments: