Environmentalism and Sustainability
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Environmentalism and Sustainability
by Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.
The psalmist wrote, "The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein" (24:1). This is why God's instruction to Adam to till and keep the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15) is a sacred calling. However, humans have not been responsible stewards of God's Creation.
While industrial interests generally favor "further studies" rather than action on critical environmental issues, pollution and resource depletion are clearly world problems. World temperatures are rising; land, water, and energy resources are diminishing; and species are becoming extinct at alarming rates. Many people, troubled by these developments, have favored modest lifestyle adjustments, such as driving smaller cars, recycling, and using renewable energy resources. Rarely do we hear environmentalists call for plant-based diets. This strategy may be politically wise in that it does not "scare away" meat-eating people from the environmental movement, but failure to encourage plant-based diets profoundly undermines environmentalists' campaigns.
First, animal agriculture tends to significantly deplete land, water, and energy resources. Most calories and proteins are lost when farmed animals convert feed into animal products, though some animals are more efficient than others at this conversion. Moving toward a plant-based diet almost always reduces our footprint on the earth. A major report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that animal agriculture is a leading cause of global warming and air pollution; land, soil, and water degradation, and biodiversity loss. The report concluded that the livestock contributes more to global warming than all forms of transportation combined. Farmed animals and their waste emit huge quantities of the potent greenhouse gasses methane and nitrous oxide.
Animal agriculture is a major impetus behind deforestation, which releases the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
Second, those who eat animals in order to satisfy their taste for meat are choosing to live according to their sensual desires rather than according to environmental-friendly practices. One of the main reasons that we face a growing environmental crisis is that people have sought to satisfy their own desires rather than abide by environmental imperatives.
Third, when environmentalists show disregard for animals' needs, they display an attitude that is spiritually dangerous for people as well as animals. The practice of selectively (and quite arbitrarily) ignoring the needs of weak and vulnerable animals makes it easier to discount or ignore the needs of other people during times of stress or crisis, such as when resources seem scarce.
1. Robbins, John. The Food Revolution. Berkeley, CA: Conari Press, 2001.
2. Steinfeld, Henning, Gerber, Pierre, Wassenaar, Tom, Castel, et al.
Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. Rome, FAO, 2006.
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