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Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc.
38 East Market Street, Rhinebeck, New York 12572 USA -  845-876-2626
Vegetarian - Vegan - Animal Rights - Health - Nutrition - Environment

The mission of the Mid-Hudson Vegetarian Society, Inc. is to promote the vegetarian ethic in the Mid-Hudson (New York) region, educate the community and aid anyone in the pursuit of a totally vegetarian (vegan) cruelty-free and healthful lifestyle.

Newsletters - Spring 2008 Issue

The jury is in: Real environmentalists are vegan
by Jim Van Alstine

"Good planets are hard to come by," Steve Forbert has been singing for years. Finally, it seems that global consensus is building toward some fundamental truths regarding our precious orb. Just a few short years ago, activists and academics who pleaded for attention to the issues of impending global climate change and the environmental devastation caused by livestock were marginalized voices. Despite sound study and practice, serious environmentalists and vegans were dismissed as tree-hugging dirt-worshippers.

Today, the jury is in: global warming is real, disturbingly rapid and the result of human activity. In February, 2007, a United Nations panel of climate scientists released a grim and powerful assessment of the future of the planet. Scientists concluded for the first time that global warming is "unequivocal" and that human activity is the main driver, "very likely" causing most of the rise in temperatures since 1950.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, which administers the panel along with the World Meteorological Organization said, "uncertainty was removed as to whether humans had anything to do with climate change on this planet. The evidence is on the table."

John P. Holdren, an energy and climate expert at Harvard, said the report "powerfully underscores the need for a massive effort to slow the pace of global climatic disruption before intolerable consequences become inevitable."

Three months earlier, the another U.N. report found that the foremost human activity contributing to global warming is animal agriculture. In November, 2006, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations concluded that animal agriculture is the leading source of greenhouse gases (even more than transportation). The report, Livestock's Long Shadow," states: "Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation."

Beyond global warming, livestock, the U.N. concludes, are a leading worldwide source of deforestation, desertification, water pollution, loss of biodiversity on land and in the seas, acid rain and euthropication (sediment chocking estuaries and deltas).

Among the daunting numbers sited by the U.N. are that livestock:

Use 30 percent of the earth's entire land surface
Are now grazing on 70 percent of the former rainforests lands in the Amazon
Causes 18 percent of overall human-related greenhouse gases
Accounts for 37 percent of human- induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2)
Produces 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide (at 296 times the global warming potential of CO2).

Other catastrophic impacts of the meat industry include:

*An estimated 4,000 gallons of water is needed to produce a one day, animal-based food supply for an average American while a one day, plant- based food supply would only require about 300 gallons. Each vegan saves 3,700 gallons of water daily. By comparison, installing a low-flow showerhead saves just 1,100 gallons in an entire year.

* Legally permitted within the National Wilderness Preservation and National Park Systems, and subsidized by taxpayer dollars to the tune of $100 million a year, livestock grazing is one of the most ecologically destructive forces of the modern era.

* The main contributor to desertification in the Western United States, livestock grazing transforms fertile land into a desert-like environment by decimating native vegetation and accelerating soil erosion.

* In the United States alone, livestock grazing adversely affects 22 percent of federal threatened and endangered species, including the desert tortoise, pronghorn antelope and numerous bird species.

The cost of procrastination
A combination of climate events, increasing consumer demands (lead by a global shift to more meat in the diet in increasingly-affluent developing nations) and the dawn of the bio-fuels era, have led to a sharp increase in food prices and tightening grain supplies around the world. As these conditions afflict the world's poor first and foremost, food riots have broken out in Haiti, Egypt, Cameroon, Senegal and elsewhere.

Most media reports have focused on rising oil prices, a spate of devastating climate events and a hunger for biofuels as causes for the food costs crisis. Some reports have mentioned increased animal agriculture in developing nations as a factor. No mainstream media report has sited the livestock's ongoing consumption of nearly 30 percent of global grain as a factor. In developed nations, the majority of grain goes to livestock. In the U.S., more than 70 percent of all grain goes to animal agriculture production.

These occurrences only heighten a growing consensus that global warming is worsening faster each time new real-world data and new computer models are engaged.

"Global warming is accelerating three times more quickly than feared," The UK Independent reported. According to a study, published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, carbon dioxide emissions have been increasing by about 3 percent a year during this decade, compared with 1.1 percent a year in the 1990s.

This is much faster than even the highest scenario outlined in the 2007 reports by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and suggests that their dire forecasts of devastating harvests, dwindling water supplies, melting ice and loss of species are likely to be understating the threat facing the world.

The solution at hand: Feed people, make fuel, leave chickens alone

While politicians have kvetched about the food supply crisis, none has yet stepped forward with a sustainable measure to address concerns. This year, as much as 30 percent of the U.S. corn harvest may go to ethanol production and replace less than five percent of oil consumed. Corn-based ethanol is now widely seen as an energy policy blunder. If a 30 percent misuse of corn is recognized as a blunder, how may one describe the waste of 70 percent of a harvest?

Once the current political maelstrom surrounding ethanol is settled (corn ethanol will not come out on top) there will remain a world-wide need to produce energy and feed people. According to a Cornell University study, the amount of grain consumed by

U.S. livestock could feed over 800 million hungry people. That is more than enough abundance to overcome the entire world's caloric deficit, thereby ending world hunger.

If a global shift away from animal agriculture were to occur, there is enough available farmland in production to allow for meeting all human food needs, converting acreage to more effective biofuels production, restoring significant tracts of land to natural habitat and allowing room for responsible future development of human habitat as the global populations increases toward an expected peak of nine billion.

The solution to global warming, world hunger, conservation of biodiversity and sustainable energy are all at the point of our fork.

Note: Sources for facts cited are available upon request.

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