Open your eyes. Take a look around. See the condition of the planet. Careful observation will show that there is a full-blown holocaust going on right now. In the human sense, in places like Ukraine, the Middle East, parts of Africa and Asia this holocaust takes the form of systematic genocides. In the much broader sense of the word ‘holocaust’, defined as “destruction or slaughter on a mass scale.” In the animal world, comprising creatures above and below the surface of the sea, there are no words strong enough to capture the full import of how profound this slaughter is.
In historical terms this phenomenon is recent. Recent in the respect that in the history of man on Earth, spanning a period as defined by the Smithsonian Institute as “the beginnings of agriculture and the rise of the first civilizations” this evolution has taken place within the past 12,000 years. If indeed civilization began its rise in that time frame, up until the last 200 years man lived in harmony with nature (even if not in harmony with each other) and the greatest destruction to our environment and our planet’s species has occurred recently.
Demographers put the population of the planet in the year 1800 at about one billion people. Today it approaches eight billion. So, in the first 11,800 years the population grew to a billion, and in the successive 200 years it grew to eight times that number. Now we are charged with feeding all these people, a job we do poorly, and we do it in ways that will have the ironic unintended consequence of further diminishment of our food sources.
While people in some countries cannot get enough to eat, we feed two thirds of our corn and grain to animals. To supply a pound of beef to today’s diet, that cow must consume 32 pounds of food. For a ten-ounce hamburger, the cow will consume 600 gallons of water. With water becoming a scarce commodity, and people starving all over the world, in what universe does this tradeoff make sense?
If preservation of earth’s resources, and the production of protein are to be determining factors in the food we produce, consider these statistics: animals use 83% of the world’s agricultural land, but produce only 18% of the world’s calories. Three fourths of all agricultural land is used for livestock. Animals consume six times as much protein as they produce. Throughout the world there are approximately 1.6 billion cows in dairies and ranches. From a purely ecological standpoint, in the U.S. animals produce 50 times more pollution than the human population, and cattle do not appear on the list of the top 25 food sources in the world. While foods such as rice and wheat top the list, pork appears as number 17 and chicken is number 15. No seafood appears on the top 25 list.
Take a ride through the southwest corner of Arizona where cattle ranching is one of its prime industries. There can be seen clouds of methane gas so thick that visibility two miles ahead is obscured. The danger of methane is that it traps 21 times the amount of heat per molecule than CO2. Over a 20-year period it will be 80 times more harmful to the atmosphere. And Arizona is not even one of the top ten cattle producing states in America.
There are 50 billion birds on the earth of which approximately 19 billion, or 38% are chickens. That’s 2 ½ chickens for every man, woman, and child on the planet. Think of all the feed those birds consume. And anyone who has ever been within smelling distance of a chicken farm will admit, it’s one of the most nauseating scents imaginable. Hundreds of thousands of dead chickens are discarded every day. They live in overcrowded pens and die from diseases and infections at an alarming rate. One must wonder just how many chickens are harvested that might have died later that day or the next. Chicken is a wasteful, unreliable, and unhealthy food source.
The disproportionate use of feedstocks required to maintain the current level of animal food production, combined with the release of methane gas, are only part of the problem as the agriculture industry attempts to feed the planet. Another great source of concern that has been poorly addressed is the waste runoff emanating from animal farms and ranches. For a real eye opener, read up on the problem of waste runoff coming from pig farms in North Carolina. Those people have a real problem.
The oceans’ resources are being exhausted primarily by commercial fishing interests. Recent estimates indicate as much as 40 percent of global catch is discarded overboard. Worldwide commercial fisheries bring in approximately 160 billion pounds of marine catch each year, which translates to 400 million pounds every day. Trawlers with purse seine nets scour the ocean floor, and longline rigs 100 miles long deplete the oceans’ bounties at a horrifying rate. Gill nets indiscriminately harvest nearly as much wasted by-catch as they do useable targeted species, and half the plastic pollution in the oceans is in the form of abandoned fishing nets.
Our reliance on protein from ocean animals makes no sense. We are killing our ocean treasure, which in turn leads to destruction of reef systems, which contributes to depletion of the planet’s primary source of oxygen: its phytoplankton. As we pollute the oceans and destroy the balance that has existed for billions of years, we ensure the planet’s eventual destruction. Perhaps in a future eon, the population that has inhabited this planet for only the last two centuries will create its own extinction, and the balance of nature on the earth can return to its original perfection.