Who’s Invited to the Mammal Party?

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A polar bear walks on ice near in Tilichiki, about 936 kilometers (585 miles) north of Petropavlosk Kamchatsky, Russia, on April 16, 2019.Credit: Alina Ukolova,AP

Let’s say you decide to hold a get-acquainted party with representatives of all the animals on earth, and because of space limitations you can only invite 100 guests from the mammal department. You decide to extend your invitation according to their relative numbers. How do you think your guest list would look?

According to recently published statistics, 36 humans would get a ticket to your party. About 60 of the invitees would come from pens and barns – calves, pigs and lambs – species that produce animals for food. As for wildlife, you’d have to restrict the invitations to only four guests if you want to reflect the ratio of what is left of them in the world. Only four wild animals would represent 5,400 species of wild mammals that still exist in nature, in ever diminishing numbers, down to extinction: all the giraffes and elephants, the squirrels and voles, foxes and bears, chimpanzees and panthers, whales and dolphins.

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The components of your guest list – which is a real reflection of the planet’s denizens today – helps us realize the roots of the global environmental crisis. Not only does human overpopulation cause the crisis, it is mainly the result of overpopulation of industrial farm animals. The choice of human beings to reproduce, feed and butcher tens of billions of animals a year is emerging as the main source of the environmental crisis.

The devastating impacts of the animal food industry on the environment have been known for more than a decade now, but the extent of the devastation continues to reveal itself with every new study in this field.

The prestigious journal Science has published the most extensive research of its kind on the environmental impact of the animal food industry. The study revealed that a huge majority of all agricultural land in the world – more than 80 percent – goes not to feed human beings but to the wasteful feeding of farm animals; and they produce (as animal products) less than 20 percent of the calories consumed worldwide.

The researchers calculated that if human beings would cease consuming meat and milk, agricultural areas in the world would shrink by 75 percent. The size of such expanses is inconceivable – they are equal to the area of the United States, China, the European Union and Australia combined.

The study also presented the extent of pollution caused by the manufacture of various kinds of food. These data also showed a clear distinction between food from animal sources and vegetable sources. As the article’s abstract states, the environmental damage of the lowest-impact animal products is still greater than those of vegetable substitutes of equal nutritional value. If we put this in concrete terms: Meat was found to be 30 times (!) more polluting than tofu.

In consideration of these data, it is clearer why scholars have come to the conclusion that avoiding meat and milk consumption is the most significant step a human begin can take to reduce our harmful impact on the environment.

Data published over the past year also make clear that the meat industry constitutes the greatest and most immediate threat to the continuation of life on earth as we know it. In November, the World Wildlife Federation published a new and worrisome report which found that we have destroyed 60 percent of the wildlife on earth in less than 50 years. Most of it has been “replaced” with crops raised for fodder and tens of millions of chickens, pigs and cows.

As can be understood by now, the “earth’s inhabitants get-acquainted party” won’t be particularly happy considering the wiping out of biodiversity to produce more and more confined, cloned and miserable farm animals to produce more and more meat for our plates and garbage cans. And what’s more, the fact that we’ve turned the earth into a huge industrial animal pen at the expense of wildlife, which still stars in children’s films and our fantasies about “nature,” is not really a cause for celebration.

Most of us still prefer to repress the enormity of the problem. We won’t be able to repress it for much longer. It won’t be long now before even the four wild animals that were left to invite to our mammal party will disappear and our ability to recover from the environmental crisis will be compromised beyond repair. In fact, for that to happen we don’t need to do much of anything. Maybe just keep on eating meat.

The writer is an activist with the animal rights group Animals.