Do you love this planet? Do you love the outdoors? Do you? Really?
Ah, the timeless instagram shot of a person gazing off into an endless landscape of layered mountains. Paired with a good quote about how amazing the planet is and how grand life is, it evokes so many emotions and an awful lot of social media features. Strategically place some product and you have earned yourself some minor and honestly rather insignificant fame. Because that is exactly what we are, an insignificant flicker, yet the center of our own universe. We do not matter yet collectively 7.4 billion of us are destroying this planet.
Here is the reality:
Over population There are over 7.4 billion people living on this planet. The only other species with that large of a population are the animals we raise for slaughter (chickens, pigs, cows), the cats and dogs we keep as pets, and ants. Go ants go!
Yet we decide what a healthy population of wild animal is. We decide how many deer is a good amount of deer, how many zebras is a good amount of zebras, how many eagles is a good amount of eagles. 10,000 species go extinct each year. That is between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. The natural extinction rate is what scientists refer to as the background extinction rate if humans were not around. So I guess humans are not natural or is everything else just background? Nothing should have to go extinct so we can live. Mountain lions spend their entire lives hunting deer and yet deer will never go extinct because of a lion.
Over Consumption We have too much stuff and most, if not all of it is unnecessary for our survival, yet we have become 150% reliant on it. Because our culture has a cradle to grave mentality, all that stuff goes somewhere to die.
Mostly all our stuff is made from petroleum, and petrochemicals are not only toxic but impossible for the environment to break down. Your one use Starbucks coffee cup will NEVER fully break down. This person ran some calculations to see how many cups Starbucks uses per day and came up with over 8 million, PER DAY. Fun fact, 1% of customers bring their own mugs, very reassuring. This is one statistic about a one use item at one coffee shop. What about couches, old clothes and shoes, tires, toothbrushes, food waste, packaging (everything is packaged), plastic bottles, carpeting, diapers, batteries etc. etc. etc. times 7.4 billion people? It all has to go somewhere but ultimately ends up in the ocean and soil. This is what is giving us cancer, changing the climate, and killing off other species of animals.
Animal Agriculture Somewhere in the evolution of man things got all sorts of twisted around. We have fully segregated ourselves from other animals even though we are in fact, animals. It is us and it is them and we use and abuse them to fill our bellies, and our stuff quota. From down jackets to bacon, your purchase of the things you think you need is contributing to the brutal suffering of other animals and the destruction of this planet.
Imagine having your body hairs plucked out one by one so a goose could wear you.
Factory farming is the model of animal abuse and yet 10 billion land animals are killed in the United States alone for human consumption each year. In addition, hundreds of thousands of wild animals (prairie dogs, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears, bison, and others) are exterminated to keep them from interfering with agricultural operations. Similarly, tens of millions of starlings and blackbirds are poisoned each year to keep them from eating animal feed. But man that picture of you shoving a bacon cheeseburger the size of your head into your mouth on facebook sure makes it worth it!
These are the most mellow photos I could find.
Aside from the cruelty these animals face, and yes, they feel pain and suffering just like we do (pigs are actually highly intelligent social animals), the land it takes to support meat demand is next level. In Central America, 40 percent of all the rainforests have been cleared or burned down in the last 40 years, mostly for cattle pasture to feed the export market—often for U.S. beef burgers. Rainforests don’t “grow back.” The soil is shallow and nutrients deplete quickly. The rainforest is an incredibly complex and mysterious ecosystem, once destroyed, destroyed. Grasslands have been reduced to near nothing as herds of domesticated animals are expanded and the environments on which wild animals such as bison and antelope once thrived are trampled and replanted with monoculture grass for large-scale cattle grazing. Grassland covers more land area than any other ecosystem in North America; no other system has suffered such a massive loss of life. How can this be considered okay? How can eating meat be socially acceptable and veganism considered outlandish, crazy, and “difficult”?
It is calculated that we humans are now taking half the available fresh water on the planet—leaving the other half to be divided among a million or more species. Since we depend on many of those species for our own survival (they provide all the food we eat and oxygen we breathe, among other services), hogging all of the water is a real issue. If we break it down, species by species, we find that the heaviest water use is by the animals we raise for meat. One of the easiest ways to reduce demand for water is to reduce the amount of meat we eat.
The waste from our gargantuan factory farms overwhelms the absorptive capacity of the planet. Rivers carrying livestock waste are dumping so much excess nitrogen into bays and gulfs that large areas of the marine world are dying. Nutrients in animal waste cause algal blooms, which use up oxygen in the water, contributing to a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico where there’s not enough oxygen to support aquatic life. The dead zone stretched over 7,700 square miles during the summer of 1999. The easiest way to reduce the amount of excrement flowing down the Mississippi and killing the Gulf of Mexico is to eat less meat.
The journey that steak made to get to your refrigerator consumes staggering amounts of energy along the way. We can begin the cycle with growing the grain to feed the cattle, which requires a heavy input of petroleum based agricultural chemicals. There’s the fuel required to transport the cattle to slaughter, and then to market. Today, much of the world’s meat is hauled thousands of miles. And then, after being refrigerated, it has to be cooked. It takes the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of grain-fed beef in the United States. Some of the energy is used in the feedlot, or in transportation and cold storage, but most of it goes to fertilizing the feed grain used to grow the cow. The beef consumption of an American family of four requires over 260 gallons of fossil fuel. Feeding grain to animals is highly inefficient, and an absurd use of resources. We could end world hunger if the privileged stopped eating meat (and we are all privileged in the United States).
Livestock emits global-warming gases directly as a by-product of digestion. Cattle send a significant amount of methane, a potent global-warming gas, into the air. One ton of methane, the chief agricultural greenhouse gas, has the global warming potential of 23 tons of carbon dioxide. A dairy cow produces about 75 kilograms of methane a year, equivalent to over 1.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide. The cow, of course, is only doing what comes naturally. Cow farts are the number one cause of global-warming gas emissions, not driving.
I was having a rather passionate and heated political debate with my father the other day. Our views are somewhat opposing, yet we have good healthy conversations. As I was passionately spewing about my love for other animals and protecting this planet I spat out, “What gives us the right to control everything?” My dad said, “Because we are the top of the food chain.” I said, “But are we? Without technology and convenience I would like to see how many people could actually survive.” He laughed and said, “without technology, weapons, and convenience a wild turkey could outwit us, a wild turkey would rule the planet.”
What has technology done to us? We don’t even relate as animal anymore, there is literally nothing wild about us. We sit in our inefficiently designed buildings that have spread across the land like a plague. When I look out my apartment window I see more grocery stores than trees. How many Starbucks and McDonalds do we really need per square mile? We spend most of our time staring into a glowing screen. We eat food that makes us fat and sick and then try to cure it with a pill made in a laboratory. We go outside every once and a while and take a picture, probably leave some trash behind. Not probably, definitely. I pick up a pack full of trash every run I go on. We consume, more than I can even begin to conceive. But what do we give back? I actually thought about this for a very long time. Nothing.
If we were not here this planet would be wild, flourishing, and amazing. Instead, it’s dying. And now we are at a peculiar crossroad where we are industrializing the outdoors and social media is playing a huge role in this. Take a look at our history and see what has happened to everything we have industrialized (cough cough food cough cough). If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey. Abbey says, “A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.” Abbey did not want motorized vehicles in parks and for damn good reason. Even national parks are an industry bustling with over priced gas stations, hotels, shops, and restaurants.
In my humble opinion anyone can drive down a scenic road, take a nice photo, edit the crap out of it, and post it to instagram with a generic quote. Anyone can create fake “camp vibes” for likes or stage what appears to be a gnarly mountain summit (actually a rock off the side of the road). This has become the norm and is only leading to further desensitize us from the wild beings we actually are. Something happened to me when I started going out alone into vast untraveled sectors of wilderness, only carrying the bare necessities, and navigating my way up and down mountains with a map and a compass. It was as if a switch that had long sat in the off position was suddenly on. I began to understand what I am, an animal, a wild untamed wilderbeast of an animal. That is why I run, because when I am running, I am animal running with every other animal. I am one with the earth that gives me life, not separated from it. I can feel all of the things that this society has tried to dull out of me.
We can do so much better. I envision a world where we have less stuff. A world where we can live among other species of plant and animal in a healthier more peaceful and naturally efficient way. Somewhere along the line convenience turned into complacency. It is time we reinvent our species and it starts with the individual.
So, if you have ever said you like the outdoors, if you ever muttered a word about how beautiful this planet is then put your money where your mouth is and prove it. You don’t need to be any sort of expert on anything to reduce your consumption of stuff and meat and things you don’t really need. You can turn your lights off, take less showers (no that is not nasty), buy a more fuel efficient vehicle, ride a bike, boycott fast food, bring your own bags to the grocery store and buy in bulk, pick up trash when you see it, compost, recycle, plant a tree, respect other animals as they are not just here for us to use, understand where the things you buy come from and where they end up. Consuming less (of anything) will shift the demand which means less trash, less destruction, basically a cascade of good change. Be aware and tread as lightly as you possibly can even if it isn’t convenient. What do you need versus what do you want? You can even have a conversation about these issues with someone else, spread the word. We need to talk about these things because they matter. How we use our brains, treat this planet, and treat other animals is a direct reflection of who we are.
Don’t just do, do something that matters.
David Suzuki said, “There are some things in the world we can’t change – gravity, entropy, the speed of light, and our biological nature that requires clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy, and biodiversity for our health and well being. Protecting the biosphere should be our highest priority or else we sicken and die. Other things, like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them. They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the biosphere.”
I am a Materials Engineer whose mission in life is to develop a degradable material that will replace petroleum based packaging. I was not always an engineer, I decided to take my frustrations and do something that matters. What I have written is not intended to attack any one person, I am examining us as a whole (myself included). My only hope is that we can use our technologies to help educate one another and work towards a healthier future not only for the only planet we have but so generations to come still have some wild places to enjoy.