The Environmental Crisis
By Alex Jack
The world’s temperature today is only about 3 degrees warmer than it was during the last ice age. In the next thirty years, the earth’s temperature is expected to rise another 3 degrees. The rapid spread of modem civilization has produced what is known as the Greenhouse Effect. This dramatic temperature increase‑taking place over a few decades, not thousands or millions of years as in the past could result in profound changes in life on earth during our lifetime and that of our children.
The environmental crisis is largely associated with the spread of industrialization, especially smokestack industries, increased urbanization, air pollution from millions of automobiles, trucks, and planes, and with a global economy based on petroleum, natural gas, coal, nuclear, and other nonrenewable fuels. From the macrobiotic perspective, the destruction of the nature environment, culminating in Global Warming, is primarily the result of the modern agriculture and food system, especially the consumption of hamburgers, ice cream, milk, and other cattle products.
- The American Association for the Advancement of Science reported that production of animal foods uses nearly 80 percent of all piped water in the United States and is chiefly responsible for pollution of two-thirds of U.S. basins and for generating over half of the pollution burden entering the nation’s lakes and streams. As Newsweek noted, “The water that goes into a thousand‑pound steer would float a destroyer.”
- The average American eating hamburgers, chicken, and other animal food uses 608,000 gallons of water per year. This is about ten times the amount of water used by the average person on the planet eating whole grains and vegetables.
- One‑third of all the topsoil in the United States has been lost from chemical agriculture and overgrazing. It has declined from an average of three feet to six inches in many areas, causing losses of $44 billion a year. Under natural conditions, it takes 200 to 1000 years to form an inch of topsoil. Crop productivity in the West has declined by 29 percent in recent years as the ecosystem has been burdened by overgrazing, and countless species of plants and animals disappeared or declined.
- Meat is one of the largest sources of air pollution. In 1991, researchers at Caltech reported that cooking meat outdoors contributed to deterioration of air quality by releasing hydrocarbons, furans, steroids, and pesticide residues. In Los Angeles, infamous for its smog, barbecued beef was found to be the single greatest source of fine organic particles in the atmosphere, significantly exceeding gasoline‑ and diesel‑powered vehicle emissions, chemical processing, metallurgical processing, jet aircraft fumes, cigarette smoke, and dust from road paving and fireplaces.
- The principal cause of world hunger is not overpopulation but overconsumption of animal food. According to scientists, it takes about 40 times as much energy to produce one pound of beef as it does to produce one pound of grain. Around the world, hundreds of millions of families have been uprooted from their traditional farms and villages to make way for agribusiness, monocropping, and commodity farming. As a result, an estimated 80 percent of the world’s grain reserves are fed to animals for beef, chicken, and other animal food production. Seeking food and employment, millions of people have flocked into urban areas, creating vast slums and a vicious spiral of hunger, poverty, disease, and crime.
- Food production is the largest sector of the U.S. economy, accounting for 17 percent of all energy use, including coal, hydroelectric, gas, oil, and nuclear. Over 90 percent of this energy is used to produce beef and dairy food, requiring vast amounts of fossil fuels to raise, slaughter, package, transport, and refrigerate meat, poultry, and dairy products. For a typical family of four, the annual amount of hamburger and other animal food consumed releases the average equivalent of five times more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the family car.
- Nuclear energy is directly connected with modem agriculture. The nuclear plant in Seabrook, N.H., for example, generated power to fuel dairy farmers in Vermont as well as high‑tech computer industries in Nashua and Boston’s Route 128. In Ukraine, the areas around Chernobyl‑once known as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union‑became the livestock and poultry capital of the Soviet empire. The vast wheat shipments to Russia during the Cold War were used primarily to feed animals, not people.
- By the 1990s, desertification claimed hundreds of millions of acres of land worldwide, degrading an estimated 75 percent of rangeland and 20 percent of all arable land. Carrying capacity dropped by about 50 percent, leading to wildlife extinction and a loss of biodiversity. The principal cause of spreading deserts was modem agriculture, especially cattle raising. In Ethiopia, for example, land turned to producing linseed cake, cottonseed oil, and rapeseed meal for export to the European livestock market, led to chronic famine.
- Two‑thirds of the world’s rain forests faced destruction by the end of the 20th century, primarily as a result of clearing land for pasturage. Each hamburger made from South or Central American beef, according to scientists, destroyed on average 165 pounds of living matter including some of 20 to 30 different plant species, 100 insect species, and dozens of bird, mammal, and reptile species. In the early 1990s, economists calculated that each hamburger resulted in the loss of an average of 55 square feet of rain forest. The rain forests serve as the lungs of the earth, absorbing carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas that is contributing to Global Warming.
- In addition to C02 buildup, the chemical fertilizers and pesticides used in livestock production produce nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas, and cattle contribute directly to the hothouse effect by giving off methane. The 115 million tons of methane given off annually by flatulence or belching accounts for about 5 percent of the temperature increase. Gaseous ammonia, another product of animal manure, is a principal cause of acid rain.
- The thinning of the ozone layer‑which U.N. experts say will result in more ultraviolet light reaching the earth and up to 10 million more deaths in the next decade from skin cancer‑is linked with animal food production. CFCs, the primary cause of ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere, are used chiefly as coolants in refrigeration and air‑conditioning. Refrigeration is used mainly to preserve meat, poultry, eggs, cheese, milk, ice cream, and other animal foods which begin to spoil and putrefy immediately. In contrast, grains, beans, seeds, root and round vegetables, and sea vegetables can be easily kept without refrigeration. Similarly, air conditioning developed primarily for the convenience of people whose bodies become heated up by eating so much animal food. People in traditional societies and many vegetarian and macrobiotic families usually do not need air‑conditioning. There is also a direct association between animal food and the deodorant industry, the largest user of CFCs in aerosol sprays until they were banned. People eating hamburgers, hot dogs, and steaks give off more body odor than those eating vegetable‑quality food.
According to most indications, the trend toward our planet becoming a global hothouse is almost irreversible given the human impacts until this point. Positive feedbacks from the interface between the atmosphere and oceans, cloud cover, the El Nino and La Nina weather cycles, the release of methane from the thawed tundra, stratospheric particulates produced by volcanic eruptions, the retreat of plankton to deeper waters, ozone depletion, the melting of the ice cap at the North Pole, rising tides, and other manifestations will result in continued global warming and a massive dieoff of life on earth in the next several hundred years, regardless of what dietary, lifestyle, and environmental changes we humans are able to effect.
Still, some of the worst aspects of the world environmental crisis can be averted. Changing to a macrobiotic diet centered on ‘grains and vegetables is imperative if humanity is to reclaim the soil, air, water, and sky. Stopping eating hamburgers, ice cream, and other cattle products is the single most important step that can be taken on behalf of personal and planetary health.
Source: from “Out of Thin Air: A Satire on Owls & Ozone, Beef & Biodiversity, Grains & Global Warming” by Alex Jack, One Peaceful World Press.