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  • Writer's pictureMeg

The Environmental Impact: Land and Deforestation

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

“People who do not sustain trees will soon live in a world which will not sustain people” – Bryce Nelson

My mum affectionately refers to me as “our little tree hugging hippy”.

Indeed, the picture above is of me hugging a massive Kauri Tree in Pukti Forest, New Zealand. Some people assume that as I’m from Tassie and typically lean to the political left, that I have no understanding or appreciation of farming and commerce. Although they’re not my areas of expertise by any stretch of the imagination, I grew up with a dairy cow paddock over my back fence, and studied biology and industry. I remember writing an essay in Year 12 about the Impacts of Climate Change on Beef Production in Australia. That's pretty funny to reflect on now, as I consider beef to be the primary industry responsible for the increasing temperatures impacting not only the beef industry itself but most other industries too.

The facts stated below are taken directly from Cowspiracy (see resources and references below for original sources):

  • Livestock or livestock feed occupies 1/3 of the earth’s ice-free land

  • Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land

  • Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction

  • 1/3 of the planet is desertified (arid), with livestock as the leading driver

  • The leading causes of rainforest destruction are livestock and feed crops, with animal agriculture responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction

  • 1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second; 26 million rainforest acres (10.8m hectares) have been cleared for palm oil production and 136 million rainforest acres cleared for animal agriculture

  • Up to 137 plant, animal and insect species are lost every day due to rainforest destruction. (In the news this morning, almost 50 Australian plant and native animals have been added to the endangered animal list)

  • 1,100 land activists have been killed in Brazil in the past 20 years

Learning of the land requirements for meat and dairy production was baffling to me. However, there are some very common rebuttals to this:

  1. There is a large land requirement for growing fruit and vegetables which requires clear-felling native vegetation

  2. Land able of supporting vegetable crops in Australia is limited and hence we may as well graze cattle on this arid land

  3. Growing vegetables damage soil. Indeed, monocropping is the agricultural practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, commonly corn, soybeans, and wheat crops often grown using monocropping techniques

  4. Plant-based living means you have ‘more blood on your hands’ than eating both plant and meat as insects and small native animals and pests are killed in plant agriculture

Drawing on my philosophy studies, I believe all of these arguments have significant errors in logical reasoning, falling victim to the ol’ Red Herring fallacy.

  1. In response to the notion that we may as well graze animals on land and fell forests to do so because vegetables also require land clearing - though we may still have to clear the land, vegetable crops are much less water, carbon and methane intensive than animal agriculture.

  2. In response to the second rebuttal; just because you can put land grazing animals on arid soil, doesn’t mean you should. There is plenty of evidence to suggest grazing animals to later eat them is not sustainable. Not only do they have a large land requirement and degrade the soil on which they graze but also produce greenhouse gas emissions, water and other resource consumption and toxic waste production.

  3. Just because monocropping techniques damage soil, this surely doesn’t mean we shouldn’t grow vegetables? Because omnivores still eat vegetables right? Not only is the impacts of growing vegetables equal to or less than the impacts of grazing cattle but vegetable growing is becoming more a more sophisticated. In the technological revolution, the genetic modification of food could be used for good initiatives, such as establishing drought resistant vegetable crops. Not to mention, the effectiveness of using age old methods of preserving soil though crop rotation, polyculture and regenerative/indigenous agricultural practices.

  4. Finally, I agree with Lierre Keith, ex-vegan and author of The Vegetarian Myth, who says that no matter what you eat; someone has to die to feed you. There is no escaping this sad truth but I think it a very weak justification to raise solely to kill and eat farm animals. Whilst reading some articles on this in preparation for this blog, I read an article that suggested that cattle, kangaroos and other "meat animals" are killed instantly whereas insects and small native animals and pests die a slow and very painful death from poisons. The author suggested this poses a more significant animal welfare issue. When I read at the end of the article, “We now know the mice have a voice, but we haven’t been listening.” I literally laughed out loud. Not because I don’t agree with this woman’s statement, because I do. This woman wrote an article about vegans having blood on their hands and then published it without realising her position is reinforcing the people she is trying to pull down - animal activists.

The original issue here is sustainability. Those arguments about land clearing, acrid soil, soil degradation and the unintentional killing of insects and small native animals and pests are nice red herring distractions and justifications in favour of eating meat. These articles commonly conducted by scientists whose study was paid for by these industries or journalists who like the taste of meat and are clutching at straws.

If water conservation is the most compelling environmental reason to go vegan, land conservation is the most arbitrary. However, an issue that is indisputable, is the deforestation of the Amazon and other forests for palm oil production. Palm oil has been given some media exposure but can still be found in just about anything with an extensive shelf life, including standard junk foods like Twisties and Doritos, as well as shampoos and dish-washing liquids. I believe that veganism is about understanding that every choice has an ethical repercussion, which is why I chose to boycott palm oil when I became vegan. I’ve found it interesting the number of people around me who have opted to boycott palm oil for concerns about the welfare of Amazonian orangutans, but cannot make the same connection with the welfare and of Australian farm animals within their favourite meals… I digress.

The good thing is, strictly speaking, whole-food plant-based diets are free from common ‘discretionary foods’ which contain palm oil. Although, if you’re anything like me – partial to some salty or sugary junk on occasion – there are some junk foods you can eat without sneaky palm oil! Palm Oil Investigations have a Facebook page which posts frequent comparisons within brands of various products, it’s where I learnt to buy Mission corn chips instead of Doritos for my nachos!

Thanks for reading,

Meg x

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