With every passing day, evidence of the need for change in the way we feed ourselves mounts. The latest warning comes from a letter signed by an unprecedented 15,000 scientists warning that humanity faces ‘vast’ misery if it doesn’t urgently adopt environmentally sustainable alternatives to business-as-usual, not least in the areas of energy, food and farming.
Issued on the 25th anniversary of the original “World Scientists' Warning to Humanity”, this ‘second warning’ says that the picture is far, far worse than it was in 1992, and that almost all of the problems identified then have been exacerbated.
Writing in the journal Bioscience, the project team, led by Professor William Ripple of Oregon State University, said “We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats”.
Among the negative 25-year global trends noted in the article are:
- A 26 per cent reduction in the amount of fresh water available per capita
- A drop in the harvest of wild-caught fish, despite an increase in fishing effort
- A 75 per cent increase in the number of ocean dead zones
- A loss of nearly 300 million acres of forestland, much of it converted for agricultural uses
- Continuing significant increases in global carbon emissions and average temperatures
- A 35 per cent rise in human population
- A collective 29 per cent reduction in the numbers of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and fish
The scientists warn that we have “unleashed a mass extinction event”, perhaps the biggest since an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs.
In my book, Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were, I document how the way we feed ourselves has become a dominant activity on the planet, affecting wildlife and the natural ecosystems on which our existence depends. Nearly half the world’s usable land surface and most human water use is devoted to agriculture.
Food production is responsible for the majority of wildlife declines, with industrial farming – factory farming – being the most damaging.
Some 70 billion farm animals are reared for food every year, two-thirds of them on factory farms where they consume enough food to feed more than half the population of humanity today.
Indeed, the biggest single area of food waste today comes, not from what we throw in the dustbin, but from feeding human-edible crops to industrially reared animals. Together, they emit more greenhouse gases than all of the world’s planes, trains and automobiles put together.
Yet the global livestock population is expected to near enough double by 2050, further intensifying pressure on a natural world in steep decline.
In order to transition away from a future decline and towards sustainability, the Second Notice to humanity from the scientists sets out a range of steps needed.
These include “drastically diminishing our per-capita consumption of fossil fuels, meat and other resources”.
They call for the destruction of forests and grasslands (driven largely by expansion of industrial agriculture) to be ‘halted’, as well as a reduction in food waste and the promotion of “dietary shifts towards mostly plant-based foods”.
Their letter ends with a chilling assessment: “Soon, it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out. We must recognise, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home”.
At Compassion in World Farming, we are working internationally to bring about the urgent change needed to reduce farm animal suffering, save the world’s wildlife and safeguard the future for our children.
All of our work is predicated upon the help, support and participation of our growing band of more than a million supporters worldwide.
As the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity shows, when it comes to the future, farm animals, wildlife and people: we’re all in it together.