Animal Liberation is about animals, isn’t it? Yes. But the philosophical underpinnings are about the value of pain and suffering in making moral choices. Nobody gets upset when a neighbour prunes a rose bush, but outrage would be expected if they began snipping off doggy bodyparts. So pain and suffering are critical to how we judge actions, whether this pain and suffering is in humans, or other animals. Climate change is something that cuts across any divide between us and other animals because it is affecting both humans and other animals. When the core temperature in cattle exceeds 41 degrees, they begin to suffer, this is followed by collapse ending in convulsions and death. In large cattle feedlots, such horrid deaths will increase in frequency as the number of hot days increases during summers.
These pages will show that part of an essential response to climate change will be the reforesting of the planet. We need to undo 200 years of deforestation. Back in 1990 when Peter Singer was updating his 1975 classic Animal Liberation, he drew attention to the problems of climate change.
“Destroying a forest releases the carbon into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. Conversely, a new, growing forest absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locks it up as living matter. The destruction of existing forests will intensify the greenhouse effect; in large scale reforestation, combined with other measures to reduce the output of carbon dioxide lies our only hope of mitigating it. … Forests and meat animals compete for the same land. The prodigious appetite of the affluent nations for meat means that agribusiness can pay more than those who want to preserve or restore forests. We are, quite literally, gambling with the future of our planet — for the sake of hamburgers.” Animal Liberation, 2nd Edition 1990.
Climate change isn’t just something we have to worry about in the future, it is happening now. We don’t notice gradual change, but we can measure it. How many people got a bowel cancer diagnosis today? About 33. Would you notice if it climbed to 43? You would if one of them was you. Similarly with climate change. The number of days each year where some weather station in Australia recorded the highest temperature ever for that station was about 10 during each year in the 1960s, it is now over 20.
The suffering that will befall all species as the climate changes will be immense. As rainfall patterns change, food production will become more unreliable and people will eat whatever is available, wildlife included. But unreliable food supplies will also mean unreliable feed supplies. It is important to notice that the word “food” refers to what people eat, and “feed” refers to what animals eat.
Droughts and floods are expected to increase as the climate becomes less stable. This is because a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapour and rain events will be heavier but fewer and in different regions. Flooding has always been a life and death problem for animals as well as humans with about 90,000 cattle killed every year during the Indian monsoons. This toll will increase if the monsoons get heavier, but the consequences of monsoon failure would be even worse. The resulting widespread rice harvest failures would mean mass starvation. Monsoon failures are just one of many serious risks we face in a changing climate. In 2003 the wheels started to fall off the global food system with both the percentage and absolute number of people being malnourished started to climb. It is now over 1 billion.
For the reasons given above, actions to reduce the destabilisation of the climate are the most critical for anybody concerned with human and animal suffering. Because many of the crucial actions must be taken by Governments, it is imperative that we elect Governments who are well informed and committed to securing long term climate stability. On an individual level we should reduce our own impact on the planet’s climate system by as much as possible.
As it happens, a decision to become vegan and consume no animal products is not just an act of compassion that will greatly reduce the direct animal suffering your life will cause, but it is the best decision you can make to reduce your impact on the environment.
The above chart shows that the current Australian diet has been estimated to generate about 6.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents per annum. The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet (with its high red meat content) generates almost as many emissions but it is a 1300 Calorie weight loss diet! If you eat that much meat all the time as a lifelong eating plan, as part of a normal diet of, for example, 2600 Calories, then your greenhouse gas emissions will be up over 10 tonnes … and that’s just for your food! The average Chinese person is generating about 4 tonnes per annum and that includes everything, … transport, housing, heating, cooling, and of course food.
Other actions are also important, but none is as important and as easy as changing your diet. Becoming “car-free” is difficult if you are a taxi-driver or have no ready means of travelling to work other than by car, but becoming vegan is something everybody can do. Every time you prepare or choose a vegan meal is a plus for the animals and for the climate of generations to come. As you develope vegan cooking and food preparation skills, you will also find that the food can exceed anything in a meat lover’s menu. Even renowned vegetarian hater Gordon Ramsey has learned to appreciate that non-meat meals can be wonderful.