According to The Guardian, in a report produced by World Wildlife Fund, 59 scientists conclude that our “growing consumption of food and resources ... is destroying the web of life.” Since 1970, we have wiped out so much wildlife—about 60 percent of mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles—that experts now warn human civilization is at risk.
Professor Bob Watson, eminent environmental scientist and chair of an intergovernmental panel on biodiversity, told The Guardian:
Nature contributes to human wellbeing culturally and spiritually, as well as through the critical production of food, clean water, and energy, and through regulating the Earth’s climate, pollution, pollination and floods. The Living Planet report clearly demonstrates that human activities are destroying nature at an unacceptable rate, threatening the wellbeing of current and future generations.
The main cause? Destruction of natural habitats, mostly for farmland.
If you’re not scared yet, you should be. WWF’s executive director of science and conservation, Mike Barrett, equated the wildlife decline to “emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China, and Oceania” of humans. Yikes.
Habitat loss caused by animal agriculture is a serious threat to wild animals, including many endangered species. A 2010 report by the United Nations found that more than one-third of the world’s landmass was used for animal agriculture. The World Bank estimates that deforestation each year amounts to about 5.6 hectares, an area larger than all of Costa Rica. And animal agriculture is considered responsible for more than 90 percent of Amazon rainforest destruction.
Raj Patel, a professor at the University of Texas, told The Independent:
The footprint of global agriculture is vast. Industrial agriculture is absolutely responsible for driving deforestation, absolutely responsible for pushing industrial monoculture, and that means it is responsible for species loss. We’re losing species we have never heard of, those we’ve yet to put a name to and industrial agriculture is very much at the spear-tip of that.
More than half of the world’s estimated 10 million species of plants and animals live in tropical rainforests, making Amazon devastation a growing concern. Roughly 137 plant, animal, and insect species in the Amazon are lost each day, totaling 50,000 species a year. According to ecologist Brian Machovina, “the habitat loss is so great that it will cause more extinctions than any other factor.” In a 2015 interview with Science, geophysicist Gidon Eshel stated: “Now we say, only slightly fancifully: You eat a steak, you kill a lemur in Madagascar. You eat a chicken, you kill an Amazonian parrot.”
And it’s not just the Amazon. As land around the world is cleared for farmed animals and feed crops, indigenous species get pushed out. Forests in Sumatra that are home to elephants and jaguars are being destroyed for palm plantations, often to make feed for animals kept in factory farms. In Tanzania, farmed animals are constantly grazing, reducing the diversity of grasses and endangering food supplies for zebras, wildebeests, elephants, giraffes, and rhinos. Large-scale cattle farming will not only decimate the country’s wildlife population but also encroach on the few national parks where these animals reside.
Unsurprisingly, the second-biggest factor of animal population decline, according to the WWF study, is killing for food, driving more than 300 mammalian species into extinction. And the oceans are massively overfished to the point where they could be empty of fish by 2048. Because we’re emptying the oceans at such an alarming rate, populations of animals who depend on these fish for survival are also in decline.
Chinook salmon, who are critically endangered and have been on the overfished list since 2015, are the main food source for Southern Resident orcas. Without these fish, pregnant orcas do not get the nutrients necessary to bring their offspring to full term. Each failed pregnancy is disastrous to the Southern Resident orca population, as fewer than 80 whales remain.
In addition to the billions of fish the fishing industry kills for the seafood market, it kills millions of animals unintentionally—victims of the industry’s deadly gear. According to Whale and Dolphin Conservation, more than 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises die every year as a result of being caught in fishing gear and nets.
It’s time we woke up and took action to protect our planet and the beings inhabiting it. But simply by avoiding animal products, you could reduce your carbon footprint by nearly 73 percent. The “carbon footprint of meat production is more than just a big number,” according to the Center for Biological Diversity. “For polar bears, it’s a factor in whether or not they’ll live to see the end of this century.”
It’s abundantly clear that the animal agriculture industry doesn’t care about the planet or animals. But you can boycott this destructive and cruel industry by withdrawing your financial support and switching to a compassionate, eco-friendly diet.