05 February 2008

The Personal Lifestyle Choice

We hear way too much about factories and industries and changing light bulbs and such regarding global warming. Not that these aren’t important, but on one extreme the average citizen can’t really have any important impact, and on the other we can do tiny but benevolent acts that make us feel good if nothing else. To avoid paralysis of action, we have to look at a third way in which individuals can make a big impact by making a personal lifestyle choice.

Perhaps THE personal lifestyle choice, the one that dictates all others, is diet. As our bodies change we are literally eaten by the earth and in exchange we get to choose how we would like to eat it. Of course, much of our diet choice is culturally influenced and most people don’t ever get beyond what they are sold by their local marketing strategists and fed by their mothers. However, diet is ultimately a personal choice that is possibly the most intimate way of establishing a relationship with our Earth. Living as part of our Earth is an important spiritual lifestyle choice and this spiritual development refines the balance we need between us as individuals and the rest of life. “The more spiritually evolved we become, the more we are aware that we are also a part of everything outside and beyond ourselves; we are just a tiny piece to a greater whole. We become more selfless.” (Balance Point: Searching for a Spiritual Missing Link)

Just as important is the practical side to all of this. According to the UN/FAO’s report called “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” It contributes over 18% of all greenhouse gasses, more than transport. These are emitted in the form of Co2 and other more destructive gasses such as methane, nitrous oxide and ammonia. The report suggests a series of solutions including cover crops, manure management, forestation, reforestation, developing methodologies for soil carbon sequestration, and above all, improving livestock diets.

Regarding effects of the industry on water, the report states the following:

· The livestock sector is a significant source of overgrazing, compaction, erosion, acid rain, acidification of ecosystems

· The livestock sector is a key player in increasing water use, accounting for over 8 percent of global human water use…

· It is probably the largest sectoral source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, “dead” zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, emergence of antibiotic resistance and many others.

· The major sources of pollution are from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feedcrops, and sediments from eroded pastures.

· Livestock also affect the replenishment of freshwater by compacting soil, reducing infiltration, degrading the banks of watercourses, drying up floodplains and lowering water tables.

It is also a leading contributor to the destruction of biodiversity. “Indeed, the livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species.”

As the topic here is climate change, I thought about saving a discussion about health issues for later. However, can we really consider ourselves and our health separate from our environment? We can consider obesity, numerous types of cancer, hypertension and a variety of other meat-intake related diseases as part of our current environmental disaster if we consider ourselves as part of the environment, which is only logical.

Both environmental and health disasters are a logical consequence of deviating from our natural diet on such a large and now nearly uncontrollable scale. Medical science is gradually demonstrating that our natural diet consists of that which grows out of the ground. Realizing this, wouldn’t it make more sense to start making significant changes to OUR diet instead of pouring large amounts of unavailable energy and time into changing livestock diet? Gradually adopting a grain, vegetable, nut and fruit-based diet could possibly be the most accessible and powerful change possible for each individual who is concerned about the future of our planet.