We must make our peace with nature for a sustainable, happier future — Philip J Lymbery
The week before we witnessed the worst floods for decades in Germany and Belgium with heavy loss of life. The American West is currently in a cycle of heat, wildfires and drought, threatening the Hoover Dam Reservoir and water for the West of the US. Mega-drought has become a new term for their blistering heat conditions. Iran, which is facing the worst drought in five decades, is also facing riots on the streets as its people protest. Turkey’s lakes are dry, causing the deaths of thousands upon thousands of flamingos. Mexico is reporting crop failures as a result of the intense drought conditions. In many places power is failing due to the demand for air conditioning. People and animals are suffering alike, and many are tragically dying.
And that’s not all.
The consequences of an increasing global human population are adding further unsustainable pressure on our natural resources, on climate stability, on animals (farmed and wild), and if the current negative trends continue with loss of biodiversity and ecosystems, which worsen with every climate disaster, it will also undermine progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The impact of our actions are being felt in even the most remote parts of the world. Nowhere seems safe.
It’s hard to know what to do, what to believe and how to act. It seems everyone has a different priority, a different solution, a different soap box. There is no unifying message. It’s all a very sombre reflection on the devastation our actions are having on the planet.
Yet if this pandemic has illustrated anything, it is that at its heart, humanity has the unique ability to act quickly and decisively. We have the global intelligence and scientific expertise to create first-class vaccines. We can pull together when the ‘chips are down’. And importantly, that our own health and well-being, is closely connected with that of our environment and our planet.
We know that it has never been more important to act decisively to protect our planet and future generations, but how?
I believe the answer lies in the concept of ‘One Health’. It’s not new and it’s not yet universally understood, but it is gaining significant traction in national and international settings, with many highlighting the opportunity it affords to strengthen interdisciplinary collaboration and action.
The definition that the United Nations Environment Programme abides by is “One Health is the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environmen”. When combining ‘One Health’ with ‘One Welfare’, it adds the consideration of mental as well as physical health and we have the beginnings of an approach that could be hugely beneficial for a sustainable life on Earth, for all species.
At its core is the realisation that protecting people means protecting animals too, and it recognises the constantly evolving relationship between animals, humans and the planet we all share.
Let’s consider the impact of the industrial farming of animals, also known as factory farming.
Alongside a human and ecological health crisis, we are also facing an animal health crisis. Approximately 70 billion animals are farmed for food worldwide every year (60 per cent of all mammals on Earth), the majority of which are produced under intensive livestock production systems with little, if any, animal welfare standards.
Factory farming is not only the biggest cause of animal cruelty on the planet, but a major driver of deforestation. It is now recognised as a serious pandemic risk too: factory farms create the perfect breeding ground for new and dangerous strains of disease by keeping thousands of animals caged, crammed and confined. These intense animal farming systems also drive the increased use of antibiotics, diminishing animal health, exacerbating the human health crisis, and contributing to the ecological health crisis.
Far from sparing land for nature, the reality of intensive farming is that farmland continues to expand, encroaching on the world’s last remaining wild lands. Sustainable intensification is a myth.
Vast acreages of precious arable land have to be devoted to growing feed for confined farmed animals. Globally, 40 per cent of our entire grain harvest is fed to industrially reared animals. If fed directly to people, it could sustain an extra four billion of us. Yet, as animal ‘feed’, much of the food value is lost, in terms of both calories and protein.
In the relentless quest for a so-called ‘cheap’ diet, but with a wasteful mentality, humanity has created a broken and highly damaging food system. Yet, the interests of a few are masking the huge impact that the industrial farming of animals has on our world by “borrowing tactics from tobacco companies” to downplay its role in driving the climate crisis. But the facts don’t lie.
How to change is increasingly seen as reconnecting food production and nature through regenerative, agro-ecological farming combined with more balanced diets. Eating more plants and less and better meat from nature-friendly farms where, as sentient beings, animals can move freely and experience the joy of life. Where they can be mixed in rotation with crops grown using natural predators and disease control instead of chemicals and drugs. Where manures fertilise the ground, turning dirt into soil.
This year’s United Nations Food Systems Summit offers a huge opportunity for a UN global agreement on food. One that recognises food’s central role in the success of addressing health, climate and biodiversity challenges. One that sets a course toward a health-oriented food system without factory farming and the over-reliance of animal-based diets. One that recognises that a sustainable, healthier and happier future, depends upon us making peace with nature.
One that truly embraces that essential principle that protecting people means protecting animals and our environment too. One Health, One Welfare, One World.
Philip Lymbery is global CEO of Compassion in World Farming and a United Nations Champion of the Food Systems Summit.
This article was published in The Scotsman, Monday 26th July 2021