For thousands of years, the human species has relied on the exploitation of our fellow inhabitants on Earth – the nonhuman animals. It has long been our society’s status quo, the norm. There are over 7.5 billion people on the planet. Nearly eight times that many farm animals are killed by humans annually. But what if the use of animals was no longer part of the equation? “Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night,” Edgar Allan Poe once wrote. In the spirit of November being World Vegan Month, we dream of a vegan world and just a few of the amazing changes we would have to look forward to were it to become a reality.
Billions of Animals Would No Longer Suffer
Over 56 billion animals are raised and slaughtered for human consumption each year. This figure doesn’t include marine animals, whose deaths are measured in tons. Together, approximately 150 billion animals’ lives are taken by the meat, dairy, egg and fish industries. Billions more are destroyed, injured and deprived of freedom by the fashion, entertainment, sports and animal testing industries.
The abolition of animal exploitation would bring an end to the cycle of breeding and raising animals for the sole purpose of killing them. No longer would nonhuman animals be subjected to agonizing (yet standard) practices like forcible insemination, intensive confinement, tail docking, dehorning, beak trimming, being auctioned off as babies, gassed, electrically stunned, processed while alive. Traumatic events such as separating children from their mothers within 24 hours of birth would no longer be routine.
Transport trucks full of animals stop criss-crossing nations; there would be no more live export by sea or air. Fish would no longer endure the despair and severe depression of farming.
Our relationship with animals would be completely transformed from one of dominance to one of co-existence and respect. Their depth of sentience and sophisticated cognitive abilities would be an undisputed fact, and our treatment of them would be universally acknowledged as having moral significance. We would understand the animal kingdom as never before; sharks would no longer be vilified, and farm animals would not be reduced to objects. Nonhuman animals would no longer have the status of commodities, but of conscious beings with the inherent right to be free from bodily harm.
Nature Would Heal
The toll of animal agriculture on our planet is brutal. The meat and dairy industries have been identified as major accelerators of climate change: animal agriculture produces more greenhouses gasses than emissions from all forms of transportation combined. Today, close to 80 percent of the Amazon’s deforestation is the result of land clearing for cattle ranching.
The environmental damage of raising animals for human consumption far exceeds that of plants — with beef production, for example, having emissions per gram of protein that are about 250 times those of legumes. A study published in 2015 stated that “consumption of animal-sourced food products by humans is one of the most powerful negative forces affecting the conservation of terrestrial ecosystems and biological diversity.”
In a vegan world with more available land, biofuels would replace half of the coal used worldwide, which is currently responsible for about 3,340 million tons of CO2e emissions annually.
Rainforests play a crucial role in absorbing our world’s carbon dioxide, converting it to oxygen. In a vegan society absent of animal agriculture, the Amazon — the “lungs of the planet,” as it’s known — would be restored to its healthy density. No longer would trees be burned to clear land, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the process. Global warming would be de-escalated.
With humans no longer wearing the skins of nonhuman animals, our Earth would be spared the dumping of chromium-laced waste and other dangerous pollutants into water systems by the leather industry. Instead, our clothing, shoes and accessories would be made from materials like repurposed plastic waste and waste plant fibers.
Our Water Would Be Protected
1 in 9 people around the world face water shortages. The water crisis is the #1 global risk based on impact to society, according to the World Economic Forum. A third of the world’s water consumption goes towards producing animal products. In a society without meat production, each former beef eater would save our planet nearly 130,000 gallons of water a year. The dairy industry’s catastrophic water footrpint (109 gallons to produce just one stick of butter) would be reversed in a vegan world.
Without industrial-scale animal exploitation, our water supplies would no longer be in danger of being polluted and made unsafe for human consumption by the frequent leakage of animal waste “lagoons” and fertilizer runoff. No longer would vast regions be affected by the disastrous manure spills of factory farms. Thanks to the end of the meat industry, communities would be safe from waterborne disease outbreaks caused by pathogens or having their drinking water poisoned by toxic pollutants like nitrogen.
With animal products obsolete, climate change would be abated; rising temperatures and the depletion of groundwater reserves due to drought would come to a standstill.
No More World Hunger
The bulk of industrially produced grain crops goes to confined animal feedlots instead of the 1 billion humans currently suffering from starvation and malnutrition. Over 50 percent of the corn grown globally, and 80 percent of soybeans, are consumed by animals farmed for their flesh. Yet it takes roughly 13 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat. Twenty-five times as much edible human food is being used to produce just one unit of meat.
In a vegan society, all field crop production that would have been used to raise animals would now meet the nutritional needs of the global population. It is estimated that by 2050, an additional 4 billion people could be fed with the annual energy value used to produce meat. Doing away with animal agriculture would free up land and resources, enabling communities to sustain themselves and making food sovereignty a reality. In the place of industrial-scale animal exploitation and slaughterhouses, there would be community farms and gardens, more schools and cultural institutions.
Species Extinction Would Be Halted
The systematic decades-long clearance of trees from the Amazon has condemned close to 40 species in the region to near extinction. And in the Southwest of the US, livestock grazing is the most widespread cause of wildlife endangerment. Not only do wild animals suffer from deforestation and climate change caused by the meat industry, but they are also killed en masse to protect its corporate interests. Keystone predators like California grizzly bears and Mexican gray wolves have been driven to extinction as a result of “predator control” programs.
Without the meat industry’s existence, more than 175 threatened or endangered species in the United States would be saved from peril. And according to Thiago Rangel, an ecologist at the Federal University of Goiás in Brazil, forest regeneration in the Amazon would help to “gradually recover species richness, composition and vital ecosystems functions.”
A More Empathetic Society
Leo Tolstoy famously wrote that “as long as there are slaughterhouses, there will be battlefields.” Could a world without wars result from, or coincide with, society abolishing animal exploitation? It’s not that far-fetched of a notion. Empathy is the ability to identify with the emotions of another and it is often the first step toward taking compassionate action for someone. And empathy literally transforms our brain.
A 2015 Neuroimage study showed that higher empathy scores were “associated with greater gray matter density” and that people “who have high cognitive empathy are those who are more rational.” A rational state of mind is calmer and less inclined towards impulsive actions — or, in other words, aggressive and violent behavior.
One of the core aspects of a veganism is being empathetic to the pain of animals, in being able to relate to them and recognize their suffering. Compared to omnivores, functional MRI brain scans reveal a more powerful empathetic response to both human and animal suffering in the minds of vegetarians and vegans.
The more we put empathy into practice, the more empathetic we become. It is nearly impossible to imagine wars still taking place once the last slaughterhouse shutters. In changing our relationship with animals, we could change our relationship with one another and pave the way to the world peace that we all long for.
Let’s Make It a Reality
It’s up to us to make the dream real — through leading by example, mobilizing our communities, becoming engaged with the world around us, participating in grassroots activism. The task is more urgent than ever, particularly since our President-elect is a climate change denier who is rounding up an administration similarly hostile to the protection of animals and the environment. When relying on the government to help us is no longer an option, we still have control over whether or not we choose to participate in industries and practices that are destroying our planet and its inhabitants. And that is incredibly empowering. We already know that a benevolent existence is possible — one need only flip through the pages of LAIKA to see how abundant, vibrant and interesting a vegan life is. It is us, the masses, who hold the key to transforming our society. Our potential to cultivate positive change is limitless, and the time to begin is now.
Posted by Julie Gueraseva