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Revisiting Veganism

I’ve been vegan for over a year now. This week it was my birthday, and as a gift, I got a little pack with certificates saying that I’m now Shirley the cow’s and Hamish the pig’s ‘best buddy‘.

These guys live at Edgar’s Mission, and Shirley’s story was the catalyst to my becoming vegan. I wanted to sponsor him since he was the one that set me on the path.

Hamish is just super cute!

Anyway, it reminded me of when I first read Shirley’s story, so I thought I’d revisit the post I wrote at the time. What do you think? Was I on the right track?

I think going vegan was one of the best decisions I ever made. 🙂

In my pack from Edgar’s Mission, I got a booklet entitled Eating Up The World: the environmental consequences of human food choices. It’s produced by various vegetarian/vegan societies in Australia, so you could get a copy through any of them if you wanted one. It’s also available online at that link. I thought it might be biased considering the producers, but they cite all their sources. Anyway, the booklet really confirmed my decision for me, from an environmental standpoint. It clearly outlines how choosing not to eat animal products is pretty much the single greatest individual activity you can take to help reduce climate change. I think that’s pretty awesome.

Here are some of the main points (I didn’t know a bunch of these before I read the booklet!):

  • It takes 50,000L to 100,000L of water to produce 1kg of beef, but only 2500L to produce 1kg of white rice and much less for most other grains, fruits and vegetables. (This totally makes me think of how I was often told to eat less rice during the drought, because it was such a water-intensive crop and not suited to the Australian climate – which it’s not – but no-one ever told me to eat less beef.)
  • Over 67% of water in Australia is used for agriculture (as compared to 9% for household use), so we should concentrate our water saving efforts on what we eat/wear etc. About 90% of household water consumption comes from food consumption. People eating an omnivorous diet use approximately 3.5 times as much water for food than people eating plant-based diets. Are you seeing a connection here?
  • Australia’s livestock will produce more warming over the next 20 years (via methane) than all our coal-fired power stations combined.
  • 60% of Australia’s land is used for grazing.
  • The UN identified ‘…animal agriculture and food consumption as one of the most significant drivers of environmental pressures and climate change, stating that “a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products”…’
  • 92% of land disturbance in Australia, which includes clearing forests and bushland, increased erosion, changes to the water table, acidifying and compacting soils, spreading weeds, unsustainable levels of manure and climate change, is caused by animal agriculture (55% beef, 36% sheep/wool, 1% dairy). The remaining 8% is all other industries. That’s EVERYTHING ELSE.
  • 5kg of wild fish is needed to produce 1kg of farmed fish.
  • Fish is one of the most contaminated foods on the planet.
  • Some parts of the ocean have been so over-fished that they are now ‘dead zones’ covering tens of thousands of square kilometres.
  • Australia now imports 30% of our oil (we used to drill our own, but it’s been dropping since 2000 – Australia has already reached peak oil). Animal agriculture uses considerably more energy than plant agriculture, considering transport of feed and livestock, operation of farm facilities including heating, cooling, lighting and slaughter facilities and the constant refrigeration required for storage of the animal products.
  • 27,000 children under the age of 5 die of poverty and starvation every day around the world – and we grow 50% more edible grain worldwide than is required to feed every person on the globe. That extra food plus more is given to farm animals.
  • The world’s cattle (so not including anything but cow type animals) eat enough food to feed more than the whole world’s population.
This has actually put a bit of a different spin on things for me. For a long time I’ve been thinking beef production is one of the better types of animal agriculture, because from an animal rights perspective, the animals live better lives than many other species. However, from this booklet, it sounds like beef is the worst environmentally. I was actually surprised that poultry and eggs didn’t show up on the graphs – I know the animals are smaller but they’re so extensively farmed…
Guess it’s a good thing I’m vegan so I don’t have to make any tough decisions. I just don’t eat any of it. Easy.
Thanks Shirley. 🙂

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Population: Bomb or Bullshit?

Just a quick little thing to think about: you might want to read it in correlation with my previous post on population growth.

Two opposing viewpoints on population growth:

1. I’m an Environmentalist and I’m Not Having Kids by Beth Terry at My Plastic-free Life (formerly Fake Plastic Fish)

2. Top ten reasons the “Population Bomb” is bullshit by Jason Blum at phenotypical.com

Which do you agree with, if either? Personally, I’ve seen a lot more written supporting the first one, but there’s a little itty bitty part of me that thinks some of what’s in the second one is common sense. If a little alarmist… maybe. But I’m not really sure it’s alarmist. See my Apocalypse Soon post for more on my perspective on that.

My point is… what’re your thoughts? Cos clearly I’m not sure.

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Rising Sea Levels on the Sunshine Coast

This article popped up on my Facebook page today. It outlines the results of a predictive sea level modelling project undertaken by researchers at the University of the Sunshine Coast. In 90 years time, what with rising sea levels, vast tracts of my home region are going to be underwater.

Map showing inundation of parts of Maroochydore, Alexandra Headlands, Cotton Tree, Twin Waters, Bli Bli, Pacific Paradise, Mudjimba and Mooloolaba, due to sea level rises. Links to pdf map.

Click the map to view the full PDF version.

Looking at the maps, it seems that my parent’s place will be ok, thanks in no small part to my father’s post 1974-flood obsession with living on a hill. (Seriously, I’m not kidding when I say obsessed – we’re aiming to buy a house soon and the first thing my dad asks about any place we look at is whether or not it’s flood-prone.) My folks probably won’t be living there in 90 years anyway, but that’s not really the point.

However, parts of my high school and one of the primary schools I attended are going to get wet. The main retail/entertainment district is going to get very wet (makes sense – it’s built over a creek). The waterfront area all along the beach, places my friends lived, where my mum worked, where my sister’s boyfriend currently lives, where I got my first job (a bakery across from the surf club)… they’re all going to be underwater.

It makes it seem almost funny, how worried people have been for the last 15-odd years (or more) about a bit of beach erosion. There have been sandbags along some parts of the beaches for years now. Beach is so important where I grew up – it attracts the tourists, which of course brings in the money – but it now seems laughable to be trying to keep an extra few metres of sand on the shore when the whole place is going to be underwater as far back as the local library. That’s the library I spent countless hours in as a kid and a teen. I still have a library card.

I know I shouldn’t be as upset about this as I am. I mean, I’ve known for some time that whole island nations will be lost to the sea unless climate change can be completely stalled right now (and for some of them, not even then). I grew up on the coastline. According to the original article, 85% of Queenslanders live on the coast. Why does this news come as a surprise? What was I thinking? That somehow because it’s my home it would come through unscathed? Am I really that delusional and self-absorbed?

I don’t think it’s any of those things really. I think this news story just brought it home in a more personal, immediate way. That article is in the newspaper my parents had delivered to the house everyday. Just our little old local paper. Not a sensationalist rag that would hype up a story like this (they’d certainly hype other stories, but not this).  Not an earnest, environmental publication that is identifying these issues ahead of the mainstream news. No… if this story is in this paper, then it is mainstream news. And a lot more people are going to sit up and take notice. Myself included.

Plus, this is home. Up until now, when this whole climate change debacle wasn’t so personal, I’ve been able to do my little old bit to reduce climate change and feel like I’m doing ok. I’m contributing. After all, what more can I do? I’ve got other more important stuff going on, and it’s not like I don’t contribute. But in the same way this year’s Queensland floods hit home at all of us locals far more than similar events in Pakistan or Haiti, finding out my home town is going to be irreversibly impacted by rising sea levels affects me on a deeper, more personal level than hearing about how Australia is helping people from Kiribati prepare for life after their country becomes uninhabitable.

That’s not to say I don’t care about other people; I do. But it’s a different kind of caring; a distant kind of caring. I know we’re luckier in Australia than lots of the rest of the world. We do have the option of moving further inland. But still…

Maybe it’s selfish, but the feelings are there. And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way.

But what more can I do? Is it inevitable?

Maybe all that’s left is to accept that it’s happening, but to keep trying to change, keep influencing other people to change… in the hope that we can stop this inundation in its tracks. To put it more personally, maybe I need to accept that while my high school might be lost, if I try a bit harder and help other people to try harder, we can halt the water before my parents’ house goes under too. Just in case my great-great-grandkids want to see where they come from, someday.

So in the pursuit of influencing others, I ask you to ask yourself: what will my home town look like in 90 years? Will it still be there?

FYI: You can try to use this tool to help you find out, but I’m buggered if I’ve been able to make it work. Let me know if you’ve figured it out or if you know of another one.

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The Story of Stuff

I just read a great article about Annie Leonard, who created The Story of Stuff. The Story of Stuff is a short, animated film that explains our consumer lifestyle and how it is affected us and the planet – from go to whoa. Here’s the video if you haven’t seen it before (you can choose different languages and captions if you click through to the site).

I like how the article allows Annie to better explain some of the points people have refuted. I also like how it gives us a bit of background to how she got into environmental activism. I especially like how the article is appearing in a major magazine – Elle – so lots of people will get to hear more about The Story of Stuff. Good stuff, Elle!

P.S. I really like the idea of a kampung. Does anyone know of any western (specifically Australian) types of these? Mostly I’ve seen eco-villages, but they don’t allow you to keeps cats and dogs and that doesn’t work for me (although I understand their reasons). I would love to live near like-minded people, eventually, and the whole sharing of resources and community appeals to me.

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Spotlight: Rescue a Battery Hen!

My mum is talking about getting chickens. It will be a while before she gets them, but she is very enthusiastic. Her local council has changed the law so her yard is now considered big enough, which she finds ironic. She had chooks in suburbia as a kid, then they were regulated out (only poor people and farmers had chooks – suddenly everyone was rich enough to buy their own eggs, so it became illegal to keep them). She and I had an interesting (if abbreviated due to time constraints) discussion about how everything comes full circle and we’re going back to the environmentally-friendly way things were done in the past.

Mum also saw an eco-coop at a university environmental day which caught her fancy. It was nice and big and had a trough on top where you could grow veges (like lettuce). Clearly the garden part would be conveniently handy to the chook manure!

In addition to those little incentives, Mum just plain likes chickens. Let’s just say that this weekend wasn’t the first time she and I have talked about her childhood chook, Penny. (Sadly, a snake got Penny when Mum was about 5 or 6.) Cows might make her nervous (‘They have such big faces!’), but she gets this really sweet smile on her face when she talks about chickens.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I suggested Mum rescue battery hens and she seemed keen on the idea. Mum is always keen to rescue animals in distress (I think she would be vegan if she allowed herself to really think about it, but let’s not get into that debate.)

Hens one month after adoption

Hens, one month after adoption. (Photo from The Battery Hen Adoption Project.)

I read about battery hen rescue on the Queensland Vegsoc forum (I feel like I’m reading everything there lately!). I’m going to send her links, but here are three threads about battery hen adoption, some with links to photos, for you all to read too.

  1. Jan 2010 hen adoptions (there’s a very moving poem on p4)
  2. March 2010 hen adoptions
  3. May 2010 hen adoptions.

The organisation that rehomes the battery hens is Brisbane-based. It’s called The Battery Hen Adoption Project. They have some really good information on their site about taking care of the chooks when they first come home. Of course everything is new to the poor bald chickens; they don’t even know how to sleep sitting down, or have a concept for getting up and walking to the water/food dishes to eat and drink.

There’s also the saddest video on the site:

I really want to rescue some hens now! I can’t wait til we’re not renting anymore. (I have visions of a strawbale type of construction to be a lovely, fox-free coop for them to sleep in at night.) I am also pleased with the idea of supplying Yankee Elv and Mr Teeny-bop with some truly free-range eggs, since they both still eat them.

In the meantime, I guess I will have to make do with visiting Mum’s chickens, when she gets them. I wonder, if she gets them in winter, if they will need jumpers like these…

If you want to keep chickens in Brisbane, get all the info on ourbrisbane.

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Climate Change is Old News

Treehugger shared an interesting video yesterday that really shows how long concerns about climate change have been around. This film called The Unchained Goddess was made by Frank Capra (you might recognise him as the producer of It’s a Wonderful Life). It provides the same message (nearly word-for-word!) that we hear so often today.

Have a look at this excerpt:

I love the doom-inspiring music when the ice caps start melting, and the Hanna Barbera-style animated version of Miami. The numbers are frightening though – they were nervous about climate change in the late ’50s, when about 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide were being emitted globally. Today, China alone emits more than that, not to mention the rest of the world. And look where we are, still doing nothing.

The fact that some Hollywood bigwig produced the film suggests that the ideas about climate change were not just the stuff of science, but everyday popular culture, like now. So what happened in the 70s and 80s to make us forget that? Think where we might be now if we hadn’t had to spend so much time learning the same lesson all over again.

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