George Monbiot was interviewed by Bee Wilson, a food critic, yesterday at the Cambridge Literary Festival. Someone had a sense of humour in pairing the two of them. Monbiot’s message for the evening was that the planet is drowning in animals raised for food. Animal meat and milk feeds a tiny proportion of the world’s people compared to the land devoted to raising feed to feed the animals.
Moving to a plant-based diet will not help because the land use is increased to the detriment of the planet’s need for a wild ecosystem.
What will help, he says, is to bring science into the picture and culture high protein flour. Culturing food has a small footprint and does not require an outside source of biomass to keep it going.
He gave some figures on the makeup of the animal biomass of the planet, but the talk moved too quickly for me to retain it all. So I looked up the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and now I have a bigger picture.
Plants make up about 80 percent of of the Earth’s biomass; bacteria make up about 15 percent; and the remaining 5 percent is animal biomass.
Of the animal biomass, things that crawl (arthropods) make up 50 percent, and fish, humans, livestock, and wild animals and birds make up the other 50 percent.
Mammal and Bird Biomass
So now we are drilling down to humans, and to mammals and birds that are kept in captivity and raised for food, and to wild animals.
Of the total biomass of mammals and birds, those farmed for food makes up around 60 percent, and wild mammals only 4 percent. The other 36 percent is us – humans.
So, 5 percent of all biomass is animal, and of that fish, humans, livestock, and wild animals and birds account for 50 percent. And of that 2.5 percent of all biomass, 60%, – or 1.5% of all biomass – is animals and birds farmed for food. Yet to support their continuance as a food source, we take up huge swathes of land to make feed to to feed to those animals, to feed a tiny proportion of humans.
Monbiot’s argument is that we in the developed nations are living irresponsibly at the top of the biosphere, causing overshoot.
Overshoot – the inability of a system to maintain itself because it devours the materials that are required for its maintenance.
How very individually we think and feel, and how differently we are required to think and feel if we are not to speed on and overshoot the capacity of the planet to feed us.
Tamara bought Monbiot’s book about six months ago, and she brought it to the event.
The book is ‘Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet‘
I asked George Monbiot if it was OK to photograph him, and I took these shots as my wife Tamara talked to him about Compassion In World Farming, a charity that she supports. Monbiot had heard of the organisation and he too is in favour of it.
Animals raised for food worldwide are treated abominably. There is an argument for saying that if animals were treated compassionately, part of the problem outlined by Monbiot would be alleviated because demand could not be met, And that could be a good start to weaning off meat.