Following a failed suicide attempt 26 years ago, Chris Darwin decided his life needed some meaning. Being the great, great grandson of Charles Darwin, working to improve the welfare of animals seemed like the appropriate path.
Chris Darwin is specifically focussed on the halting mass species extinction across the globe. Many species of animal are becoming extinct at shocking rates, and alongside other scientists and environmentalists, he believes he knows why: meat production.
“We have to stop this,” says Darwin, and recent studies agree. Research into 27,600 species has said that ‘Dwindling population sizes and range-shrinkages amount to a massive anthropogenic erosion of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services essential to civilisation.’
So what’s that got to do with meat?
Meat production is an unsustainable system. WWF research has shown that ‘60 per cent of global biodiversity loss is down to meat-based diets.’ This is for a number of reasons but is largely down to the amount of soya and cereals grown to feed livestock. These crops use up extortionate volumes of water and in doing so, eliminate wild species.
Additionally, the land mass used per calorie of food produced is significantly decreased when those calories come from meat and dairy. The Economist has reported that ‘livestock provides just 17 per cent of global calories consumed, it requires twice that proportion of the Earth’s fresh water, feed and farmland because of the crops required.’
Soya production also accounts for a great deal of deforestation, particularly in rainforests across South America. Many people believe that if everyone switched to plant-based diets the production of soya and cereals would have to dramatically increase but this is a misconception. In the EU 60 percent of the cereal produced is used to feed livestock, and this is even greater in the US, totaling 67 percent.
According to calculations by Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming ‘worldwide, if grain-fed animals were restored to pasture and the cereals and soya went to people instead, there would be enough for an extra four billion people.’
Director-general of WWF International, Marco Lambertini, says ‘Lose biodiversity, and the natural world – including the life-support systems as we know them – will collapse.’
Chris Darwin’s message to people who want to conserve the planet is pretty clear: ‘What is the single silver bullet to solve this problem? We need behavioural changes to solve this problem – and that is to eat less meat.’
Image credit: Darwin’s Unfinished Business