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November 1994
Are We Eating Ourselves to Death?

By Howard Lyman


There have never been more people on Earth. There have never been more cows on Earth, nor pigs, nor chickens. We are using more pesticides today than at any time in history and we are losing a greater percentage of the crops. At the same time, there has never been less clean water on Earth. There has never been less available topsoil, nor fewer fish, nor fewer mature trees. There has never been less cause for optimism for the future of the human race. Our natural resources are disappearing at an unbelievable rate, and our so-called “leaders” offer only cosmetic solutions. The Earth’s population calls for more of everything while the Earth demands time to recover from years of abuse.

The Brazilian rainforest is being destroyed to provide pasture for cattle. If this destruction continues at its present pace, this rainforest will disappear within our children’s lifetime. We are losing acreage equal to the size of France every five years. This rainforest is called the “lungs of the world” by some and we are turning it into a desert. When we review history, the Romans referred to the great forests of Africa and today we know this area as the Sahara Desert. How do you like the sound of “the Amazon Desert”? It is not only the Brazilian rainforest that is under attack. Many forests around the world are destroyed daily to provide items as frivolous as disposable chopsticks. This wanton destruction by humans cannot continue at its present pace and still allow an environment that will sustain human life.

Food-producing soil is disappearing at a shocking rate around the world. Grain production in the great plains of the United States causes the loss of three tons of topsoil for every ton of grain produced. Worldwide today, one person in twelve is fed with grain produced in the U.S. at the cost of precious topsoil. In the last forty years, China has lost cropland acreage equal to the size of all the farms in Germany, France, Holland, and Denmark combined, while its population continues to grow. The list goes on and on, while superficial solutions are proposed by comatose national leaders. The Earth has dealt with problems like this in the past. The solution has been to reduce the human population. We are running out of pristine resources to exploit, and the available options continue to shrink every day.

Human sperm count, in the time it has been recorded worldwide, has fallen over 40% — 20% in just the last decade. The reproductive capability of many other species has also fallen at an astronomical rate in the past fifty years. Our rapidly diminishing resources should wake us up, but instead we are hoping someone else is minding the store. We are robbing ourselves of a future.

When we take the time to read the signs of the planet they all say the same thing: “I can take no more abuse.” The oceans are becoming a wasteland of pollution in which fish can no longer survive. Underground aquifers are becoming polluted, and we lack the technology to clean them. Topsoil is covering the ocean floor, and we are left with barren, non-productive fields around the globe.

World economists soothe the ears of governments with theories of least-cost production and free trade solving all the problems associated with natural resource destruction. These patchwork plans ignore the basic problems — what we are doing on the planet is totally non-sustainable. We adjust the pilot light while the forest fire is about to burn down our towns. The longer we fail to face the real problems the more difficult it will be to find solutions.

Problems such as nuclear waste disposal, clear cutting, rainforest destruction, topsoil loss, over-grazing, water pollution, waste disposal, and air pollution represent just a few which we have failed to solve. The survival of our race will depend on achieving solid solutions for all of these problems during our lifetime. This is not a hope, it is a necessity.

I recently heard a lecture by Dr. Michael Klaper who stated that the amount of time available to begin the changes to save the human race should be counted in months, not years. He believes we have fewer than 120 months in which to institute these changes or it will be too late. I believe he is over-estimating the time we have. This ship called Earth cannot change course quickly.

The most dangerous implement in the arsenal of the human race today is the table fork. We have difficulty convincing ourselves of its importance; instead, we hope for a scientific breakthrough that will allow us to indulge ourselves and save our race at the same time. I believe this breakthrough will never occur no matter how hard we pray. Common sense tells us when we work with nature we restore our environment and improve the health of not only the Earth but also ourselves. The prescription for health of all concerned is an organic plant-based diet.

There are many interconnected problems, but the most significant is the consumption of animal products. Mountains of animal manure, polluted water, overgrazing, rainforest destruction, human health, animal suffering, human hunger, soil loss, and global warming can all be attributed to the human consumption of animal products. Time wasting debates can be conducted for as long as money exists to buy phoney studies that cloud the issue, but the facts remain: we cannot survive on this planet in our present numbers if we continue to consume current quantities of animal products.

In my lifetime, I have seen animal production in the U.S. explode from rural family farms to factory farming. The size of this type of production is mind-boggling: chicken operations with millions of birds and beef feedlots with more than fifty thousand animals. The waste and disease in these operations are monumental. We are also skating on very thin ice by limiting genetic varieties within our animal and plant species. This reduction of the gene pool is a time bomb waiting to explode just as it did in the U.S. in the mid eighties when the majority of U.S. corn was one of three different varieties. These few varieties all had the same vulnerability to disease and during the decade the majority of crop failed. The ability of pests and disease to exploit genetic weaknesses will always be the Achilles heel of the human food supply. The reason why most species have survived as long as they have is because of the great variety within each species. This diversity is being reduced at an alarming rate. Modern agriculture has reduced the number of grain species from thousands to less than a hundred. This example is being repeated over and over. Every time we become involved in a new area of agriculture we select a few varieties and then combine them, believing that we know more than nature. In every instance we fail to maintain the genetic pool in case, our plan has a major flaw.

Unless we learn to live within our bio-region and face the basic problem of the interaction of all of the Earth’s life forms, we are a species bound for extinction. Every trainload of corn shipped from Iowa farms today to animal feedlots in Texas produces about a trainload of manure. The cost of shipping this manure back to Iowa is prohibitive so the soil-enhancing manure ends up in a pile in Texas while the farmers of Iowa must purchase commercial fertilizers so they can repeat the cycle again and again. Our inability to return the natural resources to the soil is causing the mining of the most fertile soil and in the end we will find the added commercial fertilizer falls far short of the total soil needs. This type of production happens all around the Earth every time we ship products outside of local bio-regions. We must not only recognize the problem, but also make “living the solution” an everyday habit of all who reside on the planet Earth. We can make this change if we begin with a commitment to our diet. This will be very difficult for some, but it’s mandatory if we plan to see the survival of our children and grandchildren.

Although the future looks bleak, there are actions we can take and the sooner we start the sooner we may reverse existing trends. The selection of your individual diet is the most important choice you can make. How you spend your money as a consumer is the next. The future can be changed, but only if we start the change where it matters most: with ourselves.

Howard Lyman
is Executive Director of Voice for a Viable Future. This article is an excerpt of a speech given at the World Vegetarian Conference in The Hague, The Netherlands in August 1994.


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