Erik Richardson

Teacher, Richardson Ideaworks, Inc.

This conversation is closed.

Can we sustain the population AND the ecosystem without converting to vegetarianism?

Setting aside the ethical questions about humane treatment of animals and the ethics of killing them if we don't need to (important and interesting questions, mind you), let us consider it just from the standpoint of logistical feasibility.

If you don't think we have reached that level yet, at what point would we? That is, under what conditions would the answer tilt to the negative?

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    May 14 2011: When we eat meat, we introduce into our body and mind : anger, anxiety, suspicion and fear of death, everything the animal felt before it was killed - all of which are locked into the the flesh of the butchered creatures.
    We strive to live in a higher consciousness and when we eat meat we cannot attain that. Even for medical reasons, a vegetarian diet is less prone to salmonella, ringworm and other heart and digestive diseases. Its easier to grow all the plants you need to sustain your diet in your own backyard. Our produce from any supermarket is infused with growth hormones, while the pure organic produce is mostly expensive. The way I see it, we should create a "Farmville" in the real world.
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    Apr 25 2011: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/marcel_dicke_why_not_eat_insects.html

    Add Insects to the menu!

    - Eating less meat would be good.
    But I would like the taste of lamb, rabbit, horse, cow , fowl, pig, fish,... once in a while... And I think from a hedonistic point of view it would be folly to take that away.
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    May 4 2011: Flesh foods are at the crux of the paradox of affluence. What we eat leaves our greatest impact on the planet. From a purely logistical perspective, large scale meat consumption is not compatible with a sustainable future. while developed countries make up only 10% of the population, we are responsible for 80% of environmental degradation and our largest contribution comes from our meal plan. 2/3 of the planet subsist primarily on plant based diet, not do to strict vegetarianism but rather a lack of access and resources. As middle classes are emerging in developing nations such as China and India, the demand for flesh foods is going up. Current trends and agricultural practices cannot support a few billion more people with a demand for meat with every meal. Vat-meat may be a viable solution, or population control perhaps, or a revolution in farming techniques, but business as usual will lead to disaster. Not only is animal production highly inefficient, meat consumption has led to some of societies greatest ills such as heart disease, the number one main cause of death in industrialized nations. Aside from the correlation of health related issues and meat consumption are the very real and present dangers of over use of antibiotics on livestock, which has a very high probability of leading to stains of antibiotic resistant micro-organisms. One of the most probable disasters that humanity faces is an outbreak of antibiotic resistant bugs bred in factory farms. While it may be possible to live a sustainable lifestyle and still eat animals, it is not probable, but then again it is also not probable that the world will massively adopt plant based diets. Animal farms are highly subsidized and managed for monetary gain not sustainability, meat production is extremely difficult and expensive as it is and costly changes to the system or methods are unlikely so ag-revolution is out the door, vat-meat is off-putting for most, and vegetarianism is laughed at by most people.
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    Apr 27 2011: Objectively speaking for the dietary demands of a city, who needs to eat what to sustain themselves and thrive, Should be the question. If we think about it ~7 Billion people is a lot of people and Cows fish and chicken for everyone would cause mayhem..

    Do diets need to be specialized to the stage of the city, to the particular types of needs of its people? A more vegetarian diet to those with more resources, and a more meat heavy abundance to developing cities?

    As an acute observance developing areas seriously thrive off of a meat diet.

    I don't believe that we should be strict vegetarians, we do need the complex food package animals provide with unique pyto-chemicals and resources.
  • Apr 26 2011: I am surprised to read that, what I think is an illuminated part of the population, as the TED users are supposed to be, still don't want to see how important is the issue of the meat consumption. This is a serious problem and the arguments seem to be mostly related to the taste of our dinners... sincerely not enough deep.
    The question probably is more: what are we willing to give for the human well-being? Do we really care about feeding the world population?

    "If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million."

    source: http://www.news.cornell.edu/releases/aug97/livestock.hrs.html
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    Apr 26 2011: Good question, I would also like to bring up the question of the impact that bioengineered meat will have.

    If we will eventually be able to engineer steaks and ribs for a reasonable price there will no longer be need for farm animals. This drastically decreases the consumption of grains and of course of water.

    I see this technology as having great potential for the future and expect that it will eventually become our main source of meat, once of course the remaining problems such as correct replication, price issues and of course general acceptance in society are solved.
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      Apr 26 2011: Still some work to be done on making test tube turkey tumor taste good, but when a viable product hits I have a feeling it will take off. When the taste is up to par, I'm sure fast food companies will snatch this up. Lab grown meat seems to have the very real potential of being much cheaper and easier to produce and satisfy the need for a constant meat supply without relying on commercial cattle farms.

      Really, who would notice the difference anyway when it's ground up in a big mac?

      As a added bonus we could eat the meats of anything we want without moral consequence! Want a panda steak and some homefrys? Always wanted to try dolphin? A M-F-ing T-Rex heart!

      Human? Hey man I'm not judging!
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        Sky F

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        Apr 27 2011: LOL at this whole post.

        But yeah, I've seen 'test tube turkey tumor' and it looks exactly like what that title sounds. I suppose you have a point when you just grind it up in a big mac. But. UGhhhh. Yucky. Give me tofurkey.
  • Apr 25 2011: To produce meat need lots of grains.Not everyone have to be a vegetarian but I think everyone should just eat less meat.Eat less meat,less people would starve.Further more,as we know,many human diseases are caused by meat,directly or indirectly.
    • Apr 29 2011: Very true for disease, compare east and west with heart disease and diabetes, and then look at the diets; mostly based on rice and vegetables, vs the fast food or places like America. That's not to say that meat is bad, but as with so very many things... moderation is key!!

      Although controversial and I would like to hope that a change in diet has not had such a large effect, "Left in the Dark" by Graham Gynn & Tony Wright puts forward some interesting points, and relates to this question alot.
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    May 9 2011: In short, yes I believe we can sustain "a population" without converting to a vegetable only diet providing we are more responsive to our local ecosystem and avoid the movement of water across oceans.

    I doubt the issue is so definitive as either/or. The protein intake for us is a great deal less than we currently consume. For example 1 gram of protein per kg of your weight daily including vegetable protein, though I weigh 95kg the prospect of sitting down to a 95gram steak or less may not be that inviting to some.

    Our ability to consume greater amounts of nutrients than we need is very evident in the growing obesity around the world. Practicing a little more thought around our food intake rather than eat meat or not, would provide some solution to food demands.
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    May 9 2011: What a Modest proposal
  • May 9 2011: Observe nature - don't animals benefit human and plant life?

    How do you expect to sustain the population or the ecosystem without raising animals?
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      May 10 2011: The concept being discussed here is a little more complicated than weather or not animals benefit people and plants, but this may actually be a good way to view the topic. In short, the benefits of raising animals for food is questionable especially in the way modern factory farms and feed lots are operated, they produce a lot of pollution. Also, it is beginning to be widely recognized that the ingestion of animal foods may not be so good for people especially in high quantities. Comparative studies of diet and disease have shown very strong correlations between many chronic diseases and the eating of animal products. Heart disease for instance, the number one main cause of death in america, can largely be attributed to the standard american diet which is characterized by its emphasis on animal protein. Other issues such as the threat from breading antibiotic resistant strains of micro-organisms due to the over use of antibiotics in the production of animal foods is a serious risk that humanity is taking. And as far as sustaining the population and ecosystem I think the evidence is fairly clear that rearing animals for food is far more environmentally destructive than rearing plants. I'm sure the ecosystem would be much healthier without feedlots, the clear-cutting of forests for grazing pastures, and the toxic wastes coming out of slaughter houses.
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          May 10 2011: I left out a lot more than that, but from experience of conversations like this, animal suffering tends not to be high on peoples priority list. Its a topic that takes a certain kind of consideration and many people just don't think in those terms.
      • May 10 2011: "as far as sustaining the population and ecosystem I think the evidence is fairly clear that rearing animals for food is far more environmentally destructive than rearing plants. I'm sure the ecosystem would be much healthier without feedlots, the clear-cutting of forests for grazing pastures, and the toxic wastes coming out of slaughter houses."
        No. You were equating industrial feedlot farming with animal husbandry as such. Please understand this distinction: stopping the feedlot style of rearing meat is not the same as stopping eating meat altogether.

        The question was whether we need to stop eating meat altogether. I think that we do need to move away from using feedlots and antibiotics, but that stopping animal husbandry altogether and converting to vegetarianism would be ecological suicide.

        Without animals mowing down grasses, manuring fields, trampling and rooting around in the soil, the ecosystem suffers. You simply cannot have a healthy ecosystem consisting just of plants and no animals. Without herbivores, the plant-cover on the ground suffers, ground becomes bare, and the carbon that would be in that vegetation goes into the atmosphere. This has happened in places like North Africa and Texas, where desertification has followed cattle destocking. We can undo this desertification by getting cattle out of the feedlots and back on these lands. If we fail to do this, and decide to be vegetarians instead, those deserts will spread, the species that live there will die, and atmospheric carbon will increase.
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          May 10 2011: "You were equating industrial feedlot farming with animal husbandry as such. Please understand this distinction: stopping the feedlot style of rearing meat is not the same as stopping eating meat altogether. If we fail to do this, and decide to become vegetarian instead, the deserts spread, species are eradicated and atmospheric carbon increases."

          Currently, large scale meat consumption is done primarily in industrialized nations. this is a very small % of the population. of the 250,000,000 metric tonnes of ready to eat livestock and poultry produced in 2002, The nations of China, US., And Brazil ate half of it. For a full range of stats check out the FAO or Nationmaster.
          as affluence spreads around the world, meat consumption WILL rise and at rapid rates, if you compare the stats of individual meat consumption from say 100 years ago in US, to today you will see a model that represents exponential increase that correlates to increases in wealth as well as population. Imagine trying to feed a few billion more people who do not eat meat today, mass quantities of it (the numbers are staggering) . Take into account corporate practices and the lack of incentive for raising animals in a sustainable manner but rather to treat those animals as if products on an assembly line. Pile on peoples' lack of concern and what we have is a very toxic system of feeding the world. You seem to assume that animal husbandry is commonly done with great concern for the environment, But the factory farm model is the norm, not the other way around. and as demand goes up, and a need to make the system as cost effective as possible it will only get worse. large scale factory farming has exactly the opposite effect that you are proposing, It is not good for the environment but is rather considered by many scientists to be one of the most environmentally destructive behaviors of our society.
      • May 10 2011: Sure, meat consumption is rising with rising population and income. No one disputes that.

        Meher, there's one aspect of your opinion I'm not quite clear about; perhaps you could clarify it for me -
        When you mention a "lack of incentive for raising animals in a sustainable manner" and say that with "a need to make the system as cost effective as possible it will only get worse", you seem to be working under the assumption that feedlots are more cost-effective or more productive that sustainable practices like intensive rotational grazing. Is that what you think? Because it's not the case. Feedlot-owners spend 40-60% of their income on buying feed, rather than just feeding their animals free grass. And antibiotics are expensive.

        "You seem to assume that animal husbandry is commonly done with great concern for the environment"
        I made no such assumption. I'm well aware of the situation, which is why I stressed that our animal husbandry practices really need to change. Industrial animal husbandry has killed entire ecosystems in places like North Africa; but the solution is rearing animals naturally, not stopping rearing them altogether.

        "the factory farm model is the norm, not the other way around"
        Worldwide, mixed farming systems are the norm (http://www.fao.org/docrep/X5303E/x5303e09.htm)

        "large scale factory farming has exactly the opposite effect that you are proposing, It is not good for the environment but is rather considered by many scientists to be one of the most environmentally destructive behaviors of our society"
        That's exactly the point I've been making all along. Please make the distinction - stopping factory farming is not synonymous with converting to vegetarianism. My point in my last post was that you cannot equate animal husbandry with feedlot systems; your response was to point out more faults of feedlot systems. We do not need to convert to vegetarianism; we need to farm more wisely
      • May 10 2011: "the benefits of raising animals for food is questionable"
        I can't say I agree with this. The environmental, economic and human benefits of raising animals wisely (not on feedlots or extensive grazing) are beyond question.

        First, there is the question of feeding our brothers and sisters. Population is growing, and those people need food. We have on this planet 3.36 billion hectares of land covered in grass (http://faostat.fao.org/site/377/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=377#ancor). People can't eat grass, but animals can turn this grass into food for us. If we don't use those grasslands - an area larger than Africa - there is no way we'd feed a growing population. See my posts below for calculations of how much meat can be produced on this area.

        Second, there is the matter of sequestering carbon (assuming you believe the carbon-dioxide model of global warming). Just in the US, over a billion tons of carbon dioxide could be sequestered by well-managed ranches (http://www.malcolmbeck.com/articles/SimpleAnswerForTheWorld.htm). Worldwide, more carbon could be sequestered by ranching than is emitted from burning fuel

        Third, there is the issue of water-use. 69% of water-use is agricultural, and it'd be great if we could economize on this. Herds trample grass into mulch and compress earth, thereby increasing soil's water-infiltration. A study shows a 775% increase (http://www.savoryinstitute.com/storage/articles/Good%20Governance%202007%20_1_.pdf)

        Perhaps I am being a little contrarian, but nature works this way. Environmentalists think in black-and-white: CO2 bad, cows bad, vegetables good. But observe nature; every element has multiple, complex effects, not simple ones. And most environmentalists think in linear terms: X liters of water used, X tons of carbon dioxide emitted. But observe nature; everything flows in circles, never lines.

        So animals do emit CO2 and CH4, but help grow plants that remove it. They drink water, but they improve the soil's ability to hold it.
      • May 14 2011: MP, thousands of acres of rain forest in South America have been cut down for soy bean production ,how does it matter if you use the land for meat production or soy bean production hasn't the diversity of the forest been lost either way?
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    May 9 2011: Some of you have expressed optimism regarding our ability to resolve the issue before it's too late. There I would say, yes, we may well, but over-optimism in the face of the currently inadequate correlation between awareness and action suggests a reprisal of "Casey at the Bat."
  • May 8 2011: Well hundred years ago poultry or meat was farming , so when food becomes an industry the ecosystem collapses
    The livestock as we as we all know consumes a lot of resources than plants there-by depleting it so , vegetarianism is the key to a sustainable ecological future !!
  • May 8 2011: NATURE HAS A WAY OF BALANCING ITSELF. THERE IS ONLY A FINITE AMOUNT OF RESOURCES FOR US. I DONT THINK THAT A LACK OF FOOD, WATER OR OTHER RESOURCE WILL BE THE DECIDING FACTOR OF OUR POPLUATION LIMIT. RATHER I SUSPECT THE GREATER OUR POPULATION BECOMES THE MORE VUNERABLE WE ARE TO THE SPREAD OF DISEASES. THE CLOSER WE LIVE TO EACH OTHER AND THE MORE WE TRAVEL WILL ENABLE A NEW DISEASE TO TRAVERSE OUR POPULATION FASTER AND THIN THE HERD NATURALLY.
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      May 8 2011: If the entire world population were brought together and each given 1000 square feet around them, we would fit into an area the size of about Texas. There is plenty of room still. Once again, it is not about running out of the resource, it's how we manage it.With global transportation, we already spread almost all diseases throughout the world. I agree with you that natural selection would predict that those with better immune systems will survive. How did human population continue to grow before modern medicine and anti-biotics?
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        May 8 2011: @ adolfo... "If the entire world population were brought together and each given 1000 square feet around them, we would fit into an area the size of about Texas. There is plenty of room still."

        Statements like this do very little to illustrate anything other than that there are 7452732672000 sq. ft. in Texas, which has nothing to do with carrying capacity or consumption rates or toxic cultural behaviors.

        it was once believed that the ocean was so large that there was nothing we could possibly do to effect it. Now we know that after just a few decades of overfishing and dumping of toxins and pollutants has drastically affected the ecological health of our oceans.

        I think you are greatly underestimating the destructive power of humanity's collective ignorance and greed.
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          May 8 2011: Well, since I teach about carrying capacity I think I have a pretty good understanding. The statement was in response to the proximity of individuals and the spead of disease, not the overall carrying capacity of an ecosystem. The spread of disease is a factor in carrying capacity, but only one of many.

          I'm not denying that there are environmental issues and impacts. They are not a new phenomenon to the 20th or 21st Century. But I think that this is leading to cataclymic consequences is simply fear mongering. I have faith that we will overcome these challenges and progress. Somehow, some have come to human kind as "outside" of nature, when in fact we are very much a part of nature.

          Honestly, think you overestimate "destructive power of humanity's colllective ignorance and greed." Not only does it presume the one saying it is more altruistic and wise than the rest of us, it also implies that the rest of us are not very bright." If humanity was ignorant of it's place in nature, it would simply consume until no more were left without any consideration of the consequences. We would then go the way of the dinosaur.

          Those in the global warning community who would tell someone in Nigeria that they musn't have the industrial development that could lead to more properity because of it's "global impact." So far, the disaster warnings are proving to be over exagerated. Ocean levels have not risen to the levels they predicted five years ago inspite of "all the glaciers and polar caps melting."

          The rate of the extinction of species has risen, however, this is part of a cycle that has gone on since the beginning of time. The Earth has been contantly changing for a variety of reasons. The idea the we need to try to preserve everything the same forever is what I'm now going to call, "The Environmental Fallacy."
  • May 8 2011: If we ever reach "that level", at what point will you consider curtailing the human population rather than the consumption of meat? Are we to wait till we can no longer sustain the population even with a vegetarian diet? We have no qualms about culling other species but, for obvious reaons, it's a taboo subject when it comes to our own.
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    May 7 2011: I think the question begs an answer and implies that the human poputation is somehow in danger. I have news. The human population continues to grow and at present has not run out of anything! We hear all the time about the cataclysms that await us if we do not subscribe to certain political philosophies related to the environment.

    The "problem" that we have now is not the availbility of resources but their distribution. I call it the "Overpopulation Fallacy" and in fact people have been talking about it for pretty much all of recorded history as partially evidenced by this 1847 work:

    http://www.tara.tcd.ie/jspui/bitstream/2262/9279/1/jssisiVolII21_9.pdf

    Who knows what the future holds for our production of energy, use of materials, and disposal of waste. One hundred and fifty years ago, use of petroleum products was not widespread. That could change again in another 150 years. If we could find new and inovate ways to channel and distribute water, we could turn vast areas like the FERTILE soil of the Mojave desert into garden lands.

    The idea the we all might have to become vegetarians to survive is rooted in fear and does not reflect a objective analysis of the data or the history of human kind.
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      May 8 2011: This line of thinking ignores the rise of new health hazards created by large-scale feeding operations. The line of argument would not claim that it's purely a matter of numbers of people, the argument is that it is already starting to impact us.
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      May 8 2011: @adolfo...Actually there is this thing called "carrying capacity" which applies to any closed system environment, described by Ecologists as "the maximal population size of a given species that an area can support without reducing its ability to support the same species in the future. Specifically, it is "a measure of the amount of renewable resources in the environment in units of the number of organisms these resources can support" (Roughgarden 1979, p. 305) and is specified as K in the biological literature." http://jayhanson.us/page112.htm

      The catastrophe of Easter Island is a micro expression of the theory. The island sat in relative ecological stasis, then people came and settled. The population grew and the society used unsustainable practices,in their culture and experienced unhindered and rapid population growth, that is, until they ran out of resources. then they experienced a rapid decline in population until the society completely collapsed due to lack of resources which had been consumed at unsustainable levels.

      "The idea the we all might have to become vegetarians to survive is rooted in fear and does not reflect a objective analysis of the data or the history of human kind."

      This is a baseless comment and leads me to believe you lack a certain perspective both on vegetarianism and human history. If you understood the evolutionary history of our species, you would know that our digestive systems are primarily that of a frugivorous development. Being a vegan myself I can attest the fact that my motivations for choosing such a lifestyle have nothing to do with fear but rather my ability to make decisions based on INFORMATION rather than assumptions.
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      May 8 2011: @adolfo..."Who knows what the future holds for our production of energy, use of materials, and disposal of waste. One hundred and fifty years ago, use of petroleum products was not widespread. That could change again in another 150 years. If we could find new and inovate ways to channel and distribute water, we could turn vast areas like the FERTILE soil of the Mojave desert into garden lands."

      I for one am not comfortable waiting for the future to solve current problems, but instead prefer to take personal responsibility for my effect on the world. To assume the worlds problems will be solved by innovations in the future ignores the fact that there are innovations NOW that each and everyone of us have access to. Unless people realize that we each play a part then it wont matter what great idea comes along in the future, because if people don't accept good ideas now, what makes you think they will accept them at some latter date?
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        May 9 2011: Have you ever been sceptical about something you later agreed with? Or are we simply destined to evil destruction unless we accept your world view about what we can and can't eat? You seem to presume a lot about me and conclude that I am ignorant of topics because I do not agree with your conclusions about them. The fact is, two different people can look at the same data and come to different conclusions. I have not supported my arguements with much empirical data, but neither have you.

        I did not come here to debate (I don't have time), but simply share my views whether or not the majority agrees. Many times, in science it is the minority that is ultimately correct. If you feel the need to respond please do so, but I will comment no more.
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          May 9 2011: @ Adolfo... "Have you ever been sceptical about something you later agreed with?"
          very often, I am a born skeptic but I tend to change my mind as often as my socks.
          "Or are we simply destined to evil destruction unless we accept your world view about what we can and can't eat?"
          Not by any means. There are many possibilities to avoid "evil destruction" I don't expect the world to accept my world view, but I do hope it will be taken into account as I think that vegetarianism is just a good idea plain and simple worth the effort it takes to give serious consideration.
          "The fact is, two different people can look at the same data and come to different conclusions."
          You are absolutely correct and I hope I haven't offended you as that was not my intention, if I have then I apologize (it's difficult not to make assumptions in this environment), I would like you to know that I respect your different perspective and view these forums as a means for conversation. I have been exposed to great concepts here (often flushed out in debate) and just as you are adding your views (and they are an addition) I add mine and sometimes differing views culminate into great ideas that would not have come about without discussion, but then again, sometimes not.
    • May 8 2011: Mr. Nick Adolfo that seems to me, to be a too carefree atitude, hoping that someway somehow we can manage to collect energy in different ways. The problem is, someone have to come up with an answer and just hoping that someone else eventually does it without properly funding lets say alternative energy seems far-fetch to me.
      The example gaved by Mr. Meher polansky of Easter Island is particulary interesting considering that a very advancement (although isolated) civilization, in the end, didn't even had the clarity of mind to seem beyond the very shortest of terms and they didn't flee to another island or continent although with the technical abilities to construct such vessels because they run out of wood before they could do that! To me that is just impressive, not even realizing that the freaking island was running out of wood before they could flee. And we face that same dilemma today, an even more dangerous one because we can't build "boats" to flee Earth and it isn't a small island so the effects aren't as clear but not, by any means, less real.
      You talk about fear, well maybe we should fear what we are about to face. If any day I have children I shall embue in them the fear of fire. Why? Because the danger is real. And so is this. Trying to spread the word about this is not fear mongering is just trying to create an healthy sense of self preservation on people.
      I'm not vegetarian and I believe that are other ways to solve this problem but to say it doesn't exist or for that matter that resource shortage isn't an issue that just doesn't make any sense at all to me.
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    May 6 2011: Boy, what a mix of views! A recent lecture at Harvard titled "Taming Nature, then man" might be of interest in this far-ranging discussion. http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-05-nature.html
  • May 5 2011: This topic is troublesome for me mainly because I'm an enviromnental scientist on one hand and I eat meat on the other hand. Morally, I see no point in converting to vegetarianism and I explain why: To me, my only moral obrigation is to ensure I only eat meat that was produced without animal suffering in the process and assuring an effective kill without pain of that animal because the moral implications of killing another living creature apllies to plants as well and people tend to forget that.
    But for the point here, logistically it seems difficult to maintain any healthy food supply for the world. Clearly meat production is the more troublesome however: not only the logistical part of it but the greenhouse gases emitted by the animals are greatly responsible for the problems we face today. However, an alternative seems equally complex: To mass produce vegetables to the entire planet, to me, couldn't be trough biological production but enhanced with transgenic and other possibly dangerous alternatives.
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      May 5 2011: As to the moral distinction between killing plants and animals, would you agree that there is less suffering caused by the killing of plants than sentient creatures like cows, pigs, llamas, and so on?

      To the point about the logistical difficulty of producing enough plant-based food for the massive (and growing) world population, we might argue that it is equally complex, but is it really equally destructive - even considering the things you mentioned like methane?
      • May 5 2011: Regarding the suffering I put my trust on scientific studies that evaluated the best way to kill animals and I believe the majority are killed without suffering in the process. To me, what really can make a difference in this issue is the conditions that these animals might face when growing and yes, in that aspect it is morally wrong but doesn't mean we should give up on meat on that account.
        An important distinction that I feel that needs to be made is between fish and other meats. Intensive aquaculture systems (from what I experienced) are increasingly more sustainable with little to no suffering as fish stress is a much more critical aspect in its survival that in it is on cows and alike. The fish density really start to get impressive, ocupping very little land. In addition, we do need meat for B12 and fish could do that for us.
        The limitation of plant-based food is land. Is there enough land for growing food to all human population even now? If so, is it based on enhanced techniques resorting to all kind of dangerous chemicals? I really don't think that biological agriculture could meet the demands, as the yield is limited. Another problem is irrigation water.
        As for the destructive part, I have to agree but the option, to me, is increase in world hunger for the reasons I pointed out earlier. The social feasibility seems equally difficult. There are solutions as to limit and eliminate methane production that are equally an economic oportunity for biogas.
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          May 6 2011: Rather than trust in scientific studies concerning the suffering of animals in factory farm conditions I recommend you see some first hand and decide for yourself. "if slaughter houses had glass walls everyone would be vegetarian."

          http://www.meat.org/

          I know this was not meant to be a moral discussion so that is all I will add on this matter.
      • May 6 2011: To quickly respond to you, mr. Meher polansky, and not to be to off-topic I can say that I have seen that documentary and it is ridiculous the difference between the meat industry of different countries because I have experience with the meat industry in my country (Portugal) and I can assure you that is nothing remotely close to this. I suppose if we would needed to increase density than maybe we would get closer to what that documentary demonstrates. I have visited many slaughter houses as well and for instance saw the "traditional" killing of the pig (which is revolting, trust me) and slaughter houses tend to be very quick and without pain for what I can perceive. There is a difference between what I can perceive as pain in animals and actual pain and for that I trust in scientifical articles on that matter.
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    May 1 2011: This "question" reminds me of a project I worked on: "Reducing our consumption of water".
    First, informing the population and the world about the problems that nature is facing is very important.
    Kids, children, teenagers, youngsters, adults and old persons should be aware of their actions.
    We as activists, environmentalists and ecologists should make it clear to the world using the media.
    Indeed, as you just said. We'll easily find negative and positive points.
    But let us be optimistic and motivated. Let us act and not wait for someone to act.
    Rare are the ones that know that we need around 8000 liters of water to make a pair of shoes; we need 15 000 liters of water in order to create 1 kilo of meat. Crazy, isn't it? Our bodies need meat, protein and so on.
    So why converting to being a vegetarian?

    Only YOU can change the world, by using changing YOUR actions, you can.
    Go with having a shower and not bath for example. Consider closing the "tap" while brushing your teeth, while shaving, while washing your hands and so on.
    And before all, remember to raise awareness as much as possible. Start by yourself and then share, motivate and ask others.
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    May 1 2011: Hi Erik, Graham Hill fits in your list; http://www.ted.com/talks/view/lang/eng//id/860 many men can't think off their last steak. Only meat in the weekends, going for quality rather than quantity is a nice start I guess for most cultures.
  • Apr 30 2011: Soylent green is people
  • Apr 30 2011: Hi Erik, I don't know if we all have to convert to vegetarianism but it would be helpful if a substantial number of us cut back drastically on the amount of meat we consume. This would help our health as individuals and reduce the burden on the environment. With less meat needed, we would not need to mass produce as many animals and maybe then we can treat them with some dignity.

    Some cities are allowing urban animal farming (mostly chickens for their eggs, as far as I know) for persons who want to have some control over their food supply. This may have other health implications so I am not sure that is a large scale solution either, but it shows people are thinking about the problem.
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    Apr 30 2011: Dear Erik, the question you raised gives an impression that Vegetation is not part of ecosystem. Even if it is over consumption of it will not cause eco-imbalance.
    Both are not scietifically true.

    I don't know why ethical question only arises while killing animal only are not plants living as well ? May be we in bio ethical context , we are still archaic.

    Look in to a micro eceosystem like a small water body or a jungle with in our macro ecosystem of our planet. If it is undisturbed from human conquest or any other natural or un-natural disaster you will find , carnivore, herbivore , omnivore all living together maintaining balance in ecosystem and food chain.

    Problem arose when human started changing the rules of nature through our scientific and technological development and it's ruthless abuse. I am not against scientific devlopment rather I believe if human intelligence & conquest could create some problem , again human has the power to correct the to a great extent. Only thing needed is relentless concious effort.

    With the development of biological & medical science we could extend our life span, diminish child and mother death, fight back epidemic diseases , so you had the issue of population growth. Again science came with solution how to control population in one hand on the other to supply extra food demand science came up with high yield hybrids in both form of life those we use as food.

    So we need not to turn all in to veg eater only to sustain the ecosystem.
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    Apr 30 2011: Vegetarianism is not the answer to sustaining ecosystem. There are causes and effects that we need to consider when dealing with human instincts and activities that impact our populations and ecosystem. Demand for meats that balance the growth of animals that has high production rate such as cows and pigs. However, due to our non-demand of rats. I mean mostly, there are rats everywhere. We are lucky that rats maximum life span is low (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maximum_life_span). On the other hand, our demands for staple food like wheat, barley, and rice and other vegetables has impaired our precious forest and wet lands. Whether we control through sustainable logging activities and fight for resources through wars, our ecosystem will be diminished from time to time.

    We could try but our next generation will suffer from the imbalanced of our ecosystem and over population. We could not stop the population rate and wars, just prepare for the worse and pray for the best.
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    Apr 29 2011: Hi Erik, another way to restate the question is "If we don't convert to vegetarianism, can we sustain the population and the ecosystem?"

    I think the short answer is yes, there are likely a number of solutions that present themselves. One example would be if we achieved a global negative population growth, reducing it to a point where the demands for feeding the world fell below the sustainability level.

    I also think that there are other demands stressing out the ecosystem that are impactful but not directly related to the makeup of the food supply.

    Thank you for starting an interesting conversation.
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    Apr 29 2011: No! Converting to vegetarianism will be absolutely essential for a sustainable civilization here on Earth. And it is not only nutrition that will be impacted. In addition the entire medical enterprise in America is on the brink and we could solve these diseases of affluence by converting to a plant based diet. We did it 6 months ago after reading Esselstyn, Ornish and Campbell. I have never felt better and enjoyed food more. I consider going to a plant based diet to be one of the most important "awakenings" of my life. Thanks for posting the question.
  • Apr 29 2011: Yes we can...
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    Apr 29 2011: Yes
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    Apr 28 2011: A friend sent me a link to a video highlighting some results of a June 2010 report by the United Nations which included the quote, "A substantial change in [environmental] impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change away from animal products."

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzMPxnKQCUA
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    Apr 27 2011: This matter has troubled me for some time now, being that I am a purchase manager, and responsible for buying commodity agricultural products, and I have had to live, for some time, with the complete disruption of the supply chain of these products (wheat, soy, begetable oils, milk, cocoa), and, to be honest, I believe this is not he right question. There will always be a population to maintain. The ones that remain, after all the others die. And this has always happened, in the past. We, as a species, have left entire populations die from malnutrition, when, in other sides of the world, we were dumping resources away, because they were either too cheap, or not good enough, or whatever...

    Obviously, there will be no major global change in the perception of the human race, and the wealthy will obviously still eat their meat, even if the grain needed to feed that meat was being stolen from some hungry child in Africa.

    We will not become vegetarians, we will always kill (read "let die"), the part of the population that cannot afford to buy food.
  • Apr 27 2011: I would like to add something to my final comment about the fact we are already are having resource wars. I don't have long to live. Most of you, if you are in your 20's, 30's, 40's and even 50's will outlive me and those who are younger and those younger still, will inherent a world where they are free to do what they need or they are not, and they are capable of thinking critically, and most are not. Critical thinking seems to take place along and within extremely tightly controlled borders. I still have not read one post, anywhere, not just here, but other sites, that mention ridding ourselves of the institutions we already have that clearly don't work, are not working and cannot be fixed!! Those are causes of the problems we have. Sorry about that. So with that in mind, if, and it might be a big if, the earth undergoes any major changes, oh, such as global warming, a reduction in natural resources, the extinction of many species, a growing population, growing, growling polarization over the issues and what to do about them, stressing and using political influence, beliefs, moral and religious positions of rigidity, and special interest group concerns because, well, they want their rights too!, the rise and spread of pollution, with no end in sight, what will happen if global warming really does complete itself, or we have a shifting of the poles, which has happened before? Well, one thing is that Greenland will be exposed. It is a bit bigger than the United States and has a tremendous amount of natural resources to rape, but, it belongs to Demarck. If the poles shift or melt, there are at least 200 mountains and ranges in the Antarctic and a tremendous land mass. More resources and space. And most likely it will be warmer climate. Much of a country, that is close to 1/6 of the earth's land mass will be warmer, with the availability of resources that have remained frozen. Russia. American won't stand for this shift in power. Resource wars, or no poli-economies
  • Apr 27 2011: Erik, I'm not sure what you mean by logistical feasibility. Eating meat is much less feasible than eating plants. It takes many many pounds of grain to produce one pound of cow. And our bodies are designed to digest much more vegetable matter than animal protein. And let's not forget that animals produce methane gas (a greenhouse gas) while plants create O2, limit soil erosion, moderate temperature and humidity, purify air and water, provide natural wind-breaks, take CO2 out of the air, and feed birds, butterflies, bees, etc! So, as far as I can see, from a feasibility stand-point, I think a diet that contains mostly fruits, vegetables, and grains is the most feasible option.
  • Apr 27 2011: I think a more apt question would be along the lines of, "SHOULD WE, try and sustain.... with the continuation of beef and other meats, rather than can we?"
    I love meat. But, if say I was asked about a trade off, like enough water, or where do I personally draw the line at dirty drinking water, and meat, which would I choose? And that might be a real part of the equation regarding the production of food for (estimated 2030 - 9 billion people). That is because I do think in terms of ALL OF THEM EATING and not just those who can afford to. By that time, the number of people in the world who will be able to afford food, will be very small compared to those who cannot. At the present, out of just about 7 billion humans, over 1/2 live, sorry, are forced to live, on less than one US dollar a day!! That is pathetic, evil and intentional and it can be changed. Just above that line, are even more billions living on a little bit more but that is still a painful, starving and intentionally induced poverty and chances are because of the competitive corrals we are herded into, many of them will fall below that $1.For those now alive, discussing these kinds of ideas, problems and what to do, that should be unacceptable, except that the cause for it, most are not willing to change. That should be unacceptable but most people just push it aside because they can't think out of the box. There are many ways to create food, even synthetic foods, that can be good for health, nutritional, non-polluting to the environment, tasty, look good, taste and smell like meat and very importantly can be automated and massed produced and transported to feed everyone. Isn't that the real goal here or is it just for those who are far above that $1 figure? So, do we make everyone richer? Take away competition? What? We get rid of money and monetary systems, but hey, most refuse to go there, so to my thinking, nothing is new, no serious attempts, just lots of talk. We are already having resource wars.
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    Apr 27 2011: Animal products are very inefficient and by not going vegan, we're essentially lowering the earth's carrying capacity for humans.

    Meat in America is incredibly subsidized as is. If it wasn't, I'll have to find a source (because it's pretty shocking), but 1 lb. of ground beef would be around $30 when you factor in all the food and water required to make it (consider how much % of energy that is consumed in a diet is simply to run bodily maintenance functions, so the amount of food eaten by an animal to turn into meat is ... gosh I have to find my citation ... from memory: 10% [and that's being probably generous, because it's an animal's LIFETIME consumption of food and water that ends up producing whatever meat is hanging off their body when they die.]

    Not to mention, again, I'll find my citation (I just have to leave right now! Someone help me out?), but the methane produced by cows is actually a significant amount of carbon emissions.

    (Again, I don't think I'm pulling these out of my ass, but might want to verify what I'm saying. At least the numbers.)

    Point is, ethical questions regarding animals aside, meat is unsustainable.

    I don't know if it's true but a reporter in the Washington post said "Eating vegan one day a week lowers your carbon footprint more than eating local every day of the week." - Carol J. Adams

    There's also the comparison that a vegan who drives a hummer has an incredibly smaller carbon footprint than the non-vegan who drives a prius.

    FOOD is personal though. We love bacon too much so the issue is mostly tossed aside as not even an option.
  • Apr 27 2011: Only have a minute Jean but I have to agree with you. I too thought TED was an illuminated part of the population, much smarter than I. They probably are, but most of the time I feel like I am reading the same ole "jack-of-old-ideas-in-the-box" and believe in most cases, people don't really want to do what they say they do. And I don't think they really recognize it. Now, I am not saying my ideas are the best or anything like that, but since I have come to visit this site I sincerely believe the only thing I have to offer those younger than I and those who will be living in this new globalized world that is coming, is the idea of thinking very differently and most of what I read doesn't seem to be. One example I used was the desire to end human trafficking. All that people are doing avoids one important aspect and that is the cause of human trafficking. Unless they are willing to end that, then they really don't want to end human trafficking. Therein lies the willingness of the human to be given the key to their prison-box and to lock themselves in it every day and think they are free and doing something. I call what I mean, "letting go of old ideas absolutely" and believe me I talk to a lot of people about these issues and they not so much cannot let go as they refuse to let go. They want a new world but do not imagine it without all the old institutions they now have. Ha! All of them are broken and unfixable in IMHO and complete new ones need to be created. They still hold on to politics when it doesn't solve problems. The still hold on to government when it doesn't solve problems. They still hold on to blind, religious moralism that doesn't solve problems. Here's one you might react to. Most do. They still hold on to hope and hope by definition is not real. People worship lies. Nothing is done by hope but it is probably the most believed-in concept in the world and it isn't real. Things don't get done because of money. Things don't get done, because of money.
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      Apr 27 2011: Hi Yolanda,

      I'm only speaking for myself, but I feel you are ranting and complaining.

      My adagium is "Either do something about it or let it go"

      What I mean with that is:
      Everybody can see a whole lot of things going wrong in the world. And a whole lot of people see good solutions too.
      Informing each other of problems is a step towards solving a problem.

      BUT: we humans are as individuals limited to solve but a few problems, and we have to make choices...
      So I try and stop complaining and accusing the rest of the world of doing it all wrong. I pick my battles and things I find most important or towards which I want to contribute and further those goals and solutions.

      What you are doing here is demanding a community you are part of to take care of problems and get angry if they don't... My response would be: what are you doing about it?

      Are you voting for the person who has it highest on the agenda? have you started a lobby group? are you buying the land to grow crops for humans? Can't you think of anything to contribute to a solution while not spending money? Are you starting a revolution?
      You can develop an app or a website or a FB page, or join a community specifically focusing on solutions, change your behavior accordingly...

      Smart people are only slightly smarter than others... that doesn't make them perfect, nor does it mean you may be more demanding towards them...
      Just assume they are already busy curing cancer, creating work, capturing solar power, cleaning the oceans,... or whatever it is anybody is doing. And contribute in your own humble way.
      • Apr 28 2011: Well, if your house is on fire, do you wish for me to gently and politely try and rouse you rather than forgetting your feelings for a moment in order to get you into action? I am old and don't have long to live. I have a lot of health problems, money problems and what not. But none of this is going to affect me. Oh a little bit. But I write. Three books, two screen plays. Most all of these forums and sites are talk, not action. That is just a fact. I do in fact look for what I can do limited as I am and am doing it. I don't have to praise it, laud it up for, "oh, good for you!" comments but where I live (rather, where I can only afford to survive now), I try to raise the consciousness of others. And you know what? They don't care. Not at all. Oh, there is talk of similar things as on this site. There are people who form groups, take certain actions and all that. But almost all, including those of more prosperous Western cultures, don't care at all. My last screen play, about Flight 77, definitively proves it never hit the Pentagon. Now, 10 years later, who cares? You probably don't. An assumption of course, but I'm guessing you are more than willing to let such lies and atrocities be relegated to the past, as though they will have no repercussions on the future you will live in.
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      May 3 2011: you go Y Yolanda! Right behind you!!!
  • Apr 26 2011: Erik In response to your question I refer you to the website www.savoryinstitute.com
    The work of Allan Savory has been nominated for a TED award to allay any fears re his credibility.
    In a nutshell the concept is that rangeland grazing management of cattle in high densities with appropriate rest periods is the key to restoring our natural landscapes worldwide. Grazing in this way restores the landscape by restoring soil health by sequestering carbon in the soil with the huge added benefit of increasing moisture retention in the soil preventing run off and erosion.
    I suggest a look around his site as there is a lot of interesting information.
    In response to your comment above, this method of cattle management does not involve feed lotting of cattle so by definition does not involve the feeding of grain. The wide scale grazing management of cattle is the only viable method economically to restore degraded soils world wide. The cattle do the work for you with trampling and manuring.
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      Apr 27 2011: An interesting possibility, however a brief look at the website gave two different ratios: in one sample, they had 1000 head on 12000 acres, and in another, they had 1400 head on 33000 acres. We can average those and round to get 18 acres per head.

      With USDA count of 93.7 million head of cattle as of Jan 2010, that would translate to needing 1.687 billion acres of grazing land. That's more than the current total of tillable land in the US (about 950 million acres) and more than half of all the land in the US period.

      Maybe there are better or more feasible numbers given in a deeper drill down of Savory's research, but I think we're still looking at an unmanageable, unsustainable model as a full-scale alternative capable of accommodating current dietary intake ratios.
  • Apr 26 2011: Cloning
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    Apr 25 2011: Im sure it is possible but as we all know there will be trade offs similar to the one you mentioned and ecological timelines change. Speaking from the Hindu religion point of view, everything that we do commits violence; connected to your question - things as simple as plucking an apple from a tree to slaughtering a helpless calf for its meat and leather. We must focus on something that commits the least violence and indulge in what we are personally comfortable with doing ourselves.
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    Apr 23 2011: Erik, I'm no specialist in that area, but some articles and researches i've stumbled upon said that it IS possible to not be a vegetarian and still be a ecologycally conscious individual. You can keep eating meat, as long as you focus on organical and sustainably-produced products when eating other types of food, like vegetables and fruits.
    Sustainability is perfectly compatible with meat-eating habits.
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      Apr 23 2011: How would such a model accommodate the incredible acreage required for eco-friendly livestock raising given the 16:1 conversion ratio of grain to meat? So far the solution has been concentrated industrial feed-lot operations - but the ecological impact of those is clearly not sustainable. I don't know if the studies you've seen addressed this angle, though. Just trying to learn :-D
      • Apr 29 2011: Erik, good question. I keep hearing that thing about the 16:1 feed conversion ratio repeated. I'm not sure where it came from, but people really need to stop repeating it.

        Firstly, it's an inaccurate figure. The feed conversion ratio for cattle and sheep is about 7:1. Chickens, pigs, turkeys and rabbits are all about 3:1. Fish have a feed conversion ratio of 4:3 or even better.

        But the major flaw in this argument is the obvious one: cows eat grass. Every cow I've ever met loves the stuff. Grass is useless as a food to us, so turning 7kg of useless, inedible grass into 1kg of nourishing, delicious beef is a very smart move if what we want to do is provide people with food. Generally speaking, the purpose of meat-animals in a sustainable agroecological system is to convert inedible organisms low on the food chain (leaves, grasses, grubs, bugs, seaweed, algae etc.) into edible meat.
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          Apr 29 2011: Interesting. What is your source for the 7:1 ratio? It still seems ridiculously wasteful, but an intriguing difference, nonetheless.

          Please see my discussion below regarding attempts at a sustainable grazing practice. If you have citations for a different calculation of how many acres of grazing land it takes for sustainable practices, please offer them. This was the only example I had heard of.
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          May 5 2011: Raising large mammals for meat isn't ecologically ideal though. Considering fully grown cattle consume up to 23.0 gallons of water per day (NDSU), and have high methane emissions as a collective, red meat isn't worth it.
      • Apr 29 2011: Sources for feed conversion ratio of cattle: http://www.suite101.com/content/feed-conversion-ratio-and-liveweight-gain-of-grass-fed-ruminants-a237660 and http://www.beef.org.nz/research/newsletters/feedconveff.asp say 7-10 to one. Page 3 of http://www.bifconference.com/bif2006/pdfs/Carstens.pdf mentions ratios of 5.37 and 6.49 to one. It varies a lot depending on genetics, diet and other factors.

        I don't think a 7:1 conversion ratio is wasteful, as nothing useful is being wasted. You are 'upcycling' straw, grass and leaves into high-value food.

        I read your discussion of large-scale grazing and I agree with your conclusions. Pastoralism cannot sustain hundreds of millions of cows; the arithmetic doesn't work out. However, I don't think vegetarianism is the best answer; I think smarter agriculture is.

        What do I mean by smarter agriculture? First, stop feeding animals things we can eat ourselves. Instead, feed them the things I mentioned: grass, straw, insects, chaff etc.. Secondly, utilize animals for more than just meat production; they should function as part of an ecosystem, improving soil, eating pests etc. That is how ecosystems work; each organism benefits other organisms and there is an interplay of plants and animals. How can you have a healthy ecosystem without any animals?

        Polyface Farm has been discussed on TED before (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQPN1O03z8I#t=10m47s). According to the figures in that talk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQPN1O03z8I#t=14m22s), yields are over 1000lb of meat per acre. That's enough for 11 people eating 1/4lb a day. Say world population is gonna peak at 11 billion, we'd need a billion acres to raise meat (forgetting about fish for now). That's less than a seventh of existing pasture (http://www.fao.org/economic/ess/ess-publications/ess-yearbook/ess-yearbook2010/yearbook2010-reources/en/).

        Another thing to consider: we may develop in-vitro meat in the next decade, making this issue irrelevant
      • Apr 30 2011: To cut those calculations another way -

        If world population reaches 9 billion, and average meat consumption is 111g (about 4oz) per day, we'd need a billion kg of meat a day - 365 billion kg a year.

        If it reaches 15 billion, and average meat consumption is 250g (over a pound) per day, we'd need a 3.75 billion kg of meat a day - 1368.75 billion kg a year.

        We already have 3.5 billion hectares of pasture, so the average yield to provide these meat requirements would need to be 104-391 kg/hectare (93-349 lb/acre)

        As I mentioned, Polyface Farms yields are well over 1000lb per acre per year.

        In conclusion, in a world teeming with meat-hungry people who really hate eating fish, who suck at land remediation and in-vitro meat research - even in that scary scenario - average yield only has to be a third of what has been proven possible with agroecology. More realistically, average yields need to get up to a tenth of what is possible.

        If we mimic natural grazing patterns and use nitrogen-fixing trees and fodder plants like clover, compost, worms, biochar etc., soil regenerates very quickly. More soil means more grass means more meat. 'Overgrazing' is really inadequate soil regeneration. With vigorously-growing grass, you can raise a cow on 2 acres (compare the 18 acres you mentioned as the current average) - and those acres also grow other plants and animals. Other animals need much less land, even to give the same amount of meat (see ratios above)

        This kind of farming has many side-benefits: you save energy and labor by not hauling around fodder and waste, the animals are healthier and need less antibiotics, the soil holds water better (water-efficiency on farms is a huge issue; agriculture accounts for 69% of water-use), the farm is cheaper to run and needs less external inputs, the meat tastes better and is more nourishing, plants are produced as well as meat, and these plants grow better because of the improved soil.