Social Science blog

22 May 2023

Animals and the climate emergency: readings on the global impact of industrial animal agriculture

From 7 March – 9 July 2023 the British Library Treasures Gallery has a small exhibition ‘From the Margins to the Mainstream: Animal Rights in Britain’, which follows the progression of animal rights from the enlightenment period until the present day.

 

To complement the exhibition Kim Stallwood, a highly respected international figure in animal welfare, has written a series of four guest blog posts of his own thoughts and opinions on key themes connected with animal rights in Britain and around the world. The posts are based on his own reading and research and aim to highlight some of the books held at the British Library that have helped shape his view. In 2022, the Library acquired the Kim Stallwood Archive and a few of the items from the collection are included in the exhibition.

 

The four posts in this series focus on ‘Animals and the climate emergency’, ‘Animals and Feminism’, ‘Animals and the Law’, ‘Animals and Social Justice’.

 

Guest writer Kim Stallwood writes about books held at the British Library that have helped shape his understanding of the impact of animal agriculture and the need for change:

16-may-Composite_Kim-Stallwood

Copyright: Paul Knight. Image Courtesy of Kim Stallwood (2023)

 

When did a fact become a contradiction? The day I saw a roast chicken as charred remains of a dead animal, not as something delicious to eat. That day my fondness for food collided with my compassion for animals. That was fifty years ago, as I was a student learning how to cook French food and manage fancy restaurants. Instead of opting for work experience in a kitchen with haute cuisine, I spent the summer of 1973 employed in a chicken slaughterhouse.

 

Three years later, I was vegan, working at Compassion In World Farming and protesting against keeping chickens in battery cages too small to spread their wings, and pigs in stalls too narrow to turn around. Back in 1976, I was Compassion’s second full-time employee. The organisation’s notable growth from then to the present, now a pioneering international force for animals, is a reflection of people’s growing interest in food and what happens to it before it is on their plates. But that interest hasn’t resulted in the end of eating animals. The annual global number of animals killed for food increased from almost eight billion in 1961 to more than 70 billion in 2020. More than 1.2 billion farmed animals are killed annually in the UK and 55 billion in the USA.

Picture 1

Selection of leaflets from Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), 1976-2008, Add MS 89458/4/58.  Copyright Compassion in World Farming.  Image Courtesy of Philip Lymbery (2023)

 

Philip Lymbery, Compassion’s Chief Executive, has written about how ‘a growing human population is in a furious competition for food with a burgeoning farm animal population’. We need to rethink the overpopulation problem; eight billion people bring their own set of issues. But seventy billion plus farmed animals present problems of an entirely different magnitude. Industrial agriculture, including intensive factory farming, is a significant cause of climate emergency. Animals raised for food are the real overpopulation problem. In Farmageddon (Farmageddon: the true cost of cheap meat, Philip Lymbery with Isabel Oakeshott. London: Bloomsbury, 2014, shelfmark YK.2014.a.16247), Philip Lymbery writes that ‘the global livestock industry already contributes 14.5 per cent of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions… more than all our cars, planes and trains put together’.

Eggs

Thousands of fertilised eggs lay in metal drawers placed on trolleys at a hatchery in Poland. Credit: Andrew Skowron/ We Animals Media (2018)

 

Fortunately, Compassion is not campaigning alone. There is a growing global movement of like-minded organisations seeking to improve animal welfare, protect the environment, end world hunger, and stop climate emergency. I also welcome the emergence of companies developing plant-based meat and cultivated meat products. Consumers increasingly buy alternative products to meat, eggs, dairy, and leather manufactured from non-animal sources. Not everyone will go vegan like me, but many people will, and already do, live a near-vegan lifestyle. Food production causes as much as 37 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, so this change in diet can be a tipping point for responding to the crisis appropriately.

Picture 2

Selection of ‘Ag.’ the Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) newsletter, 1976-1978, Add MS 89458/4/59. Copyright Compassion in World Farming.  Image Courtesy of Philip Lymbery (2023)

 

Philip is the author of three books, Farmageddon, Dead Zone (Dead Zone: where the wild things were, Philip Lymbery, London: Bloomsbury, 2017, shelfmark YC.2018.a.3994), and Sixty Harvests Left (Sixty Harvests Left: how to reach a nature-friendly future, Philip Lymbery, London: Bloomsbury, 2022, shelfmark DRT ELD.DS.708596) that are essential reading for understanding the link between animals and climate emergency. He also explains the negative impact of industrial agriculture on the environment, water, wildlife, human health, and animal welfare. Two books inspired Philip to write. The first, Silent Spring (Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, London: Penguin Book, 1999, shelfmark YC.2000a.4976), is Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book exposing the dangerous effects of chemicals used in farming in the countryside, first published in America in 1962. Two years later, Rachel wrote the foreword to Ruth Harrison’s Animal Machines (Animal machines: the new factory farming industry, Ruth Harrison, London: Vincent Stuart, 1964, shelfmark W21/1046), which foresaw the problems associated with industrial farming that Philip examines in his books. It was reading Animal Machines that prompted Peter and Anna Roberts, dairy farmers concerned with agriculture’s direction, to establish Compassion in 1967.

Picture 3

Front covers of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and Animal Machines by Ruth Harrison. Credits: Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, London: Penguin Book, 1999, shelfmark YC.2000a.4976, Animal machines: the new factory farming industry, Ruth Harrison, Boston: CABI, 2013, shelfmark YK.2013.a.26354

 

Philip’s first book, Farmageddon, questions the efficiency and efficacy of industrial farming. He asks if the ‘Farmageddon scenario—the death of our countryside, a scourge of disease and billions starving—[is] inevitable?’ There is no such thing as cheap meat. It comes with a hefty price, with both our health and our countryside at risk. Half of all antibiotics used worldwide (up to 80 per cent in the US) are routinely given to intensively farmed animals. Increasing amounts of land used to grow soya and grain for cattle in feedlots, sows in stalls, and chickens in cages, take away vital habitats that are homes to wildlife.

Picture 4

Front covers of Farmageddon: the true cost of cheap meat and Dead Zone: where the wild things were by Philip Lymbery. Credits: Farmageddon: the true cost of cheap meat, Philip Lymbery with Isabel Oakeshott. London: Bloomsbury, 2014, shelfmark YK.2014.a.16247, Dead Zone: where the wild things were, Philip Lymbery, London: Bloomsbury, 2017, shelfmark YC.2018.a.3994

 

His second, Dead Zone, explores the global impact of industrial animal agriculture on wild animals and birds. For example, the critically endangered Sumatran elephant, orang-utans, and tigers live in the tropical rain forests of Sumatra, one of the islands of western Indonesia. Sumatra is also, where oil palm grows. Its fruit produces palm oil. One of its by-products is added to the feed fed to factory-farmed animals. To supply this trade, Sumatran tropical rain forests are cleared to intensively grow oil palms. Consequently, the jungle—home to elephants, orang-utans, and tigers—disappears at an alarming rate. 

Further to the issues raised by industrial agriculture, including its impact on wildlife is the harm it causes to the soil. Our ability to stop climate emergency and improve the soil health are vital to ensuring the planet’s wellbeing and our survival. In Sixty Harvest Left, Philip describes how intensive crop production to feed farmed animals removed from the land to industrial confinement depletes the soil. He also reports the UN’s statement that ‘if we carry on as we are, there could be just sixty harvests left in the world’s soils’. ”

Cows

Firefighters stand near their fire engine as they attempt to stop a wildfire from reaching an area on a dairy farm where pregnant cows are kept, Tabolango, Region de Valparaíso, Chile, 2012. Credit: Renata Valdivia/We Animals Media (2012)

 

Industrial agriculture may have provided us with cheap food in a lifetime. But at what cost? We only have a lifetime to turn around present agricultural systems to address climate emergency and invest in the soil for future harvests. Societal change is required to refocus industrial agriculture away from chemical-dependent, intensive factory farming. ‘Switching to soil-enhancing regenerative and agro ecological farming,’ Philip advises, ‘using techniques that replenish soil fertility and capture carbon along the way’.

Flooded cows

Cows who survived Hurricane Florence, stranded on a porch, surrounded by floodwaters. North Carolina, USA. Credit: Jo-Anne McArthur/Unsplash (2020)

 

At an individual level, I interpret Philip’s advice as a call to go vegan. Boycotting animal products and ingredients reduces the consumer demand for them. To transition to vegan, try plant-based meat and cultivated meat products. If you feel you must eat meat, eggs, and dairy, only buy them from proven authenticated sources where the animals live free-range and drug-free. Add your voice as a newly minted vegan for the systemic changes we need to how food is produced.

 

Read books. Change the world.

 

CC-BY Kim Stallwood is a vegan animal rights author and independent scholar. The British Library acquired the Kim Stallwood Archive in 2020. He is a consultant with Tier im Recht, the Swiss-based animal law organisation, and on the board of directors of the US-based Culture and Animals Foundation.

 

References

 

Carson, R. (1999) Silent Spring, London: Penguin Books, shelfmark YC.2000a.4976

Harrison, R. (1964) Animal machines: the new factory farming industry, London: Vincent Stuart, shelfmark W21/1046

Lymbery, P. (2017) Dead Zone: where the wild things were, London: Bloomsbury, shelfmark YC.2018.a.3994

Lymbery, P., Oakeshott I. (2014) Farmageddon: the true cost of cheap meat, London: Bloomsbury, shelfmark YK.2014.a.16247

 Lymbery, P. (2022) Sixty Harvests Left: how to reach a nature-friendly future, London: Bloomsbury, shelfmark ELD.DS.708596

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