Plant Based Agriculture Conversion: Sustainability and Development

When looking at sustainable agriculture globally, measuring this on the basis of sustainable economics as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, an understanding of the direction humanity should undertake for the development of agriculture is made clear. It is also important to address further corroborating examples of environmental science in the context of planetary boundaries for environmental sustainability of which the following can be ascertained:

With two core planetary boundaries for environmental sustainability: as outlined by scholars:  ‘Biospheres integrity’ as well as ‘Climate change’, nothing relates more directly to both than animal agriculture. This also is the case in relation to most of the listed planetary boundaries for sustainable development directly, including: Stratospheric Ozone depletion, Ocean Acidification, Freshwater Use and Land Systems Change (Stefan et al (2015). This is demonstrated by Garling (2015) who states that animal agriculture not only directly impacts on ‘local waterways through run offs, particularly with factory farmed animals,’ but the impact of mass excretions from mass scale factory farming accounts for the largest single contributor to greenhouse gases ‘ahead of all transportation combined’ (Garling, 2015).  The result of this mass excretion is alarming levels of nitrogen injected into the atmosphere, and this nitrogen output has directly ‘linked to Ocean Acidification and the oceans Biosphere integrity’ (Garling, 2015). Added to this, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (cited in Garling, 2015) ‘animal agriculture has an extremely significant water demand, with hundreds of gallons of water required to produce one beef patty’.

The impact of animal agriculture upon Land Conversion can also be clearly demonstrated. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (2017) animal agriculture for beef production is ‘by far the biggest cause of deforestation with soy as a distant second’. As the UCS states, ‘soybeans are also predominantly grown for the purpose to feed factory farmed animals’. Indeed animal agriculture accounts for the largest cause of both deforestation land desertification, affecting a third of the earths land, and accounting for 91% of Amazon rainforest clearing (Sergio, 2003). The impact of Land Conversion due to animal agriculture also affects ‘biodiversity in ecosystems’ affected by agriculture and deforestation (UCS, 2017). Added to this the Greenhouse Gases caused by animal agriculture have drastically impacted upon Stratospheric Ozone depletion (Georgetown Environmental Law Review, 2015). Whilst animal agriculture is said to be a leading cause of Climate Change through large level Greenhouse Gas emissions, the parameters for measuring this according to Anhang et al (2009) are questionable. With estimates of animal agriculture ‘accounting for 51% of Greenhouse Gases’ back in 2009, this was to the contrary of United Nations Summit estimates which ‘lowered the percentage by omitting the total CO2 output including CO2 respiration caused by animal agriculture’ (Anhang et al, 2015). This is something which again was off the table in the more recent Paris Agreement, which ‘failed to acknowledge the decades worth of research demonstrating animal agricultures leading cause of Greenhouse Gas emissions’ according to Peter Singer (McMahon, 2016).

Irrespective of the fact that animal agriculture, or rather the adoption of plant-based agriculture was omitted as a strategy at the Paris Agreement, and only considered in recent UN conferences, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals proposed by the UN in 2015 would be strongly adhered to with the initiative of converting to plant based agriculture. Ten of the seventeen SDG’s are directly linked to and would be benefited from plant-based agriculture conversion. These include: Goal 15: Life on Land, Goal 14: Life Below Water, Goal 13: Climate Action, Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production, Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation, Goal 3: Good Health and Wellbeing and Goal 2: Zero Hunger. By extension the areas of Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and Goal 1: No Poverty are also likely to be strongly benefited (United Nations, 2017).

The most obvious benefit is regarding direct environmental sustainability areas, Goals 13,14 and 15 (United Nations, 2017). As previously stated, the Biosphere integrity related to the Earth’s surface would be benefited; by both decreasing deforestation with animal agriculture as well as decreasing biodiversity loss from land erosion, waste run offs polluting water systems, as well as the acidification of the Oceans (Springmann, 2015) not to mention overfishing and further pollutants caused by fish farms as with other factory farming (Georgetown Environmental Law Review, 2015) in regard to Goal 14. The direct impact on Climate Change has also been stated, not only regarding Biosphere integrity and Oceanic Acidification but the impact of Ocean Nitrification which creates Nitrous Oxide emissions, a GHG 300 times more heat trapping than CO2, also caused CO2 emissions for which animal agriculture is the leading cause (Anhang et al, 2009). The other areas, namely Responsible Consumption and Production as well as Decent work and Economic Growth also strongly link to Plant based agriculture conversion in a direct sense. As Springmann, (2015) states, society is bound to not only have greater productivity for food by utilising plant-based agriculture, and therefore ‘a wealthier society fuelled by economic growth’ due to more effective production, but it is also much more responsible production and consumption ‘for both developed and developing countries alike’ (Springmann, et al, 2015). 

This links the benefits also to sustainable development based economic theories such as Raworth’s theory of Doughnut economics. Plant based agriculture adoption particularly adheres to this in the areas of ‘Create to Regenerate’ and ‘Redistributive Design’ (Raworth, 2017), no doubt more than any other environmental conservation measure.  The Distributive Design perspective requires some Macro-economic revision but also reiterates the importance of poorer developing countries not being subject to transnational companies exploiting land use in poorer countries, ‘as with grazing cattle to feed the wealthy’ (UCS, 2017), and highlights the importance of ‘sovereignty of land use’ (Raworth, 2017) particularly where more sustainable agriculture is in use. This also ties to the Creating to Regenerate economic perspective, in which land usage should be sustainable (Raworth, 2017) and certainly would be the case with a conversion to plant-based agriculture (Springmann, et al, 2015). This leads into the effect enabled by higher and more efficient production, in enabling an abolition in World Hunger (HSUS, 2009), through sustainable agriculture, as well as a reduction in poverty on the same basis, which according to Springmann et al (2015) is enabled by a conversion to plant-based produce.

The areas of Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and Clean Water and Sanitation, as well as Good Health and Wellbeing, also tie to Raworth’s theory of Doughnut economics (Raworth, 2017). Health and Wellbeing is an area, which according to research conducted by Campbell (2006), states that there is a ‘significantly higher incidence of cancer and heart disease amongst populations who adopt an animal consumption diet, compared to much lower incidences amongst those adhering to a plant-based diet’. Consequentially the level of expenditure needed for health problems in society will therefore be reduced according to research by Spingmann et al, (2015), with estimates of saving ‘over a trillion dollars per year in the US alone in healthcare’ if it converted to plant-based consumption only (Springmann, et al, 2015). The same can be applied regarding access to enough food, in which poorer countries are faced with greater productivity and therefore healthy food consumption (HUSU, 2009). The efficiency of production due to plant-based conversion would create a more effective industry, with enough wealth generated to provide better infrastructure and clean water and sanitation in general (Springmann, et al, 2015). Such an initiative would be highly effective in providing sustainability both ecologically and socially in adherence to Raworth’s optimum Doughnut theory. 

Therefore an adoption of plant-based agriculture would not only address the research concerns relating to Climate Change and Biosphere integrity also adheres to the United Nation’s seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, of which certainly ten directly would be benefited from Animal Agriculture abolition. As well as this it complements economic theories such as the theory of Doughnut economics. One can see that only deliberate omission could have been responsible for not including this on the agenda, and only paying lip service to more recently in Bonn. From international climate change agreements, particularly when it benefits sustainable development for communities in developing countries as well as the west due to overall increase in wealth due to greater and faster production, and less energy required in agriculture generally, alongside much less environmental devastating. This inevitable change is not just a win-win for all parties concerned, but it is remarkable and a clear demonstration of disingenuous gestures parading as tackling sustainable development and climate change issues, in which there is obviously complete disinterest in addressing the issue using actual science, given how minimised this has been at most in discussion. 

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