By Colleen McDuling
February 09, 2021
Extinction Rebellion, Climate Emergency, Global Warming, Animal Rebellion, Deforestation, Greta Thunberg, the Sixth Mass Extinction, the age of the Anthropocene, Global Hunger and COVID-19. These have all become household conversation points and terms within the last few years. COVID-19 and its causative agent, SARS-CoV-2, have dominated much of our media causing a great deal of panic and deaths world wide. Comparatively little thought has been given to our agricultural systems and the impact these have on biodiversity and the wildlife who enrich our planet.
In a groundbreaking study carried out in 2018 by Bar-On, Phillips and Milo, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the authors found that of all living things on Earth (including plants, bacteria, fungi and viruses), humans comprised only a mere 0.01%. The study was summarized in The Guardian which revealed that notwithstanding this small fraction, humans have been responsible for the extinction of 83% of all wild animals. Moreover, the balance between domestic and wild animals was stark. Of the mammals, over 60% were livestock whilst only a mere 4% were wildlife. This disproportion was similarly noted in the birds; 70% were being raised as food animals whilst only 30% were wild birds.
Today, the situation is not much better. If anything it has gotten worse. Extinction of both plant and animal species, is occurring at an unprecedented rate. In 2019, the United Nations estimated that around 1 million species face extinction within the next few decades. The WWF puts it very succinctly. It’s estimated that the extinction rate is 0.01% per year. This equates to around 10,000 species which go extinct every year. This represents a rate between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. John R. Platt in The Revelator writes that dozens and dozens of species were declared extinct in 2020, including orchids, frogs and fish.
No matter what the source, all agree that humans are to blame for this mass extinction event. But what exactly is driving all of this? The answer, quite simply, is our lifestyles together with our agricultural systems.
Soya production has been widely accused for vast swathes of life-giving forests being cut down. But the WWF reveals that 80% of soya is fed to livestock; mainly chickens, pigs and farmed salmon. Greenpeace goes even further in saying that 90% is fed to livestock and the remaining 10% is divided up into two fractions; 6% for human consumption and 4% for industrial use. Going back to the 2018 study and looking at the ratios of livestock to wild animals, it is clear that enormous amounts of soya are thus required. Most livestock are raised in factory farms. Deforestation disrupts ecosystems, kills wildlife and totally upsets the delicate balance of our Earth. It makes perfect sense, therefore, for humans to move to a plant-based diet without delay.
Deforestation and the resulting soya production is only a tiny aspect of how biodiversity is being compromised. Our agricultural systems are another. The soya mentioned ends up in soil as fertilizers. Animals consume the soya, and when they are processed for meat, their blood, bones and other body parts become ingredients for commercially produced fertilizers. Fertilizers, together with agrochemicals and manures, poison the soil and the crop.
Veganic crop production does not use fertilizers of any sort. The soil and crops are healthy and this, in turn, promotes the emergence of a myriad of animal and plant species in the surrounding areas. Veganic agriculture also does not use toxic agrochemicals, thereby protecting invertebrates, small vertebrates and plant species. Killing off so-called “pests”, either plant or animal, can and does have a knock-on effect. Many invertebrates are prey species for higher order animals who, without them as a source of food, will themselves starve and die. This goes up the entire food chain.
On February 03, 2021, Chatham House, an independent international affairs think tank, together with Compassion in World Farming and the United Nations.
Environmental Program (UNEP) released a comprehensive report during a live webinar detailing the impact global food systems have on biodiversity loss. It comes as no surprise that the experts which included Dr. Jane Goodall, outlined three key fundamentals to protecting biodiversity: (1) A total human dietary shift to a plant-based diet, (2) Protecting and setting land aside for Nature, and (3) Farming in a more nature-friendly manner that will support biodiversity and not destroy it. The report was of such an important nature that it was summarised in most of the major UK national press including The Guardian, The Independent and the Daily Mail.
Without a total mindset change regarding our lifestyles and agricultural systems, biodiversity has no chance at recovery and the sixth mass extinction event will continue relentlessly. Once humans have adopted a plant-based lifestyle, respecting all life forms, and once agricultural systems become revolutionized with a move away from the use of agrochemicals, fertilizers and animal manures, then and only then will our biodiversity have a chance at recovering. And that will be a good first step in the right direction in restoring the balance on Earth.
All photographs copyright © Colleen McDuling.
 Food System Impacts on Biodiversity Loss: Three levers for food system transformation in support of nature; Chatham House Report, February 03, 2021; ISBN: 978 1 78413 433 4; https://www.chathamhouse.org/2021/02/food-system-impacts-biodiversity-loss
Also see report from CiWF at: https://www.ciwf.org.uk/news/2021/02/new-report-food-system-impacts-on-biodiversity-loss where a video of the event may be viewed
 Bar-On, Yinon M., Phillips, Rob and Milo, Ron; 2018; The biomass distribution on Earth; Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; 115 (25); 6506-6511; https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1711842115
 Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study; The Guardian; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/21/human-race-just-001-of-all-life-but-has-destroyed-over-80-of-wild-mammals-study
 UN Report: Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’; Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’; https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2019/05/nature-decline-unprecedented-report/
 Well… this is the million dollar question. And one that’s very hard to answer. WWF; https://wwf.panda.org/discover/our_focus/biodiversity/biodiversity/
 What We’ve Lost: The Species Declared Extinct in 2020; January 6, 2021; Originally published in The Revelator and reposted in EcoWatch; https://www.ecowatch.com/species-extinct-in-2020-2649768697.html?rebelltitem=6#rebelltitem6
 Deforestation and food: your questions answered; WWF; https://www.wwf.org.uk/food/deforestation-and-food-your-questions-answered
 Are vegans and vegetarians destroying the planet?; Greenpeace Video; https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/soya-meat-vegetarian-vegan/