NOW is the time to start repairing the damage that we have caused.
Yesterday morning, while listening to an NPR interview with best-selling author, Charles Mann, I was reminded of the environmental horrors that humankind has inflicted on planet Earth. In his new book, 1493, Uncovering the New World that Columbus Created, Mann chronicles a period in our history that took place four or five hundred years ago…about the time that the human lifestyle was about to begin taking its toll on the environment.
Now is the time to start repairing the damage. Back in 1492, man wasn’t aware of the problems that he was about to cause. He had no idea that the horses, cows and grazing animals that the Europeans brought to the new world would lead to desertification of vast swatches of land in the Americas. He also didn’t know about the spread of infectious diseases, the impact of bees, earthworms and insects that he unknowingly brought along for the ride. He was just doing what humans always do; searching for a better life — with no idea whatsoever what that “better life” might do to the planet. From a recent article on Mann’s book in the Amherst Bulletin (See link below)…
A consistent theme throughout Mann’s work is the idea that the trade of animals and plants between the Eastern and Western hemispheres led to a series of dramatic biological changes that forged a new world, both ecologically and economically.
Listening to the NPR interview with Mr. Mann reminded me of the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel. The Fates of Human Societies, published by W.W. Norton in 1997. In both books, the story is all about the spread of human civilization and how it was shaped by instruments of power; such things as animals, weapons, viruses, and insects.
While man’s relentless march around the world, beginning in 1492, opened up much opportunity for a better way of life for us as a species, I don’t know of a single positive thing that has resulted from that march as far as the environment is concerned. As both books point out, many of our problems began with the domestication of animals; the creatures that have fed us and helped us win wars, but have also made us sick, degraded our land and driven the extinction of hundreds of thousands of species. Now is the time to start repairing the damage.
Back in 1492, man had no idea what kind of damage he might be causing or how it might affect the future of life itself on this planet half a millenia later. The total human population back then was less than a half billion — compared to the seven billion that we have today. We also now have sixty billion farm animals per year that are raised to feed the wealthiest third of our seven billion people. And we continue to burn a finite resource — oil (that Columbus never heard of) at the rate of 90 million barrels a day. The question is, “How has our planet dealt with all of this progress?” The short answer — not so well.
As Glenn Close told us in the 2009 movie HOME, “In just the past fifty years, less than one lifetime, the human race has inflicted more damage on the fragile harmony of nature than all other generations of humans combined for the past 200,000 years.” We can forgive Columbus and the other explorers as in “Forgive them father for they no not what they do.” But, now that we know about the damage we’re causing, we must urgently begin to reverse this deadly environmental trend — before it’s too late.
As for the damage that we are inflicting, we know that a substantial amount of it is being driven by our Western diet. Yet millions of people around the world are adopting that same harmful, wasteful and unsustainable Western diet-style every year. And I have not heard a single world leader even mention the prospect of changing that diet. Michelle Obama talks about it, but her actions speak louder than her words.
While it won’t solve all of our problems, a planned, deliberate move toward a plant-based diet is the single most powerful move that we humans can make in order to start repairing the damage that we have done. As our global population continues to grow at the rate of a new Grand Rapids, MI every day (197,000) and we lose arable land at the rate of one South Carolina every year, the world is approaching some desperate years ahead.
The time to act is now. By simply moving to a much healthier plant-based diet, on a per calorie basis, we can produce twenty times more food with the same amount of land, water and energy that we are using to produce the Western diet of meat and dairy three meals a day. Consider the staggering positive impact that would result from such a change.
Our leaders must read The China Study, talk to Bill Clinton, refer to the wisdom of Einstein and Hippocrates and ultimately realize that we don’t “need” animal protein to be healthy. In fact, it’s killing us — and it’s doing a number on our planet at the same time. As Dr. Campbell says, “It turns out that if we eat the way that promotes the best health for ourselves, we also promote the best health for the planet.”
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—J. Morris Hicks…blogging daily at HealthyEatingHealthyWorld.com
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