Since Life on Earth was first broadcasted, I’ve loved David Attenborough’s work – a fascinating and beautifully produced narrative of natural history. No doubt Attenborough in part also inspired me to study the life sciences.
I enjoyed his latest book too: A Life on Our Planet. He puts forward his witness statement and a vision for the future: how to rewild the world. It’s a compelling account of the impact of humans on our planet and what we need to do to create a sustainable future.
As a biologist I was shocked to learn this:
- There are currently about 9,000,000 different species inhabiting our planet, one of which is of course Homo sapiens.
- Today our farmland covers 5 billion hectares: more than half of the habitable land on the planet.
- Nearly 80% of that land, 4 billion hectares, equivalent to the whole of North and South America is used for meat and dairy production.
- Beef represents only 2% of the calories we consume but we dedicate 60% of our farmland to raising it!
- Our population continues to grow and is forecasted to peak at between 9-11 billion people, up from almost 8 billion today.
- As we get richer, we continue to eat more meat. The average meat consumption in the USA today is 120kg per person annually. In Europe it’s 60-80kg. In Kenya, 16kg and in India it’s 4kg (with cultural factors encouraging vegetarianism there too).
Billions of additional people eating more meat each year is unlikely to be a sustainable path towards a biodiverse future.
Are we eating the right things in the right proportions?
Homo sapiens means ‘wise man’. What would a wise human do in this situation?