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News Icon 1/9/2020

Written by Tyler Hazard

12 million acres burned.

2,000 homes destroyed.

At least 25 people and more than 1 billion wild animals dead.

And this is only the beginning.

“It’s really nice that so many people have come up and sent their well wishes to Australia. But we have to do more than that, right? It’s such a beautiful gesture...But I think together, hopefully we can be unified and actually make some changes. It’s great to vote, but sometimes we have to take responsibility on ourselves and make changes and sacrifices in our own lives. And I hope that we can do that.”

As he accepted a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture on Sunday night, Joaquin Phoenix thanked the Hollywood Foreign Press Association for creating a plant-based event and then took a moment to implore those seated before him—and those on couches at home—to make tangible changes in their daily lives to save the planet.

Joaquin was right to do so, and here’s why:

In this modern age of climate chaos, there is no substitute for action. When your home is on fire, you rush in, fire extinguisher in hand, to put it out, or you grab your loved ones and run out of harm’s way.

While in Australia, firefighters are courageously doing the former and families are fearfully doing the latter, the rest of the world appears too comfortable simply watching and waiting for sparks to ignite at home.

The reality is, while factory farms did not light the match, they are undoubtedly driving Australian bushfires to increasing severity by exacerbating the climate crisis. 2019 was the hottest recorded year in Australian history. And the global warming-induced, heatwave-like conditions and crippling drought the country is experiencing are pushing local officials to take dramatic steps to keep people alive—like permitting the mass culling of camels in desperate search of water.

With communities terrified and suffering around the globe, we have ten years to find real solutions. While progress requires innovation across multiple sectors and regulation from our governments, we cannot stop this crisis unless we fundamentally reject factory farming—not just at the ballot box, but at the three times a day we choose to eat.

There is no confusion that factory farming is a leading cause of the climate crisis: 14.5% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are attributed to animal agriculture—an industry dominated by factory farming. Astoundingly, 44% and 53% of methane and nitrous oxide emissions (two GHGs at least 28 and 265 times more potent than carbon dioxide, respectively) come from livestock industries, particularly beef and dairy.

But it’s simply not enough to switch from one animal protein to a less carbon-intensive one—like from beef to chicken—because industrial animal agriculture has bigger problems than just GHG emissions: Factory farming of all kinds requires an exorbitant amount of land. Currently, 77% of global farmland is used for livestock and feed production, while the remaining 23% is left for producing crops for human consumption. Despite that, animal agriculture only contributes about 18% of total calories to the global food supply—meaning the system is highly inefficient and unsustainable on a large scale. In fact, for every 100 calories fed to an animal in the form of human-edible crops, only 17-30 calories of meat, milk, or eggs are produced. Unfortunately, as populations around the world grow larger and wealthier, demand for animal products is on the rise.

To satisfy those demands, industrial animal agriculture bulldozes more forest around the world than almost any other sector. In fact, planned burning for the purposes of beef and feed production was a primary cause for the Amazon Rainforest fires that took media by storm a few months back. Not only does this uproot and devastate wildlife and indigenous communities, but it’s yet another way that factory farming is fueling the climate crisis: Forests are a critically-important carbon sink and ripping them up contributes an additional 11% of global GHGs emissions.

We must invest in a food system that works in conjunction with nature, not against it. One with a dramatically lower carbon, land, and water footprint that eliminates industrial animal agriculture, incorporates regenerative practices, and relies primarily on plant-based foods over animal proteins. Without food system reform catalyzed by tangible action of everyday people we cannot end the climate crisis…and there will be even more and even worse Australian bushfires around the world.

Here are some easy and effective steps you can take to fight factory farming and climate change:

  • Eat plants for breakfast and lunch. Consuming more of a plant-based diet can reduce your personal GHG emissions by up to 53%. And making your two quicker meals plant-based is more manageable, especially at first. For tips on how to start, sign up to #EatPlantsForAChange.
  • Swap out animal meat for plant-based meat. More food businesses than ever before are serving climate-friendly alternatives to animal products. Use our Ultimate Plant-Based Fast Food Guide to see what simple swaps to make on-the-go.
  • Try blended products. Eating less meat doesn’t always mean only eating meat-free meals. Many companies have begun to offer meat products made with a mixture of animal and plant-based protein, meaning less meat in every bite!
  • Opt for higher-welfare animal products. On the occasions you do choose to consume animal products, aim to buy those with third-party animal welfare certifications, like Global Animal Partnership (GAP), to ensure those products come from more compassionate farms. Learn more by downloading our free Compassionate Food Guide.

*Image: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

Tyler Circle Headshot Tyler Hazard is the Public Engagement Manager at Compassion in World Farming USA. He holds a B.S. in Animal Science and Psychology, and an M.S. in Animals and Public Policy from Tufts University.