Plastic Straws are Just a Drop in the Ocean
In light of the recent UN announcement that we have 12 years to curb climate change (before what? Before the irreversible damage of ecosystems and mass extinction of species? Oh wait…), people have taken up arms in the form of their keyboards, proclaiming that we need to Change Before It’s Too Late! That’s not to say that these proclamations are insincere; I don’t doubt that most people would very much like it if climate change went away. Unfortunately, however—as proven by the dramatic imbalance between well-wishes on social media and the actual state of the world—sharing news articles doesn’t make much difference. I am not trying to discourage sharing the stuff that makes your blood boil or your heart soar—we need people like you!—but without the actions to back them up, words will not save our planet.
This is where plastic straws come into it. Recently, a huge awareness has arisen surrounding the impacts of plastics on our oceans. In response, multiple restaurant and cafe chains have announced their decision to stop using plastic straws. Despite a few protests from people who place their desire for a non-soggy straw over the future of our planet, this movement has been met with huge amounts of praise. But—and please stick around to hear me out—plastic straws are, quite frankly, a scapegoat. Of course plastic straws are bad. Of course it is disgustingly wasteful that we prioritise our ease of drinking over the sanctity of our environment. Reducing the amount of plastics which end up in the bin (and beyond) is a good thing, and should be celebrated as such. Despite this, I can’t help but feel like we’re celebrating after blowing out a tea-light while forest fires rage in our back gardens. In terms of the threats facing our planet, plastic straws are (forgive the pun) a drop in the ocean. While it is fantastic that we are taking steps to reduce single-use plastics, patting ourselves on the back for taking this tiny step towards sustainability grossly underestimates the impact we have on the planet. While we bask in the morality of opting for a cardboard straw once every few weeks, our everyday habits which go unchallenged are far more insidious.
The Real Problem
The consumption of animal products is killing our planet. There is no way to dance around this issue, no way to reassure you that the way you (or I) personally consume animal products is ethical and correct. This isn’t purely a welfare issue, either; our reliance on cheap, plentiful animal products is one of the greatest barriers to sustainable living. Let me explain; livestock farming is the number one source of pollution in many countries, poisoning marine and terrestrial habitats for generations to come. It necessitates the clearance of vast expanses of formerly biodiverse landscapes, resulting in the loss of flora and fauna on a huge scale, and the removal of forested areas reduces the earth’s capacity to absorb carbon dioxide. Each step of the production chain—all the way from field to fork—releases colossal amounts of choking greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change and degrading our ecosystems. On top of this, each kilogram of meat we produce requires the input of thousands of litres of water, worsening the effects of drought in already water-scarce areas.
Sure, steak tastes good—but does it really taste that good? Good enough that you are willing to sacrifice an entire planet?
Some people believe eating meat is the ‘natural’ way to live, due to our origin as hunter-gatherers (although I have my doubts that the people who make this argument could catch a pigeon in Central London); others cherish the health benefits of meat (like heart disease, cancer… oh hang on, that’s the wrong list); and some people just love the taste of bacon (yes, for the last time, I do bloody miss bacon). Although vegetarians (and more often vegans) are accused of structuring their lives around their dietary preferences, meat-eaters seem just as guilty. There is a pervasive attitude in society that eating meat is a god-given right which should never be challenged or taken away—and this needs to stop.
How You Can Help
Reducing our consumption of animal products is simultaneously the easiest and hardest way to reduce our burden on the planet; easy, because it requires so little effort on our part, but hard because we are so used to living selfishly. We often place our own desires first, and in some cases, that’s a good thing—but if we want to save this planet we all call home, we need to start making sacrifices. I cannot stress enough how irrelevant animal products are to a satisfying lifestyle; reducing our consumption of them should not be a matter of if, but when. The future of our planet depends on it.
You do not have to give up animal products entirely to make a difference. The finality of deciding to ‘go vegan/veggie’ terrifies a lot of people; deciding that you are never going to eat meat/animal products again can be a daunting step. My decision to go veggie was made instantaneously, and since that day I haven’t looked back—but the thought of going totally vegan still scares me! Instead of denying myself the carnal pleasure of cheddar, I try to drink plant-based milk whenever I can and not add cheese to meals unnecessarily (although I still struggle with the concept of cheese ever being unnecessary). Although it isn’t as good as being vegan, it is an improvement on my diet before. Change on a global scale happens when we all make little changes to our everyday lives.
If I haven’t convinced you, here are a few statistics which might change your mind.
- The production of 1 kilogram of beef requires almost 15,500 litres of water (1 kg of vegetables requires 322 litres)
- The production of 1 kilogram of beef releases 27 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (1 kg of vegetables releases 2)
- Around 30% of the Earth’s ice-free surface is used for livestock production
- The production of feed for livestock uses up 1/3 of total arable land
- Nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is produced in its masses during livestock farming. 65% of all human nitrous oxide emissions can be attributed to livestock