This year organizers of South By Southwest Eco were nice enough to give me a free pass to attend the conference. Although I’ve been to the interactive, music, and film conferences quite a bit over the last few years this was my first time attending the new-ish eco. I went full throttle into attending as many panels as possible on everything that I am interested in. I loved learning about the potentials of 3D printing, technology that’s helping wildlife, the importance of storytelling in the movement, and how the first refugees and victims of climate change are trying to save their own lives. The eco conference is supposed to combine scientists with technologists and industry leaders to create solutions to climate based problems. In the past, people have asked me to do a panel on veganism and the environment but I didn’t feel like I was enough of an expert on the topic…until I went to sxsweco.
At first I was surprised by the lack of programming on the topic of veganism, especially since there was a whole theme of food and agriculture. I was even more surprised that the v word hardly came up! Only one panel I went to mentioned eating vegan to help the environment, and that was the panel about in-vitro meat, beyond meat, eating crickets for protein and 3D printing. I guess one of the best parts about the whole experience was learning how naive I am about what people actually know about meat production in our world and that there are so many opportunities for education. At one panel they showed just one image of the pollution caused by one factory farm and the entire room gasped. I wanted to just print out articles, studies, statistics, and infographics and start handing them to people. I heard over and over again about urban farming and vertical farming and plans to not over fish the sea, and plans to detox the sea, and that there is so much plastic in the sea, and that throwing out a half of a pound of ground beef is the same as taking a 90 minute shower, and how the tides are rising are displacing so many people, and weather uncertainty, and what can we do to make a difference. And then I heard the chatter from out-of-towners about how much they loved Texas barbecue and which place would they try next. I saw them lining up at the cheap hamburger stand across the street. I expect that at interactive and the rest but I really thought people traveling to a conference on the environment knew about the impact of cheap beef.
I didn’t know it was a secret that the easiest way anyone in the world can make a difference is to give up eating animals, at least most of the time. Livestock production accounts for over 50 percent of greenhouse gases on the planet! People are losing their homes because we can’t give up hamburgers.
I was reminded the population is growing at a staggering rate. We have to make as much food in the next 40 years as we did in the last thousand. Urban farming will never solve this problem, there are too many people and not resources in urban areas. At one panel I went to an engineer said that vertical farming was a pipe dream, an idea that is perpetuated by cool graphics. I learned that the poorest people in the world are farmers and that 50 percent of them go hungry while the urban farm movement here in the US encourages this as the only possible direction. I’m not saying urban farming doesn’t have a place, I love going to the farmer’s market and I grow kale in my backyard but it will never be enough to make a global difference. Especially when it comes to animal “farming”. Raising animals for food takes infinitely more resources. If people could happily live on subsistence farming those same people wouldn’t be cutting down the rainforrest to make way for cash crops that feed animals. The model of grass fed cows will never work to feed our growing population. As long as people are eating meat at the rate we do there will be factory farms and ag sprawl which is much worse for the environment than urban sprawl.
The only way we have a chance to continue life as we know it is eat a lot less meat. Most people on the planet have to go vegan most of the time. The sooner we stop being so selfish about our traditions and tastes the sooner we will be able actually start saving the planet instead of just deluding ourselves that someone else will come and save us.
The biggest threat to the planet is business as usual.