The Global Goals were launched in September last year. These successors of the Millennium Development Goals try to give a complete picture of how we can improve our world. The goals are based on extensive consultation of stakeholders. The most important outcome is the realization that poverty reduction and a sustainable society are two sides of the same coin. Global Goals are not only relevant for developing countries: They address issues like peace and security, renewable energy, recycling, tourism and employment.
Animals and plants are mentioned in the goals that deal with the protection of ecosystems and combating poaching. However, farm animals are conspicuously absent. They are only referred to in the context of the preservation of genetic variation. Why they are not counted as a stakeholder? Looking at the (rapidly growing) numbers, it’s a group we can hardly ignore:
We imagine that our planet is populated by lions, elephants, whales and penguins. That may be true of the National Geographic channel, Disney movies and children’s fairytales, but it is no longer true of the real world. The world contains 40,000 lions but, by way of contrast, there are around 1 billion domesticated pigs; 500,000 elephants and 1.5 billion domesticated cows; 50 million penguins and 20 billion chickens.
Livestock indirectly influences the Global Goals in many way. The fact that we use cereal crops and soybeans to feed animals instead of ourselves means that the prices of these crops increase and poor people cannot buy their staple food. All those billions of animals use land and water, and produce a lot of waste. 14% of the global CO2 emissions are caused by livestock — this is more than all forms of transport together. Pelletier & Tyedmers (2010) compare the impact of livestock to that of soy as a protein source for humans. In the second scenario, greenhouse gas emissions, plant biomass use and nitrogen pollution are much lower. Our livestock systems also have a huge negative impact on biodiversity (Machovina et al., 2015). Reducing the growth of the livestock sector by consuming less animal-based products is therefore a good way to work on the Global Goals.
But I think there is a deeper problem — a fundamental flaw in our compassion and ambition. Target 16 is a “just, peaceful and inclusive society.” I cannot imagine how we can achieve that if we do not take into account the interests of the animals that we live with every day. Just like humans, animals can feel pain, and a calf does not want to be separated from her mother any more than a human baby would. There is ample scientific evidence for this. If we start respecting these simple needs, it quickly becomes clear that industrial farming is no longer an option.
All the Global Goals call for conscious choices from us as Western consumers. Where does our food come from, who made our clothes, how was our energy generated? Let’s take up this challenge with a lot of positivity: A better world — for both humans and animals — is possible!
- Yuval Noah Harari (2015) Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history
- Pelletier & Tyedmers (2010) Forecasting potential global environmental costs of livestock production 2000–2050
- Machovina, Feeley & Ripple (2015) Biodiversity conservation: The key is reducing meat consumption
- Picture sheep: Keven Law, Los Angeles, USA (Wiki commons)