Tag Archives: sustainability

The Conversation: Eat locals: swapping sheep and cows for kangaroos and camels could help our environment

By Euan Ritchie (Deakin University) and Adam Munn (University of New South Wales)

A six-legged diet? Insects are often high in protein and low in fat, and can be produced in large numbers, efficiently and quickly. Image credit Shutterstock

A six-legged diet? Insects are often high in protein and low in fat, and can be produced in large numbers, efficiently and quickly. Image credit Shutterstock

We may be what we eat, but our dietary choices also affect the health of the environment, and farmers’ back pockets.

Energy and water use, native habitat cut down for crops and grazing, and emissions that exacerbate climate change, are just some of the profound effects agriculture has on Earth. And, there are more and more mouths to feed.

Perversely, both starvation and obesity are severe health issues across the world. With agriculture confronted by economic and environmental uncertainties, society faces enormous challenges.

But challenges also offer great opportunities. Drastically rethinking what we eat, and where and how food is produced, could help our health, the planet, and our farming businesses.

That means eating fewer sheep and cows, and more kangaroos, feral animals, and insects.

Unsustainable farming

Australia’s rangelands — the drier regions of the country predominantly used for livestock and grazing — cover about 80% of the country. They are often in poor condition and economically unviable. In part, this is due to the fact we still farm many animals, mostly in ways that are unsuited to the Australian climate and environment.

Hard-hoofed animals contribute to soil compaction and erosion, and have even been linked to the spread of the invasive cane toad. But the environmental impact of intensive stock farming extends much further.

Continuing to farm using a European-derived, intensive system is a recipe for land degradation and environmental collapse, especially with the compounding impacts of climate change (severe weather events, more frequent and intense droughts, and fires).

Past and current agricultural practices have also profoundly altered our environment. It may be impossible to restore these lands to their original condition, so we must learn to operate in the new environment we’ve created.

More broadly, many experts have identified our meat consumption and intensive farming as a significant driver of global problems.

Treading lightly

To address these issues, we need a cultural shift away from intensive agriculture. The days of riding and relying on the sheep’s back, cattle’s hoof, or the more recent, and increasingly popular, chicken’s wing, may need to pass.

Native wildlife and some feral animals tread more lightly on the environment than intensively produced livestock do, and thus provide more sustainable options for food production on Australia’s arid lands. Kangaroos and goats place one-third of the pressure on grazing lands compared with sheep.

We already eat some of these animals, but could arguably eat more of them, including feral goats, camels, deer, rabbits, pigs, and buffalo, as well as native emus and kangaroos.

Yet more extreme proposals could include feral donkeys, cats, horses; and even cane toads. Horses are already consumed in Europe and cats in central Australia.

Eating more feral and native animals, and relying less on chicken, sheep, domestic pigs, and cattle would help meet ethical concerns too. Wild animals such as kangaroos are killed quickly, without the extended stress associated with industrialised farming, containment, and transportation to abattoirs.

And by harvesting sometimes overabundant wild native animals (such as kangaroos) and feral species, we may be able to reduce their impacts on ecosystems, which include overgrazing and damage to waterways.

An even greater leap would be to eat fewer four-limbed animals and more six-legged creatures. Insects are often high in protein and low in fat, and can be produced in large numbers, efficiently and quickly. They are already consumed in large numbers in some regions, including Asia.

Evidence that a market for such a food revolution exists is that shops are already popping up selling mealworm flour, ant seasoning salt, and cricket protein powder, among other delicacies.

Boom and bust

Thanks to Australia’s variable climate, swinging between drought and flood, many farms are also tied to a boom-and-bust cycle of debt and credit.

As the climate becomes increasingly unpredictable, this economic strategy must be detrimental to the farmers, and is shown by many farm buy-backs or sell-offs.

It makes sense to use species that are naturally more resilient and able to respond to boom-and-bust cycles. Kangaroos and other species can forage on our ancient and typically nutrient-poor soils without the need for nutritional supplements (such as salt licks), and are physiologically more efficient at conserving water. This could lead to a more sustainable supply of food and income for farmers, without the dizzying economic highs but also without the inevitable prolonged and despairing lows.

Future-proofing

To be clear, we are not suggesting completely replacing livestock, but diversifying and tailoring enterprises to better suit Australia’s environment.

To support more diverse agricultural enterprises we will need to overcome many obstacles, such as licences to hunt, what we’re comfortable consuming, and land use regulation. But we shouldn’t shy away from these challenges. There are tremendous opportunities for rural, regional and Indigenous communities, and indeed cities too.

We need a more diverse mix of meat to adapt to the pressures of a growing population and climate change. Supermarket aisles that display beef, chicken, pork and lamb, alongside kangaroo, camel, deer, goat, and insects, could be just what the environmental, health and economic doctors ordered.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article online, including reader comments.

The Conversation

 

Belinda Christie: Increasing the success of conservation outcomes

Guest blogger: Belinda Christie

Guest blogger: Belinda Christie

I often ponder why, when we have so much scientific information about how our natural environment is deteriorating and more importantly what we can do to reverse it, does so little change? In fact it’s rapidly getting worse.

Perhaps it’s not just about what we (including scientists) know but just as importantly what we value, and how do we increase and improve the connection between information, values and actions?

Deakin University PhD candidate and guest contributor Belinda Christie offers some interesting thoughts.

Recently, I attended a public forum in Melbourne. After the forum ended, the queues forming behind the food stalls grew quickly. As I waited for my cuppa, I noticed one of the forum’s guest speakers placing his lunch order. He was a marine biologist, who just a few minutes earlier, had presented evidence for the need to increase the number of Australia’s marine national parks. I was surprised, perhaps naïvely, when I heard him order a tuna roll. Was I now more, or less, convinced by the evidence he had presented? I wasn’t sure.

When a marine ecologist orders tuna sushi...

When a marine ecologist orders tuna sushi we might start to examine the connection between the science we teach and the science we practice.

Our daily experience provides many examples of this disconnection between the professional and the personal: the smattering of nurses standing outside the hospital smoking, the personal trainer welcoming clients at the gym while snacking on a bag of potato chips, the academic writing an article about sustainability while sitting with the heater blasting in her very draughty office. There is often a disconnection between working and living the lessons of our professions. This disconnection is of particular importance in environmental science.

There is a common, but misleading, assumption made by both academics and the public that environmental sustainability ‘belongs’ to the sciences, and so, the belief follows, that students of the environmental sciences already learn much about environmental sustainability. We assume that environmental science students learn about the social and economic aspects of their field. We assume they learn about carbon footprints and sustainable lifestyles. We also assume that all ecologists, environmental managers and conservation biologists received such an education.

Research suggests otherwise. Recent research has shown that of all the disciplines, academics from the sciences are the least supportive of environment and sustainability education for all university students, rarely teach these issues in their own classes and have the most difficulty articulating the meaning of sustainability. While environmental science academics might spend time teaching their students about environmental policy and management, few actively educate their students for sustainability by cultivating the knowledge, skills and values to contribute to a more sustainable society.

But what would be the effect if all those studying environmental science courses were intentionally, and explicitly, educated for sustainability? Would this influence the success of future conservation outcomes? Would this effect be positive, negative or somewhere in between?

The answers to these questions probably hinge on your view of the purpose of science itself. You may fear that conservation recommendations will not be taken seriously unless they come from a seemingly neutral, detached and passionless scientist. You may feel that those recommendations should be, as much as possible, removed from politics, public sentiment and cultural context, so they can be seen as ‘objective’ and beyond influence.

Conversely, you may feel that perhaps the public, industry and politicians would be more likely to support a scientist’s recommendations if they are seen to follow their own advice and are a passionate advocate for change. You may feel that conservation recommendations should be aligned with the current political, economic, social and cultural landscape of the community, so that the recommendations are more likely to be accepted.

You may feel, like many others, including some of our best known and most influential scientists, that it is wise to occupy the ground between the two extremes.

Some years ago I was involved in a program which intended to decrease the occurrence of wildlife poaching in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest. While it was informed by conservation recommendations from biologists and ecologists, the program was largely unsuccessful. The recommendations had failed to cater for the entrenched economic and cultural practices of the local community – the use, and trade, of traditional medicines harvested, often fatally, from wildlife.

While considering the social and economic context of conservation recommendations is already well practiced by many, it wasn’t until the biologists, ecologists and volunteers who had designed the program, publically pledged to adopt the recommended sustainable behaviours personally, and stopped using medicines derived from wildlife, that poaching in the area started to decrease. Without this element of ‘social diffusion’, or peer influence, the program may never have been successful. Had those biologists and ecologists learnt about sustainable living practices within the context of their own culture during their undergraduate education, perhaps the program would have been more influential earlier on.

Educating environmental science students for sustainability however, should be evidence-based, rigorous and preserve the integrity of research. It should take heed of the concerns of those who warn educating for a purpose is akin to indoctrinating students. It can do this by encouraging deep critical reflection so students can learn to assess the concept of the sustainability itself. Doing so can, and should, move an environmental science degree beyond merely providing a professional qualification, to inspiring students to lead by example and to make a measurable difference in their world.

I like to think that if the marine biologist at the forum received such an education, perhaps he would have skipped the tuna roll, and I wouldn’t have been left questioning his conservation recommendations.