Plant-based eating brings energy and vitality to individuals – but what does it do for our planet? I sat down with author Cory Davis to find out more about how our diets are connected to broader environmental issues and why the smallest choices can make the biggest impact.
What is Environmental Sustainability?
Cory’s journey towards advocating for a more eco-friendly world began with his deep passion for animal rights, driving him to explore the interconnectedness of various sectors within the realm of sustainability. His wealth of knowledge, backed by his impressive credentials, including an MBA, MSc.IM, and a P.Ag., made for an insightful discussion on the convergence of natural resource management, intercultural relations, and animal rights activism.
Together, we delved into the profound impact of individual choices on our planet’s health. Ecosystems are resilient to climate change, but human activities like deforestation and animal agriculture have profound impacts. We talked about the impact of large agricultural industries and power of individual consumer choices in driving production, citing the inventory management system used by grocery stores.
Power of Plant-Based Living
We discussed the environmental benefits of embracing plant-based protein sources such as tofu, lentils, and peas, which require significantly less water than their animal-based counterparts. It’s remarkable how such small dietary shifts can result in measurable reductions in water usage and pollution.
Perhaps the most eye-opening moment of our conversation was when Cory revealed the staggering potential of a global shift towards plant-based diets and rewilding lands currently used for pasture and animal feed crops. The numbers were astounding: the potential to sequester a remarkable 16 years’ worth of carbon from our atmosphere and a 66% chance of meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
So can we make an impact? If so, how do we do it? Tune in to hear from Cory Davis and learn how we change our future and the future of our planet.
Here are Cory’s key takeaways:
- Plant-Powered Proteins: Opting for plant-based proteins like tofu, lentils, and peas promotes personal health and helps reduce water usage and pollution.
- The Beef and Dairy Dilemma: Cutting back on these products can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, and land usage.
- Collective Impact: Learn about small choices we can make every day towards a more sustainable future.
- Diet Choices and Climate Change: Cory shares some staggering statistics about how our eating habits impact the environment.
- Sharing Sustainability: Get tips on how to encourage sustainable choices amongst family and friends.
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Listen to Cory’s episode
If you found today’s episode enlightening and want to hear more, make sure to subscribe and leave a review on your favorite podcast platform. Share this episode with friends and family who are curious about plant-based living or considering making a change in their health journey.
- Watch the documentary: Forks Over Knives
- Get the book Plant-Powered Protein
- Learn more about Cory Davis and his research on plant-based protein
- Listen to Climate Change Solutions with Drawdown’s Jonathan Foley
- Interested in more recipes? Check out Plant Based on a Budget
- Sign up for my weekly newsletter!
- Want more? Listen to this episode about plant-based living with Maxime Sigouin
- Environmental sustainability and its various sectors. 0:00
- Water use, deforestation, and their impacts on the environment. 4:30
- Water usage in agriculture and its impact on the environment. 12:05
- Reducing food’s environmental impact through dietary choices. 17:52
- Plant-based diets and their impact on the environment. 24:24
- Water and air pollution from agriculture and its impact on human health. 30:00
- Water and air pollution caused by animal agriculture. 37:22
- Agriculture’s impact on ecosystems and biodiversity. 42:18
- Reducing agricultural land use through plant-based diets. 48:58
Cory Davis 0:00
Hey, Cory, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for having me, Sonya.
Sonya Looney 0:06
It’s so fun to finally meet you, as we were just talking about, because I’ve heard about you for many years from your awesome mom. And it’s just kind of funny to think like Brenda’s your mom and I know Brenda, as Brenda and help people think about your parents and how you think about your parents. And that’s just really fun.
Cory Davis 0:31
Thanks so much. I’m so happy to be here. And I’m glad that you and my mom have already established a relationship. She’s told me so much about you.
Sonya Looney 0:40
So how did you get interested in environmental sustainability?
Cory Davis 0:44
Oh, great question. So Well, first, I’ve been passionate about animal rights for as long as I can remember, and really put that into action and 2003 to 2004, on the compassion for animals road expedition. And one thing that really hit home for me was the environmental impacts of food, it just kept coming up. So I started to develop an interest in that. And in that care tour, I went around giving cooking demonstrations on environmentally friendly foods. And that kind of kicked off my thinking patterns. And then when it was time for me to go to college, I started in the social sciences. And I took ecology and biology. And I had an environment club there as well. And the link, I just kept finding that link between the environment and the food we eat. And that really compelled me to further my education in environmental sciences and environmental planning. And my career just took me there. So now a professional agrologist, where my specialty is in environmental conservation. It just seems like my life culminated to that point.
Sonya Looney 2:02
Yeah, so from a young age, it sounds like this, this career and his passion has been building and it’s funneled you into this getting this becoming a neurologist. That is correct. Yeah. So I think a lot of times when people think about environmental sustainability, they don’t think about all the different sectors they think about, well, you know, I’m gonna get like a low flow toilet, or I’ll turn the lights off, or I’ll recycle, like all of these things are important. But can you talk about how there’s different sectors in the environmental sustainability space?
Cory Davis 2:35
Yes, those are all really good points. And I highly encourage everybody to continue minimizing their impact on the environment through low flow, toilets, don’t water, your lawn recycle, all of that is really good. And I want to encourage people to continue doing that. But of course, there’s a number of different industries that are making profound influences on ecologies and North America and indeed, the rest of the world. And it’s really difficult to start to parse out and create categories, because a lot of these things are related to each other. Of course, the influence of fossil fuel industries on agriculture is also profound. There’s a huge link there. But when I think about what is the biggest impact on our planet, that in no doubt, in my mind is agriculture. No doubt in my mind, of course, the energy sector as a whole creates the most greenhouse gas emissions creates about 60% of all emissions on the planet. And that’s no joke. And perhaps part of our future is to simplify the fossil fuel economy and, and our consumption patterns, or that, but perhaps the single most impactful thing somebody can do, making small changes in their life is by making small shifts in their dietary patterns. Of course, agriculture is a leading polluter of water contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and our ability or the landscapes ability to sequester. There was emissions being a massive driver of deforestation. It is the leading user of water resources on our planet. And you pointed out that we often talk about industry and its water use. For example, fracking in the USA, fracking uses 142 or 70 to 140 billion gallons of water a year, which pales in comparison to the amount of water used for agriculture globally about 24% of water use is by industry. 4% is home use and the rest Because agriculture, two quadrillion gallons of water every single year. And the funny thing is, is that for every resource intensive food product out there, there’s alternatives that are not alternatives that it would be very difficult to see those kinds of reductions you could gain in your environmental impact by just switching to those alternatives. Just absolutely massive.
Sonya Looney 5:29
Can you talk more specifically about some of the water use, like you mentioned? Is it two quadrillion gallons? That’s right. And also like, how deforestation causes some of these issues? Because I think people know what those they’ve heard those words, but they don’t know the greater impact of what that actually means.
Cory Davis 5:45
Yeah, for sure. Well, we want to talk about alternatives in water, use water, agriculture, being the leading user of water on the planet, and you want to reduce your water footprint, well, you could go and buy those, you know, low water toilets, and really take shorter showers. And I suggest everybody do that, for your local water security. But we often offset those water impacts to other communities, other countries, and everything is inter related in the sense that it comes back to our local landscape in terms of environmental impacts, and perhaps I’ll get there in a little bit. But just in short, I mean, soy milk uses under 5%, the amount of water is cow’s milk, the fuses 10 times more water than tofu, and lentils pulses use about 30 times the amount of, of water is beef. So those are massive. In terms of deforestation, this is a really important topic because it relates back to water scarcity. Here in BC, we’re in a level five drought, that’s the highest level of drought. And to think that these impacts are global is is ridiculous. We often talk about watershed security. And I believe when we talk about watershed security, we really need to shift the culture of the population within that watershed to consume different, less water into less resource intensive products. for the following reason, we deforest about 5 million hectares of land every year, about 2.1 million of that is for animal agriculture, which is the largest sector driving deforestation globally. And forest cover. And I’m sure some of your your listeners know this, but is inextricably linked to water yield and precipitation by evapotranspiration. So that’s a process by which trees absorb water through their roots and releases it through their leaves. And this increases atmospheric moisture, and it’s cross continental transport. So what happens on one side of the globe, certainly impacts us over here as well. And what this does this increase in atmospheric moisture, it replenishes and renews regional water cycles, especially in the continental interiors. But especially in the summertime, when we do experience drought, and we need that water for agriculture, of course, clearing our forests not only impacts water resources in our region and across the globe, it impacts biodiversity. So recently, a paper came out showing how we’ve lost almost, or there’s been a decline in species population by 70%. Since 1970, just absolutely massive. In the North America’s we’ve lost 50% of our of our grassland bird population since 1971, and for Meadowlarks. So this is a huge concern, especially when we think about ecosystems and the services they provide. And how these creatures make ecosystems resilient. And we could talk about that more in depth if you like. But also coming back to water scarcity, the deforestation, of those two things are impacted. We also know water scarcity is impacted profoundly by climate change. And locally, we could see these regional climate projections showing how in many regions close to home for me and British Columbia, are going to see much less rain In the summer, which is going to increase the severity of droughts here. And so that’s also related to climate change. Now, of course, with the amount of force that that we clear for agriculture, much of it going to pasture and animal feed crops like soy to feed chickens. What is that opportunity cost of converting carbon sink ecosystems, ecosystems that sequesters carbon, and converting them in to carbon sources, ecosystems that are done, like pasture for grazing and animal feed crops. And that impact can be profound. I don’t think we really know what that impact is. But there was a study just a few years ago published in Nature sustainability, that suggested that if we were to rewild, all those areas that we’ve converted to pasture, and animal feed crops, and the globe were to go plant based, we would essentially sequester 16 years worth of carbon from our atmosphere and provide humanity a 66% chance of meeting the Paris accord agreement of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees that move alone. So I’m not I’m not exactly sure how accurate that is. Because there needs to be more research on that front. But what I can say is that the impacts are profound. And we just couldn’t understand what the consequences could be. David Tillman, one of the most Cytus ecologist said a quote much like that. And I’m paraphrasing that human beings are the most dominant force on our ecosystems and ecosystem change. And we don’t know what the consequences of that are. We don’t.
Sonya Looney 11:59
That kind of makes me think of that quote, for the matrix like humans are a virus. Yes. Yeah, I think that’s something people don’t realize is that this deforestation isn’t just for grazing land, it’s to grow the food to feed all of these animals. And that the water scarcity isn’t the water the animals are drinking, but it’s the water to grow all of these crops, so that these animals have something to eat. And being aware of that, and that all of that food being grown that’s given to the animals could potentially be given to humans, and there’s people starving all over the world.
Cory Davis 12:34
That is correct. In terms of water, yeah, to hit closer to home in North America. I don’t have the data for Canada necessarily. But in the United States, there was a really good paper published just a couple years ago in nature, sustainability again, nature of being one of the most well respected publishers of scientific literature in the world. That found it what they did was they assess river water use in the Western United States, and they found that feed crops for cattle and dairy, specifically, irrigating those feed crops was the largest user of river water in the United States, and accused that industry of, of being the leading driver of fish and Perelman and water scarcity in the region. And it’s ironic is many cattle ranchers have had to call their own house or killed their own cows in response to drought. And here in British Columbia, we are receiving a lot of media attention over the drought issues and cattle trying to procure the cattle hay. I mean, it’s, it’s a matter of animal welfare. It’s our neighbors livelihoods who are ranching the cattle? And there are a few there they fear large losses in their industry if we don’t support them. But what I think people don’t recognize is well what is Hey, first of all, we’re trying to get all these cattle ranchers Hey, and sourcing it from all over Hey is irrigated crop. In fact, it uses if we were to take all of the sectors in Canada, agricultural sectors, we’ve got field crops, vegetables, fruits, and hay. And hay is the second largest user of water. So hey, isn’t just grass out there on the fields. Hay is an irrigated crop, it takes resources and then we roll it all up. It can be grass, there’s some legumes, some flowers in there and we grow up, grow it all up, and then roll them into these big bales of hay and actually use it in Canada. hay crops use about seven times over seven times more water than all vegetables and fruits. So, so that’s huge amounts of water.
Sonya Looney 15:03
Yeah, something that people will demonize all the time are almonds, like, well, almonds use up so much water. And they do use up water, but not in comparison to eating, you know, beef or pork.
Cory Davis 15:14
Yeah, that’s right. Nuts do you use it nuts use a lot of water, it’s one of the biggest users of water in terms of crop tight, or requiring them out of crop. But on a landscape level, it’s not using the most water because, of course, not so you don’t eat in large quantities. The typical serving size of nuts is about an ounce, right? Whereas we’re serving beef, the six ounce steak is very common, right. So I don’t recommend people going out and eating a steak sized amount of not something I sprinkle on my salad or you have as as a general like as a snack with maybe a tiny little handful, about an ounce at a time. So the I believe impact is relatively small there. Of course, almond mill, which got a lot of attention over using almonds doesn’t actually use that much water when compared to cow’s milk, the almond milk I buy, and I like to buy a variety of different plant based milks. I love soy milk, but sometimes I drink almond milk uses about 1/4 the amount that the one that I use uses about 1/4 A quarter that amount as cow’s milk, whereas soy milk uses about 5%. So however, when we look at nuts, which also received a lot of criticism by people, right, because vegans they eat nuts, I don’t know why it’s in a vegan issue to begin with, because everybody eats nuts
Sonya Looney 16:50
How dare you eat nuts as a vegan?
Cory Davis 16:55
I know it to me, it’s not a vegan issue. It’s more of a systemic issue about diets of everybody. But although nut crops require lots of water, they’re almost carbon neutral. So some not crops actually sequester carbon from the environment, some emit a tiny bit, but they are certainly the lowest emitters of carbon. out of any of the crops, they don’t generally emit a lot of water pollution and compared to animal products, and they don’t require all that much land in relation to animal products. The one metric that they’re heavy on is water, but then they provide you with a very nutrient dense food which you require and small amounts, and provides lots of fat and micronutrients as well. So I think it’s a, it’s a good part of a well rounded diet.
Sonya Looney 17:58
So to close up this piece on water scarcity, I think that in general, with each kind of topic we tackle, I’d love to have three actionable takeaways that people can do. Because I think in general, when it comes to the environment, or when it comes to what they’re eating, they think, well, they’re going to be doing this anyway. Like, if I stop eating, you know, or if I reduce the amount of, of animal protein that I’m consuming, there’s still going to be killing the cows are still going to be like chopping down the forest. So what I’m doing isn’t going to make any difference. So number one, can you talk about that? And then number two, can you give a couple of things that people can do that will make a measurable difference? So they could feel like they have a sense of agency here?
Cory Davis 18:38
Yeah, that’s a really good point. The Psychology of how we assess our actions impacting the environment is a difficult one for me to navigate. But what I can give is some optimism and that, you know, our supply chains, we have this just in time inventory model, right? inventory space is so expensive. It’s so expensive. So what your grocery stores do is there’s warehouses that store a lot of the products and when a product goes over the counter scans in the barcode, and right then in there, it’s documenting that one item has been removed from the shelf. And it’s going to tell it’s just in time delivery system model to get an A new one, right. And so that’s being trapped. And if you don’t buy that, then they’re not going to get a new one, then they’re not going to order another one for a warehouse. And so I truly think that our individual consumer power does hold sway over production. It’s simple supply and demand, and over time, the supply will adjust to demand and your personal choice It could result in many animals not meeting there and for the dinner plate. And I think that’s a profound impact that we have really impactful. So yes. And, by the way, when we normalize those behaviors, and we share foods that are responsible with our friends and family that’s tailored to their palates. I truly believe that creates a huge impact as well. My inlaws right now are living with me. And they are hardcore omnivores. They were eating meat three times a day. And we started having vegan dinners together, and I make them dinners and my mother in law, she learned how to make vegan dinners. So she cooks for us, we cook for them. And now, now that we’ve normalized this eating habits, and they got used to it, and they love, the food I create, they are going to take this back to China, they’re from China, they’re going to take this tradition of a vegan dinner back to China. And they’re going to share that with their friends, too. Right. So that’s a, I think that’s a huge impact. Yeah, a study that I read in plant based news, not all that long ago. It cited a study that looked at three different universities. And they sort of flipped the lid on how they’re offering food at their cafes, plant based options were the normal default option. So rather than saying, Hey, I’d like to switch out my meat patty, for a veggie Patty, they’d have to say, hey, I want to switch out that veggie Patty for meat patty. And what they found was astonishing, by normalizing more responsible food, they found that 81% of the students opted for the plant based option. A huge impact just by not and think about how you could do that in your own life with your own friends and family. By really tailoring the food to their tastes palette, sharing it with them, I think that’s really impactful.
Sonya Looney 22:11
Now, there’s certainly a ripple effect of positive habits and positive change. And it can also help people overcome some of the biases, they might have, like, oh, it’s not gonna taste very good, or I’m not going to feel full, or I’m not gonna have any energy. And whenever you can do it together, like people don’t like doing things individually, we are pack animals. So being able to do things together can help make broader changes.
Cory Davis 22:33
Yes, I agree. And if you’re interested in in minimizing, or reducing your, your food print, I guess we could call it. There’s some really great resources. Of course, you could get my book plant powered protein, which has graphs inside, which shows how much water how much land, how much water pollution, how much greenhouse gas emissions each major protein source gives. And so if you wanted to reduce a greenhouse gas emissions, you could look for in that book, protein sources that minimize that impact. And there’s also interactive graphs using the same data on our world in data. And so you can actually turn on and off different foods, it’s and use different metrics as well. So that’s another really good source. Of course, all that data came from the largest study on on the environmental impacts of food on the planet by poor NEMA sec. In 2018. Where they surveyed over I think it was around 36,000 different farms to collect that data, and massive lifecycle analysis.
Sonya Looney 23:56
That’s great that there’s that datas I didn’t know about that website. And I just recently got the book plant power protein. I forgot that I’m in the book until your mom told me which is really cool. And there’s an entire section for plant based athletes and talking even about certain supplements. Yes, that’s right. Yeah. So we had the whole family now involved in the podcast. Yeah, so that’s great that people can look at these different types of plant based or non plant based sources that they’re that they want to eat and see what the impact is and how even one meal can make a difference. So can you just give people like say they don’t they forget or they don’t go? Can you just say like, here are the top three best plant based proteins you can add in to help with water scarcity.
Cory Davis 24:50
With water scarcity, of course, I would say that tofu and soy beans is a fantastic source that’s low on water. So are an Every single one of these is going to be a legume pulses like lentils and peas. I’m a big promoter of peas, we have a fantastic P industry in Canada, who deserves our support. In fact, our bean industry in general, is massive in Canada, we can position ourselves very well to become leaders of plant based diets in this world, because of it. For example, we supply India with a third of their lentils,
Sonya Looney 25:30
wow, that’s a substantial amount of lentils.
Cory Davis 25:33
I believe that just a couple of years ago, in terms of imports for India, we had like over 60% of their imported lentils was from Canada, because we have very high quality lentils. Here in Canada, its size, its consistency, everything. So certainly, beans, pulses like lentils, peas, tofu, those are all really great sources of protein that require little water use, and tofu, probably MPs, perhaps being some of the lowest.
Sonya Looney 26:11
And just for people listening, we will be doing a nutrition based podcast about this book as well if you’re interested in the nutritional impacts of all of these different things, but I thought it was really important to talk about the environmental impact to keep it on its own because I think some people come to plant based diets or plant slanted diets for different reasons, and then end up learning about, you know, other benefits of it. So for this is for the people who are really interested in how can I make, you know, a lighter footprint or footprint on the environment. And I love that the book that you and Vesanto Molina and Brenda Davis wrote covers a lot of different bases.
Cory Davis 26:48
Thank you so much for that. And if I can leave folks with one more strategy, I would suggest to eat a diversity of foods, I can’t stress how important that is both for our own health and perhaps Brenda or Vesanto can or have talked about it before. But for the environment, eating diversity is really important. I believe there’s about 300,000 edible plants on planet Earth, we currently cultivate about over over 150 of them. But really, it’s only a small portion of that, like a dozen plants that make up the majority of human diet. That’s huge. And it promotes these large monoculture crops, right. We’ll plant a few different species of plants. And within that we’re reducing the amount of subspecies or like varieties of of each plant, we’re losing a lot of our heritage varieties and so forth. But what that does is it creates these huge, enormous vulnerable crops. Imagine a disease comes into North America to end attacks corn, something that impacts corn, well, we’ve just lost huge swaths of, of our agricultural production, eat a variety if we could promote agro diversity, which is the UN, the United Nations describes as a part of biodiversity, agro diversity, eating a diversity of different crops, diversity in your diet contributes to biodiversity. We are part of the ecosystem. And if we can promote diverse crops, we will be adding to biodiversity and increasing the resilience of our food system to things like disease.
Sonya Looney 28:42
I love that you said we are part of the ecosystem because I think a lot of times humans view themselves as separate from and this ecosystem is something that is for us.
Cory Davis 28:51
Yes, it’s a very human centric view where where we tend to remove ourselves from nature, not realizing that not only are we part of nature, but we rely on those natural processes immensely for our own spiritual health and, and physical health as well. Not to mention things like recreation, which I absolutely love. But yeah, we are certainly part of the environment and and it’s really important to not remove ourselves so much. You know, it’s really interesting that Eurocentric view of there being wild lands and then civilized lands lands that we’ve taken over and manage for human needs. Prior to Europeans coming to Turtle Island, what we now call North America, indigenous people didn’t really view it that way. It’s a really European centric way of viewing lands, there wasn’t wild lands and then their home. The land was just there. Oh. And I think that’s really inspiring for me to try and get myself to see things differently through different lenses.
Sonya Looney 30:13
Yeah, I think that just generally speaking, a lot of us would benefit from taking a broader perspective and learning from people that may see the world different from us because there’s so much to learn from them.
Cory Davis 30:25
I couldn’t agree more, more more perspectives is certainly beneficial. And as we know, diversity of perspectives drives innovation. It helps people think in different ways it’s healthy for the mind.
Sonya Looney 30:41
So I’d love to talk about pollutants now because I don’t think that’s something people think about a ton.
Cory Davis 30:47
Sounds good to me. In terms of pollutants, like water, pollutants, there’s air pollutants. And then there’s water pollutants and and pollutants that leeches into our soils and so forth. But I don’t think a lot of people know this. And this might be enough to just get people to think about their diet just in this one example about in the United States about 18,000 people a year. unformed, unfortunately die as a result of agricultural air pollution. Wow. I believe in I don’t quote me on this, but it’s around this round. 16,000 of those are related to agriculture, food, related to food that we grow the others, more industrial, agricultural products, biofuels, and so forth. But 80% of of, of deaths related to air pollution, from agriculture, for food, our animal agriculture, and that just reminds me of Howard Lyman, the mad cow boy, and his story about his brother passing away related to pesticides. So there’s air pollution, but there’s also water pollution, perhaps the most profound impact nitrites or nitrates are the the most ubiquitous or the most frequently found water pollutant on planet Earth. And of course, it’s suggested that it’s linked to cancer and all other kinds of, of human illnesses, but livestock in particular, and nitrates are they comes from manure and fertilizer, things like that, that we put onto our crops. But animal manure from livestock alone contain 150 different pathogens, six of which cappielow factor listeria, E coli, Salmonella, cryptosporidium and giardia, I believe, make up about 90% are responsible for about 90% of all foodborne and waterborne illnesses. Around the world, millions of people die every year from water pollution. And that disproportionately impacts children.
Sonya Looney 33:18
Yeah, people take it for granted that we that we can just turn on the faucet and drink clean water or we can take a shower without like traveling is a great way to experience other you know, if you have the means to do so not everybody does. But if you do have the means to do so. You realize things that are privileged like getting your trash picked up or being you know, running your toothbrush under the water to brush your teeth and not getting sick. Like those things are a privilege that make us blind to some of these things that we just might not think about because we just never been exposed to it.
Cory Davis 33:49
That’s right. It’s a privilege, especially in large urban municipalities, because there’s lots of communities out there that don’t have water treatment options or have don’t have the resources for water treatment within Canada. Right and mistakes can be made as well. It reminds me of a report to next Jose from the nonpartisan government accountability office that are the NRDC who took freedom of information requests from the Environmental Protection Agency in the States. And what they found was shocking as it relates to concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs. Where chickens and pigs live some live their whole lives in CAFOs and where cattle end up. Of course, cattle feed on like our picturesque landscape of pastures but in the fall, they get auctioned off to feedlots which are essentially concentrated animal feeding operations or factory farms. Anyways, this expos a found that Not only are the impacts to water profound, and we could talk about that a little bit, but they it disproportionately impacts low income communities and minority communities. And what they found was that millions of Americans are have their water sources in danger of dangerous levels of nitrates, and other pollutants in their in their drinking water sources. So well, mind blown, they found data on 7500 Different concentrated animal feeding operations through these freedom of information requests, which is embarrassing for the Environmental Protection Agency, because there’s an estimated of 17,000 CAFOs in the United States, and they only had data on 7500 of them. Wow. And they wrote about a few different manure spills as well. And sorry, I don’t have it in front of me. So I’ve got to speak off the top of my head. But, you know, in central Minnesota, for example, absorbs about 20 Different manure spills every year. And these have resulted in hundreds of 1000s of fish die offs. And this one in Illinois, always stood out to me, I believe it was in 2012, it was a result of a hog farm manure spilled into a river way, impacting over 20 kilometers of river or 20 miles of river. And prior to the spill, biologists actually went to this river and tested fish species. And they identified nine different fish species. Well, after the spill, which killed over 150,000, fish 18,000, mushroom mussels. Two years after the spill occurred, those biologists came back to the river back to their testing sites to identify fish species. And they didn’t they weren’t able to identify one fish species that they identified prior to the manure spill. So these impacts are long lasting, hugely devastating to the aquatic environment. But the thing is what what NRDC found and what we know is to be true, even in Canada, is that even when everything goes as planned with your manure management, and you’re following legislation to the tee, you’re doing everything right. Huge impacts can occur. And it just reminds me of the Walkerton inquiry in the in Ontario in, I believe it was 2000. Where application of manure to some crop fields above the water supply, leached out into a well and into the drinking water supply, resulting in seven deaths and over 2000 people becoming sick from E. Coli. And unfortunately, there was result was the focus of the inquiry was on water treatment. Well, how do we treat this water? Turns out that the people who are responsible for the water treatment, were performing their job net negligently, they weren’t testing the water properly, they didn’t report on it properly. They didn’t. They didn’t respond to elevated E. coli levels. And so that was the focus of the inquiry. However, what I found shocking was that there was very little focus on the rancher, the person who created this manure, applied it to the environment, and have it leach into the water supply. Right, because of the impact that manure can have on our water bodies environmentally as well. And it impacts wildlife, not just humans, but the focus was on the water treatment. And the reason why was because the rancher, the person who was responsible for managing the manure, did everything. Right, followed the legislation. There was nothing he did wrong, legally. So of course, the inquiry focused on something else, but that just goes to show that you can when everything goes as planned, you know, the consequences can be devastating in terms of those impacts. When we look at the most polluting foods, in terms of emissions of water pollution. Certainly when you look at the chart, animal like animal products dominate the Top half of the chart, lab products dominate the bottom half. And so it’s really easy for consumers to say, well, if I want to reduce the amount of water pollution in my diet, I could lean towards or trend towards more more plant foods. Um, so that’s water pollution. I guess the other one is air pollution, which we touched on briefly, but that’s a result of pesticides and dust and things in the atmosphere. But of course, there’s greenhouse gas emissions. And certainly the top emitters are all animal products, and the lowest emitters are all plant products with nuts being the lowest. So in terms of pollution, I think that’s a good synopsis.
Sonya Looney 40:47
Yeah, and just going back to that deforestation point is that the forests are what help take some of that carbon dioxide out of the environment, and will help prevent this rise this one point getting up to that 1.5 threshold by the Paris Agreement.
Cory Davis 41:04
Yes, I certainly agree. I certainly agree. And it will go a long way to promoting biodiversity is yo Wilson famously said before he passed away, leaving 2020 or 2021, one of my heroes in ecology said that only if we’re to save half of planet Earth, set or set aside half of our planet, are we to save the immensity of life forms that compose it, essentially, it was saying, if we continue, utilizing so much space on the land, we will soon lose most of the species composing life on Earth, which is a devastating blow. And he wrote, half Earth promoted the campaign half Earth, which, in BC, we’ve dedicated ourselves to the stepping stone of protecting or preserving 30% of our province, it’s a stepping stone to half Earth. But if we’re going to get to half Earth and save most of the species that can pose life on Earth, I don’t see how we can do that. With our current mode of, of agriculture, because of course, half of the planet half of that habitable land on the planet. The other part is glacier and sound, barren areas, half of the habitable area of the planet is dedicated to agriculture. And 80% of that is for animal agriculture, which only
Sonya Looney 42:43
Say that stat again, because that’s a really big stat.
Cory Davis 42:46
Half of all the habitable land on planet Earth is used for agriculture. And 80% of that is used for animal agriculture, which only produces about 16 to 20% of global calories. You could see how inefficient that is. And with that, comes deforestation to make space for for pasture. pasture, by the way is land is lands used for grazing, foraging for for livestock, namely cattle, sheep and goats. And they graze grass. And typically pasture is one of two things. It’s either grasslands, or it’s land that was converted to pasture from shrub land or forest or something like that. And, you know, the ranchers are heralding themselves these days and marketing themselves as stewards of the grasslands without acknowledging that they’ve taken so much other land and converted it to pasture and then play on this idea of being stewards of the grasslands. As if all the lands that they’re using is grasslands. And as if they are stewards of the grasslands, grasslands are some of the most ecologically valuable, threatened and misunderstood ecosystems on planet Earth. And we’ve lost a lot of wildlife in those grasslands to cattle. We’re literally replacing wildlife with livestock at a staggering rate. And the Great Plains we’ve replaced bison with cattle, bison who have numerous benefits to ecosystems over cattle. Say that we’re mimicking the bison with cattle, although very imperfectly, we could get into that another time if you like. But we are replacing our wildlife, with livestock, especially the apex predators to which we have extirpated from many of our ecosystems, especially on pastures because they threatened the economic product, right, which is cattle. So they want to remove these apex predators who make ecosystems resilient. And we’re only starting to understand this. Now, and we don’t understand I don’t think we’ll ever understand the complex nature by which apex predators make ecosystems resilient. They do so through what ecologists called trophic cascades. And the very simple model of a trophic cascade would be live or apex predator would manage herbivore populations, and then that manages vegetation. But only until recent years did we start to realize that those impacts reverberate through the ecosystems much deeper and broader than we ever thought before. It impacts Peston disease control, it impacts carbon sequestration, soil health microbiota insects, so much broader than we ever thought before. And we think about cattle replacing bison while they might replicate in some very imperfect ways grazing on on the grasslands of our Great Plains. But that’s about it. Right, as some of the earliest explorers of North America would documented as when a apex predator killed a bison on the landscape created this bastion of biodiversity, not only putting all of that organic biomass back into the soil of the dead animal, but it brought in birds it brought in scavengers like coyotes, and all these other foxes, Swift foxes, and all these other animals. And it created this big bastion of biodiversity there something that the cattle industry is really trying to protect itself against. So that’s one thing, but if we took a survey of all the terrestrial biomass on planet Earth and looked at mammals, and it’s the same story with birds and, and, and fish to who we’ve seen huge declines in marine life over the past century, but just in terms of mammalian biomass 36% is humans on planet earth. 60% is livestock, leaving only 4% of mammalian biomass, terrestrial mammalian biomass on planet Earth, wildlife. And here we are having all kinds of animal agriculture proponents step forward saying we are doing all this great stuff for biodiversity and so forth. But just think that’s objectively false, as they’ve been replacing natural wildlife with livestock for over a century, I mean, for decades after livestock were introduced to British Columbia where I am 90% of our grasslands were over grazed by the 1920s. They called the southern interior Dustbowl to think that we’re improving biodiversity through cattle, I think is laughable. And from what point of reference, you could take any number of disturbed sites over grave sites, and reduce the level of grazing and you’ll see vast improvements. And there’s people all over the place saying, Well, look how great my livestock are for the environment, taking a degraded site, and then just grazing a little bit over it. And showing all of these improvements. I think that’s just the frame of reference. It’s false.
Sonya Looney 49:01
Yeah, so it really sounds like if people don’t want to go 100% plant based, if they just eliminate eating cows, that that would make a massive difference.
Cory Davis 49:11
I believe it would make a massive difference, it would certainly reduce the amount of agricultural land needed and our world and data, maybe I could just pull it up kind of had they had a really good visual for that. They found that if we reduced if we already know beef or mutton, beef from dairy cows would still be included we would reduce the total amount of agricultural land from 4.1 3 billion hectares to 2.2 1 billion hectares. We can essentially rewild almost 2 billion hectares of of mostly pasture this would also say Lately reduce the amount of cropland used, as well. From let’s see about 1.23 or so, million hectares, or billion hectares of crop loan to 1.1 7 billion hectares. And that would also reduce them out of pasture from 2.8 9 billion hectares to 1.0 4 billion hectares. Now, if you were to exclude all beef, mutton, and dairy, you would get rid of all pasture, you wouldn’t need that you can reintroduce wildlife, wildlife who co evolved with these ecosystems to provide that ecological niche of grazing, what what cattle ranchers are only the will the land needs to be graceful. Whose ecological niche did they steal that from right like it was wildlife, it was elk, pronghorns, deer, moose, if we were to. And so if there was no beef, mutton or dairy, we would essentially reduce the amount of land use for agriculture from 4 billion hectares to 1.1 billion hectares, massive amount, and that would reduce, albeit ever, so slightly, the amount of cropland needed. But if we were to go to a vegan diet, we would only need about 1 billion hectares of land, that would actually reduce the amount of cropland required overall. And what you often hear the beef industry state is that, well, if we were to the pastures we use their marginal agricultural lands, you can’t use it for anything else. So here we are, we’re producing calories through this marginal land that you couldn’t grow crops on. And if we weren’t doing that, you’d have to expand your crop lands. There was a show on CBC not all that long ago, where the beef industry was stating this as a matter of fact, that yeah, if we stopped raising cattle, then you’d have to expand cropland into these precious ecosystems that we’re preserving. Well, that’s just objectively false. Joseph poured author of the largest study to date on the environmental impacts of food, recently stated this year, even in a conference that if if the planet was to go plant based, we could reduce the amount of cropland currently used by 20%. But as a lot of people have pointed out, the way we use our cropland, sterilizes soils, we’re doing these big industrial farming practices to increase the yield of each acre. So we’re trying to maximize these yields at the expense of soil health, and so forth, what we could do is just not reduce the amount of cropland at all, and do more responsible farming. So we don’t need pasture at all, for food security, we could probably make improvements, we can feed everybody a healthy diet up a plant based diet. And we would have an excess of cropland, which we could then use for innovative agricultural farming and research, promote agro diversity, promote more regenerative farming practices, more permaculture, more agroforestry, and more things like this, and not have to worry about that yield threshold as much as we do today.
Sonya Looney 53:50
I can’t believe we’re already out of time. I think this is a very informative podcast for a lot of people who maybe just thought that people talking about the environment and the impacts of animal agriculture were just things that people said without any real data behind it. But as people can hear, there’s a huge impact. And the choices that you make make a big difference in one person, as we talked about earlier, it can make a difference. And one last little point that I want to just put out there for people thinking about this is that a lot of times we wait until it’s too late to make a change. We’ll wait until we’re really overweight before we’re going to change. You know, the way that we eat. We wait until the planet is in complete peril before it’s time to make a change. So how can we as a group of people and how can you as an individual, try to plan in advance so that it’s not too late? And that is that psychology piece I think is a missing piece that needs to be talked about more when it comes to making big changes for our individual health and also for the planet and for the animals.
Cory Davis 54:51
I couldn’t agree more every little shift helps.
Sonya Looney 54:56
So Cory where can people find your book and more about you
Cory Davis 55:00
You can find our firstname.lastname@example.org or.com or at your local bookstore. If it’s not available in your local bookstore, please request it from them and they’ll, they’ll bring it in quite easily. You can find us on Planet dash powered protein.com or Corey davis.ca. You can find me there, you can find me on LinkedIn. I’ll be happy my emails up on my website, you could get a hold of me through plant powered protein.ca as well and I’d be happy if you reached out to me and I could certainly engage with some of your audience if they have further questions for you.
Sonya Looney 55:37
Well, thanks so much. Really appreciate it. You bet.