How many other animals die to support the current lifestyle of a human individual?
The answer is that we don’t really know. Having Kids aims to find out and, in partnership with several researchers, is engaging in a new research project that hopes to tell the truth about our existential relationship with other animals. Here is some of the background:
For survival, humans depend completely on Earth’s ecosystems and the services they provide us, they are also called ecosystem services. These include the production of healthy air and water, food, medicines, disease management, removal of toxins, building materials, fuel, climate regulation, buffering of storms, spiritual fulfillment, and aesthetic enjoyment. Ecosystem services are primarily provided by the activities of biotic flora and fauna interacting with nonliving (abiotic) elements in nature that provide the nutrients and minerals to support a planet once teaming with life.
Today, we have entered a period of mass extinction that rivals the extermination of the dinosaurs and 76% of life on Earth. However, unlike past extinction events caused by natural global pulses, our species has already caused the extinction of nearly 60% of assessed vertebrate populations and these trends are accelerating (WWF, 2016). Beyond the massive loss of species and wildlife populations, the abject suffering that humans are causing on the planet is significant. These human-induced adversities should not be assumed inevitable, and are due to human psychological shortcomings that can be remedied through equal access to information.
The vast and detrimental changes to Earth’s ecosystems are largely to meet rapidly growing human demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber, minerals, and fuel at levels that are unsustainable and based on irresponsible human overpopulation, consumption and false-dependency on economic growth (Global Humanitarian Forum, 2009; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005; WWF, 2014; 2016). Although our demands on Earth’s ecosystems have led to substantial gains in human physical well-being and economic development for a few, the long-term costs are now being observed in the forms of climate change, habitat destruction, pollution, disease, war, displacement, hunger, and mass mortality in humans and nearly all other life forms (e.g., Ceballos, et al., 2015; Cohen, et. al., 2017; Dockery & Evans, 2017; Raworth, 2012; Rockstrom et al., 2009).
We now know that we as a species have so degraded and destroyed parts of our life-support system that our health, well-being and survival as a species is threatened and a sharp unplanned decline in our population has become very probable. It is increasingly clear that environmental problems cannot be resolved through technical solutions alone and that these ecological issues are forcing us to rethink what development and progress means, and to consider the size and activity of our population with new urgency (Hickey, Rieder & Earl, 2016). These threats are not as new as some might think, with one of the most prominent calls to action coming from the Limits to Growth studies, first published in 1972 (Meadows, Meadows, Randers, & Behrens, 1972).
Additionally, destruction and despoliation of the environment has not happened in a vacuum, nor with only the suffering of our species as collateral damage. At no time in human history has the suffering and death of other species been so numerous, prevalent and profound. Much science has come forth to successfully quantify and describe the sentience of nonhuman animals with whom we share Earth (e.g., Bekoff, 2006; Darwin, 1998; Fossey, 2000; Goodall, 2000; Griffin, 2001; Marino & Allen, 2017; Masson & McCarthy, 1996; Moss, 2000; Poole, 1998, Shanor & Kanwal, 2011). Recently, insects have been shown to have emotional states not different from our own (Paul & Mendl, 2016; Perry, Baciadonna & Chittka, 2016). Logic, therefore, would dictate that, like humans, other species suffer needlessly and we have a moral obligation to reduce and alleviate such trauma, much of which is caused by nonessential human behaviors.
The enormity by which humans torture and kill other animals is indefensible. The numbers in a single year are in the billions in the U.S. alone. If human nonessential activities were killing billions of humans each year, it would be considered apocalyptic on an unprecedented scale. Here is a breakdown of some of the data. Cows: 30.6 million adults; 487,700 calves (USDA, 2017) Pigs: 118.2 million (USDA, 2017) Sheep and Lambs: 2.24 million (USDA, 2017) Chickens: 8.9 billion (USDA, 2017) Wildlife: Diffuse numbers, but just one example is 3.2 million killed intentionally in
2015 by the U.S. government, primarily to serve the interests of the livestock industry and agribusiness, that serve the consuming public (USDA, 2016). Other significant numbers are killed every year as “road kill”, by hunters, captured to serve as pets, die due to pollutants, habitat destruction, and more.
While the sharing of the numbers of animals used in animal agriculture may appear out of step with our current mass extinction event and environmental harms, animal agriculture has been found to be the second largest contributor to human generated greenhouse gases and the leading cause of water and air pollution, deforestation and biodiversity loss (Koneswaran & Nierenberg, 2008). Therefore, the suffering and killing of nearly 70 billion animals in agriculture per year, literally leads additionally to the suffering and death of countless wild animals and the deterioration of the natural environment.
The objective of this project is to develop the algorithms to calculate the average number of animals that die to support the lifestyle of one human individual. This calculation will serve as a basis for an educational tool of the organizations, Having Kids and the Institute for Human-Animal Connection to garner further support from people everywhere for the responsibility to protect other species. A consideration for animal protection that has largely been avoided is the fact that a decreasing and healthy human population is the best protection for all animals, including humans.
A key behavioral objective of this project is increased support of the Fair Start Model (Having Kids, 2016) by animal advocates and the general public through recognition that continued human population growth means more suffering and loss of life of other species with eventual ecological and industrial collapse, and that we have choices on limiting personal family size. The magnitude of the issues humans have caused and now face today can be psychologically overwhelming, therefore the provision of solutionary pathways for our species is of utmost importance to deflect the development of apathy and avoidant tendencies. This project will also result in multiple scientific publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Interested in assisting with this project? Email us at Carter@Havingkids.org for more information on funding, volunteer, and other opportunities.