There was a major conference on Extinction and Livestock in London last week, 5-6 October 2017. The contributions will be put up on line in due course but I took the chance to interview some of those present. Here’s a brief sense of what was discussed. You can follow what was said on Twitter at #Extinction17
Livestock consumption and the extinction of other species are interconnected. That is why Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming, was determined to have a conference that brought animal welfare groups together with those concerned with the conservation of wildlife. In this interview, recorded at the conference in London 5-6 October 2017, he explains how working on his book Dead Zone: Where the Wild things Were shocked him into action on this.
Duncan Williamson, Food Policy Manger for WWF UK, a cosponsor of the conference, explains the need to link the food on our plates to biodiversity loss and the demand for animal feed. He discusses the need in the rich world to eat less meat and dairy. WWF’s Livewell project demonstrates that a healthy diet can be sustainable, Eating for 2 degrees – new and updated Livewell Plates.
Ecologist Carl Safina discusses how animals think and feel, that they too are sentient beings. He also explains the gradation between empathy, sympathy and compassion – some animals have all three and most vertebrates exhibit empathy.
Katherine Richardson, professor in biological oceanography at the University of Copenhagen and leader of the Sustainability Science Centre is one of the core authors on the planetary boundaries initiative. She explains just what these are and how livestock consumption affects our capacity to live within them.
Jimmy Smith, the director of the International Livestock Research Institute, called for a nuanced discussion that took into account the different needs and circumstances of the rich and poor nations. In the latter, the bulk of production was by small farmers, many of whom are women, and livestock are important for their livelihoods. He says ILRI’s research shows that some of the data on emissions in developing countries from livestock is extrapolated from rich countries and overestimates them.
Martin Palmer, secretary general of the Alliance of religions and conservation, urged the conference to recognise we humans are working with a false story that we are the most important species. We need to extend compassion to all species and recognise humans have no right to extinguish others. He also discussed how the religions could use their money to influence more sustainable practices.
Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens and Home Deus, in a video message to the conference urged scientists to accept greater political and ethical responsibility to speak out about the way animals feel and behave to correct misunderstandings. Two key questions where science can show the answers is whether animals are conscious sentient beings – they are – and can they experience emotions – they do.