I have blogged about this before, but my ideas have evolved recently so this is a more comprehensive update.
We start with a few basic problems, which seem apparent to me:
- Humans are suffering too much. More than I feel comfortable with. Some Many starving, involved in war, ill, or in jail. I would like to reduce the suffering of people.
- Animals are also suffering too much, mainly because of humans, who destroy their habitats and exploit them in cruel ways. I would like to reduce the suffering of animals.
- As a result of irresponsible treatment of the environment (mainly pollution), the climate is changing in ways that could increase the suffering of humans and animals. Therefore, I would like to do something to prevent climate change.
- One of the best ways to reduce human suffering would be to improve the food supply. Even though we produce enough food for all the people on Earth, there are problems with the current system:
- A lot of food is wasted, while a lot of people starve. This situation is a result of problems with distribution, economics, ethics and values, and in some cases politics.
- A significant portion of the food supply is toxic, either highly processed and low in nutrients; tainted with chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, and artificial colours and flavours; or genetically modified in unsafe ways*.
- In many places, such as inner-cities, processed food is cheaper and closer to hand than fresh, healthy food. This leads to obesity, diabetes, and other health problems.
I believe that we need a Global Food System. This would ensure that every person on Earth would have access to fresh organic produce, irrespective of their location or financial situation. When this is achieved, humanity will be in a much better condition. There will be less sickness (as diet is one of the major factors in disease), less fear/stress/suffering due to hunger, less crime (as people would not need to steal to feed their families), and less enslavement (as people would not have to do work they don’t want to do). Everyone would be more relaxed, and thus more friendly. A huge amount of cognitive resources worldwide would be freed from the problem of hunger and could be diverted to more useful activities.
- A Global Food System can be achieved because we actually already produce enough food; technologies and processes such as vertical farming, urban farming, aquaponics, etc. are emerging that are radically increasing food yield per hectare; there are new technologies such as driverless vehicles and drones which can transport food cheaply (we already ship food all around the planet, really inefficiently); and the whole world will be online within 5-10 years which will make it possible for any person to connect to healthy food (the software to achieve this is something my company will create). It may take some time, but it can be done.
- One of the main causes of climate change, which is often overlooked, is deforestation. We have removed trees from huge areas of Earth, in order to make space for growing crops, and for livestock. Trees are a carbon sink, and they also pull carbon from the atmosphere. They also clean the air of particulates, help to purify water supplies, act as a wind break, cause clouds to form, provide habitat for millions of species, and improve the health of soil. Therefore, one of the main things we need to do to restore the health of Earth is reforestation.
- The Global Food System is an opportunity to improve how we produce food, on a global level. With modern intensive farming techniques we can greatly reduce the land required to produce food, and restore it to trees and wildlife. We can gradually convert all our farming to organic methods, and reduce our consumption of processed food (the best way is to make it easier and cheaper to obtain fresh organic produce).
- One of the main changes we need to make in our global diet is stopping the eating of mammals. There are many reasons for this, but the one that will probably have the most effect on people’s decisions is the relationship between the farming of mammals and climate change. Farming mammals uses enormous areas of land, not only for the animals, but also for growing their feed. The natural habitat and wildlife is destroyed, and the valuable trees are removed. This practice consumes huge amounts of fresh water, and produces enormous quantities of pollution, not the least of which is methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times stronger than CO2. It’s my opinion that expecting the world to convert to vegetarianism is unachievable at this time, but we could make a step in that direction by encouraging millions of people to cease the eating of mammals, which would solve around 80% of the environmental and other problems associated with this practice (Pareto Principle). You may wish to consider that humans are mammals; thus, eating mammals is close to cannibalism. Mammals are a complex life form with thoughts and feelings, and they can certainly suffer. It is difficult to imagine a world in which human suffering is minimised, but animal suffering is still considered acceptable. It’s true that birds and fish suffer, or at least experience stress, and it’s also true that farming techniques can be developed to reduce suffering of any type of animal. But the other issues remain. Humans will not convert to vegetarianism en masse, and, given the choice between meat-eating and vegetarian, most will choose meat-eating. However, given the choice between eating any kind of meat and restricting meat-eating to just birds and fish, a much higher percentage of people are likely to make the smarter, more ethical choice. Avoiding the eating of mammals while still permitting poultry and seafood is called pollotarianism.
- Thus, the Global Food System can be organised in such a way that it focuses primarily on organic plants, and free range, humanely-produced poultry, eggs and fish. This would cause the population of Earth to move in a direction that is more healthy and also much better for the environment. As world agriculture moves in a direction to support this kind of dietary practice, large areas of land can be returned to trees and native wildlife, ending the mass extinction, and healing the atmosphere, waterways and soil.
* Unlike many commentators interested in food and health, I do not believe that genetic modification is bad. In fact, as a space settlement researcher, I recognise that genetic modification of organisms is a fundamental enabling technology that will enable us to grow food in space, and to terraform Mars and other worlds. However, there are safe and unsafe ways to modify organisms. Some of the foods we eat have been genetically modified in unsafe ways. Another major problem is the patenting of genes and organisms, and the legal system which adds to food insecurity instead of alleviating it, which is my primary goal. Therefore, I am not against GMO, I am in favour of its radical and urgent evolution, especially in terms of ethics and regulation.