On Earth Day and Amid Record Temperatures, Few Care About Our Precious and Fragile Home

By William J. Furney

Today is Earth Day 2024, if you’re at all interested. Many are not. I know if I wander into the steakhouse beside me this evening and ask the well-fed, portly patrons if they’re worried about the increasingly fragile state of our environment and planet, most, if not all, would laugh at me and dig back into their bloody meals. 

You can be sure of it. 

That’s despite record-high temperatures around the globe that are, in large part, driven by livestock farming — rearing that steak or burger and getting it to your dinner table is literally killing the planet, aside from health risks to people and, clearly, the unnecessary cruelty and death to animals. 

Just another eco-lunatic, these voracious diners would surely scoff, while they scoffed, as I would leave, despondent. The environment is “someone else’s problem,” and nothing gets in the way of meaty meals. 

It’s a tragic and ultimately selfish mindset but thankfully a growing number of people are starting to realise the harm their food is causing and are switching to a plant-based diet. It’s the only sustainable and healthy way to live, and it has the distinct bonus of being cruelty-free. What’s not to like?

Unless we take personal responsibility for climate change, nothing of substance will happen, and it starts with what we put on our plates. All the United Nations Climate Change Conferences — this year’s will be in Baku, Azerbaijan, in November — don’t achieve anything and are now little more than a hot-air talking shop. And the abject hypocrisy of all those thousands of delegates jetting in from around the world and enjoying slap-up meals based mostly on meat. Animal rights group PETA (I am a proud member) pointed this out during the UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021.

Reminder: PETA’s bus campaign during a UN Climate Change conference in Scotland in 2021.

Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of a group of Swiss women who claimed their health was being affected by climate change and global warming and so it was a violation of their fundamental human rights. 

The women, grouped under 2,500-member KlimaSeniorinnen, said they were particularly at risk over climate change given that they were older — average age 73 — and that heatwaves “would seriously harm their state of health”. The court agreed and said the Swiss government was at fault. 

But how many of these women are taking matters into their own hands — instead of leaving it up to governments — and putting plants instead of dead animals on their plates? I’d say none. I asked KlimaSeniorinnen co-president Rosmarie Wydler-Wälti but didn’t get an answer. 

This year’s Earth Day focuses on plastics and the gargantuan harms they are doing to our planet. Earth Day asks us to “honour and celebrate our remarkable planet on this extraordinary day” and adds that the event “is a reminder of the importance of environmental conservation and sustainability, encouraging us to come together and take action for a healthier planet and brighter future.”

The organisation said it was “unwavering in our commitment to end plastics for the sake of human and planetary health” and wants “a 60% reduction in the production of ALL plastics by 2040.”

It’s far easier for many people to take personal responsibility and reduce their plastic usage — using cloth tote bags for shopping, metal containers for drinking water and paper straws — than it is for them to sacrifice their love of meat. And at what cost? Taste is no longer an argument because many plant-based foods have a texture and taste similar to animal products; and many vegan dishes are bursting with flavour and taste.

As a vegan chef, I can report that meals I make for my largely carnivorous guests are devoured, and they want more and can barely believe how good plant-based food tastes. A doctor from Italy who recently stayed with me had many such meals and when he got back home he messaged to say he “never looked nor felt better.” I said: “As per your oath, Hippocrates said: ‘Let food be thy medicine’.” (You can see some of my dishes on my Instagram.)

Amid all the climate change gloom, there is reason for hope. The good news is that an explosion of growth in plant based foods — the global market is forecast to triple in value in the next decade, from $11.3 billion in 2023 to $35.9 billion by 2033 — is a firm indicator of a desire for a new way of eating, and caring for the planet. 

Hopefully by then, the steakhouse beside me will long since have gone out of business, and livestock farming along with it. 

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