Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot
A new study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at humanity’s trophic level — also known as our place on the food chain. On a scale from 1 (plants, who make their own foods) to 5.5 (super carnivorous polar bears), the study put mankind at a moderate 2.21.
That means we’re “closer to herbivore than carnivore,” Sylvain Bonhommeau, the study’s author, explained to Nature magazine. But he also found that, over time, that number’s been rising. Over a 50 year period ending in 2009, our trophic level has increased by 3 percent, or .06 points. Experts say that’s a significant amount:
“It seems like a small difference, but when you think about how it’s calculated, it’s big,” says Thomas Kastner, an environmental scientist at Alpen-Adria University in Vienna, who was not involved in the study. An organism’s trophic level is calculated by summing the trophic levels of the foods in its diet and the proportion in which they are consumed. “A change by 0.1 means you are eating considerably more meat or animal-based foods,” says Kastner.
Added to that, of course, is the huge environmental impact of producing those extra animal products.
China and India are leading the charge up the food chain, according to Nature. As more people become able to afford animal protein, they’ve effectively cancelled out the U.S., Australia and parts of Europe, where meat consumption’s declined over the past two decades.
Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email firstname.lastname@example.org.More Lindsay Abrams.
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Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada
Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway
Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.
Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.
Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million
Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.
Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon
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Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico
Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.
Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.