My suspicion of these arguments, even as I witness major ecological catastrophes at my front door increasing severely with the East-West tollway (for which Australia ought to pay much more in global greenhouse costs than the cost of the road!) has grown with my knowledge of human history, most especially the poor nourishment of essentially vegetarian gatherers and farmers in the Tropical and Unenriched Worlds documented by every anthropologist you can name. The few potential exceptions come from soils (e.g. in Mexico) too rich in such elements as zinc, nitrogen iodine (and consequently some essential vitamins) to be viable comparisons with most early farming communities. These problems are seem most clearly in children, whose poor health can affect them for life.
Another thing (apart from my own enjoyment of and skill in cooking meat) that has shied me away from advocating vegetarianism is its unmentioned correlation with rigidly hierarchical societies, especially in Tropical Asia (see WALS Chapter 45) and also in the more nutrient-rich parts of Latin America. I have tended to see this rigid hierarchy – whether paradoxical or not – a cause of the inability of Monsoon Asia to avoid lowest-low fertility since industrialisation, because there becomes little opportunity for the lower classes to advance under the caste system of Hinduism or the rigid class system of feudal Japan, nor for adaptations to the radically different conditions of industrial society.
Thus, calls for modification of human diets like that of Time in ‘The Triple Whopper: Environmental Impact of Global Meat Production’ are something that, like the stories in Elizabeth Gould Davis’ The First Sex, I take with caution. Shifting to vegetarian or vegan diets may be practical and save much energy and water used in hot, arid regions which are naturally exceedingly low in protein – and where both religiously-based and practical vegetarianism is almost exclusively concentrated – but suspicion is not lost. In Australia, vegan diets are, even with fertilisers, less able to provide protein that they are on better soils, so that rigid veganism could produce even severer dietary deficiencies now than when only relatively rich soils could be farmed. Whilst Aborigines were very largely plant eaters (except on the north coast no more than 20 percent of calories were from animal foods) and there existed severe taboos against consumption of many animal foods to protect against their extinction, there were no customs for veganism in the pre-agricultural age even in this most nutrient-poor continent.
As I have outlined, developments in fertilisers and soil science have made the extremely rich soils of the Enriched World inherently uneconomic for agriculture due to high land prices from the competing demands of urban housing. The concentration of capital- and skill-intensive sectors in the Enriched World as it has less comparative disadvantage there than in primary sectors serves to further increase this comparative disadvantage: comparative disadvantage in primary production is proportional to the amount of capital a region possesses.
It is virtually certain, however, that the Enriched World cannot sustain forever the conflict between economic competition for skill-intensive industries on the one hand and intense class struggle on the other for very long – the end result we already see is a totally elitist Enriched World that offers jobs and housing only to the very rich, who desire a quality of life that leads to land and economic regulations that serve to make admittance require greater and greater skill.
The question is whether there is an alternative to either of two severe problems:
- globally nutrient-deficient diets with associated social problems or
- the virtual elimination of many ecosystems and the drying up of almost every dryland river system to make protein
In my view, there is at least a partial answer, and it relates to the fact that the Enriched World’s high secondary productivity means a large proportion of most animal species can be killed each year without effect on populations. This is, as Frank Miniter notes in his The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting and which I can sympathise with (re the Enriched World) more than any other book in that now-defunct series, that strictly protected national parks and nature reserves in the Enriched World should give way to game reserves where hunting is permitted (possibly with some restraints). As Miniter points out, hunters actually pay the costs of conservation when other visitors generally do not, at least in reserves lacking entry fees, and these would be adequate for the limited conservation regulation needed in the Enriched World. Most critically, conversion of strict reserves to game reserves would allow the Enriched World to use its main natural resource – animal protein – more effectively on land unsuitable for farming and with less risk of overexploitation than its fisheries. It also may be more compatible with the “natural egalitarianism” of the Enriched World – seen clearly in the low incidence of cooperation amongst its native species – than trying to prop up agriculture that never evolved there. I do not believe there will be no problems – overhunting is not impossible and acceptance of different protein sources may be tough – but something more efficient and less costly for the Enriched World’s governments and the Unenriched World’s soils and water is urgently needed to prevent multiple disasters.