The global ecosystem has swung out of balance and must be put back on a sustainable path soon. So says molecular biologist Nilang Gor, an expert on the ecological crisis wrought by western diets and industrial food production. With 77% of agricultural land being used for meat and dairy production, the negative impacts of an animal-based diet are becoming evident around the globe. Gor notes that while livestock only produces 18-37% of the world’s calorie and protein supply, 41% of the landmass in the United States is used for feeding livestock. The inevitable result has been an explosion in harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increased water consumption, and ultimately the destruction of essential ecological habitats.
Today, even traditional paradises like California and the Pacific Northwest are suffering through historic droughts and wildfires, as well as less visible explosions in animal waste and pollution. Gor says that air pollution caused by industrial ranching alone accounts for 12,000 deaths a year.
“Studies show that our current system is unsustainable and detrimental to our planet,” Gor says. “The solution is creating sustainable plant-based systems that are adaptable to the population at large.” He points to a recent University of Michigan study which found that a 50% plant-based shift in diet, including a 90% reduction in beef consumption, would reduce 51% of U.S. food emissions by 2030. Plant-based systems also remove atmospheric carbon, reduce water consumption, use fewer natural resources, and improve health.
Gor believes that ignorance of the interdependence of our global ecosystem has created unsustainable animal agriculture systems which are wreaking havoc on our environment, public health, social & racial equity and animal wellbeing. “The actions of human beings directly affect the well-being of animals, plants, environments, and other humans,” he says. “Adopting a plant-based diet and supporting plant-based systems can have a ripple effect that will ultimately reverse the damage.”
Gor has spent years as an advocate, mobilizing community members to educate their local lawmakers on the negative impacts of animal-based food systems and promote local, sustainable policies and programs. He describes his non-profit organization, Cultivate Empathy for All, as an innovative nonprofit. Unlike other environmental advocacy groups, Gor’s does not rely on donations. Instead, it enables local groups and communities to help propose and draft programs and policies.
Indeed, Cultivate Empathy for All embodies the familiar mantra, “Think locally, act globally.”
Recently, Gor has helped the Northern California city of Berkeley to adopt Vision 2025, which will institute a 50% plant-based shift in the city’s food procurement. He also played a pivotal role in the city’s groundbreaking resolution urging the country’s largest pension fund, CalPERS, to divest from industrial animal protein and factory farming companies. The so-called Factory Farming Divestment plan will see CalPERS, which administers benefits for 1.6 million California public employees, retirees, and their families and holds roughly $400 billion in investments, divest its $679 million worth of stocks in animal factory farming companies. Instead, the funds will be reinvested in the state’s plant-based economy.
“Agriculture, forestry and land use account for 24% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions and animal agriculture is responsible for nearly 60% of the agriculture emissions,” Gor observes. “The top five meat and dairy companies generate more GHG emissions than Exxon Mobil, Shell or BP, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. Moreover, Amazon rainforests are being destroyed in order to clear the land for livestock companies, which has compounding consequences on global warming, wildlife sustainability, and indigenous communities.”
Gor hopes that Berkeley’s resolution is just the beginning of a larger empathy and environmental movement. He notes that the federal Farm System Reform Act (FSRA) will phase out factory farming, if signed into law. The bill was authored by New Jersey senator Cory Booker and co-sponsored by influential senators like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Barbara Lee, a congresswoman from Oakland, has co-sponsored a companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But Gor says that governments can only treat the symptoms, not the root causes. “Once an individual makes the necessary lifestyle change to a plant-based diet, becoming involved in the community and engaging in advocacy for institutional change is crucial,” he observes. “In doing so, we may be able to slow or even stop the detrimental effects animal agriculture has on our environment, health, and society.”
Nilang Gor is a senior scientist in the field of genetic disorders. He holds an M.S. in Cellular and Molecular Biology. Nilang also founded Cultivate Empathy for All, an organization which promotes empathy as a tool to establish a sustainable food system across the United States.