In his book, "Domination of Nature," William Leiss traces the destructive impact of modern civilization on Life to pervasive attitudes originating with Sir Francis Bacon in the 17th century. Countering the defeatism in 17th century society towards natural disasters in the form of the bubonic plague, childhood diseases, etc., Bacon proposed that the mechanical inventions of the industrial revolution be employed to "conquer and subdue Nature, to shake her to her foundations." Thus, Bacon fired the first salvo in humanity's "War on Life," the longest running, continuous war to date, far surpassing the "War on Drugs" or the "War on Terror" in terms of ferocity and sheer breadth of social complicity.
It was perhaps understandable for 17th century Europeans to embark on such a "War on Life" as this was the age of superstitions, leach doctors and witch trials in Western society. That this war has continued on for nearly four centuries to become part of the dominant culture today speaks to the thorough brainwashing that society undertakes on children as it propagates its traditions. For instance, it is traditional in Canada to club hundreds of thousands of baby seals to death on the beaches of Newfoundland each year, while it is traditional in the Faroe islands of Denmark for teenagers to engage in the wanton slaughter of Calderon dolphins as a rite of passage into adulthood.
However, it is through culinary traditions that humans have churned out generation after generation of billions of eager foot soldiers to conduct the War on Life. I recently wrote about the Japanese tradition of consuming sushi and how that is leading to the extinction of the magnificent Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. Humans have eaten more than 90% of predatory fish stocks in the ocean even as they converted over two-thirds of the ice-free land area on the planet into farmlands, deserts, built-up areas and livestock grazing grounds. Naturally, Life is reeling from this concerted assault and complex Life is rapidly diminishing before our very eyes. According to Prof. David Pimentel of Cornell University, just around 2 billion human beings are responsible for most of this consumption which means that the War on Life will surely come to its summary conclusion when the remaining 4.8 billion people (soon to be 7 billion people) stop being primarily vegan and "develop" into such culinary traditions.
It is best to gauge the impact of diet on Life through the arithmetic of manure production and its impact on photosynthesis. As photosynthesis is the main basis of complex Life, Jeremy Rifkin refers to it as the real source of wealth on the planet, as opposed to the metallic trinkets that economists seem to value.
The UN FAO estimates that worldwide, 13 billion tons of livestock manure is produced per year, roughly 20 times the weight of human fecal matter. Most of that livestock manure runs off into the ocean causing dead zones, thereby reducing the effectiveness of photosynthesis. The land used to produce the food for the livestock suffers from desertification and deforestation, also reducing the effectiveness of photosynthesis. All that livestock manure, the oceanic dead zones they create and most of the food eaten by the livestock can be saved if humans become primarily vegan. After all, in a vegan world, there would be no such thing as "livestock" or its manure. In this case, most of the land used for livestock production and all of the ocean can be returned to the Earth to restore its reeling ecosystems.
It was only in late 2008, much to my horror, that I realized that my traditional Indian, lacto-vegetarian diet has also now devolved into a highly effective campaign in this Baconian "War on Life". A lacto-vegetarian drinks cow's milk, but declines to process the aging cow or its male offspring into hamburgers thereby increasing the livestock's impact on Life. In our modern world where tractors have replaced the cow's agrarian utility, the lacto-vegetarian diet, among primarily city dwellers, is tantamount to a deliberate and highly effective assault on Life. Upon this realization, I immediately switched to a vegan diet, but this episode taught me not to judge people for following traditions unconsciously.
Nowadays, participating in the Baconian "War on Life" makes as much sense as sawing off the tree limb that you are sitting on. Surely, an intelligent species that is conducting such a long running, continuous war in the only known planet that supports Life, is being truly unconscious.