Agriculture, Animal Welfare and Climate Change

Summary: In the second half of the twentieth century, agricultural production in the UK intensified, first for food security and then for economic reasons. Since the 1960s and 1970s, both animal welfare and environmental advocates have criticised intensive systems of agriculture. Intensive livestock farming methods translate to confinement, high stocking densities and rapid growth rates, which can cause poor welfare.

Campaigning organisations have successfully lobbied the government for improved animal protection legislation. Also, British society increasingly demonstrates preference for food from animals reared compassionately in a sustainable way. Agriculture may contribute up to 30% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and it is the largest contributor by industrial sector. GHG emissions contribute to global warming, which may cause droughts, flooding, lower agricultural yields and the extinction of species. Further, the human population is set to reach 9 billion by 2050, meaning a greater demand for food, water and energy.
In response to John Beddington's perfect storm scenario, ‘sustainable intensification’ has been recommended. However, livestock intensification can be detrimental to animal welfare, which is ethically unacceptable. In contrast, this paper defends ‘radical naturalism’, a position which argues for more fundamental changes in human activities. In particular, the growing human population and increasing and excessive meat consumption must be addressed.
Philosophically, sustainable intensificationism and radical naturalism may be based on different conceptions of human nature. Sustainable intensifiers have faith in scientific progress, hold an anthropocentric worldview and see humankind as rightful master of the world. Radical naturalists are more sceptical about science and technology, have a biocentric worldview and see humankind as steward, and not master, of the natural world.