Herding us towards disaster?


Following the herd. Image: Su Leslie 2018

New Zealand’s wealth has long depended on exploiting natural resources; native forests, marine life (including seals and whales), and — once the trees had been felled — grazing animals on the vast tracts of land left behind.

In the early 1980s, there were 22 sheep for every human living in this country. Then dairy (and to a lesser extent beef) farming became more profitable, and now, while there are still six sheep for every person in NZ, humans are outnumbered about 2:1 by cows, around 65 percent of which are dairy cows.


Farmer moving herd of cows, Tuapeka, Otago, NZ. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Dairy farming in particular is hugely damaging to the natural environment; half of NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions come from this activity, and you can add massive damage to soil and waterways and the impacts of transporting millions of tonnes of milk around the country, etc.

Yet even as the IPCC report is painting a picture of a world in absolute climate crisis, the industry continues to grow, with bigger farms and more land being converted to pasture.

Cows are herding animals, but it seems to me that many humans are too. And once the “dairy is good” herd gained momentum, it is proving incredibly difficult to turn them back.


Turning away from the herd. Image: Su Leslie 2018

Posted to the Ragtag Daily Prompt | herd

58 thoughts on “Herding us towards disaster?

  1. It is all very alarming. The IPCC report doesn’t fill one with much confidence if the action needs to be taken now to avert the “baked in” effects. Great captures – very moody with that low mist / cloud and capturing the patches of light.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I agree. I look around me and am struggling to find anyone who even seems to be aware of how close we are. It’s all takeaway coffee, super-sized burgers, having the latest phone and planning the next trip to Fiji ☹️


  2. I see the real problem as being too many people in the world. It seems to me that every one of the world’s issues comes back to this ultimately, and many of us in the developed world are huge consumers of just about everything. Not everyone though. I went to two vegan restaurants in Sydney recently, and they were both packed with people enjoying vegan food. So popular. And the food was very tasty, especially the vegan pizzas- in restaurant run by Italians! I didn’t miss meat or cheese at all.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Consumerism has become such a fixed mindset. So many people define themselves in terms of their ability to consume — rather than by what they produce. It’s terrifying and also very sad. We know that creativity and making things brings satisfaction, while buying stuff tends to make people less satisfied.
      I totally get that people are beginning to enjoy vegan food more. There are some wonderful recipes around, and some great cooks producing really delicious vegan food. And it can be much cheaper — very important when so many people are struggling financially.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. The worst part is that good cropping land that was totally unsuitable for dairy was grabbed up during the milk price boom, and this is where a lot of the problem came in. Plus there is not enough enforcement of pollution bylaws. It’s worth pointing out though that New Zealand still has less pollution than many of the industrial countries – not an excuse to carry on as we are – but should be kept in mind. The urgency has not sunk in with politicians and profiteers…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, that is a startling figure, Su. Over half of all of NZ’s greenhouse gas emissions come from dairy production? I confess I eat way too much cheese. It seems to be the only thing that doesn’t play havoc with my blood glucose levels. Remind me again, does NZ have carbon-pricing? I wonder whether that would influence what animals farmers chose for dairy production? Sheep and goats don’t produce quite as much methane is my understanding, but any large scale commoditised food production seems to bring with it massive environmental costs. There is a huge amount of plant waste generated as well.

    When Australia had carbon pricing, our emissions did begin to decrease. Unfortunately, there were far too many exemptions, such as agriculture and trade-exposed industries. And we can’t get away from the hoary chestnut of over-population.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Now I feel very badly for my addiction to cheese. Everything is better with cheese.

    However it was interesting to read this post when just yesterday I was reading about a local provincial park called Sandbanks. It’s famous for its massive sand dunes … which I learned were caused by grazing cows in the early 1900s that stripped away the grasses which kept the sand stable. It took about 30 years before the federal government recognized the damage that was occurring and attempted to halt the growing sand dunes by planting trees, but the damage Is now irreversible – and the sand dunes keep growing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps we need a cheese-eaters offset scheme like they have with airfares where you can add a donation to plant a tree to offset the emissions from your flight — or in this case, grilled cheese sandwich. I can happily live without meat, but cheese (and milk in my coffee) are food pleasures I would miss terribly in a vegan world.
      We have similar problems on our west coast with the growth of sand dunes — and similarly ineffective responses. 😦

      Liked by 2 people

  6. So very true and worrying, Su. As long as we buy your stuff, NZ farmers at going to produce. If your apples etc weren’t so much cheaper than our local stuff, people surely wouldn’t buy them. The gloomy cow shots are a perfectly fit for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sigh; me too. But i do wonder how much impact just eating less would have. Cheese isn’t a new food, but industrial production of it is, and that means it appears in all sorts of dishes where it really isn’t necessary because we’ve got used to it and it’s relatively — and artificially — cheap. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I live next to a beef farm and opposite a dairy farm, so lots of herding going on around me. We gave up red meat this year (have chicken once a month) but I struggled to give up dairy, especially cheese and butter, though the OH has swapped to alternative milk and yoghurt. I also try to buy what is in season locally instead of imported fruit and vegetables, but it is crazy. Picked up tomatoes the other day – some were from Spain whereas others (same variety, same price) were from the UK. Considering how much food is thrown away from supermarkets it would be better surely to import less and sell out. At the moment I just feel that our planet is doomed. 😦
    PS I do like your cow photos

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheese certainly seems to be a weakness of lots of us here. I like coconut yogurt, and use coconut milk/cream in desserts, but I really prefer cow’s milk in my coffee. I do buy organic milk from a small(ish) I dependent supplier, but I still have the niggle about dairying generally.
      I agree with you about food waste and over-ordering. And sadly, I am also feeling equally gloomy about the future of the planet (or at least our tenure here).

      Liked by 1 person

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