The cow was dead. It had lived it’s life and gone through the necessary processes to now be present on a plate, or at least a small part of the cow anyway, and be making it’s journey toward the mouth of a rather average and ordinary young woman. The meat had been ground and shaped into a perfect circular patty, cooked to perfection, placed within a soft bread bun and topped with lettuce, tomato, onions, ketchup and a gradually melting slice of mild cheese. It was juicy, it was tender and it was delicious. It didn’t take long for it to be eaten all the way through till there were only a few crumbs left on the plate.
The plate, and the burger that had been upon it, belonged to Elouisa Scrooge. Elouisa was, as I said already, very average. On a typical morning she would have her breakfast, brush her teeth, drive to her work in a soulless office for her daily dose of stress, then in the evening she would drive back again, have dinner and go to bed. Life of course was not as simple as that though. There was never enough time, there was always too much to do and life was not considered easy from her perspective. She would often contemplate these things from the comfort of her bed while she waited to fall asleep.
This particular evening however was to take an interesting turn. Or I should say the night, as it happened when Elouisa went to bed(after she had brushed her teeth) and was lying there in the darkness, half awake and half asleep. Because of this half awake state, when it happened, she wasn’t entirely sure if she was dreaming or not.
The ‘what’ was actually a thing. An apparition of sorts, and appeared out of nowhere right at the end of the sky blue quilt that covered her double bed. It was an opaque and slightly glowing Velociraptor dinosaur that stood a lowly 4ft tall. Elouisa, in a state of confusion, began to sit up in bed and try to figure out which drug she had forgotten taking. Before she could work it out, the Velociraptor spoke to her.
“Don’t be alarmed”, he said. “I am here to present to you three spirits of the earth. They will show you the past, the present and the future”.
“What?”, Elouisa replied in a confused manner. “What are you talking about? You’re a dinosaur…” she added, rubbing her eyes.
“I know I’m a dinosaur” the dinosaur said. “You can call me Jeff.”
“Hi Jeff”, she replied, “This is weird. I don’t usually have the power of thought in a dream”.
“This is not entirely a dream”, Jeff replied. “But it is not entirely reality either”.
“Okay. I don’t really know what to do with that”, Elouisa concluded.
“It doesn’t matter anyway”, Jeff said as he pranced around the foot of the bed and put his tiny hand on the edge of the mattress. “because there are more important things to consider tonight”. He then paused for dramatic affect.
“The burger you ate for dinner this evening. It was not given by the earth without cost. The industry humans have forged brings with it great destruction.” Jeff moved in even closer. “The forests get chopped down. The oceans get depleted. And the climate gets changed. I, a humble dinosaur, come to you this night as a warning, a warning of what may become. For I and my kind are extinct, and you may go that way too!”
With that, he disappeared, the glow going with him and the room turned to a pitch black. Elouisa was still hazy, but welcomed to sudden turn to normality and soon slid back into the covers and settled upon trying to sleep once more. As she did however, a movement caught her attention from the ceiling, right on the top of her wardrobe door. It’s movement was so slow she wondered if she imagined it, but she decided movement was definitely there. She questioned whether she should be scared, but the dinosaur didn’t rip her face off, so she presumed it couldn’t have been dangerous. She flipped on the bedside lamp.
Upon the wardrobe door, the creature shielded it’s eyes from the sudden flick of light. The creature was a sloth. Small brown and adorable with it’s paw enclosing it’s face, Elouisa was immediately awake and interested. “Hello”, she said, hoping this one talked. She was delighted when it responded. “Hey”, he said deeply in a what must be the longest amount of time possible to say a three letter word. Hanging from the doors top, he uncovered his face and looked at her, upside-down. He cleared his throat before opening his mouth to speak.
“I am the statistical sloth from the Amazon rainforest. I lost my home. My body lost it’s spirit. My spirit is here now. The spirit of the earth’s past,” he began. “I am not here to shame you, only to inform you, for you are unaware my young friend,” he said as he twisted his face upward to get a better look at her.
“My home, the Amazon rainforest, is being destroyed. Day after day the fires burn and the bulldozers churn, clearing their way ahead. They clear the way for the cows that humans eat and for the soy fields that feed those cows. Ninety one percent of the loss can be put upon the burgers you so love to eat. Perhaps you can consider this in the future, before you eat the earth?”
“Really?” Elouisa said, taking time for this sink. “Surely vegetables create the same, needing just as much land for growing?”
“Ah, now that it is not the same I’m afraid, as I can explain. It it is possible to use only a small percentage of land to feed a human on a vegetarian diet rather than a meat heavy one. Of all the land that humans use for agriculture, three quarters is used for animal farming, yet only 17% of calories consumed are provided”.
“I don’t understand. How can that be?” Elouisa pondered.
“You see, it’s all about efficiencies. Cows are very inefficient at converting the energy provided in their food into muscle mass. They are big animals that need a lot of input, so when compared to Chickens, they are 10 times less efficient. Unbelievably, one third of the all the crops we grow are fed to livestock. That food could easily be fed to humans” Statistical Sloth concluded.
“I see…” she mumbled, not really wanting to believe it.
Before she could gather her thoughts, the Sloth turned away from her and began to crawl back along the wardrobe door. The bedside lamp then suddenly turned off on it’s own accord.
The darkness returned and then the light as her eyes began to adjust. She could see the curtains of her square window. They began to flutter slightly, like the window had been left open. She hadn’t opened it in months though.
The curtains bulged out toward her until they divided in two and revealed the grinning face of a Whale that was clearly too big to fit through the frame. It continued to push however, squeezing through as hard as it could. The wall of the bedroom began to move, pushing backward and pulling the window with it, the Whale sliding in without actually moving. The room appeared enormous and oblong. The Whale, now uncomfortably inside, twisted with it flippers across the width of the room and settled down, curled up like a cat. It breathed out long and slow, releasing a chimney of air right onto the ceiling.
“Hello”, the Whale said in a feminine voice. She took a deep breath then spoke again. “I am Valerie The Whale and I am the spirit of Earth’s present. I come to you to warn of dangers striking the earth right now”, she boomed in a dramatic Shakespearean fashion. Elouisa flipped on the lamp again but declined to talk, the size and weight of the voice and body getting the better of her. She made sure she looked like she was listening however, sitting up in bed and tucking the quilt in by her sides.
“Now I heard the Sloth”, she began, “and you may wonder, ‘perhaps I will eat fish instead’, but I must tell you - the fish are running out! Around 85% of fish stocks around the world are depleted, fully exploited or in recovery from over exploitation”. She paused and visibly breathed, holding her eyes wide open in a complete and brutal stare out of Elouisa. “This is Roger”, she said, as a single silvery fish popped into existence floating in the air at the end of the bed. “He is my friend and he is lonely. His entire school was scooped up by a dredging contraption. Now he swims alone in the vast ocean, never seeing one of his own” she howled in a forced cry. “He can’t even have sex any more!” she wailed and sobbed.
Collecting herself, Roger disappeared and Elouisa was wishing Valerie would go away. She unfortunately continued with the performance. “Fish farms! Perhaps they are the answer? Well, no, they are not. They pollute the very rivers and lakes they exist within. The excess food an waste from too many fish begin to destroy the waterways they call home”. She quickly moved onto her finale. “And the water! Yes, the water”, she whispered in a hushed tone to emphasise the preciousness. “Do you know the amount of water that falls from the sky that is needed to grow the crops to feed your farm animals? It’s. A. Lot. It’s around about one thousand seven hundred and fifty litres of water to make one single quarter pounder beef burger. And you thought you were being good by cutting down your showers by a couple of minutes. Ha!” she said, getting louder again. “This burger is worth 2 month worth of showering! Save the earth and save the fish!” she shouted as she slipped backward, maintaining her dramatic pouting face as her tail sliding into the window frame and the wall began to draw forward and back into place. “Weird”, Elouisa said to herself as she flipped the light back off.
The darkness again grew and she slipped back downwards into her bed. Elouisa felt tired, but she knew the third spirit would visit soon, so was reluctant to close her eyes. She couldn’t resist it for long though and quickly drifted off into a deep slumber.
She awoke with great fear. All was still and calm around as though she were still in her bedroom but her bed and herself were not within the safety of the room. They were instead high, high above the earth, on the edge of space with the entirety of the planet in her view. She grabbed onto the sheet that wrapped her mattress with both hands feeling the need to hold onto anything that could stop her fall back to earth. She was going nowhere though, stability apparently not an issue in this spirit world.
As she focused on the earth, which was bathed in light, she began to marvel at the blue and green shapes on the many landmasses that painted the surface. A dramatic rumbling began to stir, and three huge cracks began to open up. One long and wide and the others two sitting above and round, the planet quickly turned into a face. Then it blinked.
“HELLO ELOUISA!” it said in the softest voice it seemed to be capable of. “I am the earth, the spirit of the future of….earth”, it added clumsily. “I have brought you up here to show you the future that may yet come to pass”.
“Okay”, she replied, slightly terrified. “What do you want to show me?”
“This” the earth said as a grey gloom began to gather over it’s face. “This represents the growing doom of climate change. Year after year it grows and the meat industry is a hidden major contributor. Nobody talks about it, but it’s as big as transport or generating energy, and it’s still growing. People think to switch of the lights to save power or catch the train instead of the car, but that is minuscule compared to the amount of emissions generated by the food that they eat.”
“In the future, if nothing changes, the emissions will be so big as to take up the entire amount that the earth can cope with. Technology and a generous will from people will continue to reduce emissions in other areas, but in this industry, it’s still going up”.
The amount of dreadful news being delivered to her began to build up inside. She felt sad. She felt guilt. But a guilt she did not feel she deserved. “It was only one burger” she whimpered.
“I know Elouisa and I am sorry to burden you with this information. I also don’t mean to blame you either. You have been fooled by social norms and you cannot be blamed for that. Tonight is about illumination, showing you the facts that are hidden from you. With that I must explain, how the one burger you ate is a part of a bigger problem. You see, the human population of the planet is the true cause of the issue. The number of people crawling all over me has gone up in a single lifetime from 2.5 billion in 1950 to over 7.5 billion today. It is slowing in growth but will eventually reach over 11 billion by the year 2100. As you can imagine, I’m very itchy. But it’s hard to tell people not to have children”, it reflected.
“I should also tell you”, the earth continued, “about the growing demand for meat. While you people need to reduce the amount, it’s actually going up! The global average amount per person is due to rise from 42kg per person to 52kg by the year 2030”.
“So, Elouisa, I beg you. Please try. Do what you can to save me”. The earth quickly closed it’s eyes, fast as a blink, and for Elouisa, everything disappeared, it turned black and she was back within her warm and quiet bedroom in an instant.
Jeff was there once more, this time on the left side of her bed. “How did you find that?” he asked rhetorically. “Did you have fun and learn at the same time? I imagine you did” he said with a wink. “Tell me Elouisa, do you think you can remember everything? The rainforest and the amount of land required, the fish stock levels and the water use, the climate change issues, meat demand growth and the population problem?”, he asked, staring at her for an answer.
“Yes, I think so. I usually forget dreams though”, she muttered.
“This is not a dream my dear, so you can remember, and I hope you will.”
“I don’t get it though. Why me?”, she said, sensing Jeff would vanish any moment.
“There is no reason my child. You are no better or worse placed than others in this story. You are just one human. This is the single biggest you can do to help the environment though. Nothing else beats it. So if you can do something about it, anything at all, it will all help to save the planet you live on.”
As she suspect would happen, Jeff then faded away with an encouraging smile.