Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#StevesLibrary: Dead Zone

If I had to sum up Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were by Philip Lymbery in a single sentence it would be this: A truly eye-opening read as to the effects of industrialised farming on the planet. Before we get onto why, I just want to explain a little bit about the author. Philip Lymbery is the Chief Executive of Compassion in World Farming (CiWF) which is mentioned a few times in Dead Zone. Lymbery’s previous book Farmageddon tackles a similar problem and I’m still yet to read it, I’ll have to add it to my list! I was expecting things to be heavily biased given Lymbery’s credentials but Dead Zone impressed me due to it’s balanced arguments, as well as scaring me.

Dead Zone takes the reader on a journey around the world, visiting a number of habitats where various different species live. These habitats are highlighted along with the species they contain due to the negative impacts agriculture is having on them. Dead Zone opens in the palm plantations of Sumatra discussing the threats to elephants before travelling the globe to discuss the key threat that a number of endangered species face, cheaper food. With a growing human population, this is of course a growing problem. However we already grow enough food to feed the planet, most monoculture crops such as soya, maize and cereals don’t feed people but instead the animals we eat such as chickens, cows and pigs. This is hugely inefficient and so makes the problem even worse.

Intensive/industrialised farming is a necessary evil under the right circumstances. There needs to be more of a push to prevent the products used affecting the environment such as fertiliser and herbicides running into rivers and therefore the ocean. Especially in the light of the coronavirus pandemic, we need to do more to prevent the spread of novel pathogens from animals to people. The way we intensively farm animals would be a boiling pot for disease if it wasn’t for our overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, which is one of the driving factors of superbugs antibiotic-resistant bacteria. We may in reality hammering the final nail in our own coffin whilst at the same time trying to prevent that from happening.

Dead Zone in my eyes is special as it calls for farming to work alongside nature and poses some solutions to the problems. There are ways of including nature in agriculture to benefit the environment as well as animal welfare. It’s no surprise that the food production industry is growing day by day, you just have to look at the deforestation statistics to see that. However we also know that the number of vertebrates have declined massively in recent decades (thanks to the Living Planet Report), with insects also on the decline in many countries. We still have time to turn things around for both the survival of humanity and the rest of the biosphere. I’d highly recommend Dead Zone to anyone working in conservation who wishes to investigate the wider network of threats that we need to overcome.

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