Were some strangers – perhaps from another planet – to land on Earth today, they might well ask in astonishment, “But why are these beings killing each other in vast numbers? Why is this one species, which seems to be in charge, killing so many other beings and eating them or inflicting pain and fear on them for other reasons? Why are they allowing members of their own species to go hungry or starve? Why are they destroying the very soils on which they depend, and polluting their waterways and oceans? Why are they generating so many toxic gases and poisoning their atmosphere?”

We could probably reply to these questions with a range of well-informed answers, but overall it may be best to admit that there is a ‘big lack of loving’ going on down here on Earth.

Most of us see ourselves as fundamentally good and kind people, and we often do kind and loving things for others. We tell ourselves that we care for the poor, we love animals, we’re recycling, washing our clothes at lower temperatures, buying organic and free-range animal products and even not mowing our lawns if we have them. Surely we are already doing our bit for the world …

Is the fundamental problem that we see other people and other animals as just that: ‘the other’? Might we do better if instead we saw all people and all other sentient beings as ‘another’? Then we might put our powerful loving forces into really strong action to bring about a more compassionate world. We might take steps to understand why wars break out, why family feuds go on and on. We might become healers and helpers, rather than investing in the machinery and dialogue of righteousness and war. We might work even harder to get governments to act for the benefit of all, not just the entitled – and not just in our own countries. Might we see borders as symbols of disunity and differentiation? Could we see all people as our brothers and sisters? Might their wellbeing become a deep concern for us?

And what about the 80 billion animals we slaughter for our own food preferences every year, three-quarters of them living in abominable confinement in factory farms? Are we so uninvolved in their lives and fears and pain that we see them too as ‘the other’ and forget that each one is surely ‘another’, sentient and not so very different from us?

If we believe that we need to eat them, then we might at least avoid consuming those who have been factory-farmed and parts of whose bodies make up the cheap meat options at the take-away or the supermarket. We might even question if we truly do need to eat them at all. We have to admit that many people are living long and perfectly healthy lives on vegan diets.

Psychologists and counsellors tell us we must begin by loving ourselves. I don’t think that necessarily means that we have to keep on eating ham sandwiches or tandoori chicken just because we love the taste. In fact, if we love ourselves, we might read up about the health impacts of certain products on our bodies. We would find out that the cancer experts of the World Health Organization have declared processed meats (such as bacon, ham, salami and sausages) to be carcinogenic and have classified red meat (including beef, lamb and pig meat) as probably carcinogenic to humans.

It goes beyond cancer risks. Researchers at the University of Oxford have shown that the more processed and red meat we eat, the higher our risk of heart disease too.

We might read up too about how so much of the world’s crops, especially corn and soya, is grown exclusively to feed farmed animals – whilst many people go hungry. This is such a wretched state of affairs that we need to move heaven and earth to change it.

Growing these crops uses up huge amounts of water and most are grown with heavy applications of nitrogen fertilisers and chemical pesticides and herbicides. These unnatural additives can only be partially absorbed by the crops, so over time the surplus washes into rivers and seas, ultimately causing ‘dead zones’ where ocean life is extinguished. The actual soils become denuded of their teeming microscopic life forms – so much so that it has been estimated that if we don’t change our ways there may only be sixty harvests left.

Could we begin to see the soils and waters of the Earth also as ‘another’? Are they not part of the whole natural world just as we are? Are their healthiness and their wellbeing not fundamental to the future existence of a living planet?

As for the gases that are causing climate change, can we reduce our reliance upon the machinery, the cars and planes, the heating and lighting, the meat consumption and the industrial processes that generate so much of them? I suspect we can all do more privately and we could all become more outraged at government inaction. We might not want to glue ourselves to the motorways, but we all have voices that will be heard if we unite.

Living an active life of loving is a challenge to us all.

Compassion in World Farming believes that the Earth and her beings are at crisis point. We are actively pursuing the routes of lobbying and campaigning, from the UK to the EU to the United Nations. To discuss these vital issues and generate even more loving action, we will be holding an international conference in London in May this year, when globally renowned speakers and activists will delve deeper and will surely inspire us to act both for the present and for the future. We hope that as many of you as possible will join us in person or by video link. Some concessions are available.

Let’s fill this planet with loving action to create a vibrant, flourishing Earth inhabited by a wonderful diversity of beings, each and every one of them enabled to attain their potential.

The Extinction or Regeneration Conference will take place at the QE11 Centre, London on 11–12 May 2023. For further information and to register for virtual or in-person access, please visit www.extinctionconference.com

Joyce D’Silva is Compassion in World Farming’s Ambassador Emeritus and was the organisation’s chief executive from 1991 to 2005. A highly respected campaigner for farm animal welfare and meat reduction, she played a key role in achieving the UK ban on sow stalls in the 1990s and in getting recognition of animal sentience enshrined in the European Union Treaty.