In every conflict over the living world, something is being protected. And most of the time, it’s the wrong thing.
The world’s most destructive industries are fiercely protected by governments. The three sectors that appear to be most responsible for the collapse of ecosystems and erasure of wildlife are fossil fuels, fisheries and farming. In 2021, governments directly subsidised oil and gas production to the tune of $64bn (£53bn), and spent a further $531bn (£443bn) on keeping fossil fuel prices low. The latest figures for fisheries, from 2018, suggest that global subsidies for the sector amount to $35bn a year, over 80% of which go to large-scale industrial fishing. Most are paid to “enhance capacity”: in other words to help the industry, as marine ecosystems collapse, catch more fish.
Every year, governments spend $500bn on farm subsidies, the great majority of which pay no regard to environmental protection. Even the payments that claim to do so often inflict more harm than good. For example, many of the European Union’s pillar two “green” subsidies sustain livestock farming on land that would be better used for ecological restoration. Over half the European farm budget is spent on propping up animal farming, which is arguably the world’s most ecologically destructive industry.