28 April 2010

Climate Change – Making the Difference with Every Little Bite

This article is about feeling empowered and taking control of Climate Change. To not get disillusioned with the politics and lack of progress with Kyoto or Copenhagen talks but in fact to inspire yourself and all those around you with the profound impact you can make to Climate Change and the ecology of the planet.
I wrote recently about the ecological/carbon footprint of the disposable (coffee) cup [1]. It is fascinating and counter intuitive that a styrofoam cup (in our current era of green awareness) has a much smaller environmental impact than paper cups, at least in the broader context of energy use and GHG emissions. I get upset that the government doesn’t do more to promote cycling to work; that plastic bags aren’t simply banned or a mandatory levy isn’t  placed on their use;  that so many people take siestas in their cars idling  [2], and that people still want to eat shark’s fin soup! Etc etc the list goes on.
Climate Change has been acknowledged by many as the greatest threat to humanity, biodiversity and planet Earth [3]. In this context I remain troubled not that the climate change (denial) debate continues but that those who are already climate change activists are satisfied with doing nothing or feel that (little) contributions like keeping the A/C at 25c, changing their light bulbs, or turning off various electrical appliances is good enough! Don’t get me wrong, without question every such action makes a difference. But don’t you feel that these (little) acts just don’t seem momentous enough? And does it not perturb you that when you ask the experts, the Climate Change consultants and active speakers, “what can I do as an individual to make a difference?”, the answer (for me has been and) will be, “change your light bulbs, drive less, use public transport, .. etc.,… ”??!!
But aren’t we facing the greatest existential threat in the history planet Earth? For example, in the last 50 years the Arctic has lost 80% of its volume, the majority of which has been lost since 2000 [4]. The Arctic is now forecast to be iceless in summer in the not too distant future [5]. The Arctic reflects up to 80% of the suns radiation and once the Arctic is gone this radiation will be rapidly absorbed by the sea and hence accelerating Global Warming [6]. The further immediate implications for permafrost melt, the death of corals, the Greenland ice sheet  melting (which is equivalent to a 7m sea level rise), .. etc., only further reinforces and accelerates all the real and worst fears of Climate Change.
So do you still feel that changing the light bulbs in your house is the best thing you can do to make a difference? Do you want to go down fighting knowing that you did the most substantial and profound acts to save the Earth and all Earthlings? Well, there is one single act you can do every day to make such a significant difference and that is to reduce and ultimately eat No Meat.
In 2006 the UN FAO published its report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”. The report detailed how animal production accounted for 18% of GHG emissions and how one third of GHG emissions are related to agriculture and land use [7]. And now more recently, a comprehensive re-study of animal production agriculture and landuse by the Worldwatch institute showing that 51% of GHG emissions can be attributed to livestock and their byproducts [8]. And this shockingly large number does not include the other negative ecological effects that are a result of over fertilizing crops, GM contamination, untreated sewage runoff from animal farms, deforestation [9], and or animal welfare concerns [10].
Here are a few more facts and comparisons that may excite you
  1. animal agriculture accounts for 9% of our carbon dioxide emissions, emits 37% of our methane, and a whopping 65% of our nitrous oxide. This is particular more problematic when you know that methane and nitrous oxide are 23 and 296 times more potent than CO2 [11]
  2. If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would save: 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New England for almost 4 months; 1.5 billion pounds of crops otherwise fed to livestock, enough to feed the state of New Mexico for more than a year;  70 million gallons of gas–enough to fuel all the cars of Canada and Mexico combined with plenty to spare;  33 tons of antibiotics [12]
  3. If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would prevent: Greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.2 million tons of CO2, as much as produced by all of France; 3 million tons of soil erosion and $70 million in resulting economic damages;  4.5 million tons of animal excrement;  Almost 7 tons of ammonia emissions, a major air pollutant [13]
The bottom line is reducing or stopping meat intake is the most profound positive contribution you can make to fix Climate Change, reduce and improve the ecology of many ecosystems globally, literally feed the world and improve global inequities, improve animal welfare, and also your health [14]!
  1. http://www.greenkampong.com/tech-science/rethinking-your-disposable-coffee-cup/
  2. Randomly drop into the Macritchie Reservoir car park most days and you will be surprised
  3. Google “climate change greatest threat…”  I would also suggest visiting http://www.climatecodered.net/ (there are other websites) and reading what hard core climate scientists are so concerned about. To talk about containing a (simple) 2c warming or a 1m rise in sea levels is almost grossly negligent and deceiving to what is actually likely to happen… Read Fred Pearce book “With Speed and Violence”
  4. http://www.climatecodered.net/ see article title “350 is the wrong target”
  5. Google “iceless arctic summer”.. http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/06/27/iceless-arctic.html the sad reality is that the IPCC initially suggested around 2100, then it became 2050, then after the record ice loss recently, it seems inevitable that within 5-10 years (hopefully not sooner) it will be iceless.
  6. http://nsidc.org/quickfacts/seaice.html, and http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/index.php/opinion/breaking-views/43546-tough-to-ink-deal-as-sea-levels-inch-up–michael-richardson for other Arctic and or Antarctic comments
  7. http://aphg.jhsph.edu/?event=browse.subject&subjectID=18
  8. http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6294
  9. Google “deforestation”.. depending on where you go anywhere from 70-90% of deforestation is due to grain for feedstock. That is for example soy being grown for animal feeds. You can hear and see this statistic in Yann Arhus Bertrands recent movie documentary Home http://www.home-2009.com/us/index.html
  10. A great book that covers a lot of the ecological issues of eating is “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan.
  11. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathy-freston/vegetarian-is-the-new-pri_b_39014.html
  12. http://www.kathyfreston.com/blogs_by_kathy/17_the_breathtaking_effects_of_cutting_back_on_meat.html
  13. http://www.kathyfreston.com/blogs_by_kathy/17_the_breathtaking_effects_of_cutting_back_on_meat.html
  14. http://www.thechinastudy.com/ most recent and probably best known empirical study that clearly shows that a plant based, whole foods diet is the optimal diet for  humans.

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