While climate change is an existential threat the United States, and, indeed, the entire world, there has not been sufficient attention to it by most people. It was not discussed at all during the recent presidential debates, and was not a major campaign issue. Unfortunately, “denial is not just a river in Egypt,” and most people today are, in effect, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as we head toward a giant iceberg.
Here are several importan reasons we all should be very concerned about climate change.
Science academies worldwide, 97% of climate scientists, and 99.9% of peer-reviewed papers on the issue in respected scientific journals argue that climate change is real, is largely caused by human activities, and poses great threats to humanity. All 195 nations at the December 2015 Paris climate change conference agreed that immediate steps must be taken to combat climate change. Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade, and all of the seventeen warmest years since temperature records were kept in 1880 have been since 1998. Last year, 2016, was the warmest year globally on record, breaking that held before by 2015 and previously by 2014, meaning we now have had three consecutive years of record temperatures. Polar icecaps and glaciers worldwide have been melting rapidly, faster than scientific projections. This has caused an increase in oceans worldwide with the potential for major flooding.
There has also been an increase in the number and severity of droughts, wildfires, storms, and floods. It seems that stories about this appear almost daily in the media. For example, California has been subjected to so many severe climate events (heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and mudslides when heavy rains occur) recently that its governor, Jerry Brown, stated that “Humanity is on a collision course with nature.”
Many climates experts believe that we are close to a tipping point when climate change will spiral out of control, with disastrous consequences, unless major positive changes soon occur.
While climate scientists believe that 350 parts per million (ppm) of atmospheric CO2 is a threshold value for climate stability, the world reached 400 ppm in 2014, and the amount is increasing by two to three ppm per year.
While climate scientists hope that temperature increases can be limited to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), largely because that is the best that can be hoped for with current trends and momentum, the world is now on track for an average increase of 4 – 6 degrees Celsius, which would produce a world with almost unimaginably negative climate events.
The Pentagon and other military groups believe that climate change will increase the potential for instability, terrorism, and war by reducing access to food and clean water and by causing tens of millions of desperate refugees fleeing from droughts, wildfire, floods, storms, and other effects of climate change.
The conservative group ConservAmerica (www.ConservAmerica.org), formerly known as ‘Republicans for Environmental Protection,’ is very concerned about climate change threats. They are working to end the denial about climate threats and the urgency of working to avert them on the part of the vast majority of Republicans, but so far with very limited success.
Given the above, averting a potential climate catastrophe should be a central focus of civilization today, in order to leave a lovable world for future generations. Every aspect of life should be considered. We have to shift to renewable forms of energy, improve our transportation systems, produce more efficient cars and other means of transportation, and do everything else possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs).
As president emeritus of Jewish Veg, formerly Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I want to stress the importance of shifts toward vegan diets. Animal-based agriculture is a major contributor to climate change, largely due to the emission of methane from cows and other farmed animals, since methane is from 72 to 105 times as potent as CO2 per molecule in warming the atmosphere, during the twenty years that methane is in the atmosphere.
Two studies demonstrate this conclusion. A 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organisation study, Livestock’s Long Shadow, found that livestock agriculture emitted more GHGs, in CO2 equivalents, than all the cars, planes, ships, and other means of transportation combined.
Even more alarmingly, a 2009 front page story in World Watch magazine, “Livestock and Climate Change” by two environmentalists associated with the World Bank, found that when shipping and other factors are included, the livestock sector was responsible for at least fifty-one percent of all human-induced greenhouse gases.
Clearly, a major shift away from animal-based diets is essential to efforts to avert a climate catastrophe. Because the threats are so great, it is essential that this issue becomes a major priority, to help avoid the iceberg and shift our imperilled planet onto a sustainable course.