Climate Catastrophe or a Sustainable Future – It Depends On Our Food Choices
Climate experts from 195 countries have gathered in Paris working to come up with an agreement that will help avert a climate catastrophe. However, they are overlooking an important factor and this threatens the success of their meeting.
Here are some important reasons that it is essential to address 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.
- Every decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the previous decade and the 16 warmest years since temperature records were kept in 1880 have been since 1998. 2014 was the warmest year recorded and 2015 is on track to exceed it “by a mile.”
- Glaciers worldwide and polar icecaps have been melting rapidly, faster than scientific projections.
- There has been an increase in the number and severity of droughts, wildfires, storms, floods, and other climate-related events.
- 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 2 – 3 ppm per year.
- Military experts 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 refuges to flee from droughts, wildfire, floods, storms, and other effects of climate change.
In short, the world is on a suicidal path and it is essential that the Paris climate conference succeed in finding a way to slow down climate change. However, the experts believe that even if every nation fully carries out its pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, it will not be enough to prevent a temperature increase of over two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), an increase that experts fear will result in catastrophic climate-related events. Making the situation even more frightening is that some climate experts, including James Hansen, formerly of NASA, believe that the threshold value should be only 1.5 degrees Celsius.
A major reason that there is a potentially very serious gap between what is necessary and what is practical is that a major source of greenhouse gas emissions is being overlooked – animal-based agriculture.
It may seem naïve to argue that a mere change of diet could be a potent prescription for combating climate change, but the evidence is incontrovertible, and slowly the public is getting the message.
Much of the discussions by governments, environmental groups, and individuals over the past 20 years and at the Paris climate change conference have focused on implementing changes in energy use and have given little attention to the impact of our diets. This trend changed somewhat upon publication of a landmark 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” estimating that livestock agriculture globally is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs, in CO2 equivalents) than the emissions from all of the world’s cars, planes, ships, and all other means of transportation combined.
The FAO report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, also projected that the world’s then annual consumption of almost 60 billion land-based animals will double by mid-century if current human population growth and dietary trends continue. The resulting increase in GHGs would largely negate reduced GHG emissions from conservation and improved efficiencies in transportation, electricity and other sectors, making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reach the GHG reductions that climate experts believe essential to avoid a climate disaster. While that doubling may not occur, it is troubling that in the face of livestock’s strong role in warming the planet, many countries are encouraging the expanded consumption of animal products.
More recently, an in-depth analysis, “Livestock and Climate Change,” by World Bank Group environmental specialists Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang was published in the November/December 2009 issue of World Watch magazine. The authors argue that there are sources of GHGs from the livestock sector that were overlooked, underrepresented or placed in the wrong sectors in the FAO report, and concluded that the livestock sector is responsible for at least 51 percent of all human-induced GHGs.
In view of the above, a major societal shift toward veganism is imperative to avert a climate catastrophe and help move our precious but imperiled planet away from its present catastrophic path. We should make it a major priority to make that happen.
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