Cows and the Environment

“Livestock production may have a bigger impact on the planet than anything else.”
-The Triple Whopper… Global Meat Production

Livestock

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), 37 percent of human- induced methane comes from livestock. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas and warms the atmosphere much more strongly than CO2. However, it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as CO2 (its’ half-life in the atmosphere is only about 8 years, compared to 100 years or more for CO2). Significantly, this means that we can reduce the dangerous greenhouse gases in the atmosphere much more quickly by reducing methane, than by reducing CO2 (see –Livestock and Climate Change). This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t focus on reducing CO2, it just means that in addition to our CO2 reduction measures, we can get more bang for our buck by reducing methane. The way to do that is one of the easiest things you can do: purchase less beef and dairy (milk, cheese, butter, yogurt). If you want to be an ally in the reduction of climate change reduce your consumption of meat (especially beef) and dairy. If you want to be a climate hero go vegan! It is a rapidly growing trend that we can all support by not ridiculing vegans or vegetarians.

Going Vegan or Vegetarian

Just as there is much misinformation about human induced climate change, there is also plenty of misinformation about vegan and vegetarian diets. I’ll try to clear up any questions or confusions you may have.  I’ll start by saying that Vegan and Vegetarian diets are arguably the most healthy diet one can have. It’s not hard to find someone who will tell you how their health has been turned around for the better by adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet. Studies indicate that these diets prevent heart disease, strokes, as well as various diseases. In short, you can be strong, healthy and long-lived as a vegan or vegetarian. We have centuries of proof.

First what is the difference between Vegan and Vegetarian?

Vegans do not purchase or consume animal products and byproducts such as meats of any kind, or milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs or butter. Strict vegans are careful to check products for any animal products, this includes some vitamins and many packaged goods. Vegans can, nonetheless, consume the many plant-based meat and dairy substitutes which are increasingly available. Milk alternatives are made from soy, almond, coconut, cashew, rice, hemp and more. Silk brand makes milk substitutes from soy, almond, cashew, and coconut. Daiya makes better than average cheese substitutes. Some of the meat substitutes available are made by Yves, Morning Star, Beyond Meat, Field Roast, Tofurky,  Trader Joes, Lightlife, Boca Burger. Did I miss your favorite? Tell me about it in the comments.

If this sounds too great a challenge or you’re not ready just yet to abandon butter or cheese, consider going vegetarian instead. Vegetarians also include one’s who avoid eggs and milk, but there are also many vegetarians who consume milk, eggs, and butter. What all vegetarians avoid is meat of any kind, beef, chicken, fish, lamb, other seafood. As mentioned above, there are increasingly good substitutes available. Many which require no sacrifice in taste or enjoyment.  You should, however, educate yourself on how to best meet your nutritional requirements. A good rule of thumb is to include a good variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet (colors and textures) as well a consistent protein source (beans, peas, tofu, nuts, substitutes).  For more info visit: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Being a Vegetarian

The Alternatives to Beef and Dairy Are Healthy and Delicious

Beef and dairy can be replaced with protein found in vegetable sources. These sources of protein are better for the environment as well as socially responsible. The production of beef generates twice the greenhouse gas emissions of pork, four times as much as chicken, and 13 times that of vegetable proteins found in beans, lentils, and tofu.

Still feel you are not up to taking the plunge?  Feel free to try it out to the level that you are comfortable. You can take it slow by having “Meatless Mondays.” That one day a week can be completely meat free and give you a chance to explore and experiment with meatless alternatives. After a few weeks or months, you may have naturally begun to eat more meals which are meat free. If not, make a conscious effort to have another day or several meals meatless every week. Or, go further and limit yourself to meet and dairy on two or three days of the week. Whatever it takes to begin to make that shift. But start right away. There is no time to lose.

If you continue to eat meat you should choose responsibly. That means eating pork or pork products and chicken RATHER than beef or other meats. Pork and poultry are the most climate-friendly (they account for only 10% of total livestock greenhouse-gas emissions while contributing more than three times as much meat globally as cattle). “Pork and poultry are also more efficient for feed, requiring up to five times less feed to produce a kg of protein than a cow, a sheep or a goat.”-Livestock and Climate Change

So, the calculus is pretty simple. The less beef and dairy you consume, the greater contribution you make to reducing your personal carbon footprint. If you eliminate beef and dairy completely like hundreds of thousands of people have, you will be a climate hero. Heroic action requires struggle and sacrifice–but going vegan has gotten easier than ever!

Additional Links:

The Meat Eater’s Guide to Climate Change

5 Ways Factory Farming is Killing the Environment

Why People in Rich Countries are Eating More Vegan Food

 

 

Urgent Action is Required by All of Us

We have known about the dangers of global climate change for decades, but we have continued to delay decisive action year after and decade after decade. Now we are careening towards a Point of No Return which threatens irreversible damage to life-support systems and possible extinction of human life unless we REVERSE COURSE immediately.

The Paris Climate Agreement, signed by the EU and more than 190 nations since 2015, is an agreement by governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global temperatures below a 2°C increase (from pre-industrial levels) and make efforts to limit this increase to 1.5°C. This monumental agreement is meant to legally bind governments to avert catastrophic global climate change. The problem is that globally we are nowhere near reaching these targets.

What is the Point of No Return?

The authors of the Paris Climate Agreement are hopeful that the earth can handle a global temperature rise of just below 2°C to prevent tipping into a scenario called “Hothouse Earth.”

“If this were to happen, the world would become far warmer than it’s been for at least the past 1.2 million years. Sea levels around the globe would likely rise between 33 and 200 feet higher than they are now.” –Business Insider

It may be the case, however, that we need to keep warming to a maximum of 1.5°C to avoid descending into Hothouse Earth. If we are conservative, we should aim for the lower target of a 1.5°C rise in temperatures.

If we fail to dramatically ramp up the transition to clean energy and cleaner land use, we will be left with an increasingly uninhabitable planet. What does that look like, you ask?

If the earth’s average temperature warms by 2.0°C climate models predict that the climate will become dramatically unstable and conventional feedback systems disrupted making a higher temperature rise inevitable. Dramatic sea level rise would inundate coastal areas and large swaths of land while making deserts of large areas while a rise of 4 to 5°C would make the earth uninhabitable. Scientists say that we are entering the earth’s sixth mass extinction and have sounded the alarm about the tale tale loss of vertebrate species  which  entails “massive anthropogenic erosion of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services essential to civilization.”

If we don’t get this right, it’s game over for all of us.

How Much Time Do We Have to Act Decisively?
Not Much

In August 2018, a study attempted to identify a deadline for action to reach a 2°C. The study found that by 2035 we must have begun to replace 2% of global energy needs from fossil fuels to clean energy sources EACH YEAR. On my reading this entails a 50% reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions by 2055 and a 100% transition to clean energy and agriculture before 2085.  2% per year may sound easy, but between the 1990s and 2017 clean energy only grew by 3.8%. We will have to pick up the pace technologically, politically, and as consumers if we are to reach the 2% per year transition required in the near future, while aiming to reduce our dependence of fossil fuels by 5% per year as soon as possible. This 5% per year beginning in 2019 is what is called for in the most recent report on climate change prepared by some 150 scientists for the IPCC in October 2018. This report, using the most updated scientific data, gives us 12 years to reduce carbon emissions by 50%. See news coverage here, actual report summary here.

What Can We Do?

We must support leaders in both government and business who take seriously this threat and denounce those who don’t. We must vote in climate leaders and vote out climate-change deniers. We must make purchases inline with our values to reduce our contributions to climate change. This blog is intended to help you make good decisions along these lines. Below are some starting points. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

1. We Must Transition to Clean Sources of Energy

In short, this means transitions from fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) to clean energy sources (solar, wind, geothermal, tidal etc). Utilities must begin to increase the amount of electricity generated with clean sources. Individual consumers can install solar, and possibly wind or geothermal to help this transition. Individual consumer can purchase and use electric or other non-carbon fueled vehicles. Investors must divest in fossil fuel companies and fuel sources and invest in clean energy generation and sources. All coal plants must be replaced by solar, wind, hydro or geothermal by 2030.

2. We Must Transition to Clean Use of Land

Apart from energy, the other major source of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the way we use land and feed ourselves. We must stop clearing forests, especially rainforests in order to graze cows. Doing so is a double whammy for the climate. Trees reduce CO2 and cows emit significant levels of the greenhouse gas methane (CH4). Individual consumers can reduce the amount of beef and diary they consume as well as the amounts of meat they consume generally. You can also be an advocate for vegan and vegetarian options at restaurants, schools, and everywhere food is sold or served. For more on the harm by livestock go here. On the additional benefits of eating less or no meat go here.

3. We Must Change Our View of Economic Growth

We must abandon the logic that economic growth is an end and good in itself. It is not. It is destructive to the natural world. The increasing consumption of goods and the wasting of goods and energy is destructive behavior which is bad for the environment, but has been seen as good for the economy. This is why we must stop focusing on GDP and begin to use and advocate for other measures of human flourishing such as GNH (gross national happiness).

4. The Human Population Should Be Allowed to Decrease

For our own good, the good of the human species, we should stop being concerned about ageing populations. In 2018 we have more than 7.5 Billion people on the planet, up from 6 billion in 2000, up from  5 billion in 1990, with a projected 9.7 billion inhabitants by 2050. Higher numbers of humans mean more consumption of limited resources (material and energy), and greater damage to the natural environment. We need to stop seeing articles like this, or this, or this, bemoaning the fact that some countries are beginning to have negative population growth. Negative population growth must be welcomed as good news (in short, the problem of declining productivity can be alleviated by automation and robotics).

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We have a lot of work to do, but the wind is at our backs!
These kinds of reports appear weekly:
Markets will advance green agenda–even if some governments lose interest
Get out of fossil fuels while you can:
Carbon ‘bubble’ could cost global economy trillions

But don’t let those reports make you complacent! The problem is the speed of our response and transition! Need a sober reminder? World ‘nowhere near on track’ to avoid warming beyond 1.5C target (27 September 2018).

Let’s get busy building a new world and fighting for our future.