Why Avoid the No.1 Cause of Climate Change?

Iceland is rising – causing volcanoes. Recently Geophysical Research Letters published the findings of scientists from the University of Arizona and the University of Iceland that showed the earth’s crust rising at a much faster rate amid the greater warming of the last 30 years. Debates over fracking, due to its affect on the environment and propensity to encourage earthquakes, have become party political fodder for upcoming UK elections. Recycling has become standard for many households, we all know to turn the tap off when brushing our teeth and turn the lights out when we leave a room. People are even cycling more, and Boris Johnson has promised to provide more lanes to encourage Londoners further. The inconvenient truth is out, and most people want to make a difference.

The climate march last year had 40,000 marchers turning out in London, 400,000 in New York and many thousands more around the world, asking their governments and fellow citizens to embrace Green policies. The march usually has a mix of people, from anti-fracking fans, No to Monsanto supporters, and middle class mums, to animal rights activists, permaculture nerds and, yes, a few hippies. While all these people support action against climate change, they hold different aims and enemies, making an organised movement difficult. It also makes the issues easier to ignore or manipulate, as if the government focuses on fracking and cycles lanes, it can look good enough to ignore GMO’s, crimes in the food industry and the actions of irresponsible companies. Not all companies are irresponsible; we have more than ever making changes to become greener. The IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development) is a resource that helps companies turn green, with learning resources and a focus on sustainable, while profitable, markets. The resources are there, but some areas of industry are slower to pick up. It’s a huge range of changes that need making, however, and if the individual focuses on anti-fracking, or wants to recycle and compost more (both noble things), eating a McDonalds burger after the march may not seem like a big deal. Unfortunately, it is. Arguably more so than all those I’ve mentioned above. Here’s why:

Animal Agriculture is the number one cause of climate change, deforestation and world hunger. This has been stated by the most recent UN report, cows account for 18% of greenhouse gases, more than the entire transport sector (13%). Livestock in the U.S emit 34 trillion gallons methane emissions, while fracking and its uses emit 100bn gallons.[1] Then there’s all the other animal agriculture, beyond food even, cosmetics, clothes, medicines, furniture – most elements of most everyday lives. In 2009, admittedly we should have improved a little since; the World Bank found that animal agriculture made up of 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s responsible for deforestation, including depleting the Amazon considerably, for grazing; it uses 45% of all land and uses a third of the earth’s water. Back to cows for a second. Their particular emissions, away from large amounts of water consumption, are methane. Methane degrades in the atmosphere far faster than CO2, as in Methane takes decades, but CO2 takes over a century to degrade its levels.[2] Given that Dr Richard Oppenlader, author of “Food Choice and Sustainability’, believes that we will easily exceed max emissions by 2030 (only based on livestock, not electricity etc), maybe the fastest way should be focused on, as well as recycling, cutting electricity and making sustainable buildings and businesses.

On March 7th the Climate March happened again. If each person there who ate meat halved his or her intake in the next year, there would need to be a change to animal agriculture. Methane in our atmosphere could be directly lowered in the 10 years before we exceed max emissions. Cutting down on animal agriculture products is as possible as just halving your weekly meat and fish intake. Everyone seems ready for a change. That is direct action.

Note: this was written after the influence of personal research as well as documentaries like Food Inc. and Cowspiracy, and books like Dr. Richard Oppenlander’s, and David Simon’s ‘Meatonomics’.

[1] Cowspiracy (2014)

[2] Kirk R. Smith (Professor of Environmental Health, Berkley) qtd. in Cowspiracy