Food for thought on tackling the climate crisis

By Mark Robinson

Editor’s note: Mark Robinson’s writing comes in response to two stories in the January 2024 Bugle that addressed aspects of the climate change crisis.

Two commentaries in last month’s Bugle speak of the urgency of climate change and our collective individual responsibility to do something about it.

I especially loved when Tom Lucy wrote, “Climate touches everything, and we need to own up to that as individuals, groups and governments. We owe it to ourselves, and more importantly to our kids, to examine every decision we make through the lens of climate.”

Powerful words. I couldn’t agree more.

In the spirit of cooperatively trying to solve this problem, I’d like to clarify a part of the climate discussion that often gets omitted. If we could instantly stop all use of fossil fuels today, we would still not avert a climate crisis.

First of all, the carbon dioxide (CO2) that is already in the atmosphere will remain with us for anywhere between 300 and 1,000 years.

Secondly, the burning of fossil fuels is not the leading contributor to the greenhouse gases causing climate change. If we don’t tackle the other leading contributors, average global temperatures will still steadily increase; drought, wild fires and erratic storms will still happen.

Fortunately, the solution is right under our noses, in fact on our dinner plates: Animal agriculture contributes 51% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Besides CO2, animal agriculture produces methane and nitrogen—both much more potent greenhouse gases.

Additionally, animal agriculture is the primary reason for deforestation. Consider this: 46% of Earth’s habitable land is occupied by agriculture, of which 77% is used for livestock grazing or crops to feed livestock. We need to greatly reduce the greenhouse gases of the animal agriculture sector AND give the Earth a chance to heal itself by returning land that’s used to feed animals back to nature. Then the amazing CO2–trapping abilities of forests, bogs and healthy soil can bring down the CO2 levels of the planet.

Stop deforestation

Currently, there are three trillion trees on the planet. If we can stop deforestation and plant another trillion trees, the carbon sequestration power of trees is so great that just the additional one trillion trees by themselves could sequester half of the world’s annual GHG emissions.

Efforts like the Great Green Wall in China and a similar effort in Africa are attempting to do just that.

The same should happen in the Americas. But those efforts are hindered when the demand for beef incentivizes people to cut down the Amazon and other wild areas for grazing land.

Now, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t look at ways of cutting out fossil fuels. I bike/bus to work in Bloomington four out of five days.

My point is that my biking makes a small difference compared to the three vegan meals I decide to eat every day.

Look it up on Project Drawdown’s “93 technologies and practices that together can stop climate change.” You’ll see “plant-rich diet” at the very top of the list of CO2 equivalent reduced/sequestered.

Taking the bus or driving an EV are much further down the list. They reduce or sequester CO2 equivalent at a rate of 14% to 10% less than “plant-rich diet” respectively!

Don’t eat meat

Amazingly, people collectively could very quickly stop 51% of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the world by just not eating meat and other animal products.

And, when people collectively do that, the practices and industries that are raping Earth will disappear, and Earth will have a chance to heal. In fact, ending animal agriculture can reverse climate change. It is the solution.

When the planet is facing a sixth mass extinction, it should come as a simple moral imperative to not kill any more animals under such circumstances.

As things stand now, only 4% of the biomass of land animals is wild animals, 34% is humans, and 62% is farmed animals! That’s a disgusting example of how humans have perverted the beautiful, biodiverse bounty of the earth through our totally unnecessary traditions of eating animals.

Again, I’m very grateful to live in a community that cares about climate change and has privilege and influence to do something about it. And, I understand why animal agriculture doesn’t come up in many discussions on the climate. That’s not the story mainstream media wants us to hear.

The simple narrative people are being told is that no one really has to make any decisions that will require a change of lifestyle: just switch from a gas-powered to an electric-powered car; just put up solar panels.

 However, if we “examine every decision we make through the lens of climate,” it becomes evident that our lifestyle of eating animals and animal products has to change. Politicians don’t like to say that because it’s too “radical.”

But as last week’s graphic states, “When it comes to dealing with global climate change there are no non-radical choices.”

Finally, eating plant-based is a change that is accessible to everyone—not just those who can afford a major house remodeling. Look at the cost of one pound of beef or chicken, compared to the cost of a pound of dried beans. Everyone can immediately make the switch. If they want to. If they care enough to. And, as the Lorax says, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”  

Infographics from earthday.org/un-report-plant-based-diets-provide-major-opportunities-to-address-climate-crisis. Image credit: Lauren Sisk, EDN

Mark Robinson lives in St. Anthony Park and is a high school teacher.

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