Striking For Climate Change. Eating For Our Future.
It was a beautiful sunny day on Friday when we marched with hundreds of millions of others around the globe last week, led by our children, led by Greta Thunberg. They were the biggest climate demonstrations in history, held in over 150 countries. We made home-made signs, we caught the buses and we marched for our children’s future, because, like many of the signs made the youngsters read,
”When adults act like children, children have to act like adults!”
Unfortunately the adults making policy and big decisions are not making ones for the next generation to have a clean, inhabitable world. Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison has approved new coal mines, including Adani that will impact heavy on the already suffering Great Barrier Reef and add to global emissions rather than tackle them. The US is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases and yet Trump has said they will quit the Paris climate deal. The Amazon in Brazil will also be butchered with the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, opening it to more - this time, legal - destruction.
We have leaders like this, yet we know climate crisis is happening. This is an emergency happening right NOW. So our children and us as their guardians, need to become leaders in our own right and understand what is going on and how we can do our part.
What is going on?
According to a new report from the UN’s World Meteorological Association, the 2015-2019 period has been the warmest five-year-period on record, and the rate of global sea level rise is accelerating. While annual sea level rise was about 3mm per year during 1997-2006, this has sped up 5mm per year in the May 2014-summer 2019 period. The sea ice in the Artic is close to disappearing, the report warned, with the four lowest years on record for winter sea ice being the last four years. Global emissions hit a record high last year.
Real problems are already happening and it will only become much worse by 2030 when the global emission impacts will peak, with the sea levels changing and temperatures rising causing devastating heatwaves, unpredictable weather patterns, flooding, displacing communities and wiping out more species; all of which will impact life negatively in many ways including with food, water shortages and health-impacting pollution levels. We know this already though. It has been decades since we have known we have an issue that needs addressing. As Greta put it,
Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.
I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.
The United Nations
The kids seem to get it. And of course, lots of clever people, including those in the UN get it. The protests of our students took place in the lead up to the UN Climate Summit being held in New York with 60 Heads of State, to discuss and set out ACTION to seriously attempt to keep the 2016 Paris agreement, of limiting global warming below 2 degrees C increase since the pre-industrial time (it has already risen half of this).
To act by stopping using coal and fossil fuels for energy, to commit to actionable steps for companies and countries to reduce emissions, of which the developed ones who will need to at least triple their current emissions reduction commitments to meet the Paris target according to the UN report states. To implement more of the solutions we know about, because despite the studies, the agreements and the policies, we are in 2019 still extracting coal, using fossil fuels, using single-use plastics, burning down rain forests, creating unsustainable waste and eating meat three times a day (yes, its an issue and we will get to why.)
Policies are useless unless they are acted upon. Goals mean nothing if we don’t work serious towards them. Inventions that are not implemented do not help. And playing ignorance is bliss card with your diet and lifestyle choices is actually threatening your children’s future. So we need those in power, the governments and big businesses, to make the big changes. We can have hope the UN helps hold them accountable.
What about us?
And we - you and me - can individually make significant yet small changes that will add up if billions of us make them. After all, businesses sell what people buy and if we all change what we buy, they will change what they sell. Farmers grow what people eat and if we as a majority stop eating as much meat, they will stop with the intense animal agriculture. And eventually politicians do what the masses want… well, sometimes… they do this to get our vote… so we have to be loud and clear about what we want and get our communities on board!
In our own lives, the small changes that add up, means looking at the obvious; can we drive less, can we fly less, can we use less water, consume less, get rid of single-use plastic, compost, recycle, reuse…. AND the one people don’t want to hear; we can eat much much less meat.
“We cannot keep the kinds of meals we have known and also keep the planet we have known,” Jonathan Safran Foer
Why not meat?
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a new report in August that said that even if we do everything else, we can’t meet Paris Agreement goals without eating dramatically less meat. Why? There are numerous studies, including theirs, confirming that raising animals to eat their meat is an inefficient process, requiring much more land, water and energy compared to growing plants for food.
Currently livestock takes up 30% of our finite land on planet earth, 30% of our fresh water and animal agriculture is the number one cause for rainforest clearing and species extinction. It is responsible for more than 18% of greenhouse gases. Factory farming pollutes the air, water and surrounding land and over-grazing on pasture causes soil erosion and land degradation. Livestock, (cows being the worst for their impact on the environment), produce methane and methane traps 28 times heat than carbon dioxide making our still-growing demand for beef a real science-confirmed threat for global warming. Especially with close to 8 billion people wanting to eat more meat from livestock not less… yet…
And while many well-meaning friends may choose to eat grass-fed, pasture-raised animals, we have to remember that no matter how they are raised, these animals still require land to graze, water and still create methane which is a potent green-house gas… so the choice does not stand up for environmental purposes, even if it is better for the animals welfare compared to factory farming.
Eating for the future
What about if you feel you are not ready to go vegan or give up meat completely? Firstly I think read the science behind these facts so you will not be able to ignore that these choices doesn’t hurt your kids. It was like when our parents wanted to ignore that smoking harmed our health… until they couldn’t no more. We are at that stage with consuming meat. Your children are affected by passive smoking and passive meat eaters…
So know the truth to empower yourself. Then, if you still don’t want to go fully plant-based, save the meat for the odd occasion rather than the main feature. Try doing two plant-based meals a day as suggested by Jonathan Safran Foer, who in his new book, We Are The Weather, proposes for us to abstain from animal products for the first two meals of the day, and in doing so, he calculates, save 1.3 metric tons of CO2e emissions per person per year (of the 7,516 million tons of CO2e emissions that the FAO estimates that livestock produces per year). Or go for 90% plant-based, keeping in mind a study published in the science journal Nature that said people living in places like Australia, U.K. and the U.S. need to reduce meat consumption by 90 percent for any real change to reduce global emissions.
It is not about shaming but it is about taking responsibility. It can be easy to blame our politicians (for good reason) but we have to do what we are asking for - we have to sometimes make sacrifices of immediate gratification for long-term peace and health.
We cannot reduce global warming without eating a hell of a lot less meat.
Do not be surprised if you are resistant to accepting this truth or if friends don’t want to hear it. Stay curious. It is interesting how we get so attached to our diet. We can do all the other actions; recycle, have quicker showers, march with our kids and write letters in protest, but many people still don’t want to give up meat, because they like the taste of it. They are attached to it. Food has a funny power over us if we are not careful. The addiction of sugar is real, even when facing diseases like diabetes. The craving for caffeine snags us, even when we are experiencing anxiety and it stops our sleep. Burgers and fries still sell to the obese who suffer heart disease. Yet millions of people overcome their cravings and change their diet preferences on a daily basis when the reason is important enough and surely, in the face of devastation of our one and only planet, and our children’s safety, we have to gain control over our desire for meat and eat mostly, or totally plant-based for our future.
Just some of the references you can read more on the impact of our diet on our planet.
Henning B. Standing in Livestock’s ‘“Long Shadow”’: The Ethics of Eating Meat on a Small Planet. Ethics & the Environment 2011
Epa US, OAR. Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data