The Imperative: A Global Transition Towards a Plant Based Diet

Like heart disease – denying this issue constitutes a silent killer.

What is rarely discussed is the fact that as much as half of the annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change are now being attributed to the lifecycle and supply chain of domesticated animals raised for food, which also contributes to massive deforestation causing further acceleration of climate change. Due the fact previously stated, that methane is a powerful greenhouse gas 72-100 times more powerful than carbon in the short term (5 to 20 years) how can it be that this issue is barely being discussed? Like heart disease – denying this issue constitutes a silent killer.

Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. - Albert Einstein

Livestock now accounts for up to 51% (Worldwatch Institute) of all greenhouse gas emissions. [19] Methane accounts for a vast amount of these emissions. Meat counts for more damage than all transportation combined on our finite planet. In June 2010 the United Nations issued a second urgent plea for a global united transition to a meat-free and dairy-free diet: “A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.” Yet despite urgent warnings from the United Nations (the first in 2006) that countries must reduce meat consumption, this is just another lifestyle change the well-off would rather not discuss, even when this massive dent in emissions would cost nothing – we could all do it today. We could at least begin a transition today. Especially in light that this is one of the few solutions in the mitigation of climate change, where citizens are free of government asserted control over our decision of choice. The fact that it would be more affective in the fight to prevent catastrophic climate change, by eliminating animal products from our diets – than it would be to eradicate the entire globe of all vehicles of transportation combined – is nothing less than incredible.

The fact we dismiss such a simple action at the cost of future generations is revealing.  It sadly reveals an increasingly unenlightened society which is effectively becoming more and more corroded by unadulterated individualism.

The Right to Destroy Ourselves

But why give fair and just transition programs and subsidies for independent farmers to transition to organic plant-based agriculture, when we can just keep giving the billion dollar multinational corporations the vast subsidies to keep destroying our planet? And why give our children – who are at the mercy of our poor decisions – a healthy and compassionate diet when we can slowly kill them with an escalating epidemic of obesity and diabetes, costing the health care system billions? But hey, as long as the cost belongs to the taxpayers while the profits of disease line the pockets of the rich, what’s the problem? Let’s face it, there is too much money to be made by the multinational corporations who view our families, and especially our children, as nothing more than neon-flashing dollar signs. There is just too much money to be made on drugs, treatment and disease. Prevention is the enemy of corporate profit. And why even consider transitioning to a healthy plant-based diet when instead corporations can set another unknown disaster into motion – in this instance, cloned meat. Our “brilliant” species can do anything – except change the very patterns that destroy our own habitat and ultimately ourselves. Burn baby burn. Drill till we’re dead. Message from corporations to consumers (formerly known as citizens): Stuff yourself with meat, hormones and additives until you explode (or the planet explodes – whichever comes first).

Methane is New Zealand’s highest climate gas emission, despite having a per capita car ownership that rivals that of California. How to fix this? Simple – like the IPCC, the government simply accounts for greenhouse gas emissions but doesn’t add in agricultural methane, even though methane is far more potent than CO2. Presto! Methane is no longer a problem.

There is no choice – if we want to continue living, there must be generous subsidies to assist a global conversion from industrial livestock farming to organic, primarily plant-based, small-scale agriculture rich in biodiversity. Intensive livestock production and the intensive food production for livestock contributes to massive deforestation and loss of biodiversity. Much of the cleared land for livestock could be reforested or returned to grassland – becoming lush carbon sinks rather than degraded lands that emit deadly methane. Conserving biodiversity, as well as feeding humanity, must be a global priority over sustaining factory-farmed livestock. Like fossil fuels, states must eliminate the massive livestock and dairy subsidies. Such subsidies continue to be accepted and relatively unchallenged as states vie for export dollars by selling meat to other nations. Trade is set to be the number one sector of all fossil fuel consumption by 2030. Further, both the fossil fuel industry and the livestock industry must internalize the full costs of all pollution, including water pollution, CO2 from deforestation, methane from decaying animal parts (among other sources) and nitrous oxide from animal waste.

Will governments create such legislation? Not likely. For behind the red velvet curtain, the corporations run the greatest puppet show on Earth. This certain cause of CO2 and methane is the easiest (and most affordable) one to tackle – yet, almost five years after the initial UN warning we are not even discussing it.

October, 2010: Olivier De Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food states unequivocally:”There is currently little to rejoice about,” and “worse may still be ahead…. Current agricultural developments are… threatening the ability for our children’s children to feed themselves,” he said. “A fundamental shift is urgently required….”  He continued that “giving priority to approaches that increase reliance on fossil fuels is agriculture committing suicide.” Today agriculture continues to decline because of accelerating climate change. Feeding factory-farmed livestock rather than feeding people is just one more slap in the face to human rights and social equity.

October, 2010: Scientists warn of livestock greenhouse gas boom: “Soaring international production of livestock could release enough carbon into the atmosphere by 2050 to single-handedly exceed ‘safe’ levels of climate change.… The livestock sector’s emissions alone could send temperatures above the 2 degrees Celsius rise commonly said to be the threshold above which climate change could be destabilising.” They also make a more conservative estimate: “The sector will contribute enough greenhouse gas emissions to take up 70 per cent of the ‘safe’ 2 degree temperature rise.” The authors of the study called on governments to prioritize the reining in of the livestock sector, adding that “mobilising the necessary political will to implement such policies is a daunting but necessary prospect.” They suggest the world will have to reduce emissions by roughly 87 per cent relative to performance at a global scale in 2000.

And again, remember that 2ºC was never considered safe. From the 1990 United Nations AGGG report: “Temperature increases beyond 1°C could trigger rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.” The absolute temperature limit of 2°C in the same report was motivated as the limit beyond which the risks of grave damage to ecosystems and of non-linear responses are expected to increase rapidly. Non-linear in this case means runway climate change. Why was the extremely dangerous (now catastrophic) 2ºC chosen? The adoption of the 2ºC enabled the economic system to continue business as usual – further destruction will continue until the Earth reaches her maximum limit where catastrophe becomes unavoidable. It is now quite evident how scientists identified their role in the international climate change negotiations – to provide policymakers a danger limit rather than a limit for safety. (This race to the bottom reasoning has become typical of government environmental health policymaking. Hazardous pollution and chemicals suspected of causing cancer are deemed innocent until it can be proved with virtual total certainty to be dangerous.)

To date only James Hansen and Stephen Hawking have stated a “runaway greenhouse effect”‘ is in our realm of distinct possibility. “Runaway greenhouse effect” is a scientific term very different from the “runaway climate change” term frequently referred to. “Runaway climate change” implies an uncontrollable, rapid acceleration event – an event too extreme for humans to survive it. The scientific term ‘runaway greenhouse’ means a dead Earth. Yet scientists miss the main point on what constitutes global climate catastrophe for humanity. (re. rapid global warming and climate disruption) For humanity and animals, our survival depends on agriculture – not the Greenland ice sheet. Global climate catastrophe is already tipping agriculture into decline – yet the critical tipping point is never mentioned. All focus should be on protecting agriculture. Even the IPCC climate model ensemble states that at 3°C, our agriculture goes into decline for all crops in all regions. Even so, these ultra-conservative IPCC models do not capture approximately half of the adverse impacts. The IPCC makes the mistake on plotting crop yield change against transient temperature rather than the full long term temperature change. 3°C is deadly.  2°C is deadly. This is what makes the Arctic climate feedbacks so critical to be understood. Further acceleration of global warming coupled with the warming that the planet is already committed to, sets us on a path to a certain extinction event for humanity.

A growing number of concerned scientists are now calling for urgent action to be taken on reducing methane emissions, recognizing they have by far a greater and more immediate effect on the speed of temperature rise. In a world of open minds, these emissions could be dealt with in a far easier and far more expedient manner. Unfortunately, if history is thus far any indication, instead of embracing positive change, our minds – having swallowed the corporate philosophy that “personal rights trump environment” no matter what (what such rights destroy in our shared environment and no matter what such rights destroy in our children’s increasingly bleak, dark future) – will deny the need for it.

Instead of realizing and embracing an opportunity for cleaner water, cleaner air and healthier bodies, we would rather risk the onslaught of new viruses cropping up due to our grossly inhumane treatment of animals. Nature has come back to bite us with foot-and-mouth disease, bird flu, avian influenza cases reported in Jeolla and Chungcheong provinces caused by H5N1 virus, mad cow disease, and all other diseases related to over-consumption of meat by humans. Not to mention health issues related to growth hormones and antibiotics. In January 2011 it is reported that South Korea is burying thousands of pigs alive due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. As many as 34,000 pigs have been killed in a single day.

Meat production has increased a staggering 500 percent since 1950 to meet the ever-expanding demand. Factory farms supply 43 percent of the world’s cows and more than half of the world’s pigs and chickens for consumption. So ugly is the industry that we keep it behind closed doors, leaving the dehumanizing task for the most exploited workforce, the immigrant workforce. We do not use the language of the animals; rather we use palatable words that diminish the reality – beef, pork and poultry. In the US, an estimated 70 percent of all antibiotics are fed to pigs, chickens, and cattle. American livestock consumes eight times the amount of antibiotics that humans do.

As well, livestock is a major contributor to deforestation. Since 1970, twenty million hectares (50 million acres) of tropical forest in Latin America have been cut down for livestock production. Meat production’s environmental toll on wilderness destruction, soil erosion, energy waste, and pollution is of such unbelievable scale and magnitude – it can be difficult to comprehend. Yet, it is barely even discussed let alone acted upon.

Read more:The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction: Methane, Propaganda & the Architects of Genocide | Part IIIAn investigative report:

Jeremy Rifkin Discusses the Relation of  Livestock to our Climate Emergency:

Creative commons photo courtesy of Aaron Laquinto via Flickr.

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