Our Food And Our Climate- How Does That Go Together?

In light of recent events, I am interrupting my current series on “Debunking Food Myths”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has invited world leaders, from government, finance, business, and civil society to the UN Climate Summit 2014 on September 23rd to galvanize and catalyze climate action.  


Two days before the UN Climate Summit in New York City, thousands of people participated in the “Climate People’s March” in cities around the world urging their leaders to take drastic measures in the face of severe global climate changes.

FINALLY, this is what excites me, grassroots movements that will change the face of environmental politics. Of course my true hope is that something similar can be accomplished with food- maybe it has already (Rally for a PlantPure Nation, Louisville, Kentucky  http://www.plantpurenation.com/the-film/)

peoples-climate-march-2014-01_83937_990x742 (Photograph National Geographic)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who joined the New York demonstrators, is urging heads of state to take concrete steps to switch to cleaner sources of energy, prevent deforestation, and help vulnerable countries protect themselves from the damaging effects of climate change: persistent droughts, violent storms, forest fires, and sea-level rise. 

In order for us to get motivated and take action we need to be again reminded of the causes for this global crisis.

Greenhouse effect: http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/GreenhouseEffectCauses.php


Burning of Fossil Fuels, Deforestation, Increase in Population, Farming, Industrial waste and landfills

Naturally, all of the above causes are linked to each other. One of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems are LIVESTOCK. Because of its immense impact on the world’s environmental health, the UN undertook a major study called “Livestock’s Long Shadow” in November 2006.

The report states that “Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.”

“The livestock sector is the major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally it is one of the largest sources for greenhouse gases and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading cause for water pollution.”

(Read the whole report on ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e07.pdf)

I know that is a lot already, but keep on reading!

The report focuses on 4 categories of environmental damage caused by livestock production which are:

  • Atmosphere and Climate: Raising of livestock has a larger negative impact on the greenhouse gases than ALL transportation combined. it is responsible for almost 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions, measured in CO2 equivalents, which includes also methane and nitrous oxide. Livestock creates 37% of all methane, a deadly gas with 23 times the global warming potential of CO2: and 65% of all nitrous oxide which has a global warming potential 296 times that of CO2 and also contributes to acid rain. Most of the nitrous oxide comes from manure and a study published in Science magazinefound that this gas is the single most important ozone- depleting substance and is expected to remain the most abundant throughout the twenty first century (A.R.Ravishankara, “Nitrous Oxide: The Dominant Ozone- Depleting Substance Emitted in the 21st Century,” Science, 2009). Beyond all the bug numbers, it boils down to a single problem: too many animals are populating the world.
  • Land degradation and deforesting: Raising livestock accounts for 78% of all agricultural land and 30% of the land surface. Expansion of livestock production is a key factor in deforestation (70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures and feed crops cover a large part of the remainder). About 20% of the world’s pastures, with 73% of rangelands in dry areas have been degraded to some extend through overgrazing, erosion and compaction. As a result of erosion, 30% of the world’s arable land has become unproductive. About 60% of soil that is washed away ends up in rivers, streams and lakes, making waterways more prone to flooding and to contamination from soil’s fertilisers and pesticides (David Pimentel, “Soil Erosion: A Food and Environmental Threat,” Environment, development and Sustainability 8, no 1 (2006).)
  • Water Shortage and Pollution: The UN report stresses the fact that by 2025 64% of the world’s population will live in water- stressed basins. Agricultural water use accounts for about 75% of total global consumption (mainly for animal crop irrigation). It takes 3,000 gallons to grow the feed for enough cow to make a quarter-pound hamburger and between 500 and 1,000 gallons for that cow to fill its udders with a quart of milk. Just 10 pounds of steak equals the water consumption of the average household for ONE year. The depletion of underground aquifers is a rapidly growing problem around the globe (read more on http://water.org). But not only are livestock depleting huge quantities of water: they are also polluting it. The polluting strength of CAVO waste is 160 times greater than that of raw municipal waste and yet there is almost no waste- treatment infrastructure for farmed animals and. Animal waste is not treated to kill pathogens which end up in our water supply. Read this compelling article about the largest spill of hog manure http://wannaveg.com/2007/01/15/rolling-stone-boss-hog/
  • Loss of Species and Biodiversity: Our rapid consumption of resources and growing populations have led to a loss of other forms of life, which has disrupted vital ecosystems around the world. Human activities have raised the rate of extinction to 1,000 times its usual rate. if we continue like that, Earth will experience the sixth great wave of extinctions in billions years of history (more infos on http://www.ciel.org/Bio/index.html). Not only the forest habitats are in trouble, but also the marine ecosystems are in danger. Overfishing, destructive fishing techniques , and other human activities have severely jeopardised the health of many of the world’s fish stocks along with associated marine species and ecosystems. The UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that more than half of ocean fish stocks are exploited at or beyond their capacity.At the same time, our agricultural practices at land pollute the oceans as well. A large fraction of nitrogen – based fertilisers is being washed into the streams and eventually into the oceans where the nitrogen stimulates exceptionally strong  growth of algae which eventually dies and sinks into coastal waters. Bacteria consume the dead algae and they consume the oxygen with it. Eventually, the oxygen levels will drop top zero and so called dead zones remain, where nothing that uses oxygen for growth can live.

But here are some exciting news:

Researchers from Cornell University estimate that for every person who eliminates animal foods from his or her diet, an acre of trees is spared EVERY YEAR. To date, roughly 10 million Americans consider them selves vegetarian and numbers are raising. If 20 million people switched to a plant based diet an area close to 20 million acres of trees will be saved, which is an area almost the size of India.

There is one action, within the grasp of each and every one of us, that could help to turn the tide. And yet most of us don’t know what it is. I am talking about what you put at the end of your fork. 

I know this is a very long post but if you are reading these last lines I am assuming that you must have read all of it. Without really going into depth, I believe we cannot grasp the significance of our often seemingly insignificant actions on the environment and the future of our planet.



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