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Thursday, July 24, 2014


Within a few decades even the winter years will be warm by historical standards, and the "new abnormal" will start across the tropics, where species are least able to adapt to even small variations because they are so used to a constant climate.

Since many biodiversity hotspots - the places richest in species - lie near the Equator, the temperature rise could threaten a large number of land and sea animals as soon as the late 2020s, sharply curtailing species diversity with sweeping ramifications. And yet some scientists still dismiss as unproved the many and frequent climate effects caused by warmer weather, such as tornadoes and hurricanes. But global warming is real. Scientists may disagree about how severe future weather changes will become, but one thing is pretty clear: to a great degree it's man-made, much of it caused by carbon produced by fossil fuels.

Between the middle of the 18th century and 2012 more than 365 billion metric tons of carbon was released into the atmosphere, according to an article in this month's Scientific American. What's your carbon footprint?

But skeptics argue that climate change is not our only problem, and we do not have unlimited resources required to make sweeping changes in how we live. In 2012 in Copenhagen more than 50 economists evaluated 39 proposals on how best to solve the world's most pressing problems. Issues included malnutrition interventions, research and development to increase crop yields, early-warning systems for natural disasters and low-cost drugs for acute heart attack. Global warming barely cracked the top 10.

What do all these issues have in common? They are all related to diet.

It may seem an oversimplification, but extreme measures such as geoengineering solutions, which the Copenhagen experts recommend devoting $1 billion towards, and green energy technology, and other techie solutions to keeping the planet cool are not really needed if we change the way we eat.

Now some experts argue that if you are malnourished and diseased, what the climate will be like at the end of the century is not a high priority. But what if the same thing that causes climate change also contributes to malnourishment and disease, and by addressing the cause of these and other problems you have an instant cure-all? 

Consumption of animal food, particularly those products derived from factory farms, is the cause of all the world's woes. Consider:

Meat is a great carbon emitter. A 2006 UN report showed that global emissions from all livestock operations account for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, even more than cars, trucks and planes. It takes three units of fossil-fuel energy to produce one unit of food energy on average among all agricultural products. But for industrial meat, the ratio can be over thirty-five to one.

Raising animals for slaughter contributes to the prevalence of diseases. The modern intensive confinement production systems is stressful for food animals, and that stress increases both the shedding of pathogenic bacteria and the level of stress hormones that make their way into the food. The use of antiobiotics to prevent disease and stimulate growth in cows and chickens and other animals causes diseases such as MRSA which are highly resistant to treatment and can be deadly in humans.

Twice as much land is used for pasture as is used for crops. What need do we have for increasing crop yields when there are millions of square miles currently used to fatten cows and other farm animals that could instead be used to grow fruits and vegetables and other plant foods, far more nutritious than animal protein, and lower in fat.

More people die of obesity related illnesses than from starvation and malnutrition combined. In obesity, high-fat animal products are largely implicated. Reduce the consumption of meat, cheese and eggs in favor of sweets (fruit) and greens (vegetables) and win the battle of the budge while eliminating world hunger simultaneously

Convinced yet?

Let's go back to some of the top 10 problems the Copenhagen convention focused on. Early warnings for natural disasters? There will be fewer tornadoes and hurricanes as we change our diet, reduce carbon emissions and the world cools. Heart disease? High fat diets are strongly associated with heart attacks, and no drug on the market, or surgical intervention, is as effective as dietary changes in treating this disease, which currently stands as the number 1 killer in America.

So why oh why is the discussion of global warming usually limited to reducing time in your (hybrid) vehicle when the focus should be placed on what's on your fork? In the debate over what to do about climate change and other pressing issues, the elephant in the room, our insatiable appetite for flesh and the widespread ramifications of what we eat, gets largely ignored. Maybe if more plant-eaters are on such panels the dietary changes would receive the attention they deserve. We are running out of options and time.

But until you get elected to a panel of one to decide the fate of the planet, choose plants.

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