Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot
Container City: Shipping containers, indispensable tool of the globalized consumer economy, reflect the skyline in Singapore, one of the world’s busiest ports.
Climate scientists are in agreement that we can’t avoid feeling the impact of climate change (because, hey, they’re already happening), but the key findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report is we can take steps to manage our future risk.
What will that look like in practice? In a word: tofu.
We can have out steak, or we can have our planet — according to a new study published in the journal Climatic Change, we can’t have both. That’s because the world, with its growing population, just can’t sustain continued meat and dairy consumption. Regardless of what else we do, researchers at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden found, agricultural emissions remain a major barrier keeping us from containing global warming below the U.N.’s target of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
National Journal reports on the study:
“In order to have any chance to reach a 2 degree target, fossil-fuel use has to be reduced drastically,” Fredrik Hedenus, the study’s lead author, wrote in an email. “However, what we show is that may not be sufficient, as the agricultural emissions … may be too high. Thus we have to take action in both sectors.” Transportation and energy are the biggest sources of greenhouse gases, but researchers say a global shift in people’s diets is also necessary to contain climate change.”We therefore conclude that dietary changes are crucial for meeting the 2 degree C target with high probability.”
So, how much less meat do we have to eat?
“It all depends how much we can and want to do in the energy sector,” Hedenus explains. “If we do a lot there it may be sufficient with a 25 percent lower meat and dairy consumption than predicted in 2070. If we do less, somewhere around 75 percent less may be reasonable.”
By 2050, the report’s authors say, beef and lamb are estimated to account for half of all agricultural greenhouse gas emissions — but will only contribute to 3 percent of human calorie intake. There are efforts underway to reduce this: As part of the White House’s new plan to slash methane regulations, announced Friday, the government is addressing cow farts and related methane sources head-on. That’s promising, but some would argue that we’re past the point of such technological fixes — that the time has come for massive cultural change.
Still, “broad dietary change can take a long time,” Hedenus admitted. In the meantime, he said, ”We should already be thinking about how we can make our food more climate friendly.”
Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email firstname.lastname@example.org.More Lindsay Abrams.
Man Covering His Mouth: A shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell, Inner Mongolia, China
Angry Crowd: People jostle for food relief distribution following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti
“Black Friday” Shoppers: Aggressive bargain hunters push through the front doors of the Boise Towne Square mall as they are opened at 1 a.m. Friday, Nov. 24, 2007, Boise, Idaho, USA
Suburban Sprawl: aerial view of landscape outside Miami, Florida, shows 13 golf courses amongst track homes on the edge of the Everglades.
Toxic Landscape: Aerial view of the tar sands region, where mining operations and tailings ponds are so vast they can be seen from outer space; Alberta, Canada
Ice Waterfall: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway
Satellite Dishes: The rooftops of Aleppo, Syria, one of the world’s oldest cities, are covered with satellite dishes, linking residents to a globalized consumer culture.
Child Brides: Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010.
Megalopolis: Shanghai, China, a sprawling megacity of 24 Million
Big Hole: The Mir Mine in Russia is the world’s largest diamond mine.
Clear-cut: Industrial forestry degrading public lands, Willamette National Forest, Oregon
Computer Dump: Massive quantities of waste from obsolete computers and other electronics are typically shipped to the developing world for sorting and/or disposal. Photo from Accra, Ghana.
Oil Spill Fire: Aerial view of an oil fire following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico
Airplane Contrails: Globalized transportation networks, especially commercial aviation, are a major contributor of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Photo of contrails in the west London sky over the River Thames, London, England.
Fire: More frequent and more intense wildfires (such as this one in Colorado, USA) are another consequence of a warming planet.