#1 Environmental Issue This Earth Day — Can You Guess It?

clearing land livestock production earth day

Today, the #1 cause of numerous environmental problems, including our #1 problem of global warming (perhaps the biggest threat humanity has ever faced), is related to our food choices. I could probably write a book on it, but a great post someone shared with me yesterday and a great video someone else shared with me yesterday tackle this issue very well, so I think that for now I’ll just leave you with those. First is the video, a TEDxTC video of Jonathan Foley talking about “the largest driver of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental destruction” and solutions to our dilemma (this is a very eye-opening video). Following that is a full repost from Robert Goodland via Chopping Climate Change! on similar topics — enjoy!

The common view of climate change is 20 years old, requiring fossil fuels to be replaced quickly with renewable energy infrastructure.  That hasn’t happened –- and it’s now estimated to cost $18 trillion and take at least 20 more years to build.  Yet we can see our climate worsening quickly.

What may be the best business case for reversing climate change is set out on a new website at http://www.chompingclimatechange.org.  It’s underpinned by a World Watch article that I co-authored, explaining that almost the entire goal of today’s international climate objectives can be achieved by replacing just 1/4 of today’s least eco-friendly food products with better alternatives.

From a consumer perspective, the required change can be made by people who would scarcely notice the difference in replacing carbon-intensive meat and dairy products with substitutes such as seitan-based “chicken,” soy-based “beef,” nut-based milks, and coconut-based ice cream.  People may not recognize it, but their food habits are greatly induced by marketing, which today promote meat and dairy products strenuously.  Yet marketing can promote alternatives instead, and trying tasty new foods is normally considered desirable.

From a food industry perspective, meat and dairy substitutes can be promoted like digital technology.  Within a decade, manufacturers have switched almost entirely from analog televisions and telephones to digital versions -– propelled by savings in materials and energy use, along with other improvements.  Like digital technology, meat and dairy substitutes can deliver better quality at lower cost, while fulfilling the world’s priority of preventing climate disruption.

A shocking forty-five percent of all land on earth is today used for raising livestock and growing crops to feed them.  But most land used for livestock and crops can grow trees instead.  Reforestation and regeneration of forest are the only ways to create new, large-scale capacity to sequester today’s excess atmospheric carbon.  If it is not sequestered, then it will take at least a century to dissipate.

Replacing 1/4 quarter of today’s livestock products with alternatives would allow forest to regenerate on a vast amount of land.  As a result, this may be the only pragmatic way to stop global warming in the next 5 years –- which many experts believe may be the last chance to avoid irreversible climate disruption.  For example, it’s the view of the International Energy Agency, not a radical group.

Some argue that millions of poor people have no alternative to raising livestock for their livelihoods.  But tens of millions of poor people’s livestock have died recently due to climate disasters.  Replacing them would risk a similar fate for the new animals.  Supporting new livelihoods for those whose livestock die in climate disasters would be less risky.  Microfinance, mobile banking, computers, and off-grid electricity have generated dramatic growth in many poor rural communities.

Agriculture is outdoors to a unique degree, exposing it to greater risk from livestock-related emissions than any other industry’s risk from the same emissions.  So food industry leaders have a compelling commercial incentive to reduce these emissions.  Meat and dairy substitutes require no subsidies or offsets.  Consumers can buy more of them tomorrow.

Renewable energy must still be increased on a large scale to keep emissions and atmospheric carbon down over the long term.  But replacing at least 25% of today’s livestock products with substitutes is the only way for food industry leaders and consumers collectively to take to take a single, powerful action to reverse climate change quickly. 

About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009.

Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity.

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