An Open Letter to President Anote Tong from the Republic of Kiribati

The following is a letter I wrote to President Anote Tong from the Republic of Kiribati. It was inspired by a conversation he had with Chris Anderson, the curator of the TED Conference.

11 January 2016

Re: Climate Change and Kiribati: The way we can all make a difference!

Dear Mr. President Tong,

It saddened me greatly to hear about the struggles that the people of Kiribati are facing. Climate change has become a very real problem for you, and sadly far too many world leaders are not reacting strongly enough to the threat it poses.

Listening to your recent conversation with Chris Anderson, I was left humbled and inspired by the courage of you and your people to face this challenges as you adapt to deal with this threat.

At the same time, I can understand your deep frustration in working with large organizations (governments and industry) to take this issue seriously, and take drastic action to curtail this catastrophe.

The status-quo is too profitable, easy, and comfortable for the powerful interests at bay. In the face of such odds, it is easy to get discouraged.

However, you hold a position of incredible respect in front of the people who come to listen to you speak. You have the power to deliver a message of personal action to all those who listen: an action that would do more to slowdown the advance of climate change than the laborious and unfruitful lobbying you have experienced in dealing with industry and governments.

I do not wish to sell you anything. I do not work for any industry interests. All I wish to do is share an idea that can transform the world significantly and help you save your country. If you approach it with an open mind, you will find that my claims are cited and accurate. While this action is simple, it could be difficult for many to implement. Yet, you will become a force of powerful action to all those with whom you share your message.

First let’s look at what the status quo solutions are: switch to renewable energy sources; recycle more; use more public transit; switch to electric vehicles and stop polluting as much.

These are all good solutions but the impact of them is limited.

For instance, converting to wind and solar power will take 20+ years and roughly $43 trillion.1 Do you have this time? How will you encourage organizations to spend this much money? Even if a hundred of you spoke, action of this scale will take a while to implement.

Natural gas is an intermediary solution. However, hydraulic fracking uses 70-140 billion gallons of water annually, and the emissions are still significant.2

What will you do when your peoples way of life is threatened when the oceans are fishless by 2048?3,4 How can you avoid the fact that 3/4th of the world’s fisheries are exploited or depleted?5,6 By giving out more licenses as you are doing? Do you give away the last vestiges of your dwindling fortune or will you ask for something more that everyone can do?

How will you stop the 1-2 acres of rainforest that are being cleared every single second?7 How will you reconcile that the hunger for a so called better life is infecting the rising middle class as the population increases and reaches 8 billion? 10 billion? The world population grows by 228,000 people every single day.8

In all honesty, you are either being deceived, or have resigned your power into the hands of larger players to solve this problem. If you believe that any one country or any one company pledging to reduce their carbon footprint will matter, you are deceiving yourself, and losing precious time in the process. All these issues are massive and ordinary people cannot rally against them. We must surrender our power in the hands of the powerful. You cannot spread a message of true hope this way.

Here is what you must do: you must encourage individual action because you and I cannot afford to keep waiting and hoping and giving away our power to those that have no interest in changing. You tried that for a lifetime and it has not worked.

So what is the most powerful action that everyone can take to stop climate change? What is this thing that causes more greenhouse gases than all of the transportation sector put together? What action could it be that all of us can start taking to halt climate change?

You may laugh at the suggestion I am making. But that would be to your detriment. While you may be applauded by many as you rally against climate change, the actual impact you will make will be minuscule compared to the impact you can make.

The answer is simple: stop eating meat, stop consuming dairy and eggs, and yes, stop eating fish.

Here’s why:

As per the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation modes.9 As for carbon dioxide, livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of it annually, or 51% of all worldwide emissions.10

Cows raised for their meat produce 150 billion gallons of methane every single day.11 Methane is 25-100x more destructive than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period to the environment.12, 13

Beyond that, raising animals for food is responsible for 65% of all nitrous-oxide emissions – a greenhouse gas 296x more potent than carbon dioxide which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years as per the United Nations.14

Are we really going to ask industry to stop polluting when most of the pollution and inaction is due to the willful ignorance on our plates?

Even if we were to stop using fossil fuels, we would exceed 565 gigatonnes limit by 2030, all from raising animals.15 Instead, if we worked to reduce methane emissions, we would create tangible benefits immediately!16

We are also failing to look at the tremendous amount of resources used to eat meat, dairy, fish, and eggs.

1,800 litres of water are used to produce 1 lb of eggs, and 3,406 litres of water are used to produce 1 lb of cheese.17 As for red meat such as beef, it takes 5,678 litres of water to raise 1 lb of beef.30 Indeed, animal agriculture uses between 20%-33% of all fresh water in the world today.18

Animals used to produce food take up a third of the earth’s ice free land.19 Animal agriculture has created more than 500 nitrogen flooded deadzones around the world in our oceans making it the leading cause of ocean dead zones, water pollution, and species extinction in the world.20,21

Why is this?

Because every minute, 7 million pounds of excrement is produced by animals raised for food in the United States alone.22 Because 130 times more animal waste than human waste is produced in the US alone – 1.4 billion tonnes from the meat industry annually.23

Indeed, the leading cause of rainforest destruction is livestock and raising feed for livestock.24 We could push for them to not cut the rainforest, or find other practices. Or we could stop people from wanting to eat meat and tackle the issue at the root.

What about world hunger? How will we feed such a growing number of people? Well, the fact is that we are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people, yet the vast majority of the land and resources are used to raise animals and their feed instead.25

On any given area of land, plants can produce 15x more protein than animals.26 We can feed the world.

If you advocated people to take personal action by cutting the animal foods, you would make each person contribute 50% less carbon dioxide.28 Each person you inspire would help save 4,100 litres of water, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 lbs of carbon dioxide emissions every day!29, 30

President Tong, changing the world begins with changing ourselves. You can be a true messenger of peace as you explain to audiences worldwide that they too can change the world if they change their lifestyle. It is not difficult, nor do you sacrifice your health for it. The science on this is indisputable: when people stop eating meat, dairy, eggs, and fish, and get their nutrition from whole plant based foods, their health improves for the better.

All it requires is a small change every day to eat less animal foods and eat more plant foods. Like with everything, we can get used to this. There is incredible variety, deliciousness, and abundance to be found in this way of life. Whatever discomfort you face initially will go away as people adapt to the rich flavours of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and spices.

Will you take this simple action that can save you, your people, and your country or will you keep spreading the message of false hope? Will you keep labouring into the deaf ears of faceless bureaucracies powered by financial interests and power structures or will you spread the message that can make a difference?

Will you inspire people to take action or will we spend another decade talking more about “awareness”?

The choice is yours.

In writing this, it has been my hope that you look at this issues afresh. I hope it changes your thinking and gives us all real hope. You now have a message of personal action to give everyone. If you wish to speak further, feel free to reach out to me. In my own small way, I have been taking action to work on the same problem that you have been. We are allies ultimately.

You have more to gain from spreading this message than anyone. Don’t let the will of the tongue get in the way of the life of the planet.


Dhawal Tank



The following is a list of citations for all of my claims:

  1. The Cost Of Going Green Globally
  2. “Draft Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources.” EPA Office of Research and Development. United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2011.
  3. “Overfishing: A Threat to Marine Biodiversity.” UN News Center.
  4. “General Situation of World Fish Stocks.” United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
  5. Science, “Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services”.
  6. National Geographic, article Nov. 2006
  7. World Resources Institute, “Keeping Options Alive”.
  8. World Population Data Sheet
  9. Spotlight: Livestock impacts on the environment.
  10. WorldWatch, November/December 2009. Worldwatch Institute, Washington, DC, USA. Pp. 10–19.
  11. Ross, Philip. “Cow farts have ‘larger greenhouse gas impact’ than previously thought; methane pushes climate change.” International Business Times. 2013.
  12. “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions.” Science Magazine.
  13. Ibid.
  14. “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2006.
  15. Oppenlander, Richard A. Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. . Minneapolis, MN : Langdon Street, 2013. Print.
  16. U.N. Press Release, Climate Summit 2014.
  17. “Meateater’s Guide to Climate Change & Health.” Environmental Working Group.
  18. 27%-30%+ of global water consummation is for animal agriculture. 
  19. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “Livestock a major threat to environment”
  20. NOAA News, 2014.
  21. “Risk Assessment Evaluation for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Office of Research and Development. 2004. ; “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2006.
  22. 335 million tons of “dry matter” is produced annually by livestock in the US.“FY-2005 Annual Report Manure and Byproduct Utilization National Program 206.” USDA Agricultural Research Service. 2008.
  23. Animal agriculture: waste management practices. United States General Accounting Office.
  24. “Livestock impacts on the environment.” Food and agriculture organization of the United Nations (fao). 2006. ; World Bank. “Causes of Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon”
  25. Cornell Chronicle, “U.S. could feed 800 million people with grain that livestock eat, Cornell ecologist advises animal scientists”.
  26. “Soy Benefits”. National Soybean Research Laboratory. Retrieved 2010-04-18.
  27. Oil, water: “Sustainability of meat-based and plant-based diets and the environment.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2003.
  28. “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK.” Climactic change, 2014.
  29. “Water Footprint Assessment.” University of Twente, the Netherlands.
  30. Journal of Animal Science. “Estimation of the water requirement for beef production in the United States.” 


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