Note: Consider starting this series from the first post here which sets this decision in a larger context.
I have been a lifelong environmentalist. I remember back when I was a kid, I would be endlessly fascinating by nature. I would revolt when adults around me would litter, and I would be horrified by noxious black smoke erupting outwards from the tailpipes of vehicles clearly not following any regulations when I lived in India. Back then, I did not have any answers. But now I do. And everyone needs to know now more than ever.
when I moved to Canada, I started to see that the problem was greater. I saw the Oscar winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, a shocking look at how we humans are completely destroying our planet with horrible consequences coming up in the future.
Even today, no matter how you slice or dice it, the fact remains that humans are responsible for warming up this planet and the consequences of it are going to be too great to pay. There is a unanimous scientific consensus on this (barring all the work to confuse, obfuscate, and misdirect people from polluting industries’ sponsored so-called experts). The California drought is put one example of this. If you’re still not convinced that this is a real and man-made threat, head on over here and consider the facts.
The real impact of this will grow with time: we will see higher temperatures worldwide (indeed, July 2015 was the warmest year in record globally), entire landscapes will change as a result of this (flooding, droughts, extremes in weather), resulting in wildlife at risk, food supplies will be in jeopardy. More heat related illness and disease will follow. There will be massive movements of human populations to more habitable regions which will invariable result in greater disease epidemics, more wars, and of course, catastrophic economic losses (to the tune of up to $15 trillion (source)).
These are not just theories, but realities which are manifesting everyday. For a list of the impact of climate change, see here.
Here is an interesting TED Talk regarding this:
I encourage you to consider researching this issue a lot more. Climate change is possibly the most significant issue facing our species, and actions need to be taken as the situation worsens.
And indeed, I would often reads the news and was often shocked at how quickly things are deteriorating. I became obsessed with forcing everyone to recycle as much as possible. I was the person who insisted that we roll down the windows in the summer heat instead of turning on the Air Conditioning if it saves some money. I got labelled a “tree-hugger”, but for some reason, I felt more and more powerless as I saw that the net impact of my actions were minimal at best.
Small, mostly useless actions have been the only real tips given to people to curtail climate change. It provides a false sense of being on an ethical high horse. Consider the guidelines given to Californians to deal with the drought of 2015:
2) Don’t rinse scraps of food down the sink after dinner. Scrape them into your garbage pail.
3) It won’t kill you to do dishes in lukewarm water. Pretend you’re “glamping.”
4) While waiting for the dishwater to warm up, use the cooler stream to fill up your pet’s water bowl, or…
5) … fill the ice cube trays
6) … fill reusable water bottles or a water pitcher that you keep in the fridge.
Source: The Los Angeles Time
The Real News
Is this it? Is this supposed to help? Especially given that only 20% of California’s Developed Water Supply goes towards Urban Use. Only about 4% of the State’s total water footprint goes towards individual personal use. However, agriculture uses 80% of California’s water supply. Finally, 47% of the States total footprint is associated with agriculture related to producing meat and dairy (source).
And yet, for some reason, meat and dairy production is not targeted. As per the United Nations, the livestock industry is responsible for more greenhouse gas emission than all transportation modes put together (air, rail, sea, and road) (source). According to the Worldwatch Institute, meat and dairy production is responsible for 51%+ of all greenhouse gas emissions!
So, let’s look at a few indisputable facts:
Meat and Dairy Production is extremely resource intensive. 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef. 477 gallons of water are required to produce 1lb. of eggs; almost 900 gallons of water are needed for 1lb. of cheese.
1,000 gallons/liters of water are required to produce 1 gallon/liter of milk.
Animal Agriculture is responsible for 20% -33% of all fresh water consumption in the world today.
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.
The leading causes of rainforest destruction are livestock and feedcrops.
Update (16 September 2015): Here is a great short 6 minute video describing how we are cooking up a storm through making these sorts of choices:
The answer is simple. While efforts to switch away from fossil fuels, and reduce energy usage by turning off the water taps or lights is admirable, you can have the MOST impact if you were to just give up meat and dairy. For at least 1 day a week if making the change is too drastic for you.
The best thing you can do for the environment is to cut on your meat and dairy consumption (and yes, even seafood).
It is unbelievable that this simple act is somehow not shared much more often. How addicted are we to our taste and existing lifestyles that we won’t take intelligent and meaningful action towards the future of our planet? How entrenched are industries in governments that this topic is never discussed by officials whom we rely on to dispel fiction and promote responsible civic action? How tied are environmental NGOs to their fundraising base to sidestep this issue and not ruffle any feather so that money can keep coming in?
I recommend watching an incredible documentary called Cowspiracy to learn more about the questions above as well as greater elaboration about the topic above.
For me, the answer is clear. Not only do we need to switch to a plants based diet for health, and ethical reasons, but also for environmental reasons. It is, very simply, the most powerful thing you do.
Edit 3 (Feb 2 2016): I wrote an open letter to President Anote Tong about this. Read it here.