It’s getting HOT in here
Many vegans talk about climate change and how it is related to animal agriculture, and this is a great tool to have because people have a deep fear of climate change. But few really understand it. Climate change is not something that is coming, or something that may or may not happen, climate change is here and it is already impacting on the planet and all who live here. In the book Food Choice and Sustainability, Dr Oppenlander talks about climate change as being the most urgent, most common and most damaging threat that humans are currently facing, and while also acknowledging it is only part of environmental destruction, it is the blanket term often used to illuminate future climate issues. The current path to climate change has been likened to a car that is about to drive over a cliff in a fog, we can’t see the cliff, but we know it is there, and what we already know about climate change is cause enough for great concern. The only things left to wonder about now are; just how bad it will get and how quickly it will unfold. The collision course with climate change is imminent, it requires urgent action, and it is anthropogenic climate change that we all have a choice to halt or encourage.
What Is Climate Change & What Is Causing It
Climate change is a blanket term used to describe the way that the earth is responding to pollution and environmental destruction. As toxic gasses are released into the air at an alarming rate, and forests are quickly disappearing, also at an alarming rate, the globe is heating up, drying out and becoming more violent. The earth is highly temperature sensitive and just a single degree can cause serious changes in ecosystems and weather patterns however; we are facing far more than that. There is some naturally occurring atmospheric change expected, however, the rapid climate change and environmental degradation that is currently being witnessed in the world is a direct result of anthropogenic activities; it is being caused by humans.
Although it is often transport and the burning of fossil fuels for energy that takes the public blame for climate change and environmental degradation, it is in fact the animal agricultural industry that makes up the bulk of the most damaging greenhouse gasses, and the very bad news is that these are far more toxic and damaging than the emissions from transport and energy production. While carbon dioxide remains the most common pollutant, it is not the most dangerous or the most likely to be driving climate change. Carbon dioxide remains demonized and keeps the global focal point on fossil fuels and energy consumption, and it certainly is problematic, however, methane has an impact 23x more damaging and nitrous oxide has a huge 310x the potential to cause global warming, so while these may be less prolific, they cause a lot more damage. Most importantly the majority of these most dangerous gasses come from animal agriculture alone. But this is not the only problem, we are not only filling up the atmosphere with dangerous gasses, we are also drastically reducing our planets capacity to filter gasses by destroying rainforest area, and again this is being done to make room for livestock.
The New Geography
It is now predicted that rising sea levels will begin to displace millions of people within the very near future, creating climate refugees and complex environmental problems as well as drastically changing eco-systems. There will also be an increase in dangerous and life threatening extreme weather events all around the world. Rising sea levels will not only displace people creating climate refugees, it will also change coastal eco systems with the infiltration of saltwater which will be able to pass into freshwater supply and also into groundwater. This will create great problems for growing produce, as previously fertile soil will change and no longer be suitable for growing. The results of this will be both food and water shortages as well as drastic ecosystem changes and the loss of habitat for native animals. Food and clean water supply will be severely disrupted by even small temperature changes with some areas becoming infertile.
Intensive livestock farming has permanently changed the global map and this will continue. Deforestation, desertification, ocean dead zones, drought, melting polar caps and rising sea levels have changed the landscape as we know it, and while it can be slowed, it is highly unlikely that it can ever be repaired. There are serious repercussions of the world’s current food system, and it is safe to place blame on animal agriculture for severely jeopardizing the future of this planet and humans ability to survive on it long term. This is not a theory or a vague prediction; there are countless scientific studies that have resulted in this conclusion. Land and water misuse, unequal grain distribution, energy overconsumption, air pollution, deforestation and species extinction, can each be strongly related back to animal agriculture. When viewed as a comparative impact, it is livestock that trumps transport in the lead towards future climate catastrophe, which is why the current food system needs to be addressed urgently alongside other contributing issues. It is also the easiest step people can take to combat climate change because it requires very little time, energy and cost and can be completely self-directed.
Food ; Water Shortage
For those living in poverty, climate change will have the greatest impact. Poverty makes people extremely vulnerable, whether it is relative poverty or extreme poverty, and climate change will be felt hard by the poorest people on this planet. Extreme weather events will cause considerable breakdown of the infrastructure that supports life across the whole world, and this will potentially compromise the health and wellbeing of billions of people. It will be typically vulnerable people who are most at risk of suffering from climate change; the sick, elderly, disabled, poor and marginalized, and the young will bear the brunt of extreme weather events and this will occur in both in underdeveloped and developed nations as populations struggle to cope with changes in food supply, increasing food prices, water shortages, increasing temperatures and natural hazards such as flood, drought and severe storms.
The World’s Most Vulnerable People
Climate change is not something mythical that is looming around the corner, climate change is here and it is happening in real time with the whole human population able to bear witness to the process. Many activists believe that climate change is a violation of human rights including the basic right to life which will be threatened because of an increase in disasters, food shortages, conflict and water shortage. The events that are expected to unfold will directly threaten life and also quality of life. This is leaving an unfair burden to future generations who will not only have reduced resources, but they will also have a volatile climate to live in. Food and water shortage will be a defining power struggle for the whole human race as global warming continues to skyrocket at unprecedented rates. Not only is there already a global power imbalance in food distribution and costing, but unstable weather, changing landscapes and continued growth of the unsustainable western diet will compound food supply issues for a growing world population. Health concerns such as asthma, allergies, heart attacks and heat stroke will become more frequent with more intense weather patterns, but there will also be long term consequences such as malnutrition and starvation from reduced food supply, and serious health complications from lack of clean water. Violent weather is something that we can expect more of and this will endanger lives and endanger life sustaining infrastructure such as; buildings, roads, public transport, housing, hospitals, telecommunications and schools which can all be lost or damaged, and this makes disaster recovery complicated for those involved.
Intergenerational Environmental Justice
Children deserve special mention, because it is children who face the greatest challenges. They are born into a polluted world, and will be living with the pollution from conception and throughout their whole life. The potential health effects specific to children include; low birth weight, failure to thrive, immune system disorders, chronic disease, malnutrition and increased risk of infectious disease, heat stroke, respiratory illness and neurological conditions, as well as psychological trauma. Children are facing a unique threat that has never been seen before, they are now being born to parents who have lived with toxic greenhouse gasses and the beginnings of climate change, and they are vulnerable to intergenerational exposure. They will live their whole lives in a polluted world facing extreme complexity in their future. Young children and unborn babies are significantly more vulnerable to toxins as this is a critical time for development, and as such children should be considered in a different way when addressing future issues and environmental protection. The term ‘intergenerational justice’ is referred to when discussing the long term effect of climate change and the way future generations will suffer.
War & Collective Violence
The United Nations has now recognized that climate change will impinge on the rights of people across the globe, and this has been acknowledged within their institution and publications. War and civil conflict is one way that this will play out on the global stage. There is a known causal link between extreme weather events and war. Increased violence will happen as a result of climate change and environmental degradation, including the loss of natural resources, and there will be a dramatic increase in refugees fleeing violence in search of safety, of food and water, and the ability to earn a living. War and collective violence creates a great burden for the human race, and this will cause great suffering and the loss of many human rights as well as serious health threats and mass casualties. It is power relationships that have defined poverty and marginalization, and power imbalance that will continue to define vulnerable populations as the climate becomes more volatile. There is already a well-established link between natural weather extremes and conflict and this includes incidents of drought and water shortages that have previously resulted in civil war. All life has the right to a basic standard of living and the right to life. War and conflict will itself cause great suffering and loss of life due to changing landscapes, food and water shortage, drought, flood or a fight for natural resources.
How About The Animals
Animals are severely vulnerable to the extreme weather and habitat loss that is happening because of climate change. Heatwaves, drought, flood, fires, severe storms and changing landscape will place their life in immense danger and cause great stress and suffering. While the collective focus often remains on the way that humans will be impacted, animals remain at the forefront of environmental destruction. Habitat loss and dramatic habitat changes will mean that many species will be lost and the physical impact of extreme weather will cause death and injury to wild animals and domestic companions. There will not be an animal on this planet who doesn’t feel the effects of climate change, some will suffer far more than others and many will be lost forever, this is a tragic loss for all and should form a key point of argument against climate change.
While There Is Life There Is Hope
There are extensive environmental issues that will have a negative impact on life and quality of life for everyone living on this planet, and sadly the future and climate change are already here. While the impact and timeline is not known, urgent action is needed to protect the most vulnerable citizens of this earth. It is possible to slow climate change, as humans we all have the autonomy to change our consumer behaviours and engage in climate protective habits such as plant based and low waste living. However, this requires drastic cultural shift and dedicated collective action, both of which, it is vegans who are leading the way with strength and style!