I love myself the most when I know I’m actively making kind choices for the environment and doing my part to preserve the future of the planet for all creatures that will live here even after I’m gone. Caring about the health of the planet can be contagious as our lifestyle choices influence those around us! Instead of denying the existence of global warming or avoiding the issue of climate change because they’re intimidating, scary or confusing, we need to open our eyes nice and wide to what is actually happening on planet earth and the consequences we are expected to face. The recipes on this website, in Love Your Body and my upcoming cookbook are all vegan not just for health reasons or because I love animals, but avoiding animal products, especially meat, is one of the most effective means we possess of reducing our eco-footprint. We actually can do something about Mother Nature’s impending fever and all the people, wildlife, and habitats that are affected.
The photos in this post are from a recent trip to Yosemite National Park!
A Truly Eco-Friendly Diet Is Plant Based
Did you know that a person adopting a vegetarian diet for a year would reduce more emissions than someone swapping their gas-guzzling SUV for a Toyota Prius? While the causes of global warming are multifaceted, consuming a healthy, plant-based diet filled with nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables is actually one of the most effective and most feasible strategies we possess to combat the most threatening greenhouse gases over the next few decades. The evidence is concrete rather than controversial that humans are responsible for the dramatic increase in greenhouse gas levels and that factory farming is a substantial part of the greenhouse gas emissions pie. Understanding why a reduction in factory farming practices would be a tremendous advantage in one of the greatest battles of our lifetime is essential if we are to move forward toward a greener, less catastrophic future. Given that 2000 to 2009 was the hottest decade on record or that sea levels have risen between 4 and 8 inches worldwide during the past century (experts predict they could rise as much as 2 feet before 2100), it has never been a better time to start caring!
The knowledge that the same foods that make us beautiful, healthy, and smart can actually make the planet a better place and protect susceptible nations and vulnerable species from the impacts of climate change is sensationally amazing when you think about it! Adhering to the mindset that loving yourself actually stems from loving the world around you, this idea is a vital component to the journey toward feeling emotionally and intellectually at peace with ourselves and loving who we are, both inside and out.
Global warming is real, and if you disagree, you’re going up against organizations such as the United Nations (UN), Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NASA even has a Website devoted to disproving skeptics with impressive data, titled “Climate Change: How Do We Know?” This article painstakingly details current statistics concerning rises in sea levels, warming oceans, melting glaciers, declining Arctic ice sheets, increases in ocean acidification, extreme weather events, and heightened average temperature trends all over the world. To disagree would also mean dissension with 100 world governments and most countries around the world. The Pew Global Attitudes Project surveyed 15 countries and found that only the Chinese expressed apathy toward climate change similar to Americans’.
Anyone seeking advice on ways to reduce our global foot- print will easily find magazine articles and online reports advising us to buy energy-efficient products, drive less and in more fuel-efficient cars, use hot water less frequently, and plant trees, for example. While these are all fantastic recommendations and I support these strategies, these actions actually have far less of a mitigating effect on global warming than does the act of reducing or eliminating animal products from our diets. In fact, a 2006 UN Food and Agriculture report, which was neglected by the American media, announced that worldwide livestock farming is the number-one cause of climate change ~ more than all planes, trains, cars, and boats worldwide! To put a number on it, World Bank analysts have calculated that livestock are responsible for up to 51 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. This figure includes the environmental effects of methane, land use, respiration, and other greenhouse gases released by the production of factory-farmed animal products alone. The same report calculated that domesticated animals cause 32 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, more than the combined impact of industry and energy.
Plenty of magazines, websites and blogs describe actions we can take to live more eco-friendly lives, yet rarely do I see recommendations to consume less meat. Plus, less meat means less breast cancer! I can’t decide whether this is more strange or frustrating, given the immense data on the tremendous relationship between livestock farming, environmental degradation and greenhouse gas emissions. Be prepared to start talking about black carbon and nitrous oxide with your girlfriends, because climate change is hella interesting and possibly the most critical issue of our time!
Reduce Gross Global-Warming Gases
When we think about global warming, most of us have been taught that rising levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere are our greatest gaseous threat. But what about black carbon (informally known as soot)? No, I don’t hear too many people talking about that. How about nitrous oxide or methane? Nope, not nearly as much. If I ask my friends if they know what black carbon is, most of them just stare at me blankly. I didn’t even know what black carbon was until I attended a conference devoted to climate change. The kicker here is that while we focus on CO2, this particulate and other gases pose a more immediate threat in terms of the warming we see today. And while many factors contribute to C02 emissions, the releases of black carbon, nitrous oxide and methane are all largely rooted in modern factory-farming practices, destruction of rain forests, and the production of food to feed factory-farmed animals. According to a report from EarthSave International, “Other greenhouse gases trap heat far more powerfully than CO2, some of them tens of thousands of times more powerfully . . . Sources of non-CO2 greenhouse gases are responsible for virtually all the global warming we are going to see for the next half century.”
I used to think rising carbon dioxide levels were our biggest climate-change nemesis until I had the privilege of attending one truly remarkable global warming conference in the United Kingdom in 2010, hosted by the World Preservation Foundation and filled with the many respected scientists who meticulously study climate change. The world’s leading experts gave lectures about black carbon, nitrous oxide and methane gas’s contribution to global warming, and I sat in the audience positively baffled as I learned, for instance, that “methane heats the Earth 100 times more than CO2 in 5 years of time (or 72 times in 20 years’ time).” Dr. Kirk Smith, professor of global environmental health at the University of California–Berkeley, stated, “A ton of methane emitted today will exert more warming in one year than a ton of CO2 emitted today would exert until 2075.” So while it is true that human activity produces much more carbon dioxide than other greenhouse gases, more in this case does not mean more powerful. In fact, other greenhouse gases trap heat far more strongly, even tens of thousands of times more strongly for some of them.
You might be wondering what these gases have to do with what we eat and how we feel about our bodies, but the link between our factory farming and levels of these gases in the atmosphere is undeniable, and minimizing or eliminating animal products from our diets is the best solution we have. As far as our bodies are concerned, educating ourselves about atmospheric black carbon might not make us skinny or help us clear up our skin, but I do believe increasing our knowledge about atmospheric black carbon might not make us skinny or help us clear up our skin, but I do believe increasing our knowledge about how we can help the world makes us more beautiful on the inside. Besides, you will sound awesomely intelligent when you begin talking about reducing atmospheric black carbon and nitrous oxide levels to combat global warming! The billions of animals on factory farms are one of the biggest polluters on the planet and our greatest source of potent greenhouse gas emissions. To understand why factory farming is so destructive to the environment, we need to get the lowdown on the gases I mentioned above and why they trap heat in the atmosphere like it’s their full-time job.
Black carbon (BC) is a light-absorbing little particle, technically the carbonaceous component of soot. It’s a greenhouse particle that traps heat a whopping 680 times more effectively than CO2 and causes the ice sheets and glaciers at the poles to melt even faster than they would via temperature rises alone. Tiny particles of BC possess an impressive dose of power and experts have concluded that they add two to three times more energy to the climate system than an equivalent mass of CO2.
What’s the #1 cause of black carbon in the atmosphere? Why, factory farming, of course! BC is produced primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass, with the burning of trees in the Amazon rain forest being the largest source. How is factory farming related to deforestation of the Amazon? The awful reality is that many of the statuesque trees of the Amazon are burned and chopped to make way for farmland used to produce feed crops, which are fed to livestock. More specifically, calculations by scientists at the University of Washington and the World Bank have found that 80 percent of Amazon deforestation is due to human activities, specifically for grazing pasture or to produce soybeans to feed to farm animals. Scientists have concluded that 60 percent of black carbon particles in Antarctica actually come all the way from rain-forest lands near the equator. Hence, grazing practices are the #1 contributor to Amazon deforestation, which subsequently releases black carbon into the atmosphere, which in turn melts glaciers in Antarctica. Now, that’s some pretty ridiculous science!
As a tremendous contributor to the melting of the polar ice caps, BC represents a quarter of observed global warming in the Antarctic region. Little but not-so-innocent BC is so powerful because it reduces reflectivity on the surface of ice caps, which increases the rate of melting. Even when air temperatures are below freezing, black carbon causes ice to melt. The dark color of black carbon adds to its heat-absorbing properties, and once melting begins, a domino effect occurs in which darker earth or water below snow or ice becomes exposed and promotes further melting. Glaciers hate black carbon. As black carbon induces melting on the surface of glaciers, the resulting water percolates down through cracks in the ice and increases lubrication at the bottom of the glacier, causing the glacier to flow increasingly rapidly. This is just one massive positive feedback loop that can and will cause our massive glaciers not to be so massive anymore, and most likely, cause them to disappear completely. As we see a continuous rise in ocean water levels, massive flooding in vulnerable countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Pakistan is now becoming a formidable threat with the potential to cost billions of dollars in repairs.
Reports from scientists indicate that our most effective weapon in the battle against global warming in the next few years will be to reduce black carbon levels rather than CO2 in the atmosphere, because black carbon is a short-lived climate forcer (SLCF), with forcible warming effects in the short term, unlike CO2, which is a long-acting greenhouse gas. As Mother Earth heats up over the next few years, reducing levels of black carbon will be essential to cooling her mounting temperature increases in a fast amount of time. Given that scientists have shown that SLCFs can reduce the earth’s rate of warming to less than 2°C by 2070, this is something massive we can do to slow down warming!
We are losing 11⁄2 acres of Amazon rain forest each second, and much of this deforestation is occurring for the simple purpose of producing more land to cultivate soybean crops to feed animals on factory farms. Most people have no idea that this is why we are destroying all that forest! As demand for meat rises in both the developed and developing world due to population growth and increased wealth (mostly among developing countries), we are becoming increasingly needy of fertile land to grow soybeans and other crops used to feed livestock. We simply don’t have enough land in the United States to meet current demands. Soybean, corn, and wheat grown in the Amazon are used to feed animals on factory farms in the United States and elsewhere. This is a long chain of events, and it’s crazy, yet frightfully true, that we can connect animal product consumption to rising levels of black carbon in the atmosphere and the rapid warming of the earth that comes with it.
It’s tempting to ignore the relationship between animal product consumption and something as tremendous as the melting of the polar ice caps. Given that so many people relish a good hamburger, confronting the truth is difficult. It would be difficult for me to give up fresh peaches, blueberries, and mangoes, so I’ve thought about what it would be like if I learned that by giving up peaches, blueberries, or mangoes I could fight global warming. It didn’t take me long to make a decision. I would just consume more strawberries, melons, and apples as an alternative. Most meat eaters have no idea how divine meatless meals can taste and that helping the environment and protecting our health by eliminating or reducing animal products is really not much of a sacrifice at all.
The crazy link between livestock production and climate change by no means ends with black carbon or carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is actually a much more formidable threat to global temperature rise over the next few decades than carbon dioxide or methane and is up there with black carbon in its short-term impact on climate change. Richard Conant, Queensland University of Technology professor and member of a Nobel Prize– winning team of scientists, has advocated that we all turn our attention to nitrous oxide emissions, given that N2O is 296 times more heat trapping than carbon dioxide. N2O traps heat so efficiently because these particles absorb much more energy per molecule than a molecule of CO2 does. Therefore, per molecule, N2O is the biggest destroyer of the cushioning ozone layer that surrounds the earth. Referring to the energy-radiation capacity of major greenhouse gases, Conant reports, “Let’s say carbon dioxide has an impact of one, methane has an impact of say 21 times, and nitrous oxide has an even bigger impact, something like 300 times the impact of CO2.” On top of the incredible energy-absorbing capacity of N2O, it is also very persistent in the atmosphere, where it can remain for up to 150 years. N2O is such a powerful ozone layer antagonist that doubling its concentration in the atmosphere would result in a 10 percent decrease in the ozone layer, which would increase ultraviolet radiation reaching the earth by 20 percent. This means that we can make great strides against global warming by reducing N2O in the atmosphere!
Livestock activities contribute two-thirds of all anthropogenic N2O levels and as much as 75 to 80 percent of agricultural emissions of N2O. Most N2O comes from manure, but much of it is produced by feed-related fertilizers used to grow the crops fed to factory-farmed animals. A large portion of grain and other crops is fed to animals rather than to people, and mineral fertilizers (which produce N2O as a by-product) are applied to most of this cropland. Scientists estimate that 20 to 25 percent of mineral fertilizer goes directly to crops that are used to feed livestock. Although we cannot completely avoid releasing N2O into the atmosphere, we can greatly reduce levels by eating more plant foods instead of animal products. And we can cut manure production by not eating animal products or by minimizing our consumption of them. That sounds like a good deal to me!
There may not be as much methane in the atmosphere as there is carbon dioxide, but don’t be fooled by atmospheric concentrations alone. What methane lacks in atmospheric concentration, it makes up for in potency. As I stated earlier in this chapter, methane is 100 times more potent than CO2 over a 5-year period and 72 times more potent than CO2 over a 20-year period. While CO2 wins the atmospheric concentration competition, this doesn’t mean there isn’t oodles of methane released into the atmosphere via human practices, primarily animal agriculture. The amount of methane released into the atmosphere from factory farming alone amounts to millions of metric tons annually! Globally, livestock release 100 million metric tons of methane each year, accounting for 28 percent of all global methane emissions from human-related activities. Yikes. Here in the United States, cattle release 5.5 million metric tons of methane every year. This does make sense given that there are more than 100 million cattle in the United States at any given time and about 1.2 billion cattle raised for food around the world.
Granted, each cow produces only so much methane, but the collective effect of the hundreds of millions of livestock animals worldwide is simply incredible. Eighty-five percent of this methane is released from the digestive processes of livestock, and the rest of the agricultural methane emissions are released from massive “lagoons” used to store untreated farm animal waste, also a target of environmentalists for their role as the primary source of water pollution in the United States. Other sources of human-induced methane emissions include coal mining, gas and oil refining, rice cultivation, waste, and on a much smaller level, energy and fossil fuel production. However, it is difficult to reduce these sources of methane emissions. As stated by the World Preservation Foundation in its report Livestock’s Climate Impact, “Clearly the most effective means of reducing methane emissions is to reduce livestock production.” This knowledge becomes especially relevant given that reducing atmospheric methane concentrations is our most effective means of combating ground-level ozone.
While we should focus on curbing carbon dioxide emissions, this is no walk in the park compared with the simple act of switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Resolutions to cut back on CO2 are impossible without drastically weakening our economy; even the most innovative strategies fail to cut CO2 emissions by more than half. And who doesn’t enjoy instant gratification? Shifting in the meat-free direction will enable us to witness greenhouse gas reductions at a much faster, more noticeable rate than CO2 reduction strategies. The turnover rate for farm animals is 1 to 2 years, so decreases in meat consumption would lead to an almost immediate drop in black carbon, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions. Moving away from fossil-fuel-burning activities from power plants and cars, on the other hand, can take many decades. Practically speaking, it’s much easier to go meat free than to fight powerful and wealthy corporations, such as the auto and oil industries. We all have it in our power to decide what to eat, but not all of us can afford to buy a more expensive yet fuel-efficient vehicle or live in an eco-friendly house. Reducing or eliminating meat is simple and it is effective!