Before the Industrial Revolution, the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere was around 275 parts per million (ppm).
In 2008, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies director James Hansen (famed for his 1988 Congressional testimony on climate change that raised awareness of global warming), published a study that found that the safe limit of atmospheric carbon (at least for humanity) is 350 ppm.
Currently, we are at 390 ppm. It’s safe to say that at no other time in human history has the status quo been so dangerous.
To help increase the awareness of this issue, American environmentalist and writer (and Time magazine’s “world’s best green journalist”) Bill McKibben founded 350.org, “an international campaign that’s building a movement to unite the world around solutions to the climate crisis — the solutions that science and justice demand,” according to the Web site.
350.org has designated Monday (10/10/10) as the day for their Global Work Party, what organizers are hoping will be “the biggest day of practical action to cut carbon that the world has ever seen.”
Food is only part of the global warming story, but it’s a big part.
In his GaiaDiscovery.com article “How Will Global Warming Affect Food Production,” Henrylito D. Tacio notes that global warming can reduce rice yields. “Rice is the principal food for over 60 percent of mankind,” writes Tacio. “It is particularly important to Asia where over half of the world’s population lives.”
A 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that found that current meat production levels contribute upward of 22 percent of the 36 billion tons of world’s ‘CO2-equivalent’ greenhouse gases.
“It turns out that producing half a pound of hamburger for someone’s lunch…releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles,” notes Nathan Fiala in the Scientific American article “How Meat Contributes to Global Warming.”
Additionally, the U.N. estimates that agriculture — in particular meat and dairy production — accounts for 70% of global freshwater consumption and almost 40% of the Earth’s total land area usage. Much of that land has been cleared of trees, which perform the invaluable ecosystem service of carbon storage. Since a single tree can store over 1 ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime, cutting down a forest to make room for cattle-grazing is much more than a double-whammy when it comes to carbon emissions.
A new study has found that news coverage of animal welfare issues has actually reduced meat consumption. Recently, the United Nations recommended that humans eat less meat. But there’s still a long way to go before the carbon emissions from the meat industry are significantly reduced. Of course, overpopulation will continue to be a primary issue — especially if all those new humans are raised to be carnivores. But increasingly, parents are choosing to raise vegetarian children.
Unsurprisingly, many Global Work Party events around the world that have been registered with 350.org focus on the connection between food and climate change.
Residents of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, will be planting a food forest, “a complete, productive, abundant, organic ecosystem of food-bearing trees and plants which requires very little maintenance.” Auckland, New Zealand will be mounting a Vegetarian Food and Lifestyle Festival. In Capetown, South Africa, people will be rolling up their sleeves and working at the Makhaza Wetland Park and Food Garden.
Even if you don’t start or join an official Global Work Party event on Monday, take a moment to think about what you eat, how it got there and how your food choices can help get the world below 350 ppm.