A Living Breathing Solution to the Problem of Global Warming
I live and work near the quaint little town of Boonville in Anderson Valley, which is perhaps Northern California’s most secluded wine valley. Before the winery craze found its way here in the 1970’s, the Valley was a haven of apple orchards surrounded by lovely mountainside pastureland and crowned with majestic California Coastal Redwoods.
Coastal Redwoods still adorn Anderson Valley, but few working apple farms remain. Still, every September Boonville hosts the popular Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show. ‘Apple Jack,’ a bright red apple riding a bucking bronco remains the fair logo even though bulldozers have ingloriously torn away most of the Valley’s apple orchards to make way for the more economically viable vineyards. But ‘Apple Jack’ remains the emblem of the County Fair as a sort of tribute to simpler times—times past when discussions of volatile subjects like agricultural pollution were almost unheard of in this secluded farming community.
On a recent cool spring evening I was among the crowd that had gathered nearby for the screening of the environmental documentary, Home.
During the pre-movie chitchat a friend asked if I had seen Al Gore’s 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth. “Yes,” I said, “but I don’t think Al Gore has that much to say to me personally.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, he made the documentary to alert people to the danger of global warming and to encourage them to do something about it. Gore recommended, recycling, driving hybrids, turning down the heat, using those squiggly light bulbs (compact fluorescent tubes, or CFTs), not smoking, and well, that’s basically it. I’m already fairly educated as to the threat of global warming, and I’m already a non-smoking, hybrid driving, squiggly bulb using recycler, so what would Al Gore have to say to me? Actually if everyone were like me the world would be in much better shape environmentally1.”
“I feel the same about myself,” said Dan, my outspoken, politically-active neighbor. I too believe that if everyone were like me the world would be in better shape. In fact I gave everyone on my list those squiggly light bulbs for Christmas. I agree that Gore’s recommendations don’t go nearly far enough. In my opinion what is needed is a radical solution—a radical solution that is both practical and spiritual.”
“You got one?” I asked.
“I don’t have a comprehensive solution,” he replied, “but I do walk a lot and if everyone did the same that would be a start. If I happen to drive to the market I make it a habit to walk from there to the post office rather than start my car just to drive another block. You wouldn’t believe how many people waste precious energy by making this short unnecessary drive, one that in my opinion demonstrates a lack of awareness and concern.”
Sensing here that Dan and I were about to begin a session of dueling environmentalism I decided to lay all my cards on the table.
“Well I have a solution,” I said. “Actually I am a solution. I am a living breathing solution to the problem of global warming.”
“Yes, I am a solution to global warming. I say this truly believing that if everyone were like me the problem of global warming would gradually disappear. Gore’s efforts at promoting awareness are laudable, but he stops short with his recommendations. Basically he asks us to take the same steps in energy conservation that we have been encouraged to take for the last twenty years. Any nonsmoker who is diligent about recycling and saving energy could be Al Gore’s dream citizen. Unfortunately being on his dream team is just not enough. To solve the crisis people will have to make substantial personal sacrifices, foremost among those would be to give up eating meat and to stop making so many babies—an inconvenient truth indeed.”
Without elaborating on the issue of cruelty, the simple act of becoming vegetarian dramatically reduces energy use, subsequently reducing dangerous emissions on multiple levels. Researchers at the University of Chicago say that the average American can do more to reduce global warming emissions by becoming a vegetarian than by switching to a Toyota Prius, which is presently the most efficient hybrid car on the market.
According to a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization at least eighteen percent of the global warming effect comes from the livestock industry. In the United States over one third of all fossil fuels produced are used to raise animals for food. This includes the energy expended in growing and transporting the massive amounts of grain and soy needed to feed the approximately ten billion animals killed for food in the U.S. every year. These animals are trucked from feedlots to slaughterhouses, trucked again to processing plants, then trucked again to market. All the while huge amounts of energy are used to preserve the meat. Overall it takes from 8 to 30 times more energy to produce meat protein than it does to produce the same amount of grain protein.
Furthermore, farm animals are among the main causes of the destruction of the world’s forests. Presently, approximately 70% of former Amazon rainforest is used for pastureland, and animal feed crops cover much of what remains. According to vegetarian activist John Robbins (of Baskin and Robbins fame), the average vegan uses about 1/6 of an acre of land to satisfy his or her food requirements for a year; the average vegetarian who consumes dairy products and eggs requires about three times that, and the average meat-eater requires about twenty times that. As for water use Robbins says that it takes 108 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat whereas producing a pound of beef requires 12,000 gallons of water. This statistic hit close to home when we read of a proposal to build a slaughterhouse just outside our beautiful Anderson Valley. Apart from stench and a variety of dangerous greenhouse emissions, slaughterhouses produce tons of contaminated bloody water. Mendocino county environmentalists were concerned as to where this bloody river would flow.
These statistics illustrate why becoming vegetarian is often heralded as the most effective personal strategy available for reducing global warming.
However, vegetarianism is not the only change needed. Experts tell us that there is no comprehensive solution to the problem of global warming without simultaneously addressing the problem of overpopulation.
There is undoubtedly a connection between population growth and virtually every serious problem facing our planet today. World population, currently 6.5 billion, is growing by 76 million people per year. According to the U.N. there will be another 2.6 billion people on the planet by 2050. Rapid population growth has placed incredible stress on the earth in terms of energy usage. While we are inclined to blame pollution on faceless entities such as industry, automobiles, corporations, and so forth, ultimately the problem comes down to people—there are just too many of us. People need transportation, homes, jobs, health care, etc., and want a myriad of things that they don’t really need. Needs plus wants multiplied by 9.1 billion people (the projected population for 2050) equals unimaginable energy usage and pollution, the perfect recipe for global warming.
What to do? The answer of course is that people have to stop making so many more of themselves. Lets imagine that by some amazing arrangement everyone in the world agreed to save the planet by instituting a moratorium on the production of more global warmers (people). What would happen?
Well, life expectancy in America is 74 years for men and 79 years for women, but overall worldwide life expectancy is only 64.3 years. If for the next 54 years (my age) everyone in the world refrained from producing more global warmers, then only those who are ten years old or younger today would be alive when the moratorium ended. This age group represents less than 12% of the world population suggesting that if everyone refrained from having children for 54 years then worldwide population rather than increasing to over 9 Billion, would decrease 88% to less than 1 Billion. Imagine the effect that such a decline, or even a more modest decline in population, would have on the environment. If all who remained were nonsmoking, recycling, hybrid driving, squiggly bulb using vegetarians, the sky over Los Angeles would be clear, the rainforests would regenerate, and the world would become whole again.
My friend Dan called for a radical solution, one that was both practical and spiritual. The solution I suggested may be utopian, but it is practical in the sense that anyone can do it. I am just an ordinary person who 35 years ago made the decision to become vegetarian and to refrain from having children. Over the years I never felt inconvenienced by this decision. There are even organizations to help people in this regard. Zero Population Growth (ZPG) was formed to encourage couples to limit family size to two children or better yet to adopt rather than to procreate.
Furthermore, this solution is spiritual in that it calls for embracing the utmost in compassion and self-sacrifice. Indeed these qualities are the heart of spirituality regardless of what creed one follows.
While radical for most, this idea is simply the normal way of life to me. Dan’s call for radicalism, and Al Gore’s documentary made me realize that any person who was nonsmoking, recycling, hybrid driving, squiggly bulb using, non child bearing, and vegetarian was at the same time a living breathing solution to the problem of global warming.
So, what did I learn from this most recent environmental call to action, Home? Nothing that a less children and more salad won’t fix.
- Smoking is an environmental concern not just because of cigarette smoke, but more so because of the tremendous amount of energy the tobacco industry uses in growing, distributing, and promoting their product, as well as the energy expended by the medical establishment in treating illness related to this deadly crop. [↩]