By Huck Fairman

It has been widely reported that a majority of Americans now acknowledge that global warming is real, and is caused by humans. And that majority wants something done to prevent the worst repercussions. Even Republicans in Congress have shifted to the support of technologies and a few other responses, in the face of the greatest threat to our civilization.

Again, a majority recognize many of the measurable and visible global changes we are already facing: atmospheric and oceanic warming, sea level rise, greater ocean acidity, increased numbers and severity of storms, hurricanes and cyclones, more frequent floods and draughts and the resulting fires and mud slides, all threatening food sources. And these changes will lead to greater immigration, as countries can no longer support their populations.

But those are just the really big, highly visible impacts we are and will be facing. Unfortunately there are many more, smaller ones that nonetheless will be disruptive of our well-being.

Already the increasing temperatures are bringing new diseases and insects to regions. In addition, unusual and highly variable weather, including sudden frosts or heat waves, now frequently out of season, impact agriculture and meat supplies. At the same time wild animals and birds are forced to migrate to new regions, where they impact existing balances of flora and fauna, as well as balances farmers need. 

Some of this erratic weather, in North America anyways, results from warmer, mid-latitude air pushing up into the Arctic and interrupting the polar vortex which formerly kept frigid temperatures circling the North Pole. Now bulges of frosty air spill south and linger over Mid-Western and Eastern states, ruining vegetable and fruit crops and even forcing some growers out of business.

People, of course, are wondering what they can do. There are steps to reduce one’s emissions, including the long-recognized turning to electric cars, solar panels, other green power sources and recycling, composting and biking, etc.

But there are still other categories of steps that people may not at first think of. Among them are: the preservation of forests, brown lands and open spaces, along with water bodies. All of these contribute to the capturing of carbon, as well as ecological balancing. Cutting down forests, on the other hand, releases carbon.

Another category is our dietary choices, which can also impact emissions. Our consumption of beef, lamb and cheese supports the dairy industry’s use of fossil fuels and fertilizers and its inadvertent production of methane. A recent United Nations study found that on average it takes three pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat. At some point there may not be enough arable land to grow sufficient grains to supply the world’s growing populations and their appetite for meat.

Consuming more greens or grains, on the other hand, reduces one’s contribution to greenhouse gases. It has been estimated that a vegetarian diet can reduce emission footprints by one third. But the food chain is complex. Starting with farming machinery, clearing fields and trees, transportation to market, packaging and eventually waste, many different inputs effect food-related emissions. Yet, if everyone participated even minimally, it would be beneficial. That will not happen, however, overnight. And burning fossil fuels for electricity, transportation, heating-cooling and manufacturing will still far outweigh reductions achieved by reducing food-related emissions.

If one is nonetheless interested in reducing one’s environmental footprint through dietary changes, here too there are a number of steps to be investigated and possibly adopted. These include turning to farmed mollusks and salmon. Grass-fed beef, chicken and other poultry are believed to have lesser environmental, and climate impacts, but those calculations depend on many variables. 

More than adequate protein can be found in beans, grains and nuts, so that reducing one’s meat consumption need not be at the body’s expense.

Finally, at the end of the process, recycling and composting can help reduce emissions and reduce the need for landfills – which release methane and other gases. Estimates are that between 20-40% of all food produced in this country goes to waste. Being more efficient and vigilant in our food purchasing can reduce our individual footprints, and by scaling up, the nation’s footprint.

Thus there are many steps individuals can take to reduce footprints, but the real hope lies in communities, regions and nations coming together to make the necessary wide ranging changes.

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