Change without borders
Human-driven global warming threatens to destabilise climate systems across the entire planet. Climate change does not respect international borders. GHG emissions in the UK are already contributing to hardship, famine and death in undeveloped nations – those least equipped to deal with rapid environmental change. The United Nations Environment Programme warns of a growing threat of wars and conflict, as natural resources dwindle. Island communities face damaging sea level rises, glaciers are retreating at unprecedented rates, and sea ice at the poles is melting rapidly.
Ecosystems which have had aeons to adapt to natural and gradual climatic change now face upheaval within a century, or perhaps only decades. Species which share the planet with us are being forced to evolve rapidly in less time than the average human life span. For some this will be impossible.
To avoid runaway catastrophic climate change, industrialised nations must start making drastic cuts in their GHG emissions within the next decade. So far there is little evidence of emissions falling; in most cases they are rising, fuelled by increasing industrialisation, and by growth in transport.
Belching our way to climate chaos
Yet one human-driven activity is responsible for more global emissions of GHG than the world?s entire transport sector – livestock farming. Worldwide, livestock produce 18 per cent of the gases that cause global warming. One of these, methane, which is released when livestock such as cattle breathe out and burp, has 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide (CO2).
Air-polluting ammonia, a key catalyst in the formation of acid rain, and nitrous oxide, a powerful GHG with 296 times the global warming potential of CO2, are also generated through livestock production. Added to the fossil fuel used in growing and transporting feedstuffs, then moving the resultant products around the globe, the damage caused to ecosystems by livestock farming through deforestation and pollution poses a serious threat to life on earth.
The earth cannot produce enough animal products to feed its growing population at the level of the average western diet, yet demand for animal products is rising. We need to rethink the way in which we produce food, recognise its ecological implications, and adopt a more earth-friendly approach.