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Posts tagged ‘Climate change’

Coronavirus, climate change, experts and predictions

In 2006, Dr Larry Brilliant delivered this excellent TED talk, explaining how smallpox was eradicated and predicting that a worldwide pandemic would emerge some day.
If you can spare 25 minutes to watch the whole thing, then please do, because it’s excellent, but if you just want “the gravity of the situation” then start at about 12.5 minutes in.
Dr Larry Brilliant is what we call “an expert” – a qualified medical doctor, he’s worked in medicine and epidemiology for 30 odd years, been all over the world working ‘on the front line’ helping people in disease hotspots, he’s a university professor and has worked for years for the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In 2015, Bill Gates delivered this superb TED talk where he argues that the world is not ready for the next great pandemic; he argues that countries should prepare for it like they prepare for conflict, with rapid-response teams on stand-by, ‘troops’ trained, equipment ready for action.
Bill Gates is no fool. He was the richest person in the world for 18 years, and he is widely respected as the greatest philanthropist alive today; with his wife Melinda he heads the world’s largest charitable foundation, and he spends all his time working on public health initiatives and disease eradication. It’s fair to say he is “an expert”.

In 2017, Michael Osterholm PhD authored a book called Deadliest Enemy: Our War Against Killer Germs. The book details how unprepared we are for a viral pandemic and warns of the dire consequences of an outbreak.
Mr Osterholm is a smart guy, a PhD, epidemiologist and university professor, he’s studied infectious diseases and how they spread for over 35 years. He’s very much “an expert”.
If you are interested in what he has to say about Covid-19, listen to this Joe Rogan Experience podcast, it’s truly insightful.

In October 2019, experts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies ran a modelling exercise to try to understand what might happen if a novel coronavirus pandemic broke out. “For our fictional pandemic, we assembled about 20 experts in global health, the biosciences, national security, emergency response and economics” – they concluded that governments were not prepared, not taking the threat of a killer virus seriously enough.

Also in October 2019, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, with the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, ran a forecasting exercise to model what would happen if a global pandemic coronavirus broke out. They have been modelling such scenarios since 2001.

Above are just a few examples, but there are more, if you look for them, plenty more examples of experts warning us that a novel virus, particularly a coronavirus, could break out, likely starting in South East Asia, and cause extensive devastation, harm and loss of life. Beyond the immediate health impacts and death toll, these experts all warn of extensive economic costs, worldwide losses of trillions, plunging the global economy into recession/depression for a decade or two.

The message from these experts over the last 15 years has been “spend some millions now, in a coordinated global effort, to avoid disaster, death, and losses of trillions in the future”.

Social media is awash with stories sharing these predictions… “Scientists said this would happen…governments should have prepared” and “So and so made a talk about this, such and such wrote a book about that…people should have listened.” Oh, how folks love to blame and point fingers after the event.

The folks who write these books, and deliver these TED talks, and run these non-profit organisations and teach in universities and advise governments…these folks are experts.
They know their subject.
They’ve studied it for years.
They’ve spent a decade in university.
They’ve been working in their chosen field for 20 or 30 years.
Maybe that’s why they’re called “experts”.

Maybe we should listen.

Drawing parallels

As I observe the unfolding crisis, I can’t help but think about global warming, or climate change as it’s called these days.

In 2006, the then UK government commissioned esteemed economics professor Lord Nicholas Stern to produce The Stern Review, which was to become the foundation stone and guiding wisdom for UK policy on addressing greenhouse gas emissions and other measures to combat climate change.
Lord Stern famously suggested urgent action, that the UK (and, by extention, all other developed nations) commit to actions to mitigate climate change which would likely cost our nation around 2% of annual GDP. His suggestions strongly pushed action now (from 2006) costing circa 2% of GDP, in order to avoid total disaster unfolding in the future which would cost our children circa 20% of GDP in their lifetimes, when the damage is done. In layman’s terms, it goes a bit like this… “it’s cheaper for society to raise taxes now to transition to solar panels and electric cars, than to melt the ice caps and expect our grandchildren to build seawalls and storm defences when oceans rise in 2075.”

Since the 1980s, and even before, scientists and experts have been warning governments, the media, and all of us that human actions (burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests, polluting natural environments and depleting fertile top soils) is doing unimaginable harm to the planet, and if we keep doing it then things will end in unmitigated disaster.
In the 1980s they knew.
Governments were warned in 1986.
By the time of the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, it was already high on the international agenda.
The IPCC issued major reports in 1992, 1996 and 2001, urgently warning governments and citizens the world over that global warming was a massive and growing threat.

And as the years pass, the warnings become more frequent, more urgent, more stark, more hopeless…
In 2009 Copenhagen summit is last chance to save the planet, Lord Stern
In 2016 Will We Miss Our Last Chance to Save the World From Climate Change?
In 2018 Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change – this is a long read but it’s staggering and worth the time while you’re at home on lockdown. Seriously.
In late 2018 ‘We are last generation that can stop climate change’ – UN summit
In 2019 Only 11 Years Left to Prevent Irreversible Damage from Climate Change – United Nations General Assembly
In late 2019 Climate change close to ‘point of no return’, UN secretary general warns
In 2020 There’s no ‘deadline’ to save the world. Everything we do now has to pass the climate test

Frankly, it’s depressing and frightening stuff, but that’s no excuse to bury our heads in the sand and leave it for our children and grandchildren to suffer: that would be intergenerational tyranny, and it’s the wrong thing to do. Don’t be ignorant, we are the generations burning coal and oil, it’s fair that we suffer 2% loss in our economies now, rather than go on enjoying our gas-guzzling cars, cheap flights and imported clothes, forcing our grandchildren to suffer a 20% economic loss in the future. Many of those grandchildren are not even born yet, to burden them with our legacy would be, to quote Ray Anderson of Interface Carpets (in the film The Corporation (2003)), “taxation without representation” and it’s not fair.

The world over, 97% of scientists and experts agree that global warming is real, is caused by humans, and is accelerating fast towards a point of no return.
NASA: Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate is Warming
American Meteorological Society on Climate Change
Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming
AAAS Reaffirms Statements on Climate Change and Integrity

The message from these experts over the last 20+ years has been “spend some billions now, in a coordinated global effort, to avoid disaster, death, and losses of almost immeasurable trillions in the future”.

The folks who write these reports, reviews, papers and books, and deliver these conferences and speeches, and run these non-profit organisations and teach in universities and advise governments…these folks are experts.
They know their subject.
They’ve studied it for years.
They’ve spent a decade in university.
They’ve been working in their chosen field for 20 or 30 years.
Maybe that’s why they’re called “experts”.

Maybe we should listen.

The experts were right about coronavirus. Perhaps they are right about climate change.

If you think coronavirus is a nightmare, wait until your children see what climate change can do.

It’s time to take this shit seriously.

Stay home, stay safe, stay sane.

To your continuing good health.

Karl

 

Eating Beef and Climate Change: The real story is [finally] on the way

Climate change is a complex topic.

There are lots of reasons why it’s taken us, the human race, collectively, something like 40 years to finally grasp and accept that this is real, it’s happening, and it’s possibly the biggest threat to our own existence we have ever faced.

Among those reasons…

  • Is the fact that it’s not a simple picture. It’s complex, it’s happening over long time scales, what we think of as lifetimes, and that makes it hard to grasp and understand that our every-day actions make a difference.
  • Variance clouds our understanding.
  • Oil companies, allegedly, have spent billions on promoting confusion and denial. There is a lot of money in fossil fuel, and a lot of people don’t want to face change.
  • The science is also really quite dry and boring, it’s all CO2 this, and ppm that. It’s not very sexy, not very rock ‘n’ roll.

Society-wide, we can grasp simple issues, and we humans like simple solutions. If it can be explained in one line (both the problem and the solution) then folks get it and grab it and run with it.

For example, David Attenborough fronts a beautifully-filmed new show, we see turtles trapped in plastic rings, whales and sea birds with plastic in their stomachs, and here come the one liners:

  • Problem: plastic pollution in the oceans is killing all this beautiful wildlife.
  • Solution: society must give up single-use plastic.

Folks get it, and jump in to action.

Suddenly, almost overnight, UK supermarkets start charging people for plastic bags. Schools and cities start banning plastic drinking straws, and everyone you meet is suddenly on an anti-plastic crusade. That’s all great, single-use plastic is a problem that needed addressing, so I am glad to see these moves, but tackling this plastics headache is distracting the public from the real big issue that needs our focus – CO2 emissions.

The devil is in the detail

As I said, one of the problems is, climate change is complex. Most of our environmental issues are not straight forward, they are nuanced. Even the plastic pollution problem is nuanced.

  • In reality, a large percentage of the plastic pollution in our oceans comes from fishing industry waste.
  • Much of the plastic in our oceans comes from discarded fishing nets, fishing line, buoys, tackle and other waste.
  • Of the remaining portion of plastics polluting our oceans, the vast majority is waste that comes from rivers and beaches in developing nations, particularly in Asia
  • It’s easy for consumers in developed nations to see a viral video on social media and blame the folks living in Asian or Latin American countries for the problem. But in reality, the people throwing plastic bottles into waterways in impoverished Asian cities, do so because they have no other choice. They live in slums, there is no waste collection, there is no running water, they don’t have hot and cold taps, flushing toilets and kerbside recycling like we do. They buy a plastic bottle of water, refill it as many times as they can until it splits, then discard the broken bottle either on the land or in a river.
  • The problem is poverty, not lazy litter louts.
  • When you have nowhere else to throw your waste, and your biggest concern each day is keeping your children alive, trash ends up in the river, it’s the least of your worries.
  • So, consumers in developed nations cutting down on supermarket plastic bags might help slightly reduce our own landfill burden, but it isn’t really going to make much difference to the plastic pollution in our oceans. What will help is –
    • Tighter controls on fishing industry pollution
    • Design innovation in fishing equipment
    • Consumers making better choices when buying fish, purchasing only sustainably caught produce and shunning trawling
    • Helping developing nations continue on their journey out of extreme poverty
    • Putting pressure on the big global manufacturers of processed foods and drinks to shift the cheapest products to use biodegradable packaging materials
  • Meanwhile, along the way, as we have demonised plastic bags, people are now shifting to using more paper bags instead. The thing is, it creates more carbon emissions to make a paper bag than it does to make a plastic bag.
  • If I bring home fruits or vegetables in a paper bag and the bag gets slightly damp in transit (fruits and vegetables can often be a little damp when fresh) then by the time I get that bag home it is holed and useless, and goes in the recycling bin.
  • But the plastic bag would not have holed, it is more resistant to damp, and then I may use that bag again for something.
  • You see the irony, we’ve created more carbon emissions to manufacture the paper bag, which has been used only once, where I could have used a plastic bag three or four or five times, all with considerably lower emissions.
  • The anti-plastic crusade has become a distraction from what really matters – carbon emissions.

That’s an example of nuance. That’s what I am talking about. Folks running around thinking they are “saving the planet” because they use paper bags instead of plastic, and they have ditched plastic drinking straws, are well-intentioned, but missing the point that really matters.

See what I mean, this stuff is complex

That example, the plastics issue, is one of many.

The palm oil story is nuanced too.

Read the detail here.

In short, while it’s right that we should look to reduce our use of palm oil because of deforestation and habitat loss, if we all switch en masse to other oils, we’ll need multiple times as much land to grow the required crops for those alternatives.

Therefore, the solution is to use sustainably-farmed palm oil, not just to boycott palm oil altogether. Even better, I suggest adopting the Mother Nature’s Diet lifestyle and reducing/eliminating your consumption of foods that use processed oils completely.

You see, nuance is everything. Wealthy Westerners just ditching plastic bags and boycotting palm oil is knee-jerk reaction stuff that makes the wealthy Westerners feel better about themselves but actually does little to address the real problems.

Maybe you noticed that the real answers to our problems often come down to the same things:

  • Consume less manufactured and processed ‘stuff’ (less plastic crap, less throw-away stuff, less overly-packaged foods)
  • Shop for sustainability (in bags, in plastic goods, in fish, in farmed foods)

Interesting.

Meat, beef, and climate change

And so, with that rather long but necessary preamble about the complexities of climate change and its causes, and how the problems and solutions are rarely straight-forward, but nuanced, and too hard to explain in a one-liner, let’s move on to the point of this post – meat eating and the environmental impact of raising animals for meat.

Once again, this is highly nuanced.

I strongly, very strongly, urge you to please read this press release, it’s just a six or seven minute read, not long: Study: White Oak Pastures Beef Reduces Atmospheric Carbon. The middle bit uses a few sciencey-sounding terms, but stick it out, it’s very important.

This is very, very big news.

I want to keep this simple, so allow me to abbreviate everything to bullet points.

  • We hear all the time that eating beef is bad for the environment.
  • People like me, promote eating grass-fed meat.
  • But the media is full off stories about plant-based diets. It’s very trendy at the moment to be a vegan. The narrative being thrust upon us from every angle is to ‘eat less meat to reduce your carbon footprint’.
  • People challenge me and the idea of eating pasture-raised meat…
  • I respond that it is nuanced. I say factory-farmed meat is causing greenhouse gas emissions, but pasture-raised meat, grass-fed meat, is the opposite, and offers environmental benefits.
  • My line doesn’t fit with what is trendy and popular right now. Most people are afraid of standing out, so they follow the herd and the ‘eat less meat’ message

Let’s stop for a moment and analyse just why factory-farmed meat is causing greenhouse gas emissions:

  • All-too-often, particularly in countries in North and South America and in Asia, forests are cleared to grow crops such as corn (maize) or soybeans.
  • There are emissions from the deforestation, from the ploughing, the sowing, the harvesting, and then the trucking of the crops to the cattle.
  • The cattle live in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) or ‘feedlots’ causing concentrations of methane and other emissions from the vast pools of manure.

This is a very brief version of all this, cutting out lots of detail.

Done this way, cattle farming does emit greenhouse gases, it also makes for miserable cows, diseased cows, and lower quality meat.

But people like me have spent the last seven years arguing that grass-fed cattle, pasture-raised, do not contribute to global warming. Again, in over simplified terms:

  • No clearing of forests.
  • Cows range on grasslands. (Crops are grown on arable lands, but cattle can range on grasslands. There is twice as much grassland available worldwide as arable lands. Cows will happily graze on lands that are not suitable for growing crops and vegetables, so it makes sense to keep the “veggie growing land” for growing veggies, and use the “great for grassy meadows” land for grassy meadows, full of cows and sheep!)
  • No ploughing, sowing, harvesting and trucking – so none of the emissions from those tractors, harvesters and trucks.
  • Also, ploughing soil destroys the mineral content of that soil, reducing it’s ability to hold water and carbon. Ploughing releases stored soil carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. No ploughing = leave the carbon in the soil, and help the land to hold more water.
  • Cows graze the grass, no trucking food around required – cows have legs, they walk to find the food!
  • Happier, healthier cows. More nutritious meat and dairy.

I have been saying for years, it’s Mother Nature’s way, it’s a win:win. Healthier animals, healthier land, healthier humans, everyone wins.

IMG_8371

Now, that press release

Quantis, an environmental research firm, have conducted a lengthy and detailed Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of grass-fed beef and shown that raising meat this way produces a net carbon win – the cows poop helps build topsoil, sequestering more greenhouse gases in their lifetime than they emit when they burp and fart.

This is massively important.

This is what me, and super farmers like Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farms, and Allan Savory, and the Soil Association, and the Sustainable Food Trust, and my friend Christine Page at Smiling Tree Farm, my mate Chris Jones at Woodland Valley Farm, and a thousand others have been arguing for years – sustainable, regenerative agriculture is an environmental fix, a part of the solution, where factory farming is an environmental disaster, part of the problem. Nuance. The devil is in the detail.

This LCA, this is critical. For years, farmers like Joel Salatin have argued that pastured livestock help to build topsoil, where ploughing depletes it. For years these guys have argued that healthy topsoil sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, locking it underground for decades, even centuries, where ploughing erodes topsoil and diminishes it’s carbon-holding capacity.

But they lacked the hard science. An LCA is an important piece of work. An LCA looks at every facet and factor and measures every possible input and output. An LCA is the gold standard, it’s how we really understand what’s going on.

As the press release explains, now that LCA has been completed, the science is in, and it shows that grass-fed, pastured livestock, sequesters more carbon in its lifetime that it emits.

Want to “save the planet”? Eat MORE meat – just be sure it’s 100% grass-fed.

Rising oceans…or loss of topsoil?

Additionally, it bares repeating (I have been banging on about this for soooo long now) that we are depleting topsoil, worldwide, at an alarming rate. Since the industrialisation, automation and mechanisation of agriculture, we have already lost one third or more of the world’s topsoil, and we have between 40 and 100 harvests left in various parts of the world, before we lack enough fertile topsoil to grow crops for human food.

Think about that for a moment. In 70 years, what will your children and grandchildren eat, if there is no topsoil left? Seriously, think that through. We’ve already depleted ocean fish stocks terribly. If we all go “plant based” now, we’ll only accelerate topsoil loss. In 60 or 70 years, if there is no fish, and we can’t grow crops any more, what will your children eat?

The great fear of climate change seems to be rising sea levels, but I suspect that a human population of 10 billion, lacking the fish stocks or topsoil that enables us to feed ourselves, will find the collapse of agriculture will be our undoing sooner than rising seas. (That’s not to belittle the half-a-billion people who live in places that will quickly be affected by even small rises in sea levels, such as Bangladesh, The Netherlands, many Pacific islands and Asian coastal regions.) You had better start that vegetable plot in your back garden now, and show your kids and grandchildren, they are going to need to learn how to feed themselves.

Solutions

As I said at the start, climate change is complex. If it were dead simple, we would have fixed this mess by now. It’s not simple, it involves politics, science, economics, emotions, international cooperation, it’s complex, it’s nuanced, it’s going to be expensive and it’s going to take time, and it’s likely to get pretty ugly along the way.

But this press release is a turning point, because it provides concrete scientific proof that animal agriculture is not the problem, but can in fact be part of the solution.

What matters?

  • The message “eat less meat” is wrong.
  • The message should be, as I have argued since 2011, “shop for sustainably-farmed food, plants and animals”.
  • Grass-fed beef and lamb, woodland ranged pork, free-ranged chicken, can be a benefit to the environment.
  • Factory farmed meat is harmful to the environment.
  • All industrialised factory farming, of plants and animals, is harmful. Raping the land for profit is wrong. Working with the land, working in harmony with natural nutrient cycles, working with Nature, can sustain us while nurturing the hand that feeds.

The rather brilliant Diana Rodgers is working hard to make a film about just this. To counter these one-sided, unscientific, vegan-propaganda Mock-u-mentaries we have seen in recent years, such as Cowspiracy and What the Health?, Diana is working closely with the also-totally-brilliant Robb Wolf (Paleo Diet fame) to make a movie that explains how pastured livestock can benefit our health and planetary health, how farming can be kind and nurturing, and how we can build a sustainable food future that is good for all of us.

PLEASE support Diana and her project. Please donate a few pounds, Euros or Dollars here to help make this movie happen and to extend it’s reach – we need, for the sake of our futures, as many people as possible to understand this message, this is hugely important.

Nuance is everything.

“Eat less factory-farmed meat, but eat more 100% grass-fed meat.”

The UK government has become the first in the world to officially declare an environment and climate emergency. As the world finally seems to be paying more attention to these problems, it is more important than ever that we make sure we are giving people the right information to help them make the right lifestyle choices and changes.

As you have seen in this post – with plastic bags, drinking straws, palm oil, and beef – nuance is everything. We must ensure that our governments and the public understand the correct actions to take to help create the massive shifts in consumer behaviour that are required.

“Eat less meat” is not the right message. “Eat less factory-farmed meat, but eat more 100% grass-fed meat.” is the right message. Nuance is everything.

To address all of these points, and many more, you can follow the complete Mother Nature’s Diet lifestyle. Less palm oil, less plastic, less manufactured and processed food, and only sustainably-farmed meat and vegetables. It’s all in my book –

Here in paperback – UK.
Here for Kindle – UK.
Here in paperback – USA.
Here for Kindle – USA.

For further reading:

Debunking Cowspiracy

Carbon sinks and carbon sequestration

Working with nature, for solutions

Why giving up meat isn’t the answer

Learn more about Mother Nature’s Diet – buy the book, take the online course, join the movement.