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On World Food Day, Here's What We Need to Do So We Don't Cook the Planet

Few people understand that the worst U.S. and global greenhouse gas emitter is "Food Incorporated."
 
 
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“Here's the single most important thing you need to know about the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report: It's not too late. We still have time to do something about climate disruption. The best estimate from the best science is that we can limit warming from human-caused carbon pollution to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit - if we act now. Bottom line: Our house is on fire. Rather than argue about how fast it's burning, we need to start throwing buckets of water.” -- Michael Brune, Director, Sierra Club, Sept. 27, 2013

Michael Brune is right. Our house is on fire. We’d better start throwing buckets of water.

Today, World Food Day, I urge everyone who wants to help put out the fire to take a close look at the food you eat. Where did it come from? How was it grown or raised? What did it take to get it from the farm to your table?

These questions are rarely part of the climate-change debate. Yet they should be.

Transportation, manufacturing and energy corporations are considered major greenhouse gas (GHG) polluters. Climate scientists agree that if we want to cool the earth, we have to build solar arrays and wind generators, instead of fracking wells and coal plants. We have to retrofit homes, commercial buildings, factories, transportation and electrical grids. We need to walk, carpool, ride bikes, trains and buses, instead of mindlessly cruising the highways in gas-guzzling cars, trucks and SUVs.

But few people understand that the worst U.S. and global greenhouse gas emitter is "Food Incorporated." The global food and farming system of today, with its intense dependence on biotechnology, chemicals and fossil fuels, is destroying the natural capacity of plants, trees and soils to sequester the excess greenhouse gases that are cooking the planet.

The fastest route to averting a climate disaster is to drastically reduce emissions from industrial agriculture and forestry, and start sequestering billions of tons of greenhouse gases in our plants, forests and soil.

This “Great Transition” must be driven by a mass consumer rejection of factory-farmed and industrial/genetically engineered food, coupled with mass demand for products that are organic, sustainable and climate-friendly.

Most serious threat ever faced by humans

As the most recent scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) bluntly warns us that climate change now poses the most serious existential threat that humans have ever faced in our 200,000-year evolution.

At 395 parts-per-million (ppm) of CO2 (and 434 ppm of all GHG), and an additional 10 billion tons of carbon per year (36.7 billion tons CO2) in annual emissions from burning fossil fuels, non-sustainable agricultural practices and deforestation, we now have the most CO2, methane and nitrous oxide polluting the atmosphere that the Earth has experienced in the past three million years.

This excess of GHG pollution has already caused a significant increase in average global temperature, a rapidly warming and acidic ocean, a great extinction of countless living species, and an increasingly menacing disruption of “normal” weather patterns. 

As Dr. James Hansen and other prominent climatologists warn us, global society must drastically conserve energy, reduce fossil fuel use, and naturally sequester as much GHG pollution in our soils and forests as possible, in order to bring atmospheric concentrations of CO2 back down to a safe level of 350 ppm. According to  Hansen, “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current [level] to at most 350 ppm.”

 
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