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Need a New Car? Going “Green” Can Be A Wise Choice.

Need a New Car? Going “Green” Can Be A Wise Choice.

Allan Maynard, MSc. – May 2024

 

After 2 years of research, pondering and a degree of procrastination, I acquired a new car. I took my time. Firstly, I was totally satisfied with the car I had. It was a very comfortable ride and reasonably fuel efficient. Furthermore, being retired, I don’t routinely drive that much.

I became concerned about the age of my car (a 2006 small SUV), but the main reason for finally getting a new car was the desire to be environmentally responsible, especially given my hosting of a web site dealing with climate change and other environmental matters. As well – the trend to battery cars is inevitable. Canada will require all new automobiles to be “zero-emission” by 2035. Many other countries have introduced similar requirements.

As forests burn and cities drown, as crops wither and people die – there is no longer doubt that climate change is dangerously impacting societies the world over. In 2016, 196 nations signed the legally binding Paris Accord. The Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees (preferably 1.5 degrees) Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

A typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year (see first reference for how this is calculated). This means that about percent of greenhouse gas emissions result from the use of personal vehicles. As such, electrifying transportation systems is a crucial component in reaching the global goals. A second significant benefit in electrifying transportation, is the reduction of air pollution (particles and oxides of nitrogen). Around the world, air pollution is responsible for over 7 million early deaths per year.

Fully electric vehicles (EVs) have no tailpipe emissions. It is well understood though, that EVs are not zero emissions as explained below. Hybrid vehicles and plug in hybrid vehicles provide significant reductions in emissions and are thus a good option when going fully EV may not be workable.

It is important to not be fooled by the misinformation circulating via social media and other outlets, such as the ridiculous claim that electric vehicles  (EVs) pollute more than gas cars due to battery manufacturing. These are false flags, and it only takes a bit of research time to expose these myths.

The car I decided on is in the last paragraph of this article. Please read on.

Move Away from Animal Agriculture

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FACTS AND MYTHS

There is a massive amount of information on battery operated cars. It is complex and nuanced. I will not go into a great deal of detail but have provided adequate references.

 

 

  1. Manufacturing – The manufacturing of a typical electric vehicle (EV) can create more carbon pollution than manufacturing a gasoline car because of the additional energy required to manufacture an EV’s battery. However, over the lifetime of the vehicle, total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with manufacturing, charging, and driving an EV are much lower than the total GHGs associated with a gasoline car. See graph – figure 1

2. Operation – driving an EV produces zero carbon but the emissions ‘equivalent’ must take into consideration how the electricity for charging is produced. In many cases EVs need power from power plants that use fossil fuels. This has an overall impact, but even when the power grid is heavily dependent on ‘dirty’ fuel (oil and coal), an EV produces less greenhouse gas emission See graph 2.

3. Mining for minerals vs mining for fossil fuels – millions vs billions

There is no doubt that the extraction of precious minerals and lithium needed for EV batteries has an environmental impact. However, the extraction is significantly lower for electric cars compared to gas and diesel cars. Mining minerals for the clean-energy economy is measured in millions of tons per year (7 million tons in 2020). By contrast, the fossil fuel industry extracted the equivalent of 15 billion metric tons in 2019.

Moreover, the fossil fuel industry will need to extract this year after year to keep supplying energy. Clean-energy technology can use at least some of these materials for decades or in some cases, if recycled effectively, in perpetuity.

4. Range anxiety is real

For sure the concern for the range of EVs is real. However, for most uses, the EV range is not an issue at all. Firstly – the range of fully charged EVs has improved dramatically over the past 5 years with the average range now at 378KM (237 miles). Some are as high as 690 km (431 miles). The model S Tesla has a range of 500km (310 miles). Again – these are only guidelines as the range depends on many factors such as geography or temperature. By far most driving involves short trips – commuting, shopping, social, etc. The daily average in North America is around 50 km (30 miles) per day. Clearly the EV range is not an issue in such cases.

However, it is an issue for longer trips. Currently there are not enough EV charging stations in North America. For a driver needing to travel more than 200 km, a charging plan would be required.

Move Away from Animal Agriculture

Figure 1 – from Yale Climate Connections – 2022. Note – in Canada we use liters per 100 km – to convert – divide 235.2 by the miles per US gallon. Thus – in the chart above – 79 miles per gallon is 2.98 liters per 100 km.

5. Battery Life and Maintenance

EV batteries aren’t cheap. The battery is typically the most expensive component of an electric car and can cost as much as $20,000, which means replacement can be a pricey proposition. So, how long do EV batteries last? Most last between 10 and 20 years; for context, the average car on American roads is 12.5 years old. The battery life can vary slightly or significantly depending on certain factors.

Another factor to consider – EVs typically require significantly less maintenance than conventional vehicles because the battery, motor, and associated electronics require little to no regular maintenance. There are fewer fluids, such as engine oil, that require regular maintenance.

6. Cost outlay

For many consumers, the most significant obstacle is the initial capital outlay. EVs generally cost more, and it is straightforward to carry out cost comparisons among similar models. There are also many references available that allow calculations to determine the break-even point – at which the savings in operating an EV offset the capital outlay. The last reference below calculates a savings of over 7000 dollars over 7 years of operations – but the calculations are complex and depend on may factors.

Move Away from Animal Agriculture

SO — WHAT DID I CHOOSE?

From my research, it became abundantly clear that an electric vehicle is much better for the environment under all circumstances, and especially so in British Columbia with abundant hydroelectricity. As well, I felt reassured concerning battery life. If this purchase had been for a household of 2 cars, I certainly would have selected a full EV. However, since this will be my only car, I did have a concern for the range in that I do anticipate a few longer trips.

As such, I decided on a plug-in hybrid or PHEV (Mitsubishi Outlander). On an overnight charge I have a range of about 60km (40 miles) and thus almost all (more than 85%) of my drives will be on electricity. So far, I have driven over 2500 km and only had to fill my gas tank once. Even when I am using the gasoline engine, the fuel efficiency is double the efficiency of an equivalent gasoline vehicle.

SUMMARY COMMENTS

There are so many factors in assessing whether to acquire an EV. The references below will provide greater detail for those wishing to consider this choice.

Will 2023 be the year that was or merely a prelude of the years to come?

Will 2023 be the year that was or merely a prelude of the years to come?

A helicopter battles the McDougall Creek wildfire as it burns in the hills of West Kelowna, British Columbia, on Aug. 17. (Darren Hull/AFP/Getty Images)

Will 2023 be the year that was or merely a prelude of the years to come?

It is likely that 2023 will be remembered as the point at which humanity’s inability to deal with a climate crisis of its own making the was finally and fully exposed.  Will 2023 be also remembered as an inflection upon which the science is truly accepted by society thereby driving radical and rapid change?  Or will the heat anomaly and catastrophes of 2023 be looked back upon as one of the cooler, more stable years in people’s lives.

2023 WAS A YEAR OF EXTREMES

This past year has now been confirmed as the hottest year in recorded history – a record surpassed by a large margin and much sooner than predicted.  Scientists repeatedly expressed shock as successive heat records fell, and warned the world is moving dangerously close to the 1.5-degree limit that nearly 200 countries sought to avoid in the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Deaths from heat stroke are at an all-time high around the world. Millions around the globe are now stranded in inhospitable conditions by global heating. The graph shows some of the many records broken – these from the global measurements just prior to the year end. There were countless local records also surpassed.

global atmospheric temperatures

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In addition to global atmospheric temperatures – many other records were were smashed in 2023 including:

  • levels of heat absorbed by Earth’s oceans, which have been warming year-on-year for the past decade
  • loss of sea ice in the Arctic and Antarctic,
  • extent and duration of ‘heat domes’ (such as in Phoenix Arizona with over 30 days above 43 degrees C / or 110 F),
  • extent of rainfall (especially in China) and flooding (with the flood in eastern Libya considered the worst disaster of the 21st century)
  • extent and duration of droughts with associated food insecurity,
  • total hectares lost from wildfires (especially in Canada – see chart).

2023 WAS ALSO A YEAR FOR SOME HOPE

The climate extremes of 2023 were impossible to ignore thus raising overall awareness about the extent of the climate emergency. There were some positive signs of movement in the right direction.  

  • The COP 28 (Conference of the Parties) at least mentioned the ‘elephant in the room’ – that being fossil fuels. The final compromise agreement stated the need to transition “away from fossil fuels in energy systems in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science”. It was considered a victory of sorts given the fact that this is the first COP where the words ‘fossil fuels’ are actually included in the draft decision. More about this below.

 

  • Over the year, global renewable energy capacity grew by the fastest pace ever recorded, which could put the world within reach of meeting a key climate target by the end of the decade, according to the International Energy Agency. Moreover, the cost of renewables is improving significantly – see chart.
2023 WAS ALSO A YEAR FOR SOME HOPE
global atmospheric temperatures

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  • Policy initiatives in many countries (USA, Canada, much of Europe and even China) are driving the increased uptake of electric vehicles and the building of energy efficient buildings.

 

  • Governments, fossil fuel firms and airlines are increasingly being met with climate lawsuits. According to data bases run by the Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, there are more than 2,500 lawsuits recorded globally, and this shows no sign of stopping any time soon. Why? – because it is highly effective.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2024

According to most predictions, 2024 will be as hot or hotter than 2023. Vast areas of Earth’s oceans were record-warm for most of 2023, and it will take many months for that heat to be released. Moreover, an intense episode of the planet-warming El Niño climate pattern is nearing its peak, and the last time that happened, it pushed the planet to record warmth (in 2016).

It is also likely that the momentum that has been building towards the transition away from fossil fuels, will continue. Afterall, the awareness about the climate emergency within the public is higher than it has ever been. Any kind of denial about the reality climate change has been burned to a crisp.

As well, many scientists are increasingly optimistic about the power of technology to change the world, and in terms of our fight against climate change it’s one of the strongest levers that we have.

Massive forms of activism though, would be an even stronger lever. Political will depends on the mood of voters. What worries me is the trend towards extreme right-wing politics along with disinformation tactics that can easily work towards pushing the stop button on progress and even take us backwards. As I wrote in a previous article, capital has an outsized influence on politics thus sowing decades of division while the situation has worsened. In fact – Capital is rewarded by governments around the world, with subsidies estimated by the World Bank to be 23 million dollars per minute.

Indeed, capital (or big money) had an outsized influence on the last COP conference with oil industry lobbyists outnumbering the delegates of many developed countries –   hence a weakened commitment. Many from the science community feel that the text included language to placate fossil fuel interests and thus fell far short of what was needed on emissions reductions and finance to help the most vulnerable cope with worsening extreme weather and heat. The statement should, as a minimum, have stated the need to “phase out” of instead of “a transition away” from fossil fuels. In instances like these – words do matter.

Where does all this leave us? My conclusion is the same as for my last article. Short of donating to environmental organizations, or initiating our own forms of advocacy, the most important action we can individually do is to vote for our future and convince others to do the same. Politics matter – especially this year with so many critical elections taking place.  Any politician that does not acknowledge the crises the planet is facing and endorse a legitimate set of plans to deal with climate change and planetary destruction is not fit for office. We all have the power to ensure this happens and to advocate for change.

Wild Fires Show How Our Planet is in Peril

Wildfires Show How Our Planet is in Peril

Homes are pictured near the McDougall Creek Wildfire as it burns in West Kelowna, B.C. on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023.

Wildfires Show How Our Planet is in Peril – Why Then is There a Political Divide?

Humanity is in the hot seat; humans are the cause. On this, there is universal consensus among scientists. Unfortunately, this does not translate into political consensus. If fact it is quite the opposite.

Headlines from the media scream out the urgency. ‘Era of Global Boiling’ // ‘Antarctica Missing and Argentina-Sized Amount of Sea Ice’ // “Florida Records Unprecedented ‘Hot Tub’ Temperatures” // ‘European Weather: Blistering Cerberus Heat Wave’ // ‘Canada Experiences Worst Fire Season on Record’ // Maui Fires Leave a Trail of Death and Destruction//Yellowknife – Entire City Evacuated.  These are not “sky is falling” headlines but most often from quotes by climate scientists.

These are but a few of the headlines we are seeing daily. July has now been confirmed as the hottest month in recorded history (see graph). Smoke from Canada’s plagued northeastern cities in Canada and the USA forcing millions to avoid being outside. Deaths from heat stroke are at an all-time high around the world. Already, around 600 million people have been stranded in inhospitable conditions by global heating. The death toll from the Maui fires is over 100 and growing each day as the houses are searched.  Any kind of denial about the reality climate change has been burned to a crisp.

Wildfires Show How Our Planet is in Peril

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THE SCIENCE – THEN AND NOW

Scientific Consensus: The human-caused global warming is undeniably the main factor in causing the deadly heatwaves and significantly amplifies the resulting extreme climate events, that have struck our planet this year. This is clearly stated in the landmark report published on in March 2023 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), assembled by the world’s foremost climate experts, approved by all the world’s governments and endorsed by all national science academies and associations. The all-important scientific consensus is discussed in this article – https://www.environmentmatters.ca/climate-change-facing-reality-debunking-misinformation/

 The report is clear. “There is a rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.”

 Extreme Frustration: The major frustration for scientists around the world is the fact that these climate events were predicted decades ago – in some cases even coming from individuals within fossil fuel industry research departments. https://www.environmentmatters.ca/climate-change-industry-knew-this-was-coming-2/

 Some events exceed predictions:  What is even more worrisome is that some of the events occurring in the past 2 years have been worse or have arrived sooner than even the direst predictions. These include, but are not limited to, the rapid rise in ocean temperatures, the massive loss of Antarctic Sea Ice, and the rapid weakening of the Gulf Stream.

CAPITAL, POLITICS AND US

There are many more examples that could be provided. I am certain most readers or watchers of the news cycles are aware of the unprecedented challenges that humanity faces. The question then becomes – WHY ARE WE MOVING SO SLOWLY TO DEAL WITH THESE CHALLENGES. The reasons point to – Capital, Politics and Us.

Capital:  There are about 10 times more fossil fuel reserves than can be used if the world is to adhere to no more than 1.5 degrees as agreed upon in the Paris Climate Accord. This equates to more than 1 trillion dollars (US) of fossil fuel assets that will be stranded.

The industry’s response has been predicable. DENIAL, DELAY and DEFLECT. For the fossil fuel industry over the past few decades, climate change denial was a multi-million-dollar endeavour. The goal was to delay action and protect profits for as long as possible. They fought science with junk-science but their message stuck.  The denial reports became the salvation for politicians (for the most part from the right-wing parties around the world) who lacked the courage to confront the global warming threat, or even worse bowed to the wishes of their mega-donors.

https://www.environmentmatters.ca/climate-change-industry-knew-this-was-coming-2/

Wildfires Show How Our Planet is in Peril

Politics: Capital has an outsized influence on politics thus sowing decades of division while the situation worsens. In fact – Capital is rewarded by governments around the world, with subsidies estimated by the World Bank to be 23 million dollars per minute. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jun/15/vast-fossil-fuel-and-farming-subsidies-causing-environmental-havoc-world-bank

 Outright climate change denial no longer resonates given the extreme climate events of the past 5 to 10 years. The messaging is now directed towards attacking climate change solutions — regulations, renewable energy, sustainable cities, sustainable agriculture, and many other necessary endeavours. It’s a nonsensical “the cure is worse than the disease” kind of argument. Social media is co-opted to advance this negative messaging with Meme’s and Bots that make impressions without the need for facts or even context. Once formed, impressions are remarkably perseverant. It is a standard manipulation tactic because unfortunately it works. It’s easy to fall for misinformation, especially when the fake items reinforce preconceived ideas.

 This is playing out for all to see in the USA. Since the late 1970s, every Republican administration has rolled back or even reversed any kind of environmental progress that had been previously accomplished. The most infuriating case was the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, reversing years of careful work and negotiation by scientists, diplomats and politicians. This was followed by an orchestrated evisceration of the EPA – even to the extent of removing any reference to climate change on the agency’s web site and written documents.

 Fortunately, the new administration rejoined the Paris Accord and was successful in implementing the boldest US climate and environmental justice bill in US history – strangely called the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). However – every single Republican voted against the plan and after the midterms there are efforts afoot to the repeal the IRA.  Moreover, in the past month an influential right-wing foundation (the Heritage Foundation) funded by big industry has initiated a 22-million-dollar project (as a presidential proposal called Project 2025) to bolster the fossil fuel industry and reverse or even eliminate programs directed towards sustainable energy.

 Similar tactics are being observed in Europe. After two years of real progress, a ‘greenlash’ is brewing. In the UK, the ruling Conservative Party is actually campaigning against a net zero goal. In Canada – the political tactic of the Conservative Party is to simply ignore the issue. For the new leader Pierre Poilievre, and his party, the choice is to talk about everything but climate change. In Alberta, the Premier has initiated a moratorium on wind and solar projects.

 The most disturbing development in my view though, has been the co-opting of environmental issues into the very irrational ‘culture wars’ engulfing democracies around the world. Companies addressing ESG (Environmental, Social Governance) are being labelled ‘woke capitalists’. (NOTE :: “Woke” seems to be a term that is widely misused as it normally means talking about racial and social justice). Climate scientists and campaigners are being bombarded with claims they are alarmists, communists, shills, woke stooges, global elites, and more. Several state governments have enacted laws that prevents cities from implementing renewable energy building codes. Sadly, it seems that now environmental protection is part of the culture war, neither policy details nor rational arguments matter.

 This is unfortunate. The climate crisis is too serious to politicize. The world is facing an existential threat that is universal and requires cooperation within and between countries. We can no longer allow corporations to be unhindered in maximizing shareholder profit while incinerating the planet. We need to remember though – that we – the voters elect our governments. So – what about us?

 What about us: From my own readings, I find there is a wide range of emotions and opinions within the electorates of countries around the world – exasperation, anxiety, anger, dismay, dismissal, and even in some cases denial, along with a sense that there’s nothing we can do. Many still see the threat to be distant and far into the future.

 Eco- Anxiety is real especially among youth. A global survey in 2021 of 10,000 people between the ages of 16 to 25 revealed that about 60 percent told researchers they felt “very” or “extremely” worried about climate change with nearly 4 in 10,  “hesitant to have children”.

 My predominant emotion is OUTRAGE– in that these crises were predicted. There’s no question that anger or outrage – especially among our youth, is justified. Society has been conned and lied to for decades – and now we are facing the planet’s fury.

 But we are all part of the problem. I believe there is an instinct that some of the needed changes will decrease our quality of life. There is an emerging sense of what many are labelling solution aversion. Some solutions, while absolutely necessary, will be challenging and perhaps even unpalatable – such as a significant price on carbon, the gradual phase out of gasoline and diesel fueled cars, elimination of natural gas in new construction, a proper (significantly higher) cost of animal protein as it becomes decoupled from deforestation, no-car cities, carbon surcharges on flying, elimination of many forms of packaging, extreme restrictions on water use, etc.

 Many solutions will be viewed by some as an assault on individual freedoms instead of the need to address the common good. Many politicians are already using these challenges as wedge issues in upcoming elections – attacking climate solutions. For instance – the Conservative Party in Canada has vowed to eliminate the carbon tax without proposing a plan to finance a needed energy transition and without mentioning that the major oil companies around the world are NOT paying a fair share of taxes. https://www.marketforces.org.au/campaigns/subsidies/taxes/taxavoidance/

 My hope is that the majority will see this crisis for what is really is and become increasingly informed and in doing so, accept and endorse change even when inconvenient and costly.  NOT taking the needed actions will be much more costly and harmful in the near and distant future. This fact is very clear.

 Short of donating to environmental organizations, or initiating our own forms of advocacy, the most important action we can individually do is to vote for our future and convince others to do the same. Politics matter.  Any politician that does not acknowledge the crises the planet is facing and endorse a legitimate set of plans to deal with climate change and planetary destruction is not fit for office. We all have the power to ensure this happens and to advocate for change.

NOTE

There is a multitude of sources that provide information on reducing environmental impacts of our lifestyles https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2018/12/27/35-ways-reduce-carbon-footprint/

I have not addressed the significant environmental impacts by many non-democratic countries. That is another topic.

 

Move Away from Animal Agriculture

Move Away from Animal Agriculture

Why it’s essential to move away from a
reliance on animal agriculture.

Plate and Planet:  Why it’s essential to move away from a reliance on animal agriculture.

A quote by Jonathan Swift – (1721) – “You cannot reason someone out of something he or she was not reasoned into”, is often presented as a rational for avoiding conversations around politics and religion. I wonder if diet would also be among topics to ‘steer’ (pun intended) away from. Consider the boycotts and law suits that Oprah Winfrey (in Texas) and KD Lang (in Alberta) encountered for negative comments about the beef industry. The issues associated with diets forms a hard topic to consider let alone fully accept. But the facts about food are well documented and sobering. At the same time – there is good news. What is good for the planet is also good for our personal health.

I grew up becoming totally accustomed to meals centered around meat. I am certain this applies to many or most citizens in developed countries. Ask the question – “What’s for supper tonight?” and the likely reply would be – “Pork Chops” or “Roast Chicken” – or some other meat dish. Potatoes and vegetables would be side dishes, hardly worthy of mention unless it was a Sunday night that involved roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Over the past number of decades, “western diets” also included more and more processed convenience foods that contain refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, added sugars and salt.

Unfortunately, as many developing nations become more urbanized and citizens incomes have increased, traditional diets are transitioning towards this so-called western diet. This transition is enhanced by well financed marketing campaigns by major consolidated global food corporations.

Along with the well documented negative human health impacts associated with this nutrition transition, this dietary pattern is also completely unsustainable. Current food production is driving climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and drastic changes in land and water use.

Move Away from Animal Agriculture

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ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF ANIMAL AGRICULTURE

 The meat industry has an outsized impact on the environment and the global use of resources. Some of this was noted in my previous article. https://www.environmentmatters.ca/global-food-supply-a-growing-crisis/

Here are some notable facts:

  • Livestock (including the growing of feed) takes up nearly 80% of global agricultural land yet produces less than 20% of the world’s supply of calories and only 37% of total protein.
  • Almost 90% of all land mammals are humans or livestock.
  • Vegan-organic agriculture can be over 4000% more productive than animal-based agriculture in the amount of food produced per acre.
  • Without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world.
  • Percentage of grain harvest used to feed cattle – 38% of the world’s harvest, 60% of Brazil’s harvest, 70% of America’s harvest.
  • 50% of all the water used in the USA is devoted to livestock farming.
  • One pound of beef requires 2500 gallons (9500 liters) of water. One pound of potatoes requires only 24 gallons (90 liters).
  • The entire system of food production, is responsible for about 35% of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activity.
  • football pitch-sized tract of forest is lost every second somewhere around the world (or over 5 million acres per year) because of agricultural expansion; meat production is the single biggest cause.

The following graphic clearly demonstrates the differences in resource use and environmental impacts of the various food groups and clearly demonstrates the heavy toll of animal agriculture.

HUMAN HEALTH IMPACTS OF ANIMAL AGRICULTURE

Consider the diet fads over the years (mostly directed towards weight loss) – the Grapefruit Diet, the Scarsdale Diet, the Cabbage Soup Diet, the Keto Diet, etc. The amount of information – (books, articles, documentaries, and lectures) pertaining food is overwhelming, controversial, and contradictory. Many studies are rife with confirmation bias (the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior belief); many are funded by the various food industry groups. The dairy industry for instance will promote milk and cheese as healthy food choices despite well documented findings to the contrary.

The subject is extremely complex, with a wide variety of viewpoints and strong emotions. Clearly, people’s choice of diet is highly personal even if certain risks are known.  It is though, becoming increasingly clear, that that a diet centered around meat, dairy and processed foods significantly increases the risk of a variety of diseases including cancers, diabetes, heart disease and strokes. Conversely, the more fruits and vegetables we eat, the lower our risk for these diseases. In short – plant-based foods are healthier. That is certain. Rather than delve into more detail, I have added some references below for those that may be interested.

In terms of human health associated with animal agriculture, there is another major factor to consider – ZOONISIS. A zoonosis is an infectious disease that has jumped from a non-human animal to humans. Zoonotic pathogens may be bacterial, viral, or parasitic. They represent a major public health problem around the world due to our close relationship with animals in agriculture. Up to three-quarters of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, or come from human-to-animal contactaccording to the CDC.

 

Move Away from Animal Agriculture

The great flu of 1918 to 1920 was caused by a virus likely of avian (bird) origins. While there is an ongoing debate about the origins of Covid 19, zoonosis is the predominant consensus.

NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS

The good news – human diets that link health and environmental sustainability will nurture both. In other words – by transitioning towards a diet that is beneficial to the planet will most certainly be the most beneficial for human health.

Consider the graphic below showing the association between a food group’s impact on mortality and its environmental impact. The y axis is plotted on a log scale associated with 5 environmental outcomes relative to the impact of producing a serving of vegetables (not including starchy roots and tubers). The x axis is the relative risk of mortality, – taken from “The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” (PNAS), a peer reviewed journal of the US National Academy of Sciences 

Move Away from Animal Agriculture

In 2019, the United Nations sponsored the EAT-Lancet Commission that brought together a commission of experts from 16 countries. This commission developed the world’s first scientific targets for healthy and sustainable food systems, including a “planetary health diet” with defined daily consumption ranges for each food group. https://eatforum.org/eat-lancet-commission/

This dietary pattern—characterized by a variety of high-quality plant-based foods and low amounts of animal-based foods, refined grains, added sugars, and unhealthy fats—is designed to be flexible to accommodate local and individual situations, traditions, and dietary preferences.

Compared with current diets, this shift will require global consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar to decrease by 50%, while consumption of fruits, nuts, vegetables, and legumes must double. That said, the Commission emphasizes the importance of tailoring these targets to local situations.

In terms of human health associated with the planetary diet, – modeling studies show that between 10.9 to 11.6 million early deaths could be averted each year—a 19% to 23.6% reduction from current adult mortality rates.

In terms of environmental sustainability, it is estimated that if North Americans were to reduce meat intake by merely 10%, 100 million people could be fed using the land, water and energy that would have been used for livestock production. At present North American countries consume almost 6.5 times the recommended amount of red meat. Countries in South Asia eat only half the recommended amount. 

SUMMARY COMMENTS

Far be it for me to provide advice to anyone concerning what to eat and what not to eat. Diet choice is highly personal. I will say this though. When speaking about climate change and habitat loss, the comment I hear the most is an expression of helplessness in terms of how to make a significant difference as an individual. I even wrote an article about that – https://www.environmentmatters.ca/how-can-we-prevent-a-climate-disaster/ 

It’s clear from reviewing the information above, that THE MOST significant contribution people can make, short of major items such installing solar panels to a home, is to reduce or even eliminate the consumption of animal products – with the added benefit of improving individual health.

In terms of my own experiences – it’s not that difficult – at least to reduce meat and dairy. I’m not vegan (yet) – but I must say, some of the most delicious meals I have had lately are vegan. My meat and dairy consumption is significantly reduced. I will continue this journey.

What is also encouraging – plant based eating is growing significantly around the world – even in North America. https://foodrevolution.org/blog/vegan-statistics-global/

Global Food Supply – A Growing Crisis

Global Food Supply - A Growing Crisis

Global Food Supply – A Growing Crisis

Global Food Supply – A Growing Crisis

There is no escaping the reality that the cost to feed a family has risen significantly over the past year or so. Food prices along with energy costs are now the major drivers of inflation. In fact, food is becoming unaffordable for many even in developed countries – but it’s much worse for poorer nations. For years, it looked as if hunger around the world was declining. But in 2015, the trend began to turn. The number of people suffering from chronic hunger worldwide has climbed to 811 million as of 2021. Approximately 50 million people are facing emergency levels of hunger across 45 countries. What is going on?

All our food systems – agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and aquaculture – are buckling under the stresses of climate change (floods, droughts, fires, and more), lack of crop diversify, supply chain issues and waste. Consider the information presented below and then ask – is our global food supply stable – and sustainable in the coming decades? The facts are discouraging but having the facts is a starting point. With the requisite investment along with bold leadership, the situation is solvable. The main vulnerabilities of the global food supply are discussed below. More specifics and solutions will then be presented in the next series of articles.

MUCH OF THE PLANET’S LAND IS NOW FARMED

The graphic below clearly depicts the global situation. Seventy-one percent of the land on earth is theoretically habitable for humans. A massive fifty percent of that habitable land has already been converted for agricultural use. This includes – 70% of the world’s grasslands, 50% of the savannah, 45% of the temperate deciduous forest, and 27% of the tropical forest, according to a report by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

This conversion of land accelerates the loss of biodiversity. As areas of grasslands and forests and other wild ecosystems are cleared to create farmland, there is continued loss of crucial habitat, making agriculture the most significant driver of wildlife extinction. Recent research has revealed that humans have wiped out 70% of the animal population in the last 50 years. Livestock animals now make up over 60% of all mammals on earth.

Global Food Supply - A Growing Crisis

Making matters even more untenable, livestock (including the growing of feed) takes up nearly 80% of global agricultural land yet produces less than 20% of the world’s supply of calories (as shown in the visualization). This means that what we eat is more important than how much we eat in determining the amount of land required to produce our food. If people all over the world were to adopt the average diet of the United States and Canada (due to high meat consumption), we would need to convert all our habitable land to agriculture, and we’d still be 38% short.

Farming methods along with increasing frequencies of drought and flood episodes are also greatly impacting crop yields. A recent report has revealed that soil is vanishing ten times faster than it can be naturally replenished. As a result, 500 million people are now living in regions that are essentially transforming into desert.

THE MEAT INDUSTRY – AN OUTSIZED ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

The entire system of food production, including the use of farming machinery, spraying of fertilizer, emissions from animals, and the transportation of products, is responsible for about 35% of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. This is more than double the entire emissions of the United States. Currently, meat production produces twice the carbon emissions than growing and processing plant-based foods. Beef is the worst – responsible for 8.5% of human-induced climate emissions. To quote an editorial in the Guardian – “By cooking meat, people are cooking themselves”.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/aug/21/the-guardian-view-on-earth-friendly-diets-cooking-animals-is-cooking-the-planet

The meat industry - and outsized environmental impact

click image to enlarge

The overall impact of the industrial meat industry is made even worse because of its association to deforestation. A football pitch-sized tract of forest is lost every second somewhere around the world because of agricultural expansion; meat production is the single biggest cause. These forests are ‘the lungs of the world’ given their ability through photosynthesis, to sequester carbon dioxide.

DIMINISHING CROP DIVERISTY (MONOCULTURE) 

Can we learn from history? The Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, began in 1845 when a mold known as Phytophthora infestans caused a destructive plant disease that spread rapidly throughout Ireland. The infestation ruined up to one-half of the potato crop that year, and about three-quarters of the crop over the next seven years. This crisis was the result of mono-culture – the reliance on one plant species as a food source that was nearly wiped out from plant disease.

Since the start of the Agricultural Revolution, scientists believe that humans have cultivated more than 6,000 different plant species. Over time though, farming practises gravitated toward planting those with more desired properties such as yield, appearance, taste, growth rates, etc. Today – just four crops – wheat, rice, maize and soy – account for almost  60% of the calories grown by farmers.  

Global Food Supply A Growing Crisis

As learned from history, such a reliance on a small number of crops has made global agriculture vulnerable to pests, plant-borne diseases, and soil erosion, which thrive on monoculture. It has also meant losing out on the resilience of other crops that may have a better ability at surviving drought and other natural disasters.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/aug/20/ancient-crops-climate-crisis-amaranth-fonio-cowpeas-taro-kernza

The production of these crops is now highly concentrated in a handful of “bread-basket” nations. These include Pakistan – where one-third of the land has been flooded, along with Russia and Ukraine, now at war.

Adding to the concern of the global food supply is consolidation of corporate control – and thus the lack of competitiveness. These few monopolies seem to be a powerful, unique, and poorly understood sector. There are four major corporations (Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus), that control as much as 90 per cent of the global grain trade.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/may/19/banks-collapsed-in-2008-food-system-same-producers-regulators

It’s clear that the global food supply is vulnerable to system failures.  The production of food world-wide is a significant contributor of carbon emissions, but also drastically impacted by the resulting climate change. There are solutions – and these will be addressed in the next series of articles – that will cover:

  • How reducing meat consumption will be one of the most significant ways to reduce global carbon emissions with the added benefit of better health outcomes.
  • Changing the approach to agriculture – soil management, reduced use of fertilizers etc.
  • Water issues – sustainable food production requires much better water management systems.
  • Food waste – About one-third of all food produced worldwide goes to waste.

A GREEN RECOVERY – THERE IS NO CHOICE

BY – Allan Maynard – July 24, 2020

The international CoVid-19 crisis demonstrates – in real, fast forward time, stark lessons about the consequences of unsustainable development, the limitations of our economic systems and the critical need for informed, evidence based leadership. We have learned the harsh lesson that our dependence on animal protein has placed humans and animals (farmed and in some cases wild) in close proximity allowing viruses to jump from animals to humans who have limited immunity to the new (novel) infections. We have also learned that air pollution is an important contributor to deaths from respiratory viruses such as Covid-19. 

On the positive side, we did observe, for short time – that the tragic pandemic that is causing so much human misery did indeed give Planet Earth a much-needed “breather”. Air pollution levels, especially oxides of nitrogen and fine particulates, were drastically reduced around the world. In Beijing, residents were able see the stars at night, an impossibility for the past number of years. 

We also have seen how rapidly some governments were able to mobilize human resources, infrastructure and financial measures in response to a crisis whilst simultaneously gaining the confidence of their citizens to ensure full cooperation. But, unfortunately we have also seen the dire consequences of bad leadership that has resulted in deadly delays and muddled communications. 

RECOVERY – BUSINESS AS USUAL IS NOT AN OPTION –It is clear that we cannot, in recovering from this pandemic, go back to ‘business as usual”. It was business as usual that got us into this mess

The ever changing nature of the CoVid crisis and the politics involved has, for the past number of months, pushed news about a host of environmental crises (climate change, accelerated extinctions, toxic exposure, micro-plastic pollution and more) off the front pages. This is understandable but also unfortunate. Environmental issues are, and will continue to be, orders of magnitude greater in terms of overall human cost. For example, the combined effects of ambient (outdoor) and household air pollution cause about 7 million premature deaths every year, largely as a result of increased mortality from stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections (WHO – 2019 report). The numbers associated with climate change due to drought, hurricanes, wild fires, land use degradation and massive human migrations and more are even more worrying but harder to quantify.  

Some facts re climate change:

Carbon Dioxide 280 PPM in 1970 // 420 ppm in 2020
Temperature 1 degree C higher globally since 1900 / over 7 degrees warmer in parts of the Arctic
Sea Ice Shrunk by over 1,000,000 sq. miles (2.6 million sq. km)
Sea levels Have risen over 20 cm since 1900 – flooding in many cities
Fires 2019 – tens of millions hectors lost – unprecedented – each year is worse
Heat waves Each year – more days of extreme heat and more deaths due to the heat
Ocean acidity Increasing due to carbon dioxide dissolving – threats to sea life / coral bleaching

There are many more stark examples. The main point – we are seeing dramatic levels of damage and health consequences due to environmental degradation and it’s getting worse each year. 

Despite the mountains of evidence, there is still significant denial and/or ignorance of climate change and environmental degradation. In fact we are seeing some governments moving 180 degrees in the wrong direction. In Brazil, President Bolsonaro has decided that it’s a good idea to burn precious Amazon forests to make way for beef farming. In the US, the Trump administration is weakening a host of air, water, land-use and climate change regulations. Around the world, many industries are advocating for even more reductions in health, safety and environmental regulations citing economic “emergency factors” due to the lockdowns.  Moreover, the fossil fuel industry is lobbying for significant portions of economic stimulus funds despite having been heavily subsidized and raking in enormous profits for decades. Unfortunately, some poorly led governments will comply without a consideration for more sustainable options. It does not have to be this way.

A SUSTAINABLE RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE – I am not an economist, but as an environmental scientist, it is clear to me that our conventional economic orthodoxy is failing us in so many ways in terms of addressing the environment (climate change, mass extinctions, water quality and quantity, habitat loss, air quality, etc.), human wellness (health, equality, access to healthy food, happiness), and a sustainable use of resources. 

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the monetary value of all finished goods and services made within a country during a specific period. GDP provides an economic snapshot of a country and thus used to estimate the size of an economy and growth rate. However, GDP does not provide information about the overall wellbeing of a country since activities that are detrimental (like deforestation, strip mining, over-fishing, prison populations, terrorism) actually and strangely increase today’s GDP.

Jonathan Aldred, an economist from Cambridge states that “conventional economic theories have had little to offer. On the contrary, they have acted like a cage around our thinking, vetoing a range of progressive policy ideas as unaffordable, counter-productive, incompatible with free markets, and so on. Worse than that, economics has led us, in a subtle, insidious way, to internalise a set of values and ways of seeing the world that prevents us even imagining various forms of radical change.

Since economic orthodoxy is so completely embedded in our thinking, escape from it demands more than a short-term spending splurge to prevent immediate economic collapse, vital though that is. We must dig deeper to uncover the economic roots of the mess we’re in. Putting it more positively, what do we want from post-coronavirus economics?”

Fortunately – there are many economic thinkers proposing sustainable ways of moving forward. A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear economy (make, use, dispose) in which we keep resources in use for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.

A related but even more progressive concept is the doughnut economy described by Kate Raworth, an English economist working for the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. Doughnut economics, is a visual framework for sustainable development – shaped like a doughnut or lifebelt – combining the concept of planetary boundaries with the complementary concept of social boundaries. The name derives from the shape of the diagram, i.e. a disc with a hole in the middle. The centre hole of the model depicts the proportion of people that lack access to life’s essentials (healthcare, education, equality, etc.) while the outer crust represents the ecological ceilings or planetary boundaries that life depends on and must not be overshot.  See visual below.

The framework was proposed to regard the performance of an economy by the extent to which the needs of people are met without overshooting Earth’s ecological ceiling. In this model, an economy is considered prosperous when all social foundations are met without overshooting any of the ecological ceilings. This situation is represented by the area between the two rings, as the safe and just space for humanity.

These types of progressive concepts are not “pie in the sky’. A growing body of technological achievements along with associated financial undertakings underpins them. However there is predictable pushback from those entrenched in the traditional linear economy. The upcoming US election is providing a clear case study about the opposing forces. A ‘New Green Deal’ however it might be finally laid out, is already being branded as ‘socialist’. It is a false narrative as is commonly the case when progressive programs are initially proposed. 

Make no mistake – despite ill-informed pushback, progress on many fronts is already occurring. The price of solar modules has plummeted 99% since the 1970s thanks to forward thinking research, public policy and increasing demand. According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the fastest growing occupation over the next 10 years will be solar panel installer. The second: wind turbine technician. Major financial institutions have taken note with investments in renewables growing each year accompanied by decreasing investments in fossil fuels. 

Despite these good news stories, sustainability is nonetheless a political issue. Unfortunately, this is stalling progress. We have observed this exact outcome with the CoVid crisis. Politics lead to a denial followed by a delay in needed action with a deadly outcome.

Policy shifts at all levels of government are needed to speed our transition to clean energy, sustainable and safe food production, proper use of resources and greater equality. Political will and informed planning are needed more than ever now. These goals though can be met. We have the knowledge and the financial resources. Moreover, people can adapt quickly to change once convinced that the change is necessary and even useful.