From top: Cows cool off in County Cavan last Summer; Bryan Wall
Late last month the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) published a report that once again details the deleterious effects that humans continue to have on the biosphere. The report details the increase of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere which, they state, “have reached another record high”.
In their press release they wrote that “Since 1990, there has been a 41% increase in total radiative forcing — the warming effect on the climate — by long-lived greenhouse gases.” Of this, C02 makes up roughly 82% of this increase.
WMO Secretary-General, Petteri Taalas, pulled no punches and was quoted as saying that “Without rapid cuts in CO2 and other greenhouse gases, climate change will have increasingly destructive and irreversible impacts on life on Earth.”
Of course, this is not news, especially not to the world’s climate scientists and members of the public who have followed the science reporting on the issue. Nonetheless, his warnings must be heeded.
Our window of time to make real changes is rapidly closing, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently declaring that we have twelve years at most to limit the effects of climate change.
Even limiting warming to 1.5 degrees would still have far-reaching consequences for the planet and us, however. Mass extinctions and die-offs will still take place even if warming is kept to the 1.5 degree limit, just at a lower rate.
Extreme and unseasonal weather will be the norm and droughts and flooding are likely to be commonplace. Warming higher than 1.5 degrees will amplify all of these aspects of climate change. And the fact of the matter is that we are currently well along the path to hurtling past the 1.5 degree limits.
Six years ago the World Bank was warning that an increase of 3.5 to 4 degrees was more likely. This would result in an overall 4 to 10 degree rise in temperature over land, meaning that “the coolest months are likely to be substantially warmer than the warmest month at the end of the 20th century.”
In the Mediterranean, for example, this would mean a 9 degree warmer month of July than the warmest July today. Today, at current rates, it is projected that by the end of the century the temperature will be 4 degrees higher, a massive failure on our part to ensure our survival as a species and the planet.
The world economy will be on the verge of collapse, food shortages will be commonplace given the failure of crops, and millions of deaths due to the increased temperatures will be unremarkable.
This summer saw widespread water shortages here due to the extreme temperatures, a timely reminder that we are not immune to the effects of climate change.
Yet, one would be forgiven for thinking otherwise given the fact that successive governments have been blasé regarding their concern for the environment and climate change in general.
The government’s current Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Mark Ferguson, recently told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change that “no crisis that was ever predicted in human history has come to pass.” He would also ask the committee to “not necessarily demonise oil and gas”.
In his comments to the committee he also made note of the rise of carbon capturing technologies, advocating their use even though their mass viability is decades away.
Also timely was that during the heatwave the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) issued its annual report on the effectiveness of Ireland’s climate change policy.
The CCAC’s press release opened with the statement that “Ireland is completely off course to achieve its 2020 and 2030 climate change targets.” The report also noted that one of the largest contributors to our greenhouse gas emissions comes from agriculture.
Emissions from this area increased by “4.5% relative to 2014”, with the expectation that these levels will continue to rise. It was pointed out that an increase in the number of dairy animals used in farming is responsible for the rise in emissions, with an increase of 25.1 per cent since 2011. Likewise there has been a rise in the number of non-dairy cattle, with an increase of 8.9 per cent since 2011 being noted.
On a similar note, according to a report issued by the World Resources Institute (WRI) last week, “major climate changes will make it impossible to grow certain crops.” What makes this even more concerning is that “Consumption of ruminant meat (beef, lamb, and goat) is projected to rise 88 percent between 2010 and 2050.”
As is referred to in the report, beef, for example, “is resource-intensive to produce, requiring 20 times more land and emitting 20 times more GHGs [greenhouse gases] per gram of edible protein than common plant proteins”.
If people were to limit themselves to roughly one and half hamburgers per week, it “would reduce the GHG mitigation gap [the 1.5 degree limit of warming] by half”. Clearly, then, taking a long and hard look at the content of our diets is something that we all must do and must encourage others to do.
Alas, the farming lobby is notoriously strong and conservative, thus ensuring that any attempts to limit cattle and sheep farming will be met with strong resistance. E
ven the appearance and popularity of non-dairy alternatives has the farming community and the dairy industry worried.
In a recent interview, Zoe Kavanagh of the National Dairy Council declared that the Irish system of dairy production, given that it is based on grass, “demonstrates the highest of standards… in terms of care for the environment.”
She also accused the “rejectors” – i.e., those who promote the use of non-dairy milk and cheeses – of being “sinister” by “deliberately targeting young impressionable teenagers and scaring them.”
Obviously this “care for the environment” is at odds with the science on emissions produced by the farming industry.
And the truth regarding climate change is, unfortunately, scary. Unless something drastic is to happen in the next few years, we are well on our way to shooting past the 1.5 degree limit that has been agreed to.
Governments have been slow to react and corporations and industries have gone on the offensive in order to negate any green initiatives which may undercut their profit. If anything could be a better example of the psychology of the profit motivation in the late capitalist era it is the fact that companies would rather make just a bit more profit than try to save the planet that they rely on for their very existence.
If change is to happen, it is likely to come from people taking matters into their own hands and advocating and pushing for it themselves.
Cutting down on our dairy and meat consumption can have a huge impact considering it is something that is relatively easy to do.
If we simply defer all decision-making regarding the environment to governments and their patrons in industry and corporations, the status quo will remain and we will have doomed ourselves and our children.
Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. His column appears here every Monday. Read more of his work here and follow Bryan on twitter: @Bryan_Wall
Top pic by Lorraine Teevan