"Long-term disaster is now the best case scenario" wrote Nathaniel Rich in "Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change." The planet is warming much more quickly than climate models predicted. It is now very probable that global temperatures will increase to 3.5 degrees by 2035 and may possibly warm to 6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, according to NASA.
In the past two million years it has taken the planet about 5,000 years to warm 5 degrees and yet we stand to do it in just one century, a rate of warming that is extremely unusual and at least 20 times faster. Already the oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has started to break up prompting one meteorologist to describe it as "scary."
The writing has been on the wall for some time, but it continues to get pushed under the rug for many reasons, not the least of which is apathy. There are the proponents of economic-growth-at-all-costs. There are the climate deniers, deregulation diehards, and the human extremists. And there are those who nullify the moral depravity of exploiting and consuming the bodies and fluids of other animals, which happens to contribute mightily to our and our planet's woes.
The numbers speak for themselves. A recent analysis of life on Earth published by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America showed that humans are directly attributable for the deaths of 83 percent of all non-domesecrated nonhuman animals, as well as half of all plants.
We have replaced these free-living beings with tormented captives. Now 70 percent of all birds on Earth consist primarily of enslaved chickens and turkeys, while 60 percent of all mammals comprise mostly of captive cows, pigs, and goats. We murder 60 billion of these birds and mammals and trillions of sea animals annually just so we can needlessly eat them.
Our changing planet has been so impacted by humans in such a short amount of geologic time that scientists have coined this epoch the Anthropocene—the age of humans. Human overpopulation, farming, logging, development, resource depletion, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to the sixth mass extinction in roughly 540 million years. Half of Earth's nonhuman animals have already died in the last 50 years and many species will become extinct by the end of this century, to say nothing of the individuals within these species who will lose their lives.
Professor Ron Milo from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, who led the work published by the National Academy of Sciences, reiterated our monstrous influence on the natural world and at least one step all of us can take immediately—adopt a vegan diet. "Our dietary choices have a vast effect on the habitats of animals, plants, and other organisms," he said.
He's right. Raising other animals for their flesh, milk, and eggs has caused worldwide pollution and soil erosion, and is responsible for converting one-third of the earth's surface to desert. It also consumes much of our land and most of the world's depleting fresh water supply, polluting what is remaining with excrement, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, and hormones. From feed to fertilizer, to refrigeration and transport, enormous amounts of fossil fuels are needed to power the nonhuman flesh, milk, and egg industries, making these enslavement cartels one of the biggest contributors to climate change.
"I would hope people would take this [work] as part of their world view of how they consume," Professor Milo said. And yet Milo went on to admit, almost contritely, that he has failed to commit himself to a vegan diet. "I have not become vegetarian . . . but I do take the environmental impact into my decision making, so it helps me think, do I want to choose beef or poultry or use tofu instead?"
And therein lies the problem. As dire as things are, even when we know what the right thing to do is (both ethically and environmentally), we still don't do it, which is disheartening (especially coming from a scientist who knows the facts), and doesn't bode well for our future and the future of all life on Earth.
Rich found a common principle: "Human beings, whether in global organizations, democracies, industries, political parties or as individuals, are incapable of sacrificing present convenience to forestall a penalty imposed on future generations."
According to Rich, thirty years ago we had a chance to put policies and actions in place to forestall climate change but there was little political will to overcome competing short term self-interests . . . like making money. The inevitable has caught up to us and thus far, economic concerns and personal pleasure (if you can call eating the babies, milk, and ovum of other animals pleasurable) still trump environmental disaster even though we stand to lose a lot more than just money and our affinity for flesh.
Our policies are as self-centered and myopic as we are. For example, the NJ Shore will one day be a thing of the past, but that hasn't stopped state and local governments from wasting billions of dollars to "restore the shore" even though that money could be better used elsewhere. In spite of the menace of Hurricane Sandy and hurricanes that have taken place since then, there has been rapid coastal development. Many local governments, in cahoots with developers, fuel this insanity. The Lofts Pier Village in Long Branch, NJ, (a Kushner Companies project, as in Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law) offers a 30-year tax abatement to buyers of million dollar beach condominiums so they can enjoy lower property taxes at the expense of everyone else. People continue to move to places that are likely to end up disaster areas and then taxpayers foot the bill for programs that help people rebuild in these same high-risk locations. Stephen M. Strader, an assistant professor in the geography and environment department at Villanova University, refers to this folly as disaster amnesia.
"I'm not waiting for the next Sandy," said Roman Grinshpun, 40, who recently moved to a flood-prone area in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, even after his previous building was flooded during Hurricane Sandy.
"I don’t think it’ll ever happen."
Simple forgetfulness is too easy a scapegoat; immediate self-gratification seems to be the name of the game. This kind of mindset, this arrogance, is analogous to that which compelled people to believe the RMS Titanic couldn't/wouldn't sink.
It's a surprisingly common attitude even within families. For many, their own children's future isn't reason enough to make the necessary changes to preserve the planet for them. The majority keep spending and consuming and devouring more and more. As a childless, vegan, environmentalist, it's ironic that my choices may be doing more to help preserve the planet for other children than their own parent's choices.
Nonhuman oppression and climate change are interconnected, human-created atrocities. There are parallels not just between these two grave injustices but between the mindsets that allow them to happen. We've identified the problems; we're just lacking the personal and political wills to enforce the solutions. But there is a price to be paid for such obstinacy.
Check out Climate Central's interactive map to see what these temperature increases will mean for flood-prone areas around the world.
How Do I Go Vegan?