Anxious about how hot it's getting? Here's something you can do about it
On my block, window AC units have been humming nonstop for weeks, and I’ve seen endless (albeit justified) complaints about the temperature on social media. I traveled north to Vermont recently where I thought it would be cooler. Nope. While there, I sweated through a small-town parade in 95-degree heat as locals said things like, “this isn’t normal,” and, “it’s not usually this hot.”
They are right. This June was the Earth’s fifth-hottest on record. Overall, 17 of the 18 warmest years have happened since 2001, and 2018 is shaping up to be the fourth hottest year. The effect is being felt in California, where extreme heat is fueling among the worst fires in its history. In central and northern Europe, where abnormally high temperatures are wiping out crops and rapidly melting glaciers. In Australia, where the entire state of New South Wales is suffering from extreme heat and drought. In Japan, which has reported dozens of heat-related deaths this summer, and elsewhere. Is there anything that can be done to tackle this crisis, and prevent things from getting even worse?
Yes, we can call our legislators and sign petitions and march in the streets. As an organizer working on the ground to build support for the Clean Power Plan when it was announced in 2015, I saw the power and necessity of grassroots political action. It's hugely important we continue to push for and elect representatives who care about the future of this planet, especially with an Administration doing everything it can to roll back the environmental gains of the last several years.
But I also want practical, simple choices I can make in my everyday life that have a direct impact on the planet. A comprehensive new study from the University of Oxford suggests that at least once choice I'm making every day is a significant one. Published in Science, it reports that switching to a plant-based diet, as I did a few years ago, is the single biggest action we can take to reduce our impact on the planet. Not only can it reduce an individual's carbon footprint by up to 73 per cent, but if everyone stopped eating meat and dairy, global farmland use could be reduced by 75 per cent, an area equivalent to the size of the US, China, Australia and the EU combined.
Animal agriculture is responsible for a serious chunk of global-warming pollution. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the meat industry generates nearly one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide - more than the entire transportation sector. In addition to carbon pollution, livestock operations generate methane and nitrous oxide, which are even worse. Raising animals for food also leads to deforestation and land degradation. In recent years, nearly 500,000 square kilometers of precious Amazon rainforest have been cleared for cattle grazing. Water pollution from animal farms is also a major problem. Besides clogging waterways, this pollution contaminates drinking water, putting people in danger and forcing cash-strapped municipalities to spend money on water treatment that could otherwise be spent on schools and roads.
Since most people in this country eat three times a day for an average of 70 to 80 years, consuming fewer animal products, whether you go fully vegan or cut out meat and dairy a few times a week, can really add up. For instance, if everyone in the U.S. didn’t eat meat or cheese for just one day a week, it would be the equivalent of taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
Unlike voting for a president or attending a protest, eating less meat, dairy, and eggs is something we can do every day. All it required for me to make the change was to buy more plant-based foods at the grocery store, order non-meat items when I go out to eat, and bring meat-free dishes to social gatherings. It's really not that hard. And if the recent decision by WeWork to stop serving meat at company functions starts a trend, you may not even have to worry about making the environmentally friendly choice at your next office party because it will be the only choice.
Political action is crucial to enacting laws and policy that reduce pollution, advance renewable energy, and promote sustainable land use. And although my organizing days are behind me, I still try to get involved. Everyone should. But for most of us, most of the time, the best thing we can do is just change what we eat.
News Fellow Nate Lotze has led grassroots environmental campaigns, managed an organic farm, and currently handles communications at a statewide conservation organization in Pennsylvania.