Tuesday, May 12, 2020

3363. Disappearing Fossil Fuel and Animal Agriculture Overnight:Their Relative Impact

By Kamal Prasad, May 12, 2020
Pig being culled in the face of COVID-19 pandemic
Suppose you could snap your fingers and get rid of fossil fuels from our planet; not to be replaced by anything, but just to get rid of them overnight. What kind of effect would it have on the world? Sure, our GHG emissions would plummet and related pollution from fossil fuel extraction would disappear, but what would be the negative consequences of such drastic change? 
Billions of people will suffer as they won’t be able to use their fossil fuel powered transportation (including public transportation) to get to their work. Critical services like hospitals and in-home life support systems would be in danger of shutting down. Indeed, any service that relies on fossil fuels to support the health and well-being of people around the world will cease to function. No safety net from any government nor non-governmental organization, or any combination thereof would be able to mitigate the danger and chaos of such an event.
Now, imagine, instead of fossil fuels being disappeared, it was animal agriculture that vanished.  Lots of people will lose their livelihoods. There will be a drastic shortage of food in regions that rely primarily on animal-based foods. This event, while extremely difficult, would not be unsurmountable in a very short period. 
Animal agriculture uses land area the size of North and South America combined (!), yet provides only 18% of the world’s caloric needs. Majority of the grains grown is fed to animals but could be consumed directly by people so the hunger issue will be short-lived as grains are distributed to areas affected by hunger.
Just like we expect coal, oil and gas workers to transition to renewable energy jobs, farmers could transition to growing plant foods for people.  Yes, not all farmers will be able to make this transition just as not all fossil fuel workers will be able to transition to renewable energy jobs. 
What benefits would the disappearance of animal agriculture provide? Great swaths of land would be freed up for reforestation, sucking up CO2 from the atmosphere and returning the land to wildlife. Pollutant run-offs into streams and lakes from animal feces and animal feed farms would cease, preventing future oceanic and river dead zones, which kill millions of marine animals every year. What other benefits could such an event entail?
Of course, while this is an interesting thought experiment, this scenario will never come to pass. But, it does offer insights on the most effective things we can do right now to decrease our environmental footprint on the planet. Starting immediately, anyone can eliminate animal foods from their diet while they wait to save up enough money to get their EV, get solar panels and battery packs to live completely off the grid. While a switch to a completely renewable energy world will take decades and trillions of dollars, we can to start shift away from animal foods immediately. 
Everyone can contribute to the climate change movement regardless of their income through their food choices. Presently, environmental organizations are ignoring the power of the people who are not able to afford technological solutions. They are ignoring those who cannot afford to participate in their protests and petitions due to their legal status or the need to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Instead, many environmental leaders are pushing for animal agriculture that uses more land and water, and have negligible, if any, effect on positive carbon sequestration. 
The return on investment for switching away from animal agriculture is immediate and more easily attainable than the amount of money and time it’ll take to transition away from all fossil fuel use.
In gatherer/hunter societies, before the advent of agriculture, our ancestors may have relied on animal foods to survive winters and other periods when plant-based foods were scarce. That is no longer the case. We can live happy, healthy lives that also benefits the planet without the unnecessary breeding of billions of animals every year. So why don’t we?

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