“Pain in my ass” caught my eye. I had just opened Facebook and noticed a friend’s caption, “Glad about this!” regarding a new ban in her county on single-use plastic bags. The person who commented based his complaint on inconvenience, annoyance at the small non-compliance fee, and “negligible environmental benefits.” Seemingly no consideration of impact on animals, as often happens, or on humanity, even at a minimum in the local community. This despite the global ubiquity of plastics and microplastics that emit greenhouse gases (GHGs) as they decay and can contribute to a myriad of negative human health conditions. The comment evidences a mindset that pervades a multitude of daily decisions: emphasis on self to the prejudice of others.
Every food item we consume has a GHG load associated with its production. Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are the most powerful GHGs emitted in our country, and for millennia these gases were stable because natural processes removed as much as they released. But because the production of meat, dairy and eggs unavoidably burdens our atmosphere with excessive CO2, CH4 and N2O, our every food decision either mitigates or contributes to existing environmental crises. Climate experts recurrently state and revise sometimes vastly disparate opinions on the percentage of GHG emissions to attribute to animal agriculture. Sidestep that confusion. Note instead that, while carbon dioxide usually is spotlighted as the biggest culprit, experts agree methane is approximately 30 times more potent than CO2, and nitrous oxide roughly 300 times more potent than CO2. Further, while many believe that more GHGs are emitted from burning fossil fuels for global electricity and transportation than from any other source, neutral experts emphasize that meat, agriculture and related changes in land use produce more GHGs than power generation. Thus, the most meaningful way to reduce your entire GHG footprint is to eat a botanical diet.
“God’s green Earth” isn’t so green anymore. Visible from space, Australia’s current bushfires ignited in September 2019, are principally attributable to climate change, encompass at least 46% more area than last year’s Amazon forest fires, and likely will raze the continent into March. An estimated one billion animals have perished thus far. Those who survive the fires will face long-term damage to numerous ecosystems, corresponding scarcity of food and shelter, resulting continued threat of mortality, and, inevitably, the next bushfire season. Last year’s wildfires throughout Europe tallied more than three times the average for that region over the past decade. The decade that just ended was the warmest on record. These trends are increasing worldwide, and, as forests are destroyed, natural “carbon sinks” that absorb CO2 are lost and more atmospheric CO2 is added, thus increasing global temperature and decreasing land ice and sea ice. It is a vicious cycle. Environmental systems and animals cannot recover unless we revise current practices. Ponder how our lives will change if we do not.
Earlier this month, numerous athletes and staff at the Australian Open tennis tournament experienced painful breathing difficulties from bushfire smoke and haze. Ball boys collapsed, and despite their elite fitness, many athletes required on-court medical treatment and some were forced to stop playing. Bushfire smoke circumnavigated the planet two weeks ago. The associated health risks reach everyone. Bruce Y. Lee, MD, former professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, observes, “If you think the Australian wildfires are too far away to affect you, think again,” because, “where there is smoke, there are various vapors, including potentially toxic ones, and small particulate matter,” that can get “really deep into your lungs.” Contemplate daily use of N95 respirator masks. And ponder manifold medical expenses, wage loss, legal claims and economic loss from decreased travel, tourism, professional sports and other outdoor activities–all driven by climate change.
Ours really is a small world. “Eat whatever I want, damn the consequences,” and “not my problem,” have relegated us to merely reacting to resulting catastrophes. We must change.
It is hard to let old beliefs go. They are familiar. We are comfortable with them and have spent years building systems and developing habits that depend on them. Like a man who has worn eyeglasses so long that he forgets he has them on, we forget that the world looks to us the way it does because we have become used to seeing it that way through a particular set of lenses. Today, however, we need new lenses. And we need to throw the old ones away.
This, then, is a call to highest decency, to purest purpose. Please help.
Born and raised in Hawaii, Shauny Jaine has lived in Seattle for 30 years and is a VLCE, JD and BA cum laude in writing. She holds multiple certifications relevant to veganism and is a graduate of the T. Colin Campbell Nutrition Foundation program in plant-based nutrition through eCornell. Shauny and her spouse, Tana, enjoy raising their longtime vegan family of year-round soccer and karate kids: McKenna (15), Tyler (15), and Leo (11); pups Kasbah and Nikita; and green-eyed cat, Annie. She serves on the Board for Heartwood Haven, a vegan animal sanctuary in Gig Harbor, Washington, and is on several social media platforms but enjoys Instagram most. Find her @_ten10.