Monday, February 21, 2011

This is Really Happening

Lately I can't seem to get the environment off of my mind. And I can't seem to get off of my mind my impact on it and our impact on it and how dangerous our actions, our every day choices are for the future of the earth, for future generations.

I've been furiously reading about it, visiting lots of websites on how to save the earth, etc...Why have I become so obsessed? Maybe it is the first time in my life I have the time to really explore this issue, really reflect on it in a deep way? Or maybe it is that here in Melbourne there are reminders everywhere how your choices affect the planet? I just attended the Sustainability festival here and all around the city are these black spray painted cats that say "Stop Climate Change".

I've been ruminating for a while about how best to describe what I have taken away from this festival. I came away from it so inspired, scared, and overwhelmed. I was very impressed with the set up and content of the festival as well as the large number of diverse people that showed up. There is so much to say, but I think what I would really like to do is share the most shocking/informative things I learned that might be of interest to all of you. Here goes:

Climate Change - I saw Clive Hamilton speak to hundreds of people about why we have taken so long to act on climate change. He talked about how climate change and many other important environmental issues have become so politicized that currently knowledge and power are in direct opposition to each other. Science is being argued by political figures with no understanding of complex climate science issues and climate scientists are being bullied and threatened all over the world to repeal their findings or face consequences because their work is in direct opposition to the interests of fossil fuel corporations and the far right. He talked about Fox news, the Tea Party, the Tucson shooting, all in relation to this frightening rise of the far right in the U.S. and how it is a major blow to environmental responsibility and action that is necessary to sustain life on our planet. Very interesting stuff.

Population Growth - Ooh this was a controversial session! But so informative. It's clear that the more people there are, the less resources there are, right? Did you know it takes 400 gallons of oil to feed one person every year based on our current system? Mark O'Connor, the speaker, quoted someone (I forget) by saying "Population growth in the face of resource depletion is suicide". Australia's oil reserves are calculated to be gone by 2020. There is a lot of speculation about when our oil reserves will hit their peak and then just continually decline. Oil is a finite resource that was created millions of years ago, so it is impossible for it to sustain itself forever.

So - there is a net increase of about 200,000 people each day (400,000 are born, 150,000 die approximately). Our current way of calculating our "carbon footprint" is missing one major element, whether or not a human procreates. Mark gave a statistic that 80 years of recycling does not create enough energy to cover the addition of one human life on our planet (I'm not sure where this statistic came from). And in the past 90% of the population were farmers, and now only 3% are - growing food for the entire world. So, ok, with less or no oil there will be no more nitrate fertilizers which help to grow this massive amount of food on large farms for everyone. There are going to be more and more people that need to be fed with less and less land, water and energy to do so. This discussion then got really intense here in talking about abortions, reproductive rights, what is the ethical number of children for each woman to have, etc etc etc. It really made me think. If you start to think of the earth and all of its resources as everyone's, not just your or your country's for the taking, you start to realize that a HUGE shift is needed to ensure that life will be sustained on this planet.

Food - I learned that an organic vegan diet produces 94% less greenhouse gas emissions than the average meat diet. Or that a vegan driving a hummer contributes less emissions than a meat eater riding a bicycle. The amount of water, land and energy required to raise all of the meat and dairy necessary to quell the Western world's thirst for it is massive. For example:

- It takes 50,000 - 100,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of beef compared to 2,500 liters to produce 1 kilogram of rice, and much less for fruits and vegetables

- We grow enough edible grain to provide 50% more than is required for every human being on the planet. The problem is that most of this grain is used to feed animals for meat, dairy and egg production. So currently over 790 million people in the world are chronically undernourished and 27,000 children under 5 die from poverty and starvation every day. This will continue to get worse as water, land and energy resources dwindle unless more people switch to a plant based diet.

My mother taught me when I was young about this after she read Diet for a New America which is still completely relevant and even more important today. We ate vegetarian for much of my childhood and I have moved in and out of vegetarianism and veganism for much of my adult life.

Now if you are actually still reading this and were able to stomach what I have written so far I commend you. I know it doesn't feel good. This whole environmentalism thing - waking up to the reality of our situation is tough. Clive Hamilton was saying during his talk that getting people to start caring about the environment and our earth's sustainability is hard because it requires the individual to be emotionally affected. It requires the person to be so emotionally affected that they become quite worried about the future, and the role they play in that future, that it drives the individual to start making large changes to the way they live their life in order to make a difference in the world. But it requires you to get concerned and worried about something that has not happened yet. This is hard for us. Even though science and simple math have proven that we can't sustain our current way of life, our hearts and minds want to shut off, shut down, turn away and not really accept the reality that is coming down the pike. It is uncomfortable, scary, overwhelming, and daunting. The problem is, if we don't start making HUGE changes NOW, we will never catch up to the problem.

So, is there any good news? YES! Yes there is :) There are an enormous amount of things each of us can do to make a difference. Like:

- eating less meat and dairy and eating locally
- driving a car less, biking walking and taking public transit more
- Growing as much of our own food as we can
- Voting for leaders that support sustainable policy
- Educating those we know and love about environmental issues

If you would like some more ideas, here are some great websites:

this is pretty cool

Thank you for reading.


  1. I have three words. Amen! Amen! Amen! Climate change and the fate of the planet keeps me up at nights. I wonder when people will wake up! This was the primary reason I stopped eating meat. I haven't been able to go completely vegan yet. Stupid delicious cheese!

    You might be interested in Joanna Macy's work.
    She is a Buddhist scholar and eco-philosopher who is very well respected and does work to help people move through feeling helpless and into action and empowerment.
    Much love!