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Defining Global Depletion as it Relates to Food …

August 05, 2011 at 12:34 PM

The following excerpt is from Dr. Richard Oppenlander’s book Comfortably Unaware. For purchasing information, visit the Comfortably Unaware website.

SO IT ALL GOES - Defining global depletion as it relates to food, and where global warming fits in

Discontent is the first necessity of progress. – Thomas Edison

Stop. Take a step back and ask yourself where did this food I am about to eat really come from? How much water, land, and other resources did it take to get it from point A to point B? Why am I eating it? Have you ever asked yourself that? Of course you havent. Where your food comes from has to be the most out of sight out of mind process that exists in our culture today, obscured by many layers of cultural, political, and educational untruths and misperceptions. This is particularly true as it relates to our use of animals in the meat, dairy, and fishing industries. And yet, that very same subject of the origin of your food is the cause of billions of unnecessary dollars spent annually on certain aspects of health care, loss of productivity, and most importantly it is the major contributing force in global depletion, the eventual loss of our drinking water, air quality, land, biodiversity, and other resources.

Is global warming an issue with you? Whether it is or is not, please note that our current food choices happen to detrimentally affect climate change and global warming more so than all the cars we drive, planes, trucks, buses, and trains. That might be shocking and difficult to accept, but it is important to know and it is true. Also, while we certainly should be concerned about global warming, it happens to be just one aspect of the much larger issue of global depletion. It is not so much what you can do with adding insulation to your house as it is what you put into your mouth to eat, if you really want to reduce your negative impact on our earth. While it is clear we must be aware of global warming, it frankly does not matter how many light bulbs we switch out if we run out of water to drink. Nor will it matter what type of hybrid car we drive if we run out of clean air to breathe.

So while it seems our entire attention has been on global warming, it happens to be only a small fragment of the more complex picture of what we are doing to ourselves and to our planet, as it is one component of the bigger picture of global depletion. While the topic is expansive, this will attempt to serve as an introduction to the basics of global depletion, what is it that is being depleted, how our food choices create the most serious impact on our environment, and explore realistic solutions and approaches.

What exactly is global depletion? It is the loss of our renewable and non-renewable resources on earth. At this point, we may need to redefine renewable as it relates to our resources. For instance, water is generally viewed as renewable and yet some of the water we will discuss here that is used daily on our planet has come from sources taking thousands of years to create. Similarly with trees and the ecosystems of living things that are dependent on them that are destroyed in the Amazon rainforest, which required hundreds of years to develop. Really, how renewable are these? So it seems we should begin to use the non-renewable term for any of those resources that, if destroyed, we would most likely not see again in our lifetime. This also, should apply to animals such as those found in rainforests, rangelands, whales and all other marine life.

It is these life-sustaining resources that are being used or destroyed at a rate which replacement or restoration is impossible for hundreds if not thousands of years. If ever. Specifically, water, land, air, and wildlife ecosystems are most affected and while many industries are to blame, it is our food that has had the largest single negative impact on our environment. Every day, individuals and various industries are using our planets natural resources. Land is being used for housing, transportation, waste management, and agriculture. Our clean water supply is being used for drinking, waste removal and cleaning, and agriculture. Fossil fuels are also in demand by us for personal use as well as by a number of businesses including agriculture. While most uses of our resources can certainly be scrutinized, modified, and even reduced, it is startling to know that the sectors using and depleting the most of our resources are the meat, dairy, and fishing industries. The choices of food we all make directly impact the use and subsequent depletion of our planets resources.

Since it is the current buzz, we might want to begin with a brief overview of global warming. Experts and organizations have filtered much of your understanding of this subject, which is why I feel an overview is in order. As you know, global warming is principally caused by an increase in greenhouse gases. This is assuming of course that the earths relationship with the sun has not changed and the energy derived from the sun remains constant. Since our attention has been primarily on the production of these greenhouse gases, it also assumes there is nothing else on our planet affecting these gases in terms of absorption, creating more or less of an effect on our climate. There actually is something else. Our forests. This is particularly true of our rainforests, which absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing and exchanging it for oxygen.

Although water vapor and ozone (O3) are considered greenhouse gases, it is widely understood that the increase by human activities in the other greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), have had the most influence of any factor on global warming. While atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have risen by 35% from preindustrial 1750 to 2006, those of methane have risen 145% primarily due to the rise of the livestock/meat/dairy industry.

Much emphasis has been placed on reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and subsequent CO2 production and what we as individuals can do to help reduce this trend. Through his book, An Inconvenient Truth, Mr. Gore certainly has helped increase awareness about global warming and has provided a sense of authenticity to its existence. This, in and of itself, was a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, however, he did not tell the real truth which set forth a public misconception that global warming is the primary concern with our affect on the planet, and that our excessive production of carbon dioxide is the principal factor in global warming. Aside from an obscure seven sentences on page 317 of his book devoted to the other part of the complete picture, Mr. Gore has told only that part of the global warming story that happens to be the easiest for him to explain essentially the most convenient for him. His story and proposed solutions are the least controversial route and despite the title of his book, are actually the easiest for all of us to accept and to act on. Ironically, he effectively chose the path of least resistance. He emphasizes that the culprit of global warming is carbon dioxide. After all, it comprises 72% of emitted greenhouse gases, and most of it we humans produce by electricity we use and cars we drive. How easy to deal with. Simply reduce electricity and drive less.

So what exactly did Al Gore fail to mention about global warming? That carbon dioxide is not the cause of global warming. It is, however, one component and the most convenient to talk about and the easiest to draw up a list to help solve. That, while CO2 emissions from cars and industry are important to be aware of and to minimize, the single most devastating factor affecting global warming and our environment is caused from what you eat.

Both Methane and Nitrous oxide are much more powerful than carbon dioxide as greenhouse gases. Methane has 23 TIMES the global warming effect potential than carbon dioxide. Approximately 40% of all methane produced by human activities is from livestock and their flatulence and manure to the point where atmospheric concentrations have risen 145% in just the last 15 years. Nitrous oxide is 310 TIMES more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Our livestock industry generates 65% of all human related nitrous oxide.

These statistics should provide insight into a more complete picture of greenhouse gases and global warming but it is not what we should most be concerned with. First, we must be healthy and our planet needs to be healthy in order for us to survive. For our planet to be healthy, we need to be concerned about our water, land, air, and living ecosystems. Greenhouse gasses and their effect on global warming is only one aspect to the complete picture and CO2 is only one greenhouse gas. What we eat, the choices we make in our diet, NOT in what car we drive, is what affects our supply of water, land, and air and will affect our success or failure on our planet.

Why is this the first time you have heard any of this? Many times we hear only what others want us to hear. This is particularly true when facts have been discovered regarding a sensitive topic that is being sheltered by large business or our government. For instance, during the Vietnam War, our government and the media only allowed certain stories and images to make their way to the public. Similarly, this has been the case with the war in Iraq. Occasionally, there will be an aviation report surfacing from NASA or the FAA that begins to divulge the reality of how congested our airways really are, providing numbers per day of near collisions. These reports quickly disappeared from the headlines as it was decided that they were most likely too much information given to a newly concerned public. The most profound example of withholding or obscuring the truth is with the food we eat. The truth of what it really is, the reality of where it comes from, what it does to us, what it really does to our environment.

Most of you are aware of global warming and most likely consider yourselves part of the green movement. That term is now almost overused and certainly at times misused. For many, it is becoming the cool thing to do and, frankly, in one perspective, that is a good thing. However, it not so cool to recycle or change to energy efficient light bulbs thinking of yourself as green, when you are still eating animal products which has a much more profoundly negative impact on our environment than all the bulbs you just switched out. Consider going one step further and actually becoming environmentally conscious. Instead of just saying you are green, do the right thing for yourself and for the planet and eat only plant-based foods. Then you really would be green.