The Warming Globe and Us

It's More Than CO2

Global warming goes way beyond “an inconvenient truth”. We are overheating our planet to alarming levels with potentially catastrophic consequences. 2006 was the hottest year on record in the U.S. and the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 1994. Think of an overheated car, an overcooked dinner, or being sick with a fever. Now imagine that on a planetary scale.

Global warming is perhaps the biggest social, political economic, and environmental problem facing our planet and its inhabitants. People are becoming increasingly aware of and concerned about global warming, despite ExxonMobil misinformation and Bush Administration obfuscation, due to frequent reports regarding record heat, wildfires, an increase in the number and severity of storms, droughts, the melting of glaciers, permafrost, and polar ice caps, rising sea levels, flooding, acidification of the oceans, changes in wind direction, endangered species and accelerated species extinction, spreading diseases, shrinking lakes, submerged islands, and environmental refugees. We may be standing at a precipice.

At the close of 2006, there were reports of at least three major events that dramatized the present threat of global warming: (1) the Indian island of Lohachara had to be evacuated before being submerged, creating over 10,000 refugees; (2) the massive Ayles Ice Shelf broke off from the Canadian Arctic; and (3) the Bush Administration, which has been resistant to addressing global warming, and generally hostile toward the environment, agreed that polar bears are “threatened”, as many polar bears are drowning and starving to death, mainly due to melting ice caused by global warming, and moved to protect them under the Endangered Species Act. Global warming is also threatening penguins, seals, frogs, butterflies, African elephants, and many other animals.

All this comes on top of other recent catastrophes: the collapse of ice shelves in Antarctica and Greenland; unprecedented weather events around the world, such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; killer heat waves, causing among other things, a bust of the ski season in Europe and the deaths of 35,000-50,000 people in Europe in the summer of 2003; the disappearing of glaciers from Glacier National Park in Montana and elsewhere (about 80% of the world’s glaciers are shrinking); and other ominous signs of disaster.

“Such a path is not merely unsustainable”, according to Harvard Professor John P. Holdren, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “it is a prescription for disaster.”

There is no doubt that humanity is threatened as perhaps never before and major changes have to occur to put our imperiled planet on a sustainable path — and soon. Even though a small number of individuals argue against global warming, there is a scientific and environmental consensus — among all major scientific and environmental organizations, journals, and magazines, and all peer-reviewed scholarly articles — that global warming is real, serious, worsening, and caused or exacerbated by human activity. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its Fourth Assessment Report in February 2007, which was researched and written by about 2,500 climate scientists over six years and vetted by over 130 governments.

The Report carefully delineates clear trends and catastrophic consequences associated with climate change, warning of the possibility of severe and irreversible change, unless we make concerted efforts to counter global warming. The IPCC makes it plain that the current and projected climate change is not simply “natural variation”, but “very likely” (meaning at least 90%) the result of human activity. Even Time magazine (and the Brookings Institution, among many others) has declared the “case closed” on the problem of global warming, with only the solutions to still debate.

Several leading experts, including climatologist James Hansen of NASA and physicist Stephen Hawking, perhaps the most famous living scientist, as well as Al Gore and others, warn that global climate change may reach a ‘tipping point’ and spiral out of control, with disastrous consequences, if current conditions continue. A recent 700-page British government report, authored by a former chief economist for the World Bank, projects losses of up to 20% of world gross domestic product by 2050 unless 1% of current world domestic product is devoted to combating global climate change. Other economic studies have projected even worse scenarios. Whether for personal or public health, for a personal crisis or a planetary one, prevention is far cheaper and easier than trying to catch up and clean up after the catastrophe.

It therefore should not be surprising that the Pentagon states that global warming is a larger threat than even terrorism.

“Picture Japan, suffering from flooding along its coastal cities and contamination of its fresh water supply, eyeing Russia’s Sakhalin Island oil and gas reserves as an energy source”, suggests a Pentagon memo on global warming. “Envision Pakistan, India and China — all armed with nuclear weapons — skirmishing at their borders over refugees, access to shared river and arable land.”

The new Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has said that climate change needs to be taken as seriously as war and, further, that “changes in our environment and the resulting upheavals from droughts to inundated coastal areas to loss of arable land are likely to become a major driver of war and conflict”. Fighting global warming may be one way to prevent future wars, simultaneously increasing energy security and physical security.

Progressives have additional cause for concern. The people most affected by global warming are the socially disadvantaged — especially the poor, people of color including the indigenous, women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities, subsistence farmers, and those dependent on a single crop for their livelihood or a few species for their nutritional needs — since they are often in the weakest position to guard against environmental damages and will likely suffer the most harm.

“It’s the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit,” said IPCC Chair Rajendra Pachauri.

Further, increased suffering and increasing numbers of environmental refugees, along with greater anxiety over declining access to food, water, land, and housing, the material essentials of life, often lead to unstable conditions that give rise to anger, ethnic violence, fascism, and war, which all-too-often have been targeted at minority communities and vulnerable people. In addition to causing more famine and disease, the fallout from climate change may also lead to more terrorism and violence, by impoverishing and radicalizing people, and making them more desperate, according to some experts. Those who needlessly degrade and destroy the environment to satisfy their own selfish pleasures are like the pre-revolutionary Queen Marie-Antoinette, declaring “Let them eat carbon dioxide”!

A collateral benefit of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels to fight global warming is that it will reduce air and water pollution. Such modern crises kill many more people each year than terrorism, causing havoc in the present and creating a distressful environmental debt for our descendants, instead of bequeathing a healthy future. Energy independence and self-sufficiency, especially in the form of decentralized renewable fuel sources, is an important step toward a more sustainable world.

Yes, we need our governments, corporations, schools, religious institutions, and other organizations to get actively involved in fighting global warming. Yes, the U.S. — the largest contributor to global warming — needs to join 169 others and ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Yes, we need more fuel-efficient cars, appliances, electronics, batteries, and light bulbs, and, yes, our society needs to switch away from fossil fuels and toward renewable ones, such as solar, wind, tidal, biomass, hydrogen, and others. But while we are struggling for these important and positive large-scale social changes, we also need to say “yes!” to personal changes.

A major study showing how personal change can affect global warming is in the November 2006 390-page report of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow.” It states that animal-based agriculture causes approximately 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to global warming, an amount greater than that caused by all forms of transportation on the planet combined.

Cars are still problematic, of course, but cows and other animals raised for human consumption are contributing more to global warming, thereby causing more damage to our existence. Therefore, what we eat is actually more important than what we drive and the most important personal change we could make for the environment, as well as for our health and the lives of animals, is to switch to vegetarianism.

“If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat”, Paul McCartney has said. “That’s the single most important thing you could do.”

The world is feeding over 50 billion farmed animals, while millions of people, disproportionately children, starve to death each year. Over 70% of the major grains produced in the U.S. (and about one-third produced worldwide) is inefficiently and immorally diverted to feed farmed animals, to satisfy appetites for money and meat, as it takes up to sixteen pounds of grain to produce a single pound of feedlot beef for human consumption.

The FAO study reports that the livestock industry, in total, uses and abuses roughly 30% of the planet’s surface, thereby “entering into direct competition [with other activities] for scarce land, water and other natural resources.” Further, overuse of the land by livestock, leading to overuse of fuel and water, also degrades the land and pollutes the water around it, contributing to additional environmental and health problems.

An animal-based diet also uses energy very inefficiently. It requires 78 calories of fossil fuel for each calorie of protein obtained from feedlot-produced beef, but only 2 calories of fossil fuel to produce a calorie of protein from soybeans. Grains and beans require only 2-5% as much fossil fuel as beef. The energy needed to produce a pound of grain-fed beef is equivalent to one gallon of gasoline. Reducing energy consumption is not only a better choice in terms of fighting climate change, it is also a better choice in terms of being less dependent on foreign oil and the vagaries of both markets and dictators. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, a vegetarian, “we must be the change we wish to see in this world”.

Additionally, the editors of World Watch (July/August 2004) concluded:

The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future — deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” Lee Hall, the legal director for Friends of Animals, is more succinct: “Behind virtually every great environmental complaint there’s milk and meat.

While growing concern about global warming is welcome, the many connections between the increasingly globalized Standard American Diet (SAD) and global warming have generally been overlooked or marginalized.

The production of meat contributes significantly to the emission of the three major gases associated with global warming: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O), as well as other eco-destructive gases such as ammonia, which contributes to acid rain.

Indeed, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, Unit on Climate Change, “There is a strong link between human diet and methane emissions from livestock.” The 2004 World Watch publication State of the World is more specific regarding the link between animals raised for meat and global warming: “Belching, flatulent livestock emit 16% of the world’s annual production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.”

Likewise, with the July 2005 issue of Physics World: “The animals we eat emit 21% of all the carbon dioxide that can be attributed to human activity.” Eating meat and other animal products directly contributes to the environmentally-irresponsible industry and its devastating impact on the environment, including the dire threat of global warming.

While carbon dioxide is the most plentiful greenhouse gas, methane is 23 times more powerful, and nitrous oxide is a whopping 296 times more potent, than carbon dioxide in terms of global warming potential. With the livestock industry emitting such a huge amount of methane and given that methane degrades relatively quickly in the atmosphere (in approximately 12 years as compared to hundreds or even thousands for carbon dioxide), a sharp decrease in animal consumption, and therefore subsequent livestock production, would provide the necessary near-term alleviation from global warming potentially “spinning out of control”.

Further, changing from the Standard American Diet to a vegetarian or, better yet, vegan diet, according to geophysicists at the University of Chicago, does more to fight global warming than switching from a gas-guzzling Hummer to a Camry or from a Camry to a Prius.

It has been said that “eating meat is like driving a huge SUV… a vegetarian diet is like driving a [hybrid], and… a vegan diet is like riding a bicycle.” Shifting away from SUVs, SUV lifestyles, and SUV-style diets, to energy-efficient, life-affirming alternatives, is essential to fighting global warming. Planetary sustainability and the well-being of humanity are greatly dependent on a shift toward plant-based diets. One easy and effective way to fight global warming every day is with our forks, knives, and chopsticks! We have the opportunity and the responsibility to act against global warming. Therefore, we need to take action. If we don’t, the “procrastination penalty” will be painful. “How wonderful it is”, Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

It is increasingly clear that eliminating, or at least sharply reducing, the production and consumption of meat and other animal products is imperative to help reduce global warming and other grave environmental threats, in addition to benefitting one’s physical and spiritual health. Mark Twain once quipped that “Everybody talks about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it.”

Now we can. Now’s the time.

Dan Brook, Ph.D., is the co-author of Understanding Society (2007), author of Modern Revolution (2005), and dozens of articles. He also maintains Eco-Eating, The Vegetarian Mitzvah, No Smoking?, and can be contacted via Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., is the author of Judaism and Vegetarianism, Judaism and Global Survival, and over 150 articles located here. He is President of Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), Coordinator of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians (SERV), and can be contacted via: Read other articles by Dan, or visit Dan's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Dr F Coles said on May 1st, 2007 at 8:47am #

    Current alarmist, incompetent stories regarding CO2 Causing Climate Change is a fraud.

    Junk science is infesting the media, the Internet and public schools, affecting public health, squandering your tax dollars, poisoning sick people and miseducating our children.

    Pseudoscientific claptrap abounds. Quackery is now found everywhere.

    Educate, inform yourself, take a science class.

    See CO2 and Climate Change

    Stop listening to folks that have a financial interest in the subject.

    Unfortunately, we can no longer trust the media for information, as they no longer assign “Reporters” that investigate then report on a subject, most just parrot or reinterpret the information to fit their bias or their employers bias and then publish (this is called yellow journalism), thusly we have a world of disinformation and junk science.

  2. John Paul McDaniel said on May 23rd, 2007 at 1:17pm #

    Here’s another way to reduce global warming by reducing wasteful human activity and NEEDLESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! wast of human/natural resources……………………………………….

    We here in Texas have a state sales tax and it has resulted in NONE! of the dire predictions some have foreseen. There has been no scandal, corruption, or cheating in relation to it. It has funded our state government SPLENDIDLY! We Texans, tourists, illegal aliens, criminals, etc. are all in INSTANT COMPLIANCE!! every time we go through the “cash-register-check-out-line”. Virtually no one escapes paying. If it works for Texas it will work for the nation.

    THINK ABOUT IT MORE……………………………………………

    Read and Enjoy…………………………………………..

    APRIL 15TH????? Let’s make it just another Spring day.

    HR 25, the Fair Tax Act, is in the House Ways and Means Committee of
    congress, waiting to be passed into law. If passed, the Income Tax &
    IRS would be abolished and replaced with a national (retail only) sales

    Everyone shoud go to: and tell their congressmen that
    they want HR 25 passed into law ASAP!!!! If we all “push together”, we
    can make it happen. There’s nothing to it, BUT TO DO IT!!!!!!

    Read and Enjoy.

    The FINAL SOLUTION!! for the IRS & Income Tax Problem

    50 Reasons I Support the FairTax
    (How many reasons can you give for supporting the present obsolete IRS
    & income tax system?)

    Those Who Know the Facts Love the Fair Tax
    “Family Friendly Tax Reform”
    Tax Reform with far less pain and much more gain!
    Out with the Old Code and in with the New (national RETAIL ONLY sales

    1. It allows you to keep 100% of your paycheck, with nothing withheld
    for Social Security and Medicare payments.
    2. It eliminates the regressive payroll tax that hurts the poor.
    Currently, every one of us is taxed a minimum of 7.65% on our first-dollar of
    wages up to $90,000, if we earn that much.
    3. It assures that the wealthiest Americans will be voluntarily helping
    to fund social security with every last dollar they spend above the
    poverty level. Today, earnings are subject to payroll taxes only up to
    $90,000. The wealthiest Americans therefore do not pay into the system
    above that amount. If their earnings are from investments, no earnings
    fund the Social Security system. Under the FairTax, a single purchase
    (regardless of the source of the earnings) can result in greater
    contributions to the Social Security system than would be paid by an individual
    under the payroll tax of today.
    4. It provides funding for Social Security and Medicare at a level
    equal to or greater than at present, with a stronger and broader tax base.
    5. It secures the future of Social Security and Medicare because all
    spenders fund it and not just the workers.
    6. It eliminates all personal income taxes, payroll taxes, corporate
    income taxes, gift taxes, death taxes, and capital gains taxes.
    7. It eliminates the income tax and the IRS. Members of Congress and
    the public overwhelmingly agree that the current internal revenue code is
    cumbersome, intrusive, coercive, and inefficient.
    8. It is revenue neutral with the present income tax system, funding
    the federal budget at current levels.
    9. It will remove an average of 22% of the cost of American made goods
    by removing the built-in payroll tax (the other 7.65% of earnings that
    employers pay) and other business taxes that are now passed to
    consumers as an “embedded” tax of approximately 22% due to the cascading of
    income and payroll taxes paid by U.S. employers, at every step of
    production, to the U.S. Treasury.
    10. It doesn’t tax used items ? clothes, cars, homes. Only new items
    are taxed when sold by a business to an individual.
    11. It is progressive, a “prebate” of the tax amount up to the poverty
    level is given to everyone. This means that those spending below the
    poverty level have a net gain because the “prebate” exceeds the amount
    paid in taxes. (Under the present system they pay the payroll tax even if
    they get a full refund of income tax withheld.)

    12. It eliminates 90% of the cost of compliance. American families and
    American businesses waste an estimated $250 ? $600 billion per year
    doing the paperwork necessary to comply with the tax code. That is roughly
    $1,000 ? $2,000 annually for every man, woman and child in the U.S.
    13. It creates an opportunity for our products to leave this country
    costing an average of 25% less, thus increasing our exports, lower our
    deficit balance of trade, and increasing employment at home.
    14. It encourages investment in companies located in the U.S., thus
    providing a home for money already in the US and attracting more. The U.S.
    will be the most attractive tax-free haven in the world for doing
    business. American companies will return from offshore and overseas.
    15. It encourages repatriation to the U.S. of money held by U.S.
    individuals and companies now in foreign countries, with no tax consequence.
    16. All 290 million Americans and 51 million visiting tourists fund
    Social Security and Medicare with their purchases. Today only 110 million
    workers fund these programs via deductions from their paychecks.
    17. The broader tax base includes the ten percent of our economy, an
    estimated $1 trillion, that today is underground or under the table.
    Under the FairTax, the illegal drug dealer will pay his tax just like the
    rest of us when he buys his sunglasses, BMW, and other items, as will
    those who do business for cash.
    18. It allows families to save more for home ownership, education, and
    retirement. An average family making $50,000 will have $7,500 more
    spendable income.
    19. It makes educational tuition a tax-free expenditure of tax-free
    20. It makes American products more competitive overseas by removing
    the embedded tax from them, thus lowering their prices, which compensates
    for low foreign wages.
    21. It makes American products more competitive at home by removing the
    embedded tax from them, compensating for the low cost of imported
    products not burdened by taxes imposed by exporting countries.
    22. It removes the need for formal 401-K’s, IRAs, HSA, etc. Anyone will
    be able to set up any kind of savings or investment account without
    regard to taxes or the government.
    23. It frees churches and other non-profit organizations from the
    expense of filing tax returns and paying their half of Social Security and
    Medicare payments for employees. There will no longer be any 501.c.3 or
    501.c.4 non-profit tax status, because there will be no more tax to be
    exempt from.
    24. It restores to churches and non-profit organizations the 1st
    Amendment right to engage in free speech, without fear of losing their
    tax-free status.
    25. It gives individuals and businesses the right to donate as much as
    they want to in a given year to charitable causes.
    26. It restores the 4th Amendment, protecting against unreasonable
    searches and seizures, from which the IRS presently is exempt.
    27. It restores the 5th Amendment, which guarantees the right to due
    process. Under current systems the IRS has their own courts with their
    own set of rules not included in the 5th.
    28. It cleans up a major flaw in campaign financing, eliminating
    campaign donations for “tax favors”.
    29. It eliminates wrangling in Congress over tax cuts, the tax code,
    and who is or is not paying a fair share of the tax bill.
    30. It encourages work by letting workers keep 100% of their earnings
    and giving a rebate, to boot, making the notion that the more you work,
    the more money you have, a reality, unlike the current system where
    welfare is lost when you go to work, so your first dollars earned after
    taxes just offset what you were currently getting in welfare, making you
    no better off.
    31. It allows more of the lower income families to become home owners
    by allowing a second job income above their current income (all tax
    free) to be applied to a mortgage. Money for down payments for homes is
    also saved totally tax free so that it will accumulate faster.
    32. It allows families to retain farms and businesses in the hands of
    those who built them through the elimination of the death tax.
    33. It allows families to help each other out tax-free, by eliminating
    the gift tax.
    34. It encourages individuals to self-insure, making the health system
    more direct pay (no 3rd party pay), thus bringing costs down.
    35. Without FICA to pay, most states, counties, municipalities, and
    school districts will see a large increase in their state budget revenues,
    additionally lowering the overall tax burden (State & Federal) for most
    36. It assures that no American will find, at the end of the year, a
    need to get a loan to pay taxes as an alternative to penalties, interest,
    or cheating.
    37. It restores individual privacy. The government no longer needs to
    know where you work, what you are earning, and what you are doing with
    38. It eliminates the need to have a “marriage” clarification declaring
    who you live with, as that has no bearing at all on a state or federal
    sales tax.
    39. It eliminates the need for courts to decide which divorced parent
    gets to take the tax deduction for children.
    40. It reduces production costs for farmers and other subsidized
    businesses, leading to a reduction in subsidies, thus reducing the federal
    41. It eliminates the administrative costs incurred by states in
    collection of state sales taxes because states will piggyback the state tax
    collection onto the national tax collection, for which they are
    compensated by the FairTax ?% administrative cost give-back. [Doesn’t this go
    to the retailers?]
    42. It results in a windfall profit for many of those holding taxable
    corporate high interest bonds at the time of passage of FairTax, since
    they will not be taxed under FairTax. (A higher interest rate is usually
    paid to entice investors to buy the corporate bonds rather than go with
    the lower interest, but tax free, municipal bonds, now.)
    43. It shifts the tax to consumption, which consumption tables over
    time show is more stable than income, therefore the tax revenue stream is
    likely to be a more stable and predictable amount.
    44. It results in Federal Reserve rates being based on current
    consumption, which is rather stable, instead of future earnings, which are less
    predictable, resulting in surer inflation prevention.
    45. It allows for better planning by businesses, because they no longer
    have to consider tax implications for everything they do.
    46. It makes higher employment or better compensation possible in the
    small business sector where today it costs approximately three dollars
    in compliance costs to pay one dollar in payroll and income taxes.
    47. It moves many now providing tax preparation, advice, accounting,
    planning, and records maintenance into an expansive economy where they
    will be producing goods and services. There they can add to the standard
    of living of all Americans and likely earn more than they do currently,
    instead of shuffling paper for the government (and not contributing
    anything economically to society).
    48. It relieves citizens of the risk of facing the shift in burden of
    proof that is so common with the current system, i.e., the taxpayer is
    guilty unless innocence can be proved, when even IRS staff sometimes
    give conflicting interpretations.
    49. It’s simple, unambiguous, and certain, the opposite of the current
    tax code.
    50. It’s good for the environment. It reportedly would save about
    300,000 trees a year that are needed to produce the paper for the IRS
    compliance and tax forms, enough to reach around the equator placed end to
    end 28 times. Also, since it taxes only new items, it would encourage
    buying tax-free pre-owned cars, clothes, furniture, houses, etc. Reuse is
    good for the environment, too.

    Best Regards,
    John Paul McDaniel

    Go to:


    22% of all that you buy currently is tax / tax compliance cost. When that cost goes away (under the Fair Tax) the price of your $1.00 item (purchased at Wal-Mart, for example) drops in price to 78 cents (without damaging the profit margin).

    1.23 X 78 cents = 96 cents.

    Seeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!! Even with the 23% Fair Tax added on, your originally $1.00 item is now 4 cents cheaper.

    The “out-of-pocket” cost of living , under the Fair Tax , will be no more than it is now.

    Under the Fair Tax there are NO LOSERS, only winners, the difference being that some win BIGGER!!!! than others due th their increased FRUGALITY.

    Best Regards,
    John Paul McDaniel

    Go to:

  3. Trisha R said on July 6th, 2007 at 1:10am #

    Its great to see an article which mentions the great contribution that the meat & dairy industry play in global warming. This has virtually been ignored by all media sources, governments & even green groups. Even Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” completely ignored this issue.
    The necessity for the planet to adopt a vegan diet & lifestyle is the OTHER inconvenient truth which continues to be ignored at our peril.
    Dennis Kucinich is probably the only presidential candidate who is not only vegan but has vision. We need more leaders like Kucinich who are not afraid to place human, non human animals rights & the planet above profits.

  4. Bob B said on August 1st, 2007 at 7:01pm #

    Before the “evil” Europeans invaded North America,there were millions of Buffalo roaming the plains. Today they have been replaced by millions of domestic cattle. To bad, I prefer a good buffalo steak. Ruminants, such as cattle and buffalo, are extremely efficient machines for turning feed that humans could not survive, into much needed protein. Those PETA type studies on the energy required to a steer into a nice juicy steak are built on false assumptions just as are the human caused global studies.

  5. truthmatters said on October 26th, 2007 at 6:07pm #

    Please, Dr. F. Coles – you are redundant and unimaginative. Perhaps you should pay more attention to critical thinking. PS – Is this you?

  6. omar vasqusz said on June 11th, 2008 at 9:01am #

    this was a relly helpful document and i exceed you to fight the good fight