Updated: Oct 19, 2022
Ferocious forest fires. Severe storms. Deadly droughts. Furious floods. Just in 2021, we’ve had unprecedented heat waves in temperate places (e.g., Seattle, Portland, British Columbia), wildfires in cool regions (e.g., Western US, Russia, and Siberia), and flooding in major urban areas in Germany, Belgium, and China. We aren’t just experiencing “climate change” now, we’re experiencing climate chaos.
Climate agreements like the 2015 Paris Agreement aim to stop the temperature rising at 2°C, but even that’s just a hopeful goal at the current rate we’re going. This article will take a look at what a 2°C higher Earth will look like and how we can do our part to help our one-and-only planet Earth.
A 2°C Warmer World
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2021 Report, the Earth’s global average temperature has already risen by 1.09°C since the 1800s, with each of the past four decades being warmer than the previous due to human-made greenhouse gas emissions. That means we are well on our way to a 2°C warmer world.
While 2°C may not sound like a big number, it actually has big implications. First of all, 2°C refers to the average temperature increase around the globe; some parts will increase more than 2°C, and some parts may even get colder, hence the “climate chaos”. Heat waves will become more widespread and deadly, with scientists predicting that 40% of the world’s population will be affected. In areas like India, monsoons will be stronger, but the droughts in-between will also last longer.
As the arctic regions melt more and more, sea levels will begin to rise and flood coastal regions, which means we will have to start redrawing maps. The (IPCC) predicts that by 2100, the average sea level will have risen by 50 CM, which is enough to flood major cities like Shanghai, Lagos, Jakarta, and many others. According to research from Cornell University, we could have more than 1.4 billion environmental refugees by 2060.
Clearly, a 2°C warmer world is a big deal. It’s a world where food is harder to get, drinking water is more scarce, weather is more extreme. So given how serious this issue is, what can we do to help calm climate chaos? Well, first we need to know what's contributing to climate change, and here's a useful chart from the US Environmental Protection Agency:
As individuals, the area we can impact most is food and agriculture (24%), then electricity (25%), then transportation (14%).
1: Food and Agriculture
What we eat tells the government and agriculture businesses what foods to make more of. Most of us probably don’t think much about the environmental impact of our every meal, but it’s actually quite a big deal!
The award-winning documentary, Cowspiracy, goes into deep detail about how animal agriculture is ruining the planet, and how the animal agriculture industry is keeping their dark secrets hidden from the public. It’s well worth the watch, and you can also check out their facts page. The film Seaspiracy (facts page) is similar to Cowspiracy, except it talks about commercial fishing.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll just look at the key points:
Animal agriculture and greenhouse gases
Animal agriculture and water use
Animal agriculture and land use
Animal agriculture and world hunger
Commercial fishing and the environment
Eating less animal products is #1 thing we can do to help the environment
1.1 Animal Agriculture and Greenhouse Gases
All the world’s cars, trucks, trains, boats, planes, and any other vehicles combined make around 13% of the world’s greenhouse gases, while cows alone make 18%. Furthermore, cows don’t just contribute CO2, they also contribute methane, which is at least 28 times more destructive than CO2. The good news is that methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long, which means if we reduce methane, we’ll see positive effects within decades, whereas reducing CO2 takes hundreds of years to see effects.
1.2 Animal Agriculture and Water Use
Animal agriculture uses one third of the planet’s fresh water. In the US, animal agriculture accounts for 56% of water usage, while private homes only account for 5%. Animal products take a crazy amount of water to make:
1 pound of beef needs 2500 gallons (9463 litres) of water
1 pound of milk needs 1000 gallons (3785 litres) of water
1 pound of cheese needs 900 gallons (3407 litres) of water
1 pound of eggs needs 477 gallons (1806 litres) of water
In comparison, 1 pound of wheat needs 25 gallons (95 litres) of water
To give an analogy, the beef in a quarter-pounder burger from McDonald’s takes 625 gallons (2366 litres) of water to make, which is equivalent to a person showering for 2 months! Rather than worrying about reducing our water usage, it’s much more impactful to reduce the amount of animal products we consume.
1.3 Animal Agriculture and Land Use
A meat eater in America uses 18 times more land than a vegan. Animal agriculture uses 45% of the Earth’s land and is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon Rainforest destruction. The Amazon Rainforest were considered the lungs of the Earth, and animal agriculture has wrecked havoc on them.
Burning 1 gallon of gasoline in a car release 19 pounds of CO2 into the air, but clearing enough rainforest to produce just 1 hamburger releases 165 pounds of CO2. Furthermore, cutting down rainforests destroys homes of countless animals. And unlike coniferous forests, tropical rainforests can never be replaced after being cut down.
1.4 Animal Agriculture and World Hunger
We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people. However, 50% of the world’s grains and legumes are being fed to livestock instead of people. 82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries.
We could also produce more food if we used land for growing plants instead of for factory farms. 1.5 acres of land can produce 375 pounds of beef or 37,000 pounds of plant-based foods, which is almost 1000 times more food!
1.5 Commercial Fishing and the Environment
When we think of carbon sinks, we usually think of forests since trees take in CO2 and release oxygen. But did you know that the ocean is the biggest carbon sink on our planet? 93% of all CO2 is stored in ocean, and the ocean absorbs four times the amount of CO2 than the Amazon Rainforest. Up to 85% of the world’s oxygen actually come from phytoplankton that live in the ocean. A healthy ocean means a healthy planet, and an unhealthy ocean is serious bad news for all of us.
Currently, our oceans are already massively overfished. The global fishing industry catches 5 million fish every minute, 2.7 trillion fish every year. And when these nets “catch” fish, they also kill the fish. Even worse, up to 40% of all the fish caught and killed by the nets are called “bycatch”, which means they don’t even want that fish so they just throw the dead fish back into the sea. That’s 1.1 trillion fish killed every year and thrown overboard. At the current rate of overfishing, we might see fishless oceans by as quick as 2048!
These giant industrial fishing ships also throw away tons of plastic ropes and dangerous nets, which account for 46% of all the plastic garbage in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. In comparison, plastic straws only account for 0.03%. Our oceans have become a toxin plastic soup due to all the plastic waste from commercial fishing, as well as all the waste that animal factory farms dump into the oceans.
These giant fishing nets can swallow an entire cathedral, and they have heavy weights at the bottom that scrap away at the ocean floor, destroying all the marine plants that are storing 93% of the world’s CO2, as well as the fish that are needed to support marine plants and phytoplankton. Given how depleted our oceans have become, we need to prioritize restoring ocean habitats by leaving the fish and their home alone.
1.6 Eating Less Animal Products
A 2011 report by the Environmental Working Group compared the environmental impact of common foods:
The worst foods for our environment are lamb, beef, cheese, pork, farmed salmon, turkey, chicken, canned tuna, and eggs. Plant alternatives like lentils, beans, and nuts are tens of times lower in CO2.
Hypothetically, let’s say someone decides to go vegan and cut out all animal products (including seafood) from their diet, how big of an impact would that person have on the environment? Compared to a typical American meat eater, that person would save each day
1100 gallons (4164 litres) of water
45 pounds of grain
30 sq ft of forest
20 pounds of CO2
At least 1 animal’s life
Image Source: Cowspiracy
When more people eat less animal products, the animal agriculture companies would naturally breed less animals, then the farms would get smaller, forests and wildlife would come back, and nature would recover.
A young Swedish student named Greta Thunberg created an amazing 5-minute video explaining the link between food and nature, and despite being just a teenager, she has received numerous rewards for her environmental activism. Here's her short video:
Practically speaking, most people aren’t going to go vegan overnight. Changing habits isn’t easy, but if you know how to do it, it doesn’t have to be hard. For more on habit change, I recommend reading the article How to Build Healthy Habits that Stick.
While eating less animal products might sound distasteful (no pun intended), the good news is that there are so many vegan mock meats and mock seafood that taste just as good but don’t have the negative environmental impact and harmful health consequences. Try going to a highly rated vegan restaurant near you to experience for yourself how tasty vegan meats can be; you can even find vegan meats at most supermarkets now! Now that we know how impactful our food choices are on the environment, we should do our best to contribute in whatever way we by reducing our consumption of animal products to the best of our ability.
Changing our diet is by far the most impactful thing we can do for the environment, but reducing our electricity usage is another helpful area as well.
You can easily find over 100 tips for saving electricity with a quick internet search, but here are some major ones that most of us can do:
Swap out incandescent light bulbs for energy-efficient LED bulbs, which use as little as 10% of the energy of incandescent bulbs.
Buy energy-efficient appliances, such as those with the Energy Star label in America.
Unplug your electronic devices and chargers when not using them. As long as devices or chargers are plugged in, they are drawing electricity.
Get good insulation for your home to reduce the need for heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer.
Get good windows and doors that tightly seal in air to reduce the need for heating and air conditioning.
Turn off the heater or air conditioning when you’re not home. Use a programmable thermostat to prevent yourself from forgetting.
Turn the heating lower at night when sleeping. Use a programmable thermostat to prevent yourself from forgetting.
Hand-wash your clothes. If you have to use the washing machine, only run full-loads and use cold water.
Hang dry your clothes rather than using the drying machine.
Hand-wash your dishes rather than using a dishwashing machine.
These tips will help us save a lot of electricity in the long-run, which is great for the wallet and the planet.
It’s common knowledge that pollution from gas vehicles contribute to global warming.
Here are a few tips to reduce CO2 from transportation:
Drive less. Instead, use public transportation, carpooling, biking, or walking whenever you can.
Drive a fuel-efficient car, hybrid car, or best of all, electric car.
Keep your tires properly inflated to improve fuel efficiency
The impact of making transportation changes is not as big as changing our diet and reducing electricity usage, and there isn’t as much we can do, but we should still do whatever we can.
4: Other Things We Can Do
Aside from eating less animal products, reducing electricity, and driving less, there are some other major things we can do to help the environment, and (surprise or not) they relate to food:
Buy local food
Buy organic food
Reduce food waste
Compost food waste
Plant a garden
A great documentary that goes into these points in detail is The Need to Grow, but this article will explain the major points.
4.1 Buy Local
In America, the average grocery store food travels over 1500 miles to reach the grocery store, while local food is usually produced within 100 miles. Aside from saving a lot of CO2 from food transportation, buying local also means the food is fresher and tastier.
4.2 Buy Organic
Over the last century, farmers have been encouraged to use chemical fertilizers to gain a short-term boost in production at the cost of long-term sustainability. These chemical fertilizer increases plant growth in the first year but kills the soil such that next year, you have to add more fertilizer to get the same yield. A 30-year study showed that organic agriculture has proven to match or surpass yields using chemical fertilizers. Organic food also avoids the harmful pesticide and insecticide sprays, which make them healthier and safer for humans, and less damaging to the environment.
4.3 Reduce Food Waste
Did you know that Americans waste 30-40% of their food? That hurts both the wallet and the planet. Food takes up more space in US landfills than anything else!
One reason is that we put food in the back of the fridge and forget about it. Later, we find the food has gone bad so we throw it out. To prevent this problem, we can inspect what's in the fridge every weekend and bring to the front what needs to be eaten soon. It’s also important to store foods properly for maximum storage life, and tools like Save the Food explain how to do.
A second factor is restaurants giving more food than we can eat. If we just leave the leftovers on the plate, the restaurant will throw it out. Instead, we can take the leftovers to go and eat them later at home.
A third factor is grocery stores only selling what looks nice and throwing away what doesn't look nice or is not-so-fresh. Fortunately, many supermarkets will try to sell these not-so-fresh foods at a discount before throwing them away. The next time you go to a supermarket, check out the discounted food section and try to buy whatever you can eat in the next day or two. It’ll be cheaper and prevent food waste.
4.4 Compost Food Waste
Did you know that over 97% of food waste ends up in landfills, where they rot away and emit greenhouse gases? If we instead compost that food, the food then turns into soil , which returns vital nutrients to our soil and reduces CO2 in the air. If you don’t have a garden, look for compost drop-offs in your community.
4.5 Plant a Garden
If you have a garden area, try planting some vegetables. That way, you can reduce the amount of food you buy from the supermarket, which likely traveled over 1500 miles. Furthermore, you can eat fresh, organic vegetables straight from the garden, which will be extremely tasty and healthy. Some really easy plants that need little to no maintenance include lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, beans, peppers, and root vegetables.
Changes I’ve Made
In the past, whenever I heard about climate change and environmentalism, I always thought about reducing driving and electricity usage, never about changing my diet. But now I know that my food choices make the largest impact by far. Not only do I eat vegan now, I also plant a garden, compost, and have almost zero food waste. When I go to the grocery store, I look for organic and/or local first and buy that whenever possible. I also check the discounted food section and buy anything that I can eat in the next couple of days to prevent it from being thrown out. Lastly, I use reusable cloth bags instead so that I don’t need plastic bags from the store.
I also do many things to save electricity. I got LED lights and energy efficient appliances. I had the insulation changed, and the house has become so much better at retaining heat in the winter and cold in the summer. I pre-programmed my thermostat to reduce the heating at night, and I turn it off when no one is in the house. Most of the time, I hand-wash my clothes and air-dry them instead of using the washing machine and dryer. The only time I use the machines is for really big items like blankets or winter jackets. I hand-wash and air-dry my dishes, and I repurposed my dishwasher to be a storage rack.
Transportation wise, I mostly take public transportation. If I’m meeting up with friends, we carpool. If I do drive, I check that the tires are inflated properly, and that at least two people are in the car. My family car is still in great shape, but if we had to get a new car in the future, we would definitely look at environmentally friendly options.
Although I’m just one person among billions, I can have a clear conscience knowing that I’m doing my part to help the Earth. As Gandhi once said,
“Be the change you want to see.”
These changes aren’t just better for the environment, they are also better for our health and wallet! I hope this article will also inspire you to make some good changes.