The Once and Future Planet

  • Posted on 22 April 2021
  • By Ed Piersa

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There have been many versions of King Arthur’s story told throughout the centuries, but they all normally begin with England being in some form of chaos prior to his rise. This pre-King Arthur setting is akin to where we are with climate change today. 
If the human-driven causes of climate change remain unchecked, the global temperature increase could be as much as 4-7 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial temperatures by the end of this century (see The Age of Sustainable Development). Such an increase could threaten human civilization on an unprecedented scale (e.g., sea-level rise, intensified natural disasters, etc.).
Eliminating fossil fuel use and transitioning to renewable energy is crucial, but that alone is not enough. Human civilization needs to re-examine its agricultural practices as well. Particularly those of the livestock sector.
The livestock sector exposes humans to pathogens, releases significant greenhouse gas emissions, causes massive deforestation, and creates a strain on land and water resources. The manure alone that is produced from this sector is a source of over 150 pathogens, some of which are fatal to humans. Although the exact source of COVID-19 has not been identified yet, there is evidence suggesting its origin is linked to a wet market in China.
The manure from the livestock sector is also a source of greenhouse gas emissions. The digestive processes of cattle produce methane. Although methane does not exist in the atmosphere for as long as carbon dioxide does, it traps more radiation. The impact of methane is considered 25 times worse than carbon dioxide for this reason.
In terms of deforestation, cattle pastures account for more than half of all cleared land in the Amazon. This is rather alarming because if the Amazon is eliminated, the planet’s cloud cover would be reduced. This, in turn, alters the planet’s reflectance which can create a larger positive feedback loop that would further increase global temperatures (see Environment: The Science Behind the Stories, 6th edition).
Indeed, the livestock sector requires massive amounts of land in general. In fact, it was recently reported that concentrated animal feeding operations cover approximately one-third of the planet’s land surface. The majority of this land is used to grow feed crops for livestock.
Furthermore, animals raised for the livestock sector require more than just land. They also consume tremendous amounts of water. After all, farm animals need clean water for both direct consumption and the crops that they consume on a daily basis. It is for these reasons that this sector utilizes approximately 33% of the world’s freshwater.
So what can be done to address these issues? Cue Earth’s version of Excalibur: plant-based foods. Recent studies of the environmental impacts of human diets found that a vegan diet, on average, produced the lowest amount of greenhouse gas emissions of any diet type. It is one of the many reasons why plant-based foods have become much more popular in recent years.

Ultimately, it will require change in numerous areas to overcome climate change. But if King Arthur can return one day as promised then perhaps so can Earth. After all, why should Camelot be limited to only one country?

Ed Piersa (he/him/his) is a passionate Sierra Club volunteer and crummy tennis player. During his travels, he has lived in New York, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Denver, and El Salvador.

Image Credit: Lorado via Getty Images
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More than 50% of The world population rarely or never think about something that might happen at least 30 years from their present, and about 10 percent think about the far future. Unfortunately it’s up to a few to want to make a change, which is nearly impossible.

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