In June this year, the Norwegian parliament approved a radical plan to become climate neutral by 2030 – two decades earlier than planned. This follows a zero deforestation parliamentary vote, making Norway the first nation to ban public procurements that contribute to deforestation. The country is already miles ahead in terms of environmental sustainability; it relies heavily on its generous hydropower resources, meaning that the electricity supply is already virtually fossil free. But to achieve full climate neutrality, the government plans to pursue a programme of accelerated CO² cuts and carbon trading to offset emissions from Norway’s oil and gas industries.
Other strategies they hope to adopt include electrifying road transport by banning fossil fuelled cars, and increasing the use of biofuels. However, the country currently emits 53 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year – and in order to become ‘climate neutral’, Norway will have to balance the amount of these greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted with the amount sequestered/offset. This poses the question; what big changes can be made in order to reduce our impacts on climate change? And will they work?
We’re all used to the same old advice; ‘don’t forget to switch your lights off’, ‘recycle’, ‘cycle to work’. But what about the extreme ways of preventing climate change – things that would drastically change our way of life?
One way we could seriously contribute to the mitigation of further climate change would be if we all stopped eating meat. Sound appealing? Probably not. But what if I told you that if everyone stopped eating meat, food-related GHG emissions would reduce by about 35 percent? Still not tempting? It’s not the most attractive solution, but according to Professor Nick Hewitt it’s one of the best ways to make a big dent in emissions. Cows are by far one of the worst contributors to GHG emissions, basically because they fart out a hell of a lot of methane; one of the most potent greenhouse gases. Therefore, cutting meat out of our diet is probably the best lifestyle change we could make in order to reduce greenhouse gases. Adopting a vegan diet would be even better, as the dairy industry obviously also contributes heavily to these emissions.
Another extreme solution would be the implementation of population controls. There are approximately 7.4 billion people living on the planet today – a figure predicted to grow to at least 9 billion by 2050. The UN estimates that 54 acres is needed to sustain an average human being today. More population growth means more consumption, which means more greenhouse gas emissions and a greater strain on the planet’s dwindling resources; and it’s pretty clear that this level of growth is not sustainable. The logical solution to this would be to start controlling the world’s population growth. We’re not talking about Utopia-esque forced sterilization, but rather placing quotas on families to limit the amount of children they can have – although this still sounds like something out of a dystopian novel.
The likelihood that either of these strategies will actually become mainstream solutions seems highly unlikely. Although in theory they are two of the most logical ways to reduce our impact on the environment, I doubt the entire global population will get on board with a meat-less society, or limits to their reproductive rights, for the sake of the planet. And for obvious reasons – we’re humans, and we don’t like to be told what to do. Perhaps the solution would instead be to encourage access to birth control and sex education across the developing world, or to provide incentives for people to have a meat-free day once a week – simple changes that people can’t exactly argue with.
However, it is probably important to point out that we are already experiencing a climate crisis – climate change is happening now, and there’s nothing much we can do about the changes we are going to see in the next 50 years or so. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, June 2016 marked 14 consecutive months of global record heat, with sea temperatures also reaching record levels. Arctic sea ice was at a record low last winter, covering a smaller area than in any year since records began. Coral reefs are rapidly bleaching and dying, and extreme weather is causing droughts in Southern Africa and intense flooding in India. So with the way things are going, maybe these extreme changes are in fact necessary? We might not like it, but the current strategy clearly isn’t making much of a difference. Something big needs to happen if we’re going to prevent any further changes to our climate, and I would argue that cutting meat from our diet seems like a small price to pay for a more sustainable future.
[Katie Fannin -@katfnan]
Image: National Geographic – Model of Europe after significant sea level rise