10 Million by 2050

The future ain’t what it used to be.
—Yogi Berra

There’s no doubt that an ever-increasing global population plays a big part in global warming and climate change. More people means more land to live on, more land for crops, and more livestock for food. Clearing all this land and the construction, agriculture and livestock that go along with it generate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. As the global population increases and as technology continues to progress with populations either living according to first-world standards or at least trying to, the emissions per person steadily increase as well.

According to the United Nations, on October 31, 2011 we reached a global population of seven billion people and it’s currently estimated that we are fast approaching 7.5 billion less than six years later. With more births than deaths, the number continues to climb. Our species has had many ups and downs in population over the centuries, but ever since the plague finished doing its damage around 1350—leaving us with about 370 million human beings at that point—our numbers have been steadily rising. Better sanitation, antibiotics, vaccination, and modern medicine (especially pertaining to childbirth) have all led to less premature deaths than we used to experience. Before modern medicine, a couple needed to plan for about five children simply to keep the population count neutral. Those days are long gone.

And slowly but surely, women’s rights are steadily improving around the world. There is certainly room for improvement in many parts of the globe, but ensuring that women are educated and able to be part of the workforce, and that they have control over their own bodies with respect to family planning have contributed substantially toward the steady decline in birth rates seen all over the world in the last fifty years. Only the poorest war-torn nations continue to have higher birth rates, in part to offset the higher mortality rates those countries still continue to experience.

Since birth rates are declining, might we ever expect to reach a plateau in the rising global population?  Continue reading

Cut Out Meat, Cut Out Emissions

When you factor in the fertilizer needed to grow animal feed and the sheer volume of methane expelled by cows, a carnivore driving a Prius can contribute more to global warming than a vegan in a Hummer.”
Christina Agapakis, synthetic biologist at UCLA

For those of us keen to keep our carbon footprints to a minimum, we tend to think about reducing carbon dioxide by addressing how we burn fossil fuels. We look to renewable sources of energy, minimize electricity use, and sometimes even purchase carbon offsets to cover the carbon dioxide we can’t avoid generating in our 21st century lifestyles.

But of course, carbon dioxide isn’t the only greenhouse gas. Methane and nitrous oxide play a role too. In fact, methane is about twenty times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide is, and nitrous oxide is more than 300 times as potent. Fortunately, they are in such smaller concentrations—for example, methane is around 1,750 parts per billion compared with carbon dioxide’s levels of around 400 parts per million—so carbon dioxide still plays a bigger part in global warming, according to most experts. At least for now.

A huge source of both methane and nitrous oxide is the meat industry. The number of cattle on the planet is about 1.3 billion, more than one head of cattle for every five people on Earth. So it would make sense that if we had less cattle and other ruminants like sheep on the planet, we would generate less methane.

So eating less meat will make a difference. In my book “Comprehending the Climate Crisis,” I addressed this issue and advocated that readers consider “Meatless Mondays” as part of their dietary regimen. Since every little bit helps, moving toward a vegetarian diet will have an impact. Going vegan will help even more, since vegetarian still means animal products are being consumed, meaning the animals are still out there generating emissions.

This isn’t just tree-hugging rhetoric. A 2010 report from the United Nations stated that a shift towards a vegan diet was one of the best ways we could tackle climate change. Continue reading

Are China, Brazil and the U.S. Going to be World Leaders in Climate Change?

“China’s carbon dioxide emission will peak by around 2030 and China will work hard to achieve the target at an even earlier date.”
—Chinese Premier Li Keqiang

Here’s some good news: the U.S., China and Brazil all made new commitments to fight climate change earlier this week, well in advance of December’s United Nations conference in Paris.

According to the White House, the U.S. and Brazil have both pledged to increase their production of electricity from renewable sources to reach 20 percent by the year 2030. That’s pretty significant as it amounts to three times more than the U.S. currently generates and twice as much as Brazil currently generates. In addition, Brazil will also introduce new measures to to help reduce significant deforestation. The announcement came during a meeting between Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and President Barack Obama. According to Brian Deese, senior climate change adviser at the White House, this joint announcement helps build on the progress seen so far. In his words:

[these measures] should provide momentum moving into our shared objective of getting an agreement in Paris later this year.

When it rains, it pours: not to be outdone, the Chinese government has pledged to reach peak emissions by 2030. By then, China wants a reduction in carbon intensity by about two-thirds compared to 2005 levels. (Carbon intensity is a measure of the amount of carbon emissions per unit gross domestic product.) The Chinese announcement came after a meeting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had with French President Francois Hollande.

Some may argue these announcements are nothing more than a lot of hot air, but I disagree. With these pledges, China, the U.S., and Brazil all position themselves as world leaders in targeting climate change well ahead of the U.N. December climate change conference in Paris. The optimistic goal of that event is to finally reach a binding agreement that will significantly reduce carbon emissions, something absolutely necessary if we ever hope to combat climate change. Such announcements will make it harder for some nations of the world to keep using the excuse “If the two biggest emitters aren’t doing anything, why should we?”

Now let’s see what Canada and Australia can come up with.

U.N. Climate Change Report to be Finalized This Week

“The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.”
Bertrand Russell

This week, a draft report from the United Nations will be finalized, one stating that climate change may have “serious, pervasive and irreversible” impacts on both society and nature, but that the governments around the world still have some precious time to avoid the worst possible outcomes that will happen if we continue on with business as usual.

Representatives from more than one hundred governments as well as climate scientists are meeting in Copenhagen this week to review and edit the report, scheduled to be published on November 2, 2014. It will serve as a working guide for the U.N. to try to broker a deal among the nations of the world to help adequately combat climate change at the Paris climate summit to be held late next year.

Although such efforts have previously met with disappointing results and lack of real action, perhaps this will finally be the beginning of something fruitful. Late last week, European Union leaders announced that they have agreed to reduce emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030 primarily by moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewables. They’re encouraging other nations, particularly China and the U.S. as the two largest emitters, to follow suit. Continue reading

Climate Change Summit Report Card

Our citizens keep marching. We cannot pretend we do not hear them.
—President Barack Obama at this week’s Climate Change Summit

If the purpose of the nearly 400,000 person march in New York City last Sunday was to to put pressure on the world’s leaders who met on Tuesday for the United Nations Climate Change Summit (held just before the UN’s opening session), how successful were they?

Here are a few things to consider when deciding:

1. We’ve never been more aware of climate change than we are right now.

As the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports have been telling us, our planet is dangerously close to no longer being able to limit future global warming to two degree Celsius compared to pre-industrial global temperatures. We’re already witnessing early effects of climate change with more extreme weather such as hurricanes, severe floods and droughts, as well as an acidifying ocean and melting ice from glaciers and the Arctic ice cap. Based on the number of ordinary citizens speaking out vocally on this issue and the amount of media attention these events received this past week, it seems the world is finally starting to take notice.

2. Despite record attendance, there were some notable absences as well.

More than 120 heads of state were present to discuss possible plans of action, the largest number of world leaders ever to attend a climate conference. But who didn’t show is also important: Continue reading