It’s simple: Eating less meat leads to less global warming

I originally gained an awareness of climate change and its connection to meat production when I read  John Robbin’s “The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Health and Our Planet”. The book actually inspired me to become vegetarian. 

Most of us are aware that our cars, our coal-generated electric power and even our cement factories adversely affect the environment. Until recently, however, the foods we eat had gotten a pass in the discussion. Yet according to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, our diets and, specifically, the meat in them cause more greenhouse gases carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and the like to spew into the atmosphere than either transportation or industry. Greenhouse gases trap solar energy, thereby warming the earth’s surface. Because gases vary in greenhouse potency, every greenhouse gas is usually expressed as an amount of CO2 with the same global-warming potential.

It’s rare that such enormous problems have such simple solutions, but this is one that does. We can tackle climate change without inventing new cars or spending billions on mass transit or trillions on new forms of energy, though all of that is not only desirable but essential.

I know many of us feel that climate change is a lost cause and that essentially are crippled in our ability to impact positive change. We can begin eating less meat today. That’s something any of us can do, with no technological advances. If personal choice enacted on a large scale could literally save the world, why not consider it as a definitive option.

Current production levels of meat contribute between 14 and 22 percent of the 36 billion tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases the world produces every year. It turns out that producing half a pound of hamburger for someone’s lunch a patty of meat the size of two decks of cards releases as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles. In my mind, that makes a pretty compelling case to consume less meat or eliminate it all together.

Plus, meat alternatives  would help to alleviate the global water crisis, since livestock production uses a tremendous amount of water; it could have health and nutritional benefits; and, given that meat alternatives are more labor intensive, they would create both more jobs and more skilled jobs — while workers in the livestock industry could be retrained for jobs in meat-alternative industries.

Here is an incredibly tangible option for reducing our impact on climate change. Try a veggie burger today!

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Obama: Keeping up promise to tackle climate change?

I posted earlier about President Obama’s pledge to make climate change a primary component of his current administration. The president pledged new actions on climate change in his Feb. 12 State of the Union speech, and naturally, I was quite excited about what this might mean for climate change and our country’s position on this issue.

The president said recently the United States understood it had to do more to fight climate change and he pledged that more action was coming, yet admittedly, I immediately pondered whether his actions would be enough.

President Obama is preparing regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. This would be the most consequential climate policy step he could take and one likely to provoke legal challenges from Republicans and some industries.

Electric power plants are the largest single source of global warming pollution in the country, responsible for nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. With sweeping climate legislation effectively dead in Congress, the decision on existing power plants, which a 2007 Supreme Court decision gave to the executive branch, has been among the most closely watched of Mr. Obama’s second term.

The administration has already begun steps to restrict climate-altering emissions from any newly built power plants, but imposing carbon standards on the existing utility fleet would be vastly more costly and contentious. Still, it seems that the administration is up for the challenge, and in my mind, that is a major reason to celebrate.  So, is the president keeping up his promise to tackle climate change? It sounds like we’ll able to really engage in that discussion in the upcoming weeks, but in the meantime, I’ll remain in celebration mode.

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Beauty in the Everyday

On a day, a day not very sunny, a day not very warm,

a day with altogether too much breeze,

I sit, in a diffuse sunbeam,

on the cool dew of a garden citadel.

I breathe.

Not far enough away, the honking cars

resound their yawning sighs and urgent pleas

I hear them, yet a placidness abides.

I breathe.

The air and ground around me teem with life.

Too small for me to notice them before,

And I not still enough for them to trust,

Beings unseen reveal themselves to me.

One of them, larger than the rest, and slim,

darts quickly, evading my gaze, until at last he sees me seeing him, and freezes, and I realize

that I have never seen a Crane-fly outside before.

I breathe.

The sun peeks out from behind a cloud.

A plane roars overhead, and then–

Besides the wind, there is only silence.

There is beauty everywhere we can look. We do not need to travel tens or hundreds of miles to find it. In any public park, any yard, any garden, we may sit down, and within ten minutes, we are almost certain to have seen something we have never seen before… If we know how to look, and perhaps more importantly, how to be still. For it is only when we can still the churning within ourselves and truly allow the outside world to penetrate the boundaries of our minds that Nature reveals itself to us. Today’s revelation may not be a large one– it may be as simple as seeing an “indoor” bug outdoors. But the potential for wisdom, and for beauty, is nearly infinite.

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Throwing Coals

The Buddha once said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Anger poisons the heart, mind, and soul, and so the very act of wishing harm on another brings harm on one’s self.

This post is not about anger (at least not primarily), but it is about grasping hot coals.

Questions about climate are often phrased as though humans and nature are in opposition; that we are one particular species floating through a vast “nature” that surrounds, but does not include, us. We act on nature, and nature acts on us. Sometimes we release a bunch of carbon into the atmosphere, and nature has to deal with it. Sometimes, nature creates a tsunami off our coast, and we have to deal with that. But this view may itself be more harmful than any one act of pollution.

A recent study showed that, in places where forests have largely died away, human respiratory health has suffered. At first reading, a voice in my head screamed “Correlation does not imply causation! What’s the third variable?” Initially, I somewhat dismissed the premise of the article, assuming that areas with deforestation would be more likely to be industrialized, and that therefore it may well have been the industrial pollutants, rather than the lack of trees, that were causing the problem. Yet the culprit implicated in this study was not factories, but beetles. A blight of Emerald Ash Borers provided an opportunity for researchers to isolate the questions of deforestation and pollution, and the results were indeed telling.

The gist is that, when “our” environment suffers– and as humans, the average definition of “our” environment is one that includes trees and other foliage– we suffer as well. Whatever trees are breathing out (and I somehow doubt it’s just oxygen, as we can get that just about anywhere), we need it. When the trees are gone, we don’t breathe as well, simple as that. And if forests are so vulnerable to natural foes that a beetle infestation is enough to increase human respiratory mortality, then we have no business hurrying along the process of deforestation for our own desires. He who torches a forest to plant a field may as well pick up the flaming embers– for he is the one who shall ultimately get burned.

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Valuable Natural Resources

The majority of the world’s populations, living in today’s fast paced patterns, are ignoring the depth of our most valuable natural resource: each other. We often go through our days not connecting to others we hold dear to us, giving precious gifts of touch, words, and reassurance.  While the mainstream population is consumed by personal environmental issues, such as family, work, and survival, we only focus on topics that touch our life paths and those people who cross our paths. We might listen to various news media, or have a conversation about the loss of our diminishing natural resources, endangered wildlife, and climate challenges. We converse about how we can better our own environment and touch others with our insights; however, we have lost our sense of the deeper connection to our humankind. Many of us have become numb, to a certain level, to survive today’s pace. Along our life path, we lose connection to each other in the process. I have found myself, as do many of us, in my own bubble of daily tasks, and only speaking with people proximal to my bubble. If we spent time really focusing on each other, widening our circle to communicate weekly with those that are not in our daily bubble, what would that look like? Perhaps we would see our connection to the extensive world and our animal and plant kin more clearly.

Yet, I have to admit, in my busy daily life, I find myself engrossed in my personal climate change, graduate studies, and teaching. My life’s fears lead me to retreat into my safe cave, alone. I have let moments, years, pass by with limited connection with those I love, or hold dear in my heart. We deny the pain our forgetfulness inflicts on others, as well as on this earth that has befriended us and given us a place to live.

As many of us, I find myself consumed in saving the environment, educating others to recycle, reclaim and reuse, but I have had my head in the sand when it come to connecting deeply to our natural resources: our friends, family, acquaintances, and the people we only read about on the internet. Many of us are missing the beauty of everyday life. I am missing the preciousness of my dog’s breathing, the ants crossing my desk with a parcel of my sandwich, or the crow outside my window trying to pry the birdseed embedded in the gravel. I miss the beauty of the fresh air against my face as I walk on the beach, bundled head to foot with down layers. I miss the seconds it takes to just hear my family and friends’ voices. I work at my desk, typing in lost hours, telling myself I will send them an email that will connect us, and then I lose their email, and put it off to another day. My family and friends want to hear my voice, see my face, converse, and I theirs. I hide behind my fears of writing, artistic incapability, and disbelief in my spiritual awareness. Again, all these feelings are a set of conditions I place onto myself and I know many others do the same, so we do not reach out to touch the people and other living beings right in front of us.

You know when you forget or fear holds you back for no reason from letting a shared moment with someone you love seep into your soul? Then when they are gone, you are only left with an empty moment of silence, the silence you could have shared watching the dogs play, the cat curled on a lap, ants, beetles, birds, thoughts, worries, past and future dreams.

Today, I woke up to learn a dear friend, Mia, had left this world. I had the pleasure of being in her life for many years, sharing our stories of when we were little lost girls, our deep seated love of art, spirituality, home, family, and of course, animals. I was in awe of her; she was a small woman in stature, with a spirit the size of the universe. Mia’s knowledge and love of art, artists, and people of all walks of life was known by many. She was a powerhouse in the art field, and a curator; she was instrumental in the well-known Seattle Art Trust Foundation, and her own larger than life Mia Art Gallery.

We had talked many times of creating art together, building a studio on her property where the dogs were playing, and geese flew into the pond. Mia and her husband gave me free license to create through my arts of interior design, Feng Shui, spiritual cleansing and placement in their new home. We talked for hours about the spirit of each item and the placement in the house or in the yard. We were all thrilled with the final results. Then, I got busy with other things in life. I lost track of Mia; really, I lost track of my time with Mia. I wanted to share so much with her and I know she did with me. Losing track of Mia was not on purpose, just life happening at different times. When I ran into Mia, she was always as warm as the sunshine beaming from her smiling eyes. I would promise to see her and then something would hold me back from making the time. I knew Mia’s health was failing more, and so was mine. The last two years, it took all my strength to go to school, walk the dog and take care of my family.

So I write to express my feelings of sadness, and the heightened awareness we receive about connecting more diligently when a loved one has passed through our lives.

The old saying “Love conquers all” is true. I am not saying love alone will fight the battle to save ourselves or the earth from pain and despair; however, awareness of our need to express our love will give us the strength to connect to each other, adapt and bond. Connection will help each of us to enjoy quality life on this planet, as long as we endure. I love you both.

I dedicate this story to Mia McEldowney and her husband Bill Mitchell.

We were connected from the moment she called me from my design ad, and we are connected in spirit now and forever.








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Biochar: Here to save us all!

I’m quite thrilled to be working on something that I think actually has value for me and the planet. Hopefully such opportunities will continue to come my way!

I am now recruiting individuals to partake in experiential learning about biochar. This is an amazing substance that can both fix the soil and the air.

If any readers are interested in partaking in the workshop in Woodinville, WA on April 27-28, 2013, please clicker here to register.

Because ecopsychology deals with the psychological relationship that we have with the earth, I’ll forgo discussing the details of biochar and instead talk about how I feel about it.

It’s interesting that there were so many great inventions that distant civilizations used, but yet they are now just being re-discovered. While biochar wasn’t lost per se, the way we commonly use it today is different than how it has historically been used. Still the question remains as to what exactly happened to our former ways of co-creating with the earth that have now, over time, become so lost to us? Furthermore, what has since happened that has caused a sudden spark in remembrance and brought them back to us?

Perhaps this all has to do with the collective unconscious which Carl Jung introduced into human consciousness through his depth psychology. I am quite impressed with his thought, really, about there being a hidden layer of consciousness that all of life taps into. Clearly something beyond our normal, everyday consciousness is needed to bring back such magical feats which were lost eons ago.

How does this translate to climate change though? Is is possible that the earth and its creatures are becoming so desperate that they are again able to tap into pieces of the collective unconscious that have been lost? It seems there are always more questions than answers when dealing with the mind. One thing is for certain though: the earth needs help. Since humans, creatures, and the earth are interconnected, they are all pushing together for right action to occur, as Buddhism encourages in it’s eightfold path.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that the human species is in need of some desperate changes in how it walks upon the earth. We all (and this includes the grasshopper on your fire place) know it. We shall just give thanks to the people that have managed to tap into whatever place that receives wisdom and brought forth these reminders of how to tread lightly upon the earth. In the meantime, I think it’s best that we all learn the practices that are coming back to us as well as those (such as biochar) that are simply changing form over time. We can’t suffer the loss of any more of this great information, for there is no telling how much time will pass before it may come back to us again. By then, who knows if it will be too late.

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Ocean Gummy Bears to save the world

In a report to the peer reviewed science journal Nature , Chris Rapley and James Lovelock advocate looking at boosting ocean take-up of CO2 by using a technical fix to enhance a natural biological process in the ocean.  They propose Ocean Gummy Bears, aka salps, are the answer with  some extra help from their latest technological gadget to contort ocean processes to their their desired result.

The newest stab at a technical fix to address climate change uses pipes that move down in the water column releasing cold water from deep below the surface waters up and out onto the ocean surface. A valve blocks any downward flow when the pipe is moving upwards. The benefit of doing this they say is bringing up nutrient rich water to increase phytoplankton blooms. They are specifically hoping that salps will benefit from the increased plankton. Salps are a species that have recently been washing up on Washington shores, and what lead me to this topic.

By the way my research shows that salps are not actually unusual in the PNW waters like the above video claims.

Professor Rapley said the letter to Nature was meant to get people to think about technical fixe concepts. In recent years, scientists have developed a wide range of technical “geo-engineering” ideas for potential climate-fixing technologies. They are hoping to buy time while society comes up with a more comprehensive plan.

So far seeding the ocean with iron filings to stimulate plankton growth, putting sunshades in space, and firing sulphate aerosols into the atmosphere from a giant cannon have all been proposed; the iron filings idea has been extensively tested.

When Rapley and Lovelock wrote the paper they did not know a company, Atmocean, had already started testing a prototype of their idea. Atmocean CEO Phil Kithil calculated that deploying about 134 million pipes could potentially sequester about one-third of the carbon dioxide produced by human activities each year.

Atmocean deployed experimental tubes and gathered engineering data. The pipes brought cold water to the surface from a depth of 200m, but no research was done on whether this approach had any net impact on greenhouse gas levels.Below is a diagram of how the pipes work.


The biggest concern being that water from the depths will also contain higher levels of CO2 that could unbalance the net carbon balance.

On the flip side salps could actually be a part of the more holistic approach to climate change. I am not suggesting we meddle in the ocean system to change their food web interactions but these so called ocean gummy bears can be a huge carbon sink naturally. Laurence Madin of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution wrote in a newly published study in the journal Deep Sea Research that “hotspots” of salps could spell a dead-end for carbon, transporting tons of it daily from the ocean surface to the deep sea and preventing it from re-entering the atmosphere.

Salps can consume up to 74% of the phytoplankton from surface waters in a single day. When they defecate their pellets transport up to 4,000 tons of carbon daily to deep water. Small amounts of carbon and compact it into larger denser pellets that can sink more than a half mile a day. And when a salp dies their bodies take more carbon down with them even faster sinking up to a quarter mile a day.

Salps are cool natural movers of carbon. They vertically migrate from between 2,000 and 6,000 feet deep and the surface waters every day.  But what happens if we meddle in this natural cycle of carbon cycling by sticking those 134 million pipes in and bringing all that carbon the salps are sinking back to the surface? Will this acidify the oceans? Will the overabundance of phytoplankton create increasing dead zones in the oceans that are depleted of dissolved oxygen (DO)?

Clearly we do not know what we are doing but the planet does. So why can’t we just stop doing harm and butt out! I admit I am awed by the ocean. I am protective of this life giving vital part of our planet. It is my source of love and inspiration in life and I do not like it when people look at it as just a tool to fix their mistakes.

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