To combat climate change, we must act now

To the editor:

The 29-year-old newly elected House member, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, must be getting under someone’s skin. On two consecutive days, the Sentinel ran a political cartoon showing her predicting the end of the world in 12 years. She made those remarks to highlight a scientific paper that gave the global community 12 years to reduce substantially the emission of greenhouse gases to prevent catastrophic effects of climate change. Although her remarks were not meant to be taken literally, climate deniers used it to not only discredit her but also the science of climate change.

Increased forest fires, devastating hurricanes, widespread flooding and growing economic losses are now signs that our planet is warming. Over the next 12 years the global community must somehow muster the political will to reduce dramatically our dependence on fossil energy.

Over the past century and a half, the planet has warmed 1 degree Celsius. If we go above 2 degrees, we’re cooked (pun intended), and it’s preferable that it reaches no more than 1.5 Celsius. The planet can get a whole lot warmer than that. Our inaction risks runaway climate change, a tipping point. Then all bets are off. Sea level rise that could inundate coastal cities, hurricanes more frequent and more fierce, massive species extinctions, more severe and long-lasting droughts. These changes in our natural world will lead to staggering economic losses, starvation, governmental instability and violence. Am I trying to scare you into taking this seriously? I sure am.

To reduce greenhouse gases, much of the emphasis has focused on transforming to renewable energy. Although that is very important, another step that everyone can take that does not require a huge outlay of money or a technological breakthrough is changing to a plant-based diet.

“Animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas emission after fossil fuel. It is the leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution, and biodiversity loss,” according to a report in The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that emissions from livestock is equivalent to the emissions globally from cars, trucks, buses, trains and airplanes.

According to FAO, to meet the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius, yearly emissions must be reduced from today’s levels of 49 gigatons of CO2 to around 23 gigatons by 2050. At our present pace, agriculture would use 20 gigatons, leaving 3 for the rest of the economy. The path to a livable world passes through not only our change to renewable energy, but also a transformation in our food systems to a plant-based diet.

Alexandria’s message is unmistakably clear. We are running out of time and we must act now. Where does your representative and senator stand on this issue?

Gary Gill