This week I joined 5,400 groups from 181 countries in the largest international environmental day of action in recorded history. In December, people from across the globe will be converging in Copenhagen to a UN gathering to discuss global agreements around global warming, carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. My knowledge about climate change deepened through this day of collective action which focused around the number 350. Here’s the synopsis: For the vast majority of human history, the earth has had the perfect amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to sustain life; approximately 275 parts per million. Mars naturally has too little CO2 and is too cold to support life, and Venus has too much CO2 making it too hot for life as we know it.
For time immemorial, the earth has maintained a perfect balance, but through the industrial revolution, population growth and energy intensive lifestyles we are disrupting this. The atmosphere has now hit 390 parts per million CO2, and this number is rising by 2ppm each year. The result; melting glaciers, sea level rising, severe weather events, acidifying oceans, and ultimately, a feedback loop of climate change ripple effects which we can only begin to imagine. Scientists now agree that 350ppm is the safe upper limit of CO2 in our atmosphere and that we’d be wise to return to this number as soon as possible. This past week’s actions around the world were to raise awareness about this number 350 and to urge delegates to push for international climate treaty that will help us come back to 350ppm CO2 not by 2050 as has been the dialogue, but by 2020! In order to get there, we need to do everything we can to curb our carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions now, through the efforts of global leaders in Copenhagen, and here at home in our everyday lives. This means getting serious about doing all those things we know work in service of the earth but take a little extra effort; curbing airline flights, biking to work, unplugging appliances, sealing the energy leaks in our homes, AND looking closely at what we eat! Why? It is estimated that 1/3 of all greenhouse gases, are produced through our agriculture system. By eating organic foods, we are making huge steps toward reducing the emissions of our agricultural system. How? The production of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides contributes more than one trillion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere globally each year. That is more than is generated by all the cars in India, China, Australia, Canada and Mexico, combined.
How can we eat a low carbon diet and reduce global warming? Here are some tips:
1. Eat Organic
If everyone converted 10% of their diet to organic, we could capture an additional 6.5 billion pounds of carbon in the soil- the equivalent of taking 2 million cars off the road each year.
2. Eat low on the food chain
Meat production is the largest agricultural contributor to greenhouse gases in the U.S., livestock accounts for 1/3 of all methane emissions in the U.S., and animal production accounts for 1/5 of greenhouse gases worldwide.
3. Ditch the packaging and cut down on processed foods
The food processing and packaging sector is one of the top 5 users of energy in the U.S.
4. Buy local
Average conventional food travels,1500 miles to get to your grocery store and it currently takes 7-10 times more energy to produce your food than is contained in the food itself. Also, more than 1/5 of all transportation emissions in the U.S. come from agriculture and food products.
Here at Woolman, we blessed to be directly taking action on all these fronts. Bountiful produce from our garden and fruit from the orchard have been a staple at every meal eaten on campus. This food is fresh, local, organic, unprocessed, unpackaged, and plant-based. What could be better? The good news is that by eating in a way that is in service to the planet, we’re also eating foods that are serving bodies! These garden fresh foods are high in vitamins and nutrients that are vital to our health. If you don’t have garden yet at home, this is a great time to begin. You can also support our garden by donating items on our wish-list that you just might have already. For more info on this topic, check out http://www.coolfoodscampaign.org and www.350.org
Malaika Bishop is an educator, farmer, mother and manages the gardens at SFC