I’ve got some bad news and some good news.
First the bad. Humanity is close to triggering five climate tipping points — dangerous changes that can’t be stopped even if we stopped contributing to global heating. Scientists have determined a range of temperatures that trigger each tipping point. Currently, we have heated the planet 1.1 degrees Celsius, which exceeds the minimum range of temperature triggers for the Greenland Ice Sheet Collapse, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet Collapse, tropical coral reef die off, Northern permafrost abrupt thaw, and the Labrador Sea current collapse . The central estimate of when these items would get triggered are at 1.5 degrees of global heating, except for the Labrador Sea current collapse, where the central estimate is a trigger point of 1.8 degrees. Without drastic changes, we are expected to hit 1.5 degrees of warming by 2033.
The collapse of the Greenland and West Antarctic Sea Ice sheets spells sea level rise of approximately 12 meters. The die-off of tropical coral reefs plays havoc with the integrity of our oceans and their ability to produce oxygen and habitat for sea life. The thaw of northern permafrost releases huge amounts of methane which leads to further climate system chaos. The Labrador Sea current is essential for rain to grow food and for the exchange of heat in the oceans.
Now for the good news. There is a way to significantly reduce the risk of triggering the climate tipping points. Eisen and Brown authored a paper headlined, “Rapid global phase-out of animal agriculture has the potential to stabilize greenhouse gas levels for 30 years.”
“Animal agriculture contributes significantly to global warming through ongoing emissions of the potent greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide, and displacement of biomass carbon on the land used to support livestock. However, because estimates of the magnitude of the effect of ending animal agriculture often focus on only one factor, the full potential benefit of a more radical change remains underappreciated.”
Methane and nitrous oxide are powerful, yet short-lived, greenhouse gases. This is in contrast to CO2, which is long-lived. Therefore, a big reduction in methane and nitrous oxide, which would be achieved by a phase out of animal agriculture, would stabilize greenhouse gases for the next 30 years, which is critical to avoid triggering the climate tipping points and the collapse of our life support systems. Secondly, by the end of the century, “recent estimates suggest that on the order of 800 GT CO2 equivalent carbon could be fixed via photosynthesis if native biomass were allowed to recover on the 30 per cent of Earth’s land surface currently devoted to livestock production. ” If we add in the savings of current emissions from animal agriculture (7.1 GT CO2 e per year x 77 years), we get, approximately, 1,350 GT COe that is saved or sequestered. That is over 80 per cent of the 1,650 GT CO2e that has been emitted since the beginning of industrialization. The authors state that “The magnitude and rapidity of these potential effects should place the reduction or elimination of animal agriculture at the forefront of strategies for averting disastrous climate change.”
The good news is that all people of good will can trigger positive social tipping points by stopping our patronage of the animal agriculture industry. We don’t need to wait for governments or businesses to act.