The World Is Ending and Sooner Than We Would Like


Well, we all knew it was going to happen: the planet’s dying.  The unexpected part is how it’s dying, and how it’s going to die in our lifetime.  Who knew that pumping chemicals into the atmosphere would cause a dramatic change? In any case, we don’t have long to act.

In 2015 the United Nations General Assembly signed onto the Sustainable Development Agenda, which has seventeen goals aimed at stopping poverty.  Among these goals, six are aimed at saving and maintaining the environment. But this past year, the Climate Vulnerable Forum announced that we only had twelve years left before the planet would be unfixable.

Approximately five million deaths occur each year from disease related to pollution and climate change, and while there are arguments for climate change being a cycle that has occurred several times in the planet’s history, it is undeniable that we are having a major impact on the climate and the environment.

Domestic cattle produce nearly 120 million tons of methane every year – a greenhouse gas 35 times more potent than carbon dioxide – and that number is ignoring other livestock like pigs and sheep.  More than four million tons of methane is produced every year from wasted food that rots in landfills. More than 350 million tons of nitrous oxide is produced in the US alone, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.  In 2011, 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide was pumped into the air by burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas).

But we still have some time to make changes.

Poultry accounts for less than a percent of the methane produced by livestock (0.6%), far less than cattle’s 48.5%.  In the long run, switching from meats like beef, pork, and lamb to meats like chicken, turkey, and fish would reduce greenhouse gas emissions while not forcing us to all become vegans.  And to answer everyone’s biggest question, yes, cutting back on meats includes bacon.

One third of all food produced ends up wasted or lost.  When food ends up in a landfill, it’s surrounded by other trash buildup.  Since it’s covered, the food begins to rot without access to oxygen, in a process called anaerobic decomposition, which produces methane.  Solution: we need to cut down on how much food we buy and throw out and increase how much we use. The massive amount of food that we produce in the US also plays into nitrous oxide; nitrous is produced when farmers use synthetic fertilizers.  So, cut back on food production and we’ll cut back on methane and nitrous. And if the death of the planet isn’t enough, the amount of food wasted in the US every year is equivalent to $680 million.

The big ticket item is fossil fuels.  The burning of fossil fuels accounts for 75% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and it’s not an easy fix.  There are two big solutions to fossil fuels: renewable energy, like solar and hydroelectric, and nuclear energy.  Both sources have complaints against them, but most of those complaints have very simple solutions. Hydroelectric often interrupts water ways, altering or destroying habitats.  Well, our very own little town of Meeteetse came up with a solution when they built their dam in an area with little water and redirected a little bit from the river to fill their reservoir.  Solar is expensive and often produced outside of the country. However, there are still plenty of jobs available in installation and maintenance, and it’s the most reliable source of renewable energy.  Nuclear energy has a lot of people scared because of the idea of meltdowns and fallout, but if we begin to invest in thorium instead of uranium it wouldn’t be a problem. Thorium is five times as common as uranium, produces less waste and more energy, and requires another substance to start the reaction so it can’t meltdown.  So why aren’t we investing in these other forms of energy? Because many politicians won’t get as much money from lobbyists in the oil and coal industries. So we’re letting the planet die because of politics? Something seems wrong about that.

So here’s the rub, the planet’s going to die and soon.  Kids born in 2012 won’t even be able to reach adulthood before the deadline.  We have to reduce our emissions by reducing reliance on larger livestock, food waste, and fossil fuel use.  It’s not a political issue, it’s a global one. If the planet gets irreversibly screwed up, it affects everyone.  So think about what you eat, think about what you throw away, and be aware of where your energy comes from.

Sincerely, a fellow resident of this planet.