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February 16, 2019


Arshad M. Khan


We now have the remarkable convenience of the internal combustion engine, and
also its noise and chaos and emissions to energize climate change.  Burning fossil
fuels has put us on planet Titanic ...

The doomsday clock remains at a critical two minutes to midnight, the 'new abnormal,'
spelling future disaster, and we will continue to be like the "Titanic, ignoring the
iceberg ahead, enjoying the fine food and music," to quote former California governor
Jerry Brown.  He is now the executive chairman of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the
organization behind the clock.  This year climate change is cited as a major cause; it
was the principal reason in 2012 and 2014.  

The U.S. 'National Climate Assessment' last November did not mince words when it
noted, "The evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming ... the
impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country."  The report mandated
by Congress and affirmed by science agencies of the government was repudiated by
President Trump:  "I do not believe it," was his blunt response.  Mr. Trump religiously
opposes climate change, believing it to be a natural phenomenon that will reverse
itself also naturally.  About the current administration, one prominent scientist, the
president of the Woods Hole Research Center, was quoted in Science as saying,
"They're in la-la-land." Science has labeled the inaction, the policy breakdown of the

Sadly this la-la-land is not harmless as tell-tale signs of the exacerbation of weather
events are already here:  Hurricanes intensify quickly, then move slowly shedding
unprecedented amounts of rain.  It happened with Harvey over Houston in 2017, and
with Florence over North Carolina in 2018.  That overall temperature in the oceans is
breaking new records is one good reason.

The 1.5C report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has given us,
on the safe side, a 12-year window in which to start reducing emissions, to try to
achieve neutral balance by mid-century, or eventually a self-reinforcing feedback loop
will lead to uncontrollable warming and a "Hothouse Earth."  If   we cannot expect any
policy initiatives from this administration, can changes in individual behaviors help?  
Apparently yes, and it is within our power to address two major CO2 sources:

Carbon capture from the atmosphere is difficult and expensive.  A better alternative
might be to remove it at the source.  That means at power stations and factories, and
there are new processes offering hope.  However, most carbon emission comes from
transportation, and it points to a future of electric cars using electricity from CO2
scrubbed power stations.  The choice of car is clearly up to us.  

Another avenue of individual involvement is dietary change for a sustainable future --
in itself clearly at odds with the zealous consumption of meat in rich countries.  
Ruminants release methane through belching as food passes through their several
stomachs.  Over their agricultural cycle, cattle alone emit 270,000 tonnes of
greenhouse gas per tonne of protein, many times more than poultry.  As Bill Gates
has observed if cows were a country, they would rank third in greenhouse gas

There is another way to look at it.  One can translate a kilo of different food sources
into the number of car miles driven.  Lamb is definitely the worst at 91 miles followed
by beef at 63.  Bad news for vegetarians, cheese comes in at 31 miles.  It is followed
by pork (28), turkey (25), chicken (16), nuts (5) and lentils (2).  Imagine if dietary
habits changed from beef to lentils, even once a week would make an enormous
difference.  Also chicken, turkey and pork are reasonable substitutes as cutting out
beef and lamb is clearly critical.  By the way, Indian food has delicious lentil recipes.  

Scientists may soon have other intriguing possibilities, including lab-grown meat, that
is if the current Beyond Burger type bean substitutes do not quite make the taste
test.  Then there are crickets!  They happen to be an excellent source of protein
offering more per pound than beef, and their production leaves a tiny ecological
footprint in comparison.  Ground up into powder, this protein can be added to flour or
other foods, and it is available.  Kernza is a perennial grain and a substitute for wheat
and corn but without their annual tilling which robs the soil of nutrients and also
causes erosion.  There is also a new oil made from algae.  Sourced originally from the
sap of a German chestnut tree, it has been developed further to yield more oil, and is
being sold under the name Thrive.  With a neutral taste and high smoke point, it
makes an excellent substitute for the environmentally destructive palm oil, where
plantations have ravaged forests in Indonesia and imperiled orangutans.

Personal choices can make a huge difference, including walking whenever possible
for short distances instead of driving -- mostly it's just habit.  Bicycles, tricycles and
push scooters are all out there, including some with electrical power assist.

Yes, there are options available to cut back our contributions to climate change; they
require changes in habits and tastes, perhaps difficult, but we will have to eventually if
we are not to leave behind a raging planet for future generations.  Meanwhile, the
young in Europe have been marching in their tens of thousands to draw attention to
the issue, and it cannot hurt to do likewise.