400 parts per million

Happy Meatless Mother's Day, everyone! I know that was yesterday, but I was out of town in Ann Arbor, Michigan celebrating my niece and nephew's birthdays, so this is my first opportunity to pass on my best wishes to all the moms on my loyal reader list. It was a cold day and we actually returned to snow last night in London, Ontario. Not what we ordered for celebrating!

But the news this week has perhaps left many of us not feeling like celebrating. For the first time in over 3 million years--predating the evolution of humans on this planet--the amount of carbon in our atmosphere has exceeded 400 parts per million. This was the much feared, much talked about milestone that shows we are well on our way to perhaps irreversible climate change. It took 10,000 years of very stable environmental conditions, including, as Al Gore pointed out this week, stable carbon levels between 180 and 280 parts per million, for the development of our civilization. Now the same civilization seems destined to erase that stability in record time.

What's all this got to do with MM, one might ask? One would have to be new here to ask such a question. Only a few short weeks ago on Earth Day, we looked at a study showing that livestock production was responsible for 51% of all greenhouse gases (including carbon). We all (meaning me, quoting the scientists involved) reached this conclusion: replacing livestock products with meat alternatives would have far more rapid effects on greenhouse gas emissions and their atmospheric concentrations — and thus on the rate the climate is warming — than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. Going back a couple of years even, we looked at a study by the Environmental Working Group showing that the carbon footprint of plant-based foods was a fraction of that of animal-based foods. This stuff should not be news to anyone.

But let's decide to end on a positive note (as Mr. Gore did with his HuffPo piece, linked above) and remember that cutting out meat one day a week will lead us to a 15% reduction in meat consumption and to a quantifiable improvement in our carbon footprint. On our way home along the 401 yesterday, we passed rows and rows of wind turbines and several fields full of solar panels. There are no grand gestures that can solve this problem; it will take small changes by everybody, a little bit at a time, to turn this around. And this week's recipe is a low carbon burger alternative for your Monday meals which will help bring the sunshine back to Southwestern Ontario or wherever you are today.