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Why should we care about one degree of warming? After all, the temperature fluctuates by many degrees every day where we live. The temperatures we experience locally, and in short periods, can fluctuate a lot due to predictable cyclical events like night and day, summer and winter, and hard-to-predict wind and precipitation patterns.
Unlike these local, short-term changes in climate, the global temperature record represents an average over the entire surface of the planet. And unlike short-term fluctuations, the global temperature mainly depends on how much energy the planet receives from the Sun and how much it radiates back into space - quantities that change very little. The amount of energy radiated by the Earth depends significantly on the chemical composition of the atmosphere, particularly the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
A one-degree global change is significant because it takes a vast amount of heat to warm all the oceans, atmosphere, and land by that much. In the past, a 1 degreesC to 2 degreesC decrease was all it took to plunge the Earth into the Little Ice Age. And, a 5 degreesC drop was enough to bury a large part of North America under a towering mass of ice 20,000 years ago.
With the current level of GHG emissions, scientists expect each successive decade to be warmer than the previous. Global temperatures have risen from 1950 through the end of 2014, and it has been 39 years since the recording of a year of cooler than average temperatures. According to NASA, the average temperature in 2013 was 14.6 degreesC (58.3 degreesF), which is 0.6 degreesC (1.1 degreesF) warmer than the mid-20th century baseline. The average global temperature has risen about 0.8 degreesC (1.4 degreesF) since 1880. This "small" change is cause for alarm and demands a public's outcry for governments to act quickly before temperatures start to increase even more rapidly.
One of the main drivers of climate change that caused the one degree increase in global surface temperature is an animal-based diet, which is not conducive to a healthy life, either. The environmental and health costs of Westerners' consumption of animal products with every meal have been widely documented. Given that livestock require much more food, land, water and energy to raise and transport than plants, increased demand for animal products depletes resources, places pressure on food-production systems, damages ecosystems, and fuels climate change.
International financial institutions should stop financing the expansion of livestock facilities, but instead international trade deals are promoting the Westernization of animal-based diets into the less-developed world. Demand for animal products is projected to increase by 50 percent from 2013 to 2025. Individuals and communities can make a difference by divesting from the fossil-fuel and livestock industries, and by making personal changes that result in lowering GHG footprints. With each meal, we can all help in solving rapid global warming.
Excerpt from the book, "Meat Climate Change," see http://meatclimatechange.org/
Dr. Moses Seenarine is a plant-based father and activist, founder of Climate Change 911, and the author of Voices from the Subaltern (2004) and Meat Climate Change (forthcoming).