Most pigs alive today will spend their entire lives without ever taking a mud bath.
Plants are ecosystem engineers. They create the kind of environmental conditions in which they and the animals that depend on them can thrive. This includes climatic conditions. Southern Europe today is suffering under grueling heatwaves. In Sardinia the hottest day on record was just seen, at 45.2 degree Celsius.
If we could abandon large swathes of farmland, allowing natural vegetation to take over, temperatures would almost immediately go down. This decline in temperatures would be concentrated in summer. We know this, because it has been studied. People looked at how recent reforestation has impacted temperatures around Europe and here is what they found for the months June, July and August:
Recent reforestation has been enough to reduce average temperature in summer by half a degree Celsius, with a full degree seen in much of France. A realistic reforestation scenario would also increase the amount of rainfall by 7.6% in summer.
So how do you go about reforesting Europe? Well first things first, you need to make sure you do it right. You can’t transition to grasslands. That doesn’t work.
Here in “Subdomain A”, you can see what works. If you go from cropland to woodland, or open shrublands, you reduce temperatures. Similarly, if you go from grassland to woodland or open shrublands, you also reduce temperatures.
In other words, you can’t have grasslands with grazing animals, that’s not going to work, at least not to reduce temperatures. What does work, is abandoning farmland to reforest it. But how do we go about abandoning farmland? Well, the way to achieve this, is by changing what people eat. And equally important, we have to change who gets to eat the crops we grow.
In Italy, 60% of all the cereals grown, are not eaten by humans. They’re fed to livestock. In Spain, it’s 82%. When you leave your house as a European, when you travel through the countryside, you’re exploring a landscape full of plants that serve to feed the animals you eat. This is not necessary.
We know a human being can live without eating animals. And I think this is easier for a human being to do, than to live through 45 degree heatwaves. Moving from a meat heavy diet to a vegan diet cuts land use by 75%.
And so whenever I see people insist that if we were to stop burning fossil fuels China would just continue, I feel like pointing out to them that if we transitioned our whole society to a vegan diet, we wouldn’t have to depend on China working along in any way to see direct results. If your country stops growing cereal crops to feed to animals and starts growing forests on that abandoned farmland, temperatures will go down and rainfall in summer will increase.
So, if you were to seriously believe the prisoner’s dilemma with China prevents any meaningful action on fossil fuels, you should be eager to see your country transition to a plant based diet. And yet, I’ve seen very few low status white males endorse this.
Plant based diets also allow other things: They allow us to immediately reduce emissions of methane, which has a short half-life and would thus immediately help bring temperatures down. The forests would of course immediately absorb carbon dioxide, although they can absorb just a small fraction of all carbon humans have released so far, even if the whole planet was covered in forests. Revegetation would also give animal species the opportunity to migrate and adjust to the new climatic conditions.
Once trees are sufficiently tall enough, the area beneath their canopy can also be used for food production. Blueberries for example, grow well in the shade of trees. However, this is hard to reconcile with mechanized agriculture.
The solutions exist. Besides the simple fact that we can easily change the albedo of our cities (again, no need to worry about what China is doing), we can reforest our countries. The solutions I outlined here won’t do much for people in countries like Uganda, where eating meat is already rare. For their survival, they depend on us no longer using fossil fuels. But for Europe, simply abandoning meat and reforesting the landscape using abandoned pastures and farmland would be a great way to prepare itself for the future. The earlier we start, the fewer of our citizens have to starve or die. The rest of the world would benefit as well.
Unfortunately, the reality is that people just don’t care. In the Netherlands, 95% of people eat meat. Vegans are 0.4% of the population. And yet, low status white males feel oppressed by the vegans. Among Dutch men, 1.8% are vegetarian.
It’s the easiest, most straightforward, most effective, most humane solution that we have available to keep our continent habitable. It’s not difficult. I’ve been vegetarian since I was 10 years old. And if it was difficult. You know what’s also difficult? Dying of hunger. Living through lethal heatwaves.
This is the simplest, most straightforward option available for humans to adjust to the grim future that lies ahead of us. But people don’t do it. They set up billion dollar companies to come up with fake meat substitutes, but people complain that it doesn’t taste the same. They have droves of nerds play around in petri dishes, trying to get a muscle cell to grow into a steak. Because people feel entitled to everything.
The clock is ticking. But if you are like 98.2% of Dutch men, you don’t have to wait for your politicians to do something. You can do something now. Most people knew this ten years ago. They just don’t care. You can wait another ten years. But trees take time to grow. If you wait another ten years, what will there be left to salvage?
It takes a decade to build a nuclear power plant. It will take decades to replace our electricity grid and our car fleet. The whole infrastructure will need to change. These are all things that unfold over a human lifetime. But diets? If people wanted to, they could change their diets overnight. We already produce the grain, rather than feeding it to animals, we can just eat it ourselves. It’s really not very complex.
Most of the climate activists I speak to who block roads and chain themselves to private jets seem to be missing the fact that it’s not just governments that need to change. It’s the people who need to change. The people need to want to preserve a habitable planet. But they don’t want to.
It is very simple. You have all the facts. You have all the numbers. You have all the information. Nothing I said here is profoundly new information for anyone. But the people made a simple choice. They chose to release Barabbas. And broke my heart.