It was shocking to learn that the poor air quality in BC this summer rivaled that of heavily polluted Beijing. Over the course of this Province’s worst wildfire season on record, as many as 400 fires are suspected to have been caused directly by humans. Four times that many can be attributed to lightning strikes however – a phenomenon recognized as increasing in frequency due to global climate change. According to fire ecologists, the scale of wildfire emergencies experienced here over the last couple of years wasn’t predicted to be classified as ‘average’ for another three decades! And yet now we are being told to expect smoke-filled skies (and the accompanying breathing difficulties so many humans and non-humans will suffer) as ‘the new norm’. ‘Natural’ disasters involving devastating fires and drought, or hurricanes and excessive flooding, are obviously on the rise. Common sense tells those of us not in denial about climate change that there is no time to waste in doing all we can to reduce human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Less obvious it seems, is the reality that a shift away from animal-centered diets and food production is every bit as important as ending our dependence on fossil fuels.
Farmed animals take up nearly 80% of global agricultural land, yet produce less than 20% of the world’s supply of calories. Conservative estimates currently hold livestock accountable for between 14.5 and 18% of global anthropogenic GHG emissions – higher than all transportation combined. Beef and dairy cows are responsible for about 65% of the total and it is the methane such ruminants produce that is particularly worrisome. Methane is far more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, although it doesn’t linger as long in the atmosphere as CO2. In fact, scientists calculate that over a hundred year period the “global-warming potential” of methane is 28 times greater than for carbon dioxide. There are currently 1.5 billion cattle on our finite planet, also accounting for around 23% of all global water use in agriculture.
In spite of their enormous ecological footprints, the dominant narrative in many environmental circles today is not rejection of meat and dairy for people with the privilege of choice, but a push for free-ranging animals and what is commonly called rotational grazing or ‘Holistic Management’ (HM). This method is extolled as a humane alternative to the massive factory farms that grow 97% of beef cattle in the USA, for example. But the animals raised in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) reach slaughter weight sooner on the grains they are fed, emitting significantly less methane over the course of their short lives than their grass-fed counterparts. The potential for some carbon sequestration in very carefully orchestrated grazing systems is at best short term. And according to an overview of HM in Volume 2014 of the International Journal of Biodiversity, “the scientific evidence is that global greenhouse gas emissions are vastly larger than the capacity of worldwide grasslands and deserts to store the carbon emitted each year.” A two year study released last year concluded that “even in a best case scenario, grazing livestock are net contributors to the climate problem, as are all livestock. Good grazing management cannot offset its own emissions, let alone those arising from other systems of animal production.”
I’ll have much more to share on this topic after I return from the People’s Climate March this month in San Francisco where veganic farmers will be gathering to expose the false dichotomy between livestock-based regenerative agriculture and agricultural systems run on fossil fuels. The stock-free farming movement is alive and well – stay tuned!
In the meantime, one of the very best things we can all do for our climate and future generations is to grow more trees, and now is the perfect time to plant food-bearing varieties. The following simple recipe is one of my favorite ways to enjoy an abundance of tasty fall plums. Enjoy!
Fireweed’s Autumn Plum Cake
· 13 fresh plums
Ingredients for the vanilla batter:
· 1 1/3 cup organic all-purpose flour
· 1/2 cup unbleached organic sugar
· 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
· 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
· 1 tablespoon organic coconut oil , liquid
· 1/2 teaspoon vinegar
· 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
· 3/4 cup lukewarm water
Ingredients for the cinnamon streusel:
· 1/2 stick cold vegan butter
· 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
· 1/4 cup unbleached organic sugar
· 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder
1. Wash the plums, half them and remove the seed.
2. For the simple one-bowl VANILLA BATTER: Preheat the oven to 360°F. Place all the dry ingredients for the cake base in a mixing bowl and combine, add the wet ingredients and whisk until it’s a smooth batter.
3. For the STREUSEL: Put the cold butter, all-purpose flour, cinnamon powder and sugar in a bowl, mix and knead with your hands until crumbly.
4. ASSEMBLE and BAKE: Oil the baking pan lightly (10 x 8 inches works well) and pour in the cake batter, place the plum halves on the cake batter and press them down a bit. Sprinkle the crumble on top. Bake it in the oven for about 25 minutes. When the crumble is nice and golden, your cake should be ready. Test with a sharp knife to see if it is baked all the way through. Bon appetit!