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Interesting But Misguided Question

Some of the questions that I find myself answering are interesting but misguided or misinformed. One had to do with something that apparently a Zen master had said. Unfortunately, the statement wasn’t based in fact.

The person had stated that if people turned to a plant-based diet, climate change could be stopped. The question was if we could really stop climate change by eating a plant-based diet. There are a couple of major problems with the idea.

First of all, scientists say that the earth has had a climate for about 4 billion years; the entire length of time the earth has had an atmosphere. In that whole time, the earth’s climate has been changing. The earth is dynamic, not static. The only way for the climate to stop changing is if the earth stops having an atmosphere. This obviously has nothing to do with our diet. During almost those entire 4 billion years, there weren’t any humans, either, but it didn’t change because of the diet of any creature.

People don’t seem to understand that before the ice ages, the earth was a lot warmer than it is today. During the ice ages, it was much colder than it is today. The climate has been warming for about 11,000 years, since the end of the ice age. It is a good thing, too, because otherwise, most of North America, Europe, and Asia would still be under a mile of ice.

Second, nearly all of our climate comes from the sun. The sun fluctuates in output and this drives changes in our climate. What a person eats has no bearing at all on how the output of the sun is going to fluctuate or in what way.

Third, even assuming that a theory that our climate is radically changing because of carbon dioxide is true, and it has been demonstrated not to be, the idea that eating plants would change the amount of CO2 doesn’t hold water, either. There is a finite amount of carbon on the earth with which to produce CO2. Most of that carbon is locked up in rocks and ocean water, but a huge amount is locked up in plantlife. The eating and digesting of plantlife frees up that carbon. 

Logically, eating more plants would increase the amount of CO2 rather than decreasing it. Fewer plants would also mean that less carbon dioxide would be absorbed by plants. People don’t eat enough of anything to make much of a difference, but if they did, eating more meat would probably be more apt to lower CO2 levels than eating more plants. 

Of course, that is moot anyway. When CO2 levels increase, plantlife flourishes. The fossil fuels that we burn and which produce a lot of CO2 during combustion came from plant and animal life that existed at a time when CO2 levels were many times higher than they are today. In fact, that is why they produce CO2 during combustion.

The bottom line is that what people eat has very little to do with our climate. For that matter, if every man, woman, and child suddenly vanished, the climate would still change as long as the earth had an atmosphere and the sun continued to shine.

  • Have you ever heard of someone trying to suggest that what people eat causes climate change?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I know better
    • I can believe that a person’s diet can effect our climate
    • Why not, they blame everything else

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What do you think?

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Written by Rex Trulove

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19 Comments

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  1. I am with you on this. Having said that for an opinion to be noticed it has to come from those who are recognised as knowledgeable on the subject. My opinion for example will not have any value (lol)

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  2. The “what people eat causes climate change” is a short-sighted argument. It burst out of the methane produced by cows causes climate change.

    The scientific reality (happy to provide you with as many valid sources as you want) is that you are 100% correct the climate has changed.

    Yes, the earth has been warmer in the past.

    But the reality isn’t that it was once warmer. The reality isn’t that change has occurred.

    The reality is that change that was once over 10,000 years or 1 million years. Is now happening in the course of two decades.

    The average global temperature in July was 62 degrees.
    1/2 the globe was experiencing winter.
    1/2 the globe was in summer.

    The ICE melts in the North Pole, Scandinavian countries, south pole and Greenland have been unprecedented.

    It isn’t that this change has happened before, it has. It is that it is happening over the course of 79 years that is the critical issue.

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    • There are already so many variables involved in the climate and we still don’t know what many of them are. Trying to link the human diet to our climate is simply introducing many more variables to something that is already extremely complex. To me, this just drives us further away from the truth, yet I suspect that the Zen master actually believes what he said. I also suspect that he doesn’t realize the huge number of things that impact the climate.

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      • I had a long conversation with someone that argued that cows, sheep etc and the methane they produced represented more than 10% of the total greenhouse gases produced globally. (it is higher now than ever before but hovers around 5%). It is an easy way to argue vegan diets.

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        • Unfortunately, they also use logical fallacies. I simply don’t understand why anyone feels the need to justify a personal choice that each person has the right to make for themselves. I have no problem at all if a person wants to eat nothing but plants. They don’t need to try to justify it. When they do, it makes them seem to feel guilty for the choice that they’ve made.

          The worst part is that the opposite point could be tremendously easily argued, using the same sort of logical fallacies. Eating plants would clearly increase the CO2 and in fact, at no time in history has more land been cleared of forests than is happening now, mostly for farming. Could there be a connection? Sure, but the logical fallacy would be in claiming that the connection definitely exists and that the clearing of the land for growing crops is the cause of climate change, which again has been changing since long before there were humans to experience it.

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        • I might have also asked the person to show me the definitive study that shows that cows, sheep, etc, produced enough methane to account for 10% of greenhouse gases. I might also point out that the largest greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, by volume, is water vapor.

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          • oh yeah and the majority of the atmosphere is Nitrogen anyway. I did ask them to produce the studies.

            Then I showed them the newly updated study in a peer-reviewed journal that pegged the actual number around 5%

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    • Too often, people don’t understand that expressed opinions have an impact on other people who hear them. I doubt that I would have been asked the question if the person asking it didn’t have some doubts after hearing this idea.

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    • It presupposes that humans are a lot more important and powerful than they really are. In fact, it might seem like 7 billion + humans is a lot, it might be remembered that the total weight of all the ants on the planet exceeds the total weight of every man, woman, and child on the planet. That is just one other species, out of millions of animal species, all of which eat. It isn’t likely that the amount or type of food that people eat has much more of an impact than the foods all the other animals eat.

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