Earth's Wind and Fire, Is This a Tipping Point?

Photo: Aaron Burden/Unsplash

Photo: Aaron Burden/Unsplash

Amazon fires and the destruction wrought by Hurricane Dorian have dominated the news and public consciousness lately and highlighted the perils of the climate crisis. Can hurricanes and rainforest fires be a tipping point for real change and real action to tackle global heating? 

From Caribbean island prime ministers, to scientists and celebrity chefs, more and more people are saying enough is enough, we can’t carry on as we are. We have a shared responsibility to tackle the climate crisis. 

Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, on surveying the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian in The Bahamas said, “We are on the front line of the consequences of climate change but we don’t cause it.” She added that Caribbean leaders are trying to get the international community to deal with the impact of the climate crisis in a consistent way.  And, presumably, to address the underlying causes rather than just ad hoc responses to the damage done by each storm. 

The devastation caused by Dorian shows the destructive power of wind and water, intensified by warmer air and water temperatures. Global heating makes these storms more intense and those living on low lying islands or coastal areas will be increasingly vulnerable as the world heats up. 

Even scientists are shedding their professional detachment to lead a call to action. Two English conservation scientists, Charlie Gardner and Claire Wordley, are calling on their scientific colleagues to rise up, embrace non-violent civil disobedience and take direct action to force legislators to act.  They say that because decades of science-based warnings from experts have gone unheeded and now even school children are striking to demand action, they’ve been inspired to join the protests of Extinction Rebellion.  

“As scientists we have spent years telling policymakers that we must change course, but they haven’t taken action. They may be starting to now but only because people have engaged in open rebellion,” Gardner and Wordley said in an opinion piece in The Guardian and in an article in the prestigious journal, Nature Ecology and Evolution.   

Meanwhile, New York’s celebrity chef and author Eddie Huang is going vegan because of the Amazon rainforest fires, and he’s converting his restaurant menus to plant based food. “Take a moment, think about it and re-examine your relationship with food because it’ll make the Earth and ourselves very, very sick if we keep abusing it,” Huang said. Huang, whose family story is the subject of the US TV sitcom Fresh off the Boat, is urging his more than 500,000 social media followers to go plant based.

These four individuals are among many from different walks of life who are standing up and calling for real action and real change. And, they are riding a huge wave of change in public awareness and opinion.

Photo: Cindy Tang/Unsplash

Photo: Cindy Tang/Unsplash

A key inflection point in public attitudes was the release of the UN IPCC report on climate change last October that sounded the alarm bells and said we had less than 12 years to slow down global heating and meet the emission targets of the Paris Agreement.

And, an increasing number of people are understanding the connection between the climate crisis and the food on our plates. Most of the Amazon fires are the result of clearing the rainforest to expand cattle ranching and grow soy for animal feed.

With each new report stating our food system is compromising the climate, the environment and our health, more people are demanding change.  And there is growing awareness that animal agriculture is a major contributor to global emissions (14.5% according to the UN FAO), larger than all transportation globally.

And while global heating is endangering life on the planet, the health impacts of our food system are also devastating. For example, a recent report in The Journal of the American Medical Association says that poor diet is a leading cause of mortality in the US.  Numerous studies show the meat-centric western diet contributes to high rates of obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and some cancers.  And the total economic cost of obesity and overweight alone is staggering — more than $1.7 trillion (Milken Institute) or almost 10 percent of US GDP!

The growing awareness and changing attitudes are having an impact. For example, as Canadians prepare to vote in a federal election in October, new public opinion polls show that the environment and climate change together are the number one issue ahead of healthcare and the economy, and should be a top priority for the new government.

Fire, floods and destruction make the dangers of the climate crisis and global heating palpable, strikingly visual and real. People everywhere are speaking out and calling on others to take real action to address the crisis. It’s starting to feel like a tipping point.

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