Climate Crisis

I see that the Guardian has updated its style guide to introduce terms that more accurately describe the environmental crises facing the world, using “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” instead of “climate change” and “global warming”.

All the political insanity that is currently rampaging through the world at the moment surely pales into insignificance compared to the existential threat that is the ongoing climate crisis? Indeed the latter will only exacerbate the former as time goes on.

A few months back, I read The Uninhabitable Earth, by David Wallace-Wells. Yesterday, I read in one sitting, We Are The Weather, by Jonathan Safran Foer. Wallace-Wells is a journalist, Foer a novelist. As you might expect, the books are very different in style, whilst both dealing with the subject of the climate crisis.

Foer’s book is a mixture of styles in itself, ranging from thought-provoking essays, to shocks to the brain from short chapters giving lists of factoids, to a “dispute with the soul” – a dialogue with himself over why it is that we seem unable to deal with the fact of the climate crisis. That’s all of us, whether you accept the science or deny it.

Foer offers a path to help mitigate the extent of the crisis: switch to a plant-based diet from a meat-based one. The link between farming animals and the climate crisis is the backbone of his book, and he makes a persuasive case. Livestock are the leading source of methane emissions, whilst nitrous oxide is emitted by livestock urine, manure, and the fertilisers used for growing crops. Nitrous oxide has significant global warming potential as a greenhouse gas. On a per-molecule basis, considered over a 100-year period, nitrous oxide has 298 times the atmospheric heat-trapping ability of carbon dioxide.

The Netherlands has just woken up to this inconvenient truth about nitrous oxide and other nitrogen compounds. We currently have what is known as the Stikstofcrisis (the nitrogen crisis), which arose this year when permit applications for an estimated 18,000 construction and infrastructure projects were stopped. Too high a concentration of these nitrogen compounds leads to a deterioration of nature and to a loss of biodiversity. A reported 61 percent of the nitrogen compounds produced comes from agriculture, with intensive livestock farming being one of the most important sources. So the farmers are up in arms about this, seeing the government placing the blame for the crisis on their shoulders. There have been protests and demonstrations.

The trouble is, we simply can’t go on as we did before. Things will have to change, but that process will be a painful one, whatever we do.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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