If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that animal agriculture emits more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the entire transportation sector. And if you didn’t, you do now. Sorry to hit you with more bad news, but these emissions are starting to have scary consequences.
One of the most potentially devastating impacts of climate change is one that often sees little time in the public spotlight: the slowing (and potential stopping) of the North Atlantic circulation. And recent data shows that the thermohaline circulation has slowed to levels unseen in the past 1,100 years.
But Before We Go Any Deeper, What the Heck Is It?
The easiest way to think of the thermohaline circulation is to picture a giant conveyor belt carrying water. This belt carries warm water from the south to the north. At a midpoint in the Atlantic Ocean between Norway and Greenland, the water is cooled, sinks, and travels back south to start the process over again.
This circulation plays a critical role in maintaining a consistent and predictable climate. With a threat of the circulation going dormant, there is likely to be a notable change in the climates of North America and Western Europe, according to Michael Schlesinger, a professor of atmospheric sciences at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
What’s Expected to Happen?
Although Greenland’s ice cores show that the North Atlantic circulation has actually shut down at previous points in history, the next thermohaline shutdown is likely to be caused by a combination of natural cycles along with greenhouse gases introduced into the atmosphere by human activity. Humans have never caused a change in the circulation prior.
The thermohaline shutdown was the inspiration behind the film The Day After Tomorrow, which depicts floods throughout New York City, superstorms throughout the North Atlantic, and a global ice age.
While that’s not exactly what scientists are predicting now, Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor at Potsdam University, explains that, “disturbing the circulation will likely have a negative effect on the ocean ecosystem, and thereby fisheries and associated livelihoods of many people in coastal areas...regional sea-level rise [will likely affect] cities like New York and Boston. Finally, temperature changes...can also influence weather systems on both sides of the Atlantic, in North America as well as Europe."
In summary, there are due to be major impacts not only on temperatures, but people's everyday lives across the globe.
What Can be Done?
While it might be too late to reverse this particular effect, we need to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas footprint if we want to minimize climate-change induced destruction. What you put on your plate has a huge impact on the environment, and one of the most impactful actions any individual can make to reduce their greenhouse gas footprint is to limit or eliminate meat and dairy from their diets.
According to the World Resources Institute and the United Nations, meat and dairy production places incredible pressure on land, water, and the climate – and finding plant-based alternatives is the most climate-friendly choice.
Swapping out a beef burger for a Beyond Burger is a pretty rewarding form of climate action, if you ask me.
To learn more about The Good Food Institute’s efforts to make climate-friendly foods delicious and accessible, visit our website!