Part II: Noam Mohr
Noam Mohr is a physicist at Queens College with degrees from Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. He has worked on global warming campaigns for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and EarthSave International, publishing a number of reports on climate change including A New Global Warming Strategy, Flirting with Disaster, Pumping Up the Price, and Storm Warning.
LISTEN to the earlier interview with Noam Mohr on November 10, 2010.
PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT, PART 2
Caryn Hartglass: Hi, I am Caryn Hartglass and we’re back, you’re listening to It’s All About Food and I want to bring on my next guest, Noam Mohr. He is a physicist at Queens College with degrees from Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. He has worked on global warming campaigns for the US Public Interest Research Group and EarthSave International publishing a number of reports on climate change including A New Global Warming Strategy, Flirting With Disaster, Pumping Up The Price and Storm Warning. Welcome back, to It’s All About Food, Noam.
Noam Mohr: Thank you so much for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Hey how are you doing today?
Noam Mohr: I’m doing great.
Caryn Hartglass: You know, I wanted to talk about climate change and global warming and a number of other things, but tell me is the planet really warming up I’m freezing right now. The weather is horrible in New York City it’s snowing and wet, it’s kind of hard to believe that things are getting hot.
Noam Mohr: Well, it does tend to cool down in the winter, that is not going to change due to global warming. But the trends are quite striking. That year after year, we see the trends of warming the planet. It’s exactly what we’d expect as we keep pumping out these global warming gases into the atmosphere. Right now this October, which may seem cold where you, is the 5th warmest on record we’ve ever seen. Almost all the top ten warmest years we’ve seen on record are the years of this past decade.
Caryn Hartglass: I am not feeling warm right now, but I believe you.
Noam Mohr: It’s quite frightening when you look at the overall trend.
Caryn Hartglass: And what does that mean when the Earth is warming why is it alarming?
Noam Mohr: When the planet warms this causes a great number of environmental changes to the climate which affect us in many ways. The way that most people think about when they hear global warming is rising sea level and that’s because water expands when it’s hot, the sea will rise and flood coastal areas. But that is only the tip of iceberg. We expect to see …
Caryn Hartglass: No pun intended!
Noam Mohr: Yes, exactly, that really was a “not intended”. But we expect to see increases many types of extreme weather as all this extra energy goes into the weather cycle. For example we expect to see a lot more of the kind of droughts that we’ve been seeing across the United States this year. A lot more heat waves, ironically also a lot more downpours when it does rain, there’s more moisture in the air. We expect to see hurricanes be stronger and we’ve seen the effect of hurricanes just this past year. We’re expecting more of them as the planet heats up. Also expect more disease because the ranges of tropical diseases will spread as the planet gets warmer. And also a ot of destruction of biodiversity and habitat because as the climate changes, the habitats are also changing for the plants and animals that are our natural environment. And they will not be able to keep up with these rapid changes.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s really hard to believe.
Noam Mohr: And this not something minor, I mean this is something will impact us, more hurricanes and droughts, have a sever economic impact on us, but especially on countries that are less able to deal with it, than the United States is. And poorer countries, this means starvation, this means water shortages, this means all the terrible things that come as a result of that, famine, disease, war. It’s really a serious global crisis.
Caryn Hartglass: Sure, you know, we just went through Hurricane Sandy and I know that it impacted you personally with where you are living.
Noam Mohr: That it did.
Caryn Hartglass: Certainly here in New York we were very focused on what’s going on in New York but then I read in Haiti, just as you mention in countries that are not as developed as we are, Haiti has been hit with so many things over the last, well, for a very long time. First, they’ve been abused and exploited by so many different countries, ravaged, and then with earthquakes, and they were severely hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Noam Mohr: Yes, Hurricane Sandy is not the only hurricane this season which has brought a lot of damage to countries down there. It’s really sad.
Caryn Hartglass: It seems hard to believe but if we’re paying attention you can even see the impact the change in the climate if you know when local birds are normally nesting, or when things normally bloom and fade, those things are changing.
Noam Mohr: If you are not paying attention then it’s easy to think, “I don’t notice a difference, this doesn’t matter to me, there are hurricanes anyway.” But when you look at the data we’re seeing increases in the strength of hurricanes, we’re seeing increases in warming seasons, this year we saw a record melting of Arctic ice. Ice cover was in the Arctic Ocean was the smallest it’s ever been as far as we know. It’s really a sever trend. And you might think, who cares about Artic Ice that’s a far away but Artic Ice reflects light off the surface of the Earth keeping the Earth cool, and that melts, we’ll have less cooling of the Earth which will accelerate the warming. It’s a runaway process, more warming, less ice, less ice, more warming, and we reach a tipping point from which, there is no coming back.
Caryn Hartglass: Do we have any idea of the timeframe for what’s going, for what we think is going to happen.
Noam Mohr: Yes, in the example of Artic Ice, in particular, this is happening faster than the model’s expected.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s wonderful.
Noam Mohr: Some preduct we will be ice free as soon as 2020 but certainly by the middle of the century. So it’s something that is happening fast and is something that what we’re seeing today is only the beginning, only the start of the trend. As temperatures continue to rise we will see the problem pile on further and further. The problems we are seeing now should be simply a warning of much worse things to come if we don’t do anything about it. That should be our focus, what can we do? Increasingly these weather disasters are not acts of God they are things that we have an influence over. And we need to really think about what we can do before we create a climate for the entire planet which is a serious, serous issue.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I certainly want to talk about what we can do and that’s why I brought you on, but just before we do that – I’m nervously alarmed right now. You said there are some that have said in seven years we may be ice-free?
Noam Mohr: Yes, for example…
Caryn Hartglass: 2020 – that’s seven years away! It sounds like a long time from now but it’s not.
Noam Mohr: This year the Arctic ice fell to 24% of the ocean and the previous record was 29%. That’s 5% less than the previous record. This is something that is changing rapidly. And that’s the thing, not all these things are gradual. Sometimes we reach the tipping point where things just runaway, if the Greenland icepack collapses, it will collapse very quickly and all that water will flow into the ocean, we’ll see a rapid rise in sea level.
Caryn Hartglass: Have there been predictions about where that water will grow like what will be going under? Should I be moving? Should you be moving?
Noam Mohr: Well, it depends on where you live of course. We see when storms happen in and sea levels rise a little or there are storm surges, we see these areas that get severely damaged. There are a lot of people who are in danger zone where this will have a severe impact on them. There are areas like, for example, Florida. Most of Florida is just a little above sea level, so a rise in sea level will flood a lot of Florida. And there are other places where it will have less of an effect. It depends.
Caryn Hartglass: (Sigh) Oh goody… okay, so we need to talk about what we can do and the good thing about Hurricane Sandy is Mayor Bloomberg put global warming in the forefront. He acknowledged it. Governor Cuomo acknowledged global warming, that it’s happening, that it’s real, that it’s not some made-up fantasy and that we need to be doing things about it. But I don’t think those guys are talking about what you’re talking about what we need to do.
Noam Mohr: Well, it’s shocking that some people don’t believe in global warming. But that belief is totally without scientific basis. Among climate scientists there is no debate going on about whether this is happening. It’s truly essentially unanimous that this is going on and that humans are causing it. So it’s important to realize that’s this is something that we are doing and that if we are going to do something about it, it’s our actions that we need to change.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay I’m a believer.
Noam Mohr: And there are many things we can do to reduce our own effect on the environment, our own environmental footprint. When we drive cars, they emit carbon dioxide, which warms the Earth. When we use power this also emits carbon dioxide, which warms the Earth. And these are the areas that most people are kind of familiar with. But it’s one area that I really like to stress because people don’t think about it, but It is the most powerful thing you can do, is the impact of our diet. What we eat has by far the largest impact on the climate of the things that we do personally. Simply by choosing more environmentally friendly products at meal-time everyday you can help reduce the global warming problem.
Caryn Hartglass: We should have labels on food that say this is low carbon foot print food.
Noam Mohr: Well that would be ideal, but you don’t have labels, there’s easy rules of thumb because the main cause of the problem is animal agriculture.
Caryn Hartglass: That again…
Noam Mohr: Animals raised for food and the forests we destroy to create land for those animals to graze and to grow crops for those animals. And we grow far more crops for animals than we do for humans. All this is extremely energy intensive. It takes10 times as much energy to create a calorie of animal protein than a calorie of plant protein. This is a severe source of our energies in ths country and the number one place for which we can make changes that will impact positively on the global warming problem.
Caryn Hartglass: I am just curious about something now. There’s a lot of things wrong with animal agriculture and there’s a lot of different pieces from animal agriculture that add to the global warming picture. And one piece is the destruction of the rainforest where parts of the rainforests are being plowed away hazed away, destroyed in order to make farmland, either to grow soybeans to feed cattle or to graze cattle and that’s one piece of it because when the rainforest goes away it can’t suck in the CO2 they we’re putting in the atmosphere and clean it up and make oxygen and also when those trees are removed from the rain forests all of that carbon that they’ve been collecting goes up into the air and it adds more carbon to the atmosphere. So it’s really a bad thing. My question is, and I am not sure if you can address it, is we’ve been getting a lot of focus these days on palm oil and how palm trees are being grown and the rainforest is being destroyed in order to grow palm oil – and palm oil is used in lots of foods and lots of other products. I’ve been trying to find out what percentage of the rainforest is being destroyed for palm oil and what’s being destroyed for cattle production. I’ve been having a hard time finding those numbers. I’m getting the feeling that it’s a little distracting because more focused lately has been going towards palm oil so that people don’t talk about giving up their meat.
Noam Mohr: I don’t know what the numbers are for palm oil but it’s definitely far less than for meat. If you look at the Amazon rain forest, of the area that was destroyed since the 1970’s, 90% of that area is now being used for raising animals for food. So there’s no comparison with palm oil. if you look at the surface of the Earth, about a third of the land service for the Earth right now is being used to raise animals for food. It’s extraordinary; this is by far the biggest impact on the environment. Not just with global warming. Of course when you use so much resources and so much land in one industry, it’s also a top cause of water pollution and loss of biodiversity, of air pollution, or soil erosion, basically every environmental issue is tied in with this. But it is definitely at the top of the list for global warming. And it’s not just the severe energy use, as you said, the destruction of rain forest, which get burned releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide. It also is an enormous source of methane which people might be less familiar with but it’s major global warming gas because even though it’s produced in smaller quantities is 25 times more powerful than CO2 at warming the Earth. And the number one source of methane is animal agriculture. It comes from the animals, their digestive processes, it comes from the huge amounts of manure they produce, animals for animal agriculture in the US produce 100 billion gallons per day, sorry I got that number off, 100,000 pounds per second of manure, all the time.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s a lot of poop.
Noam Mohr: And these end up in, they don’t go into, there’s nowhere to put them. They just end up in huge lagoons, where the anaerobic activity releases methane into the atmosphere. That’s the craziest thing, so humane waste is treated and yet were producing far more mounted animal waste and it’s not treated just piled higher and deeper.
Noam Mohr: Yeah, well over 100 times as much as humans produce.
Caryn Hartglass: Yeah, it’s crazy, it’s very crazy. And why we are not doing more about it. And then to add to the problem, there’ve been some numbers showing that people are eating a little less meat in the United States.
Noam Mohr: Well that’s the good news. People are taking these messages to heart. People have been reducing their consumption of meat and other animal products.
Caryn Hartglass: But they are eating more in India and China, and there are more people there, so there’s potential for it really to, I mean it’s already out of hand, but to get even more out of hand.
Noam Mohr: Yeah, people are looking at increases of 5 times in the next 50 years of current trends. But we can only change that one person at a time, right? If we start improving things in the U.S., which is, we emit, we are 4% of the but population we emit 25% of the global warming gases, then we take a lead and others in the rest of the world, really start somewhere.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you think people are more open to this message about animal agriculture and global warming, I’m not hearing it.
Noam Mohr: The number of people who say in polls, that they take this problem seriously has been on the rise, so I definitely believe it. And you do see more and more vegetarian alternatives in supermarkets, not just for vegetarians but for people who are trying to cut down on meat, and as you pointed out people are eating less and less meat. Every year after year, the amount of meat each person consumes is going down. It is something that is catching people’s attention; it is making a difference.
Caryn Hartglass: You probably were aware back in 2006 when the Food And Agricultural Organization, a part of the United Nations put out a report called Longhorn’s Long Shadow, is that what it was called?
Noam Mohr: Livestock’s Long Shadow.
Caryn Hartglass: , Livestock’s Long Shadow, and it talked about how 18% of human induced greenhouse emissions are caused by animal agriculture and we are all excited when I came out. And then in the World Watch Magazine, Goodland and Jeff Anhang wrote an article and they said that report was off and that over 50% of human induced greenhouse gases are caused by animal agriculture. There’s been a lot of discussion about this but it looks like actually the United Nations and the Food And Agricultural Organization are backtracking a little and working more toward this “sustainable animal agriculture” rather than encouraging people to eat less meat.
Noam Mohr: I think that is an important political they made about what they think would be more effective. I think the key thing is to let people know what they can do; and rather than decide for themselves; that, oh, people aren’t going to eat less meat. People in the United States, people are eating less meat and I think if people are educated about what they’re doing, I think they will make intelligent decisions for themselves and for the planet, which they do care about. They do care about what is going to be left for their children. Nobody wants to see more hurricanes and more natural disasters and more disease. If they know that simply eating healthier is going to have a real impact on the entire planet, that’s an empowering message for anybody.
Caryn Hartglass: Are there any place where people can go to learn more about the connection between global warming and animal agriculture.
Noam Mohr: Sure, there are many places, earhtsave.org is a great site for connecting between the environment and animal agriculture.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s where they can find your report.
Noam Mohr: That’s true that is where they can find my report. What was once a new thing that many environmentalist did not want to discuss so much, because the were worried about the telling people what to eat, what they should or shouldn’t do, has now become mainstream. For example, Al Gore now promotes vegetarianism and says he himself eats very little meat.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s because he sees how good are Bill Clinton looks, and he wants to lost some weight, maybe.
Noam Mohr: He’s the poster child for doing something about global warming, a formal cattle rancher, and he is now promoting this. So it’s really, it’s really everywhere you look, if you look for it.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, that’s really good to hear. I still hear for the most part people are talking about the future, talking about cleaner cars, cleaner factories, and cleaner energy; and a what you made important in that report that you wrote a few years back, is that all of that stuff is good, all that new technology is really good but it’s going to take a long time to cycle all that new stuff in so that it makes a significant difference. It’s going to take a lot of time it’s going to take a lot of money and we need to do something now; and this is where animal agriculture really comes into play because we can make that difference now. Unfortunately so many animals are born and killed in a very short amount of time and as soon as the demand goes down those animals will not be created.
Noam Mohr: That’s right. This is an area, which is very powerful in addressing the problem. Like you said it’s something that anyone can do today. If someone wanted a more efficient car, that’s something that’s hard to go out and change today. The next time you go to buy a car you could look for something fuel-efficient. But what you eat, every meal you can make a difference. It’s really that easy. If people wanted today to cut out all meat entirely from their diet, it would happen and it’s really that simple if we simply want to.
Caryn Hartglass: So how do we get to our government officials to get this message to them so that they start talking more about, and certainly it’s important for everyone of us as individuals to make this change but I also think that those guys need to be talking more about it. It’s just so hard for them is do anything really good.
Noam Mohr: It’s difficult because the political process is very sensitive to some special interests. You may have heard on the news when the government promoted Meatless Mondays, the meat industry got really upset, and they walked back on that. But if people make this an issue, that they make clear that this is an issue they care about; they write to their legislator and say that this is an important issue, we need to do something, we need to stop subsidizing these harmful industries and instead encouraging healthy, environmentally friendly types of diets and practices then they will listen. Ultimately they listen to what they feel the people care about. It’s really important to let our legislators know what we think.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you have an opportunity to talk to young people about this issue from time to time and see what their reaction is?
Noam Mohr: Young people are very, they are very interested in trying to make a difference. That’s one of the things that I hear from them all the time. When they hear that this is the way they can make a difference they’re very, very open to the idea. They are looking for ways in which they can do something. Particularly with environmental problems you often feel like, it’s up to the government to fix or for some corporation. If some factory is spewing toxic stuff, what can I do? It’s up to the factory. But this is something which people are open to because it’s something we can do different that will help the problem.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s really empowering actually do know that you can help rather than there’s nothing you can do.
Noam Mohr: And it’s not a small difference, it’s a huge difference. The impact of animal agriculture is enormous and that means the impact on our changes in diet is also enormous. Methane causes so much more warming than carbon dioxide which means, that when we reduce the source of methane we are pushing away the date which were causing some kind of permanent damage to the climate or causing some severe weather disaster. That is something that we can do.
Caryn Hartglass: I don’t you mentioned it in today but one of the other things about methane is, it’s a lot more powerful than carbon dioxide as you said, but one of the nice things about it is that it cycles out a lot faster out of the atmosphere.
Noam Mohr: It does, it only stays in the atmosphere 10 to 12 years. Which means if we stopped producing, emiting methane today, than in 10 or 12 years the methane that is alread out there will be gone and this will cool the Earth. It’s very different from carbon dioxide.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s so unbelievable how simple it is; if we could all just stop eating meat and eating plants but what a beautiful place this world could be. There is hope and it’s all just up to us.
Noam Mohr: That’s right.
Caryn Hartglass: You know what? And as I’m always saying, it’s the most delicious thing you could possibly do. The side effects are better health and better eating.
Noam Mohr: That’s right, it’s truly an example of a win win.
Caryn Hartglass: Yup, all the way around. Noam thank you so much for joining me on It’s All About Food. Stay warm, stay dry and keep doing what you are doing.
Noam Mohr: Thank you so much.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay. I’m Caryn Hartglass, you are listening to It’s All About Food and I want to remind you to visit ResponsibleEatingAndLiving.com, that’s where all those yummy, delicious recipes are for you, whether you are vegan or trending vegan or just want to ear more plant food. We help you do that. Thanks for listening and have a very delicious week.