Earth Hour, the environment, and the food you eat

I have to confess that Earth Hour this year was just as disappointing as last year, despite all the media attention. We went for dinner at a friend’s place and at 8:30 when we turned off our lights, it seemed like we were the only ones around doing so. But there are better things you can do with your time that will have a far greater effect on the environment as well as the quality of your life than eating by candlelight. Far more important is what you choose to eat. In a recent article on the NYT, Mark Bittman summarized well this position:

To eat well, says Michael Pollan, the author of “In Defense of Food,” means avoiding “edible food-like substances” and sticking to real ingredients, increasingly from the plant kingdom. (Americans each consume an average of nearly two pounds a day of animal products.) There’s plenty of evidence that both a person’s health — as well as the environment’s — will improve with a simple shift in eating habits away from animal products and highly processed foods to plant products and what might be called “real food.” (With all due respect to people in the “food movement,” the food need not be “slow,” either.)

From these changes, Americans would reduce the amount of land, water and chemicals used to produce the food we eat, as well as the incidence of lifestyle diseases linked to unhealthy diets, and greenhouse gases from industrial meat production. All without legislation.

And the food would not necessarily have to be organic, which, under the United States Department of Agriculture’s definition, means it is generally free of synthetic substances; contains no antibiotics and hormones; has not been irradiated or fertilized with sewage sludge; was raised without the use of most conventional pesticides; and contains no genetically modified ingredients.

Simply put – eat more plants and less animal products and artificial food (“food-like substances” are all those products that a person living 50 years ago wouldn’t recognize as food). When we talk about the need of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the first thing we all think of is the pollution generated by cars and airplanes. But a recent study has shown that producing 1 kg of beef releases the same amount of CO2 than driving for 3 hours or leaving the lights on for twenty days. And that’s without including emissions of farm equipment or transporting the cattle and meat.

I personally believe that there is no need for everybody to become vegetarian and abdicate from meat and animal products altogether. All we need to do is restore meat to its proper place on our diet – that of the special treat, the garnish, rather than the centre-piece of every. single. meal.  By eating meat less often, you’ll also be able to afford better meat, the meat that is grass-fed, raised humanely, and not pumped with hormones. That way you’d help both the environment and your own health in the process.

Reducing your consumption of meat by at least half will make a much stronger statement than turning off the lights for an hour.

Earth Hour

earth hour

At 8:00 tonight we’ll be turning off all our lights in our support for Earth Hour and to express our concern over the environment. The point is to make people aware of energy conservation and carbon gas emission. According to the news, 240,000 people around the world have registered at the official site (Alan is one of them) but they estimate that as many as a million people in Toronto alone will mark the hour. Recent polls shows that 70% of Canadians plan to join.

Here in Toronto many of the local landmarks will go dark – CN Tower and the Eaton Centre will shut off its lights and even Niagara Falls will fade into the night. Air Canada has also expressed its full support and will be shutting down its lights across Canada.

I know that cynics will say it’s all marketing and popular manipulation, and that reputable scientists still argue whether global warming is really caused by men or whether it is simply a normal cyclical weather pattern. That may be. But I don’t think there’s any reasonable argument to defend waste of resources. Even if our pollution is not causing climate change, there’s little doubt that it is harmful to human & animal health and that our resources are finite. I believe in conservation for that reason alone.

We participated at a similar event last year when we were in Barcelona. We plan to snuggle on our couch, with maybe some candles on, and simply enjoy each other’s company for an hour.

Update

Earth Hour came and went here in Toronto and we shut off our lights as promised. We then went outside to see the effects around the block. While there were many apartments with their lights still on, most of the corporate buildings downtown went dark and Dundas Square, usually illuminated like the main street in Las Vegas, was completely dark. The Bank of Montreal seem to be the only bank that kept its light on. The Rogers, the Manulife Centre, and The Bay were also off. It was cool although Alan was pretty disappointed that not everbody joined and there were still lots of apartments filled with lights.

In time – Chris Tindal wrote a really good article on the negative and positive sides of Earth Hour.

One highlight:

Maybe, just maybe, individuals and businesses—by going through an uncommon exercise in conservation—will realize all of the things they could be doing every day to reduce consumption. Businesses that have for the first time realized that they leave their copiers, computer monitors and lights running all weekend for no reason may see the cost benefit in turning them off from now on. Individuals who go through the exercise of trying to drop their energy consumption to near-zero may realize for the first time that they’re unnecessarily paying to have vampires suck energy out of their walls all day and all night long. In doing so, we move beyond tokenism, and towards a real movement.