The New Climate War

Michael E Mann

The concept of a “personal carbon footprint” was something that the oil company BP promoted in the mid-2000s. Indeed, BP launched one of the first personal carbon footprint calculators, arguably as part of a larger public relations effort to establish the company as the environmentally conscious oil company.

Though beef consumption is responsible for only 6 percent of total carbon emissions, it often seems to fill close to 100 percent of my Twitter feed. The meat melee was fed by a highly successful and influential 2014 documentary, Cowspiracy, which promoted the false notion that meat-eating is the primary contributor to human-caused climate change. Cowspiracy diverted–you might even say deflected–attention from the real conspiracy on the part of fossil fuel interests to confuse the public about the role of fossil fuel burning.

Regenerative agriculture based on recycling farm waste and using composted materials from other sources, combined with land use practices that enhance soil carbon sequestration, could potentally bury somewhere in the range of 3.5 to 11 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Let us once again take the very optimistic upper limit of 11 billion tons per year.

Adding together these contributions gives us 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. That sounds like quite a bit, but we are currently generating the equivalent of roughly 55 billion tons per year of carbon dioxide through fossil fuel burning and other human activities. That means that even if we accepted estimates from the very upper limits of the uncertainty range, the combined effect of reforestation and agriculture and land use practices would at most only slow the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by a factor of 44 percent. In other words, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would continue to rise, just at a rate that is roughly half as fast.

The dividers have successfully generated a veritable “food fight”—in fact, a literal one, getting people to argue about their dietary preferences, as well as their preferred means of transportation, how many children they have, and other matters of lifestyle and personal choice. “If nobody is without carbon sin, who gets to cast the first lump of coal?” I asked in a commentary for Time magazine. “Who is truly walking the climate walk? The carnivore who doesn’t fly? The vegan who travels to see family abroad?” The opportunities for finger-pointing seem endless.

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