Before the Flood – Climate Change Issues and a Proposed Solution

I had the chance to watch Leonardo DiCaprio’s climate change documentary, Before the Flood (executive producer, Martin Scorsese; executive director Fisher Stevens) on the National Geographic channel premiere on October 30th.  You can watch it, too, in theatres and by clicking on this link and livestreaming it.  Here is the three minute trailer about it in case you are curious or just want the smallest view possible.

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The film is well made, as you would expect from such a megastar as DiCaprio with the financial help of Scorsese and direction by Stevens (Short Circuit, Grand Budapest Hotel). I have followed the problem of global warming and climate change for decades so the information is not surprising to me, but like you’ll find in all good documentaries, they vividly present the breadth of the problem, its scale and how things are connected to one another. Problems, and solutions, are much easier to grasp when visually presented.

DiCaprio is a U.N. Ambassador of Peace so it’s his job to collect the information and present it in a way that can be digested by all of us.  He worked with the people he interviewed to narrow the problem to 3 primary issues and identify three primary solutions.  It is no surprise that finding alternatives for fossil-based energy and fuel is at the top of the climate change list and that committing to aggressive renewable energy and fuel development is the solution. Ending the burning of carbon fuels is imperative if we are going to stop the melting of the north and south pole ice caps that are causing the seas to rise to levels that are flooding Pacific islands and peninsulas like Italy and Florida.

What was somewhat surprising was how many forests are being burned to produce palm oil to put in food and other products and how much that weighs into the global warming problem.  It’s two-fold.  Trees pull carbon dioxide out of the air which cleans the atmosphere (so does the ocean) and hold the CO2 until they are burned.  Fewer trees and more CO2 is released when large-scale burning occurs.  I won’t go into the loss of habitat for wildlife but suffice it to say that  places where planetary species can live are diminishing rapidly.

It was the third category that really surprised me and got me thinking about solutions.  The world’s population explosion and huge increases in the demand for beef enters into the equation. DiCaprio doesn’t mince words that beef has to be replaced by any other meat – or no meat. The problem is the methane that cattle emit as they burp their feed.  CH4 is a much more harmful contributor to global warming than carbon is. Apparently any other meat would be better than beef when it comes to saving the planet.

All of the solutions that will actually work will be part of a transition so this is my thought.  Since we still need milk production, why not limit beef production to the by-product of dairy production?  It will cause the cost of beef to rise which will drive consumers away from it and dairy beef will become a luxury item.  If the other two solutions, renewable energy and re-forestation, are aggressively pursued, we might be able to sustain the dairy industry and have beef as if it were caviar, expensive and rare.

Reducing beef production works for someone like me who is not dependent on fast food burgers and doesn’t have a high beef diet. I still enjoy the occasional rare steak with mushrooms but have moved to more fish, seafood and the occasional chicken or pork dish. Maybe that’s why I can envision the dairy industry as the sole provider of beef in a future that no longer is a threat to our survival.

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