American Anthropological Association Reports on Climate Change
The American Anthropological Association (AAA) has released its comprehensive report on the relationship between human societies and climate change. After three years of study by the Global Climate Change Task Force, the AAA has confirmed that the most influential drivers of climate change are unchecked human consumption, land use changes, the use of fossil fuel energy, and population growth. While all of these drivers are rooted in patterns of behavior that developed over extended periods of time, they are changeable, and global climate change can be stopped.
As human beings we all have to consume to survive, but what we consume and how we consume it varies historically and culturally. Over the last century, people in many societies have developed cultural values and aspirations for “middle-class’ lifestyles and social status based on the consumption of conspicuous goods. This includes ” billions of people who see electricity, motorbikes, cell phones and the comforts of a home as major life goals.” In many places, what were once luxury goods have even become necessities, such as the use of cellular phones and other mobile technologies. The same goes for food as well. Instead of eating fresh, locally grown produce, it’s more common in many places to purchase processed food and produce that is transported thousands of miles before it reaches the supermarket. Few of the things we consume today are made or grown locally, and the fossil fuels burned to transport the goods we consume contribute greatly to global climate change.
How we transport those things makes all the different too. Billions of gas-powered cars, trucks, and other vehicles ply the roads around the globe, burning trillions of gallons of inexpensive fossil fuels each year. Public transportation is one solution to this problem, but we need to do more to develop environmentally sustainable forms of transportation in addition to redesigning our economies to privilege locally produced goods.
At the Second Chance Foundation we are highly concerned with land use, especially when it comes to agriculture. The AAA report notes that agriculture covers 40% of the earth’s surface and contributes to 30-35% of greenhouse gases. This is mostly due to the fact that the dominant form of agriculture practiced around the world is an industrial form that requires fossil fuel guzzling machinery and huge amounts of petroleum based fertilizers as well as chemical pesticides. Industrial agriculture is obviously not the most sustainable way to feed the world, but it may be surprising to learn that it’s also not the most efficient. The world records for producing the largest crops per acre of land are not held by industrial farmers but by small farmers using the innovative System of Crop Intensification. This system also is designed to revive local economies and put small farmers to work instead of pushing them off the land.
Climate change is a significant problem that we cannot afford to wait and solve later. We must tackle it now and quickly. The most important element of the AAA report is the fact that it demonstrates that climate change is not inevitable but is the result of how our societies are organized. With enough knowledge and commitment to preventing climate change, we can and must reorganize our lives to live healthily and sustainably.