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Many parts of the Northern Hemisphere have witnessed unusually cold weather conditions over the past couple of months. In many cases, these conditions have far exceeded what would be considered normal for this time of year. For example, the East Coast of the U.S. has witnessed an uncommonly large number of winter storms. These storms deposited up to three inches of snow per hour in certain places, leading to widespread flight cancellations, school closures, and general disruption. Up to 26 inches of snow were recorded in parts of New York in early March. Europe has also been hit by a number of severe winter storms in recent weeks, including the infamous Beast From the East, which brought freezing temperatures and dense snowfall to areas that had not experienced snow in years. The UK was even forced to deploy the British Army in an effort to rescue hundreds of stranded drivers.

Two much-loved animal species – the polar bear and the manatee – could be threatened with extinction by this climatic pattern. So far this year, 166 manatees have been found dead off the coast of Florida, and researchers say that cold-related stress is the leading cause of mortality.

Why Is This Happening?

Extreme Winter Storms: Why We Should be Concerned and What We Can Do

 

According to a new study published in the Nature Communications journal, the reason for these extreme weather events lies in the rapid thawing of the Arctic: a phenomenon driven by global warming. The study found that the increased severity of winter weather across the United States (particularly the eastern U.S.) was linked to the prevalence of higher temperatures in the Arctic Circle.

The authors noted, “Increasing greenhouse gases are contributing to a general warming of the atmosphere and oceans globally. Over recent decades, warming has dominated global temperature trends during three of the seasons. In winter, however, cooling trends have been observed across Eurasia and the eastern US, along with rapid warming in the Arctic. This seesaw winter temperature pattern is known as the “warm-Arctic/cold-continents pattern.”

Global warming is a phenomenon caused by high levels of greenhouse gas emissions (two examples of these gases are carbon dioxide and methane) in recent decades.

Sadly, much of the damage we have caused is thought to be irreversible, and we are now seeing the evidence of this in events such as the extreme winter storms that have battered the Northern Hemisphere recently. According to one of the Nature Communications study authors Judah Cohen (a climatologist with Atmospheric and Environmental Research): “There’s a remarkably strong correlation between a warm Arctic and cold winter weather further south. It’s a complex story – global warming is contributing to milder temperatures, but is also having unforeseen consequences such as this.”

Since the industrial revolution, anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gas emissions have steadily climbed upwards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that 10,000 million metric tons of carbon were released into Earth’s atmosphere in 2014. The sheer amount of gases we now produce exceeds the ability of our planet’s natural “carbon sinks” (such as rainforests) to absorb it. This, coupled with the fact that rainforests around the world have been felled at a rapid rate, has led to the escalating environmental crisis that we face today.

The animal agriculture industry, in particular, is one of the most resource-intensive industries on our planet. It occupies about half of the world’s arable land area and is estimated to be responsible for at least 14.5 percent of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions – though some organizations, such as The Worldwatch Institute, have estimated that the true figure could be closer to 51 percent.

What Can We Do?

Luckily, a growing number of people and organizations all over the world are now taking action to limit environmental destruction and seek out planet-friendly alternatives in many areas of life. The extraordinary growth of the market for plant-based products is one example of this trend. There are plenty of actions you can take in your everyday life. Choosing plant-based foods as often as possible is one way to slash your carbon footprint and take a stand against climate change.

You won’t be alone in making this choice: plant-based consumers are becoming a powerful force to be reckoned with in the U.S. and global food market. To cite just one example, U.S. household penetration of dairy-free beverages has doubled in five years to more than 30 percent, with almond milk now accounting for almost 70 percent of sales. Not to mention, plant-based protein could represent one-third of overall protein by 2054, according to Lux Research  

Recent studies have shown that if everyone in the U.S. replaced their meat-heavy diets with plant-based options, it would be the equivalent of taking 660 million cars off the road! Another study even found if we transitioned all the agricultural land used for the livestock system into crops for human consumption, we could feed an additional 350 million people!

The writing is on the wall, the planet is warming and our food choices play a huge role in this. We’re reaching a point where we all have to make a decision, either we can keep mindlessly eating our way into extinction, or we can start eating for the planet! 

Check out the resources below for more information and advice on what you can do to combat climate change:

For more impactful stats like these and to learn how you can help the environment with your food choices, check out the new #EatForThePlanet book.

Lead Image Source: Ralph Hockens/Flickr

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