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Change what you eat to mitigate climate change, says James Cameron

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James Cameron, filmmaker and deep-sea explorer, says there are strategies individuals can take to help mitigate climate change, and he offered suggestions to the 10,000 attendees at Greenbuild in Washington, D.C., during the plenary session. Cameron is passionate about climate change, calling it a “clear and present danger” that will “destabilize the world” and “exacerbate” the increasing violence we’re experiencing.

“Climate change is insidious, and will require unprecedented international cooperation,” Cameron said, adding that little will be done until the public notices the devastating and frightening effects climate change wreaks.

To help this audience better see the connections, Cameron tried to connect recent violence to climate change. Syria had faced a severe drought, farms collapsed, people moved to the cities but could find no jobs, he said. Civil unrest followed, leading to mass migration and a collapse of the country. There’s a “causal link,” he contended.

Cameron believes that little is being done about climate change because the public hasn’t noticed these “causal links.” Once it does and begins speaking up, global leaders will act, he asserted. So, “think of yourselves as change agents,” Cameron urged the crowd, the majority of whom are not deniers of climate change.

Changing the world is “about your conscience,” about choosing between personal good and greater good, he asserted. Make sure you vote, he exhorted. But perhaps the most surprising suggestion to help reduce emissions that contribute to warming was this: “Change what you eat,” he beseeched.

Eat plants, he urged, or at least “shift away from meat and dairy.”

He said that about 14.5% of emissions come from the animal agriculture sector, adding, “that’s bigger than all transportation combined.” The Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, or IPCC, put the 20101 levels of greenhouse gas emissions from transportation at 14%, but combined animal agriculture with crop agriculture, forestry and other land uses, bringing those sector’s emissions to a whopping 24%.

But if we all ate only plants, what would happen to the farms in the world that raise the livestock that provide our meat and dairy products? Would those endeavors collapse, forcing the farmers to leave their farms, move to the cities where their skills might not meet the needs of the jobs that exist? Would they then, like the Syrians Cameron referred to, rise up in civil unrest and bring about the collapse of the country?

Changing the world and working to mitigate climate change is “all about conscience,” Cameron said. “You can’t protect what you don’t respect.” It’s about choosing between “personal good and greater good,” he added.

But as with many strategies, unintended consequences could result.