By Jojy Michael, member of the Environmental Sustainability Rotary Action Group (ESRAG)
“The time is long past when environmental sustainability can be dismissed as not Rotary’s concern. It is, and must be, everyone’s concern.”
– Ian H.S. Riseley, Rotary International President, 2017-18
Riseley made that definitive declaration in 2017 while unveiling the Rotary theme for his presidency. He continued to advance the case for the environment with fellow Rotary members until The Rotary Foundation adopted Protecting the Environment as an area of focus in July 2020. What is the best way for Rotarians and Rotaractors to protect the environment? To answer that question, it is necessary to look at one of the leading threats to the environment: deforestation.
According to Our World in Data, since the last ice age, humans have converted a third of the world’s forests and two-thirds of wild grasslands for agricultural use. Almost half of the world’s habitable land is now used for agriculture, of which 77% is due to raising cattle or crops for cattle, and 23% is used to raise crops for direct human consumption. Half of this loss happened in the last 100 years, so the rate of deforestation is accelerating.
This alarming pace of deforestation has many harmful side effects:
- Trees trap carbon from the atmosphere. Fewer trees lead to more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which causes global warming.
- Trees are also efficient converters of carbon-dioxide to oxygen. Deforestation degrades air quality.
- Loss of their forest habitats and food sources leads to large-scale extinction of wildlife species.
- Loss of bio-diversity makes natural ecosystems more fragile. Additionally, the greater interaction between humans and animals, both domesticated and wild, causes zoonotic diseases like COVID-19 to emerge.
As we convert forests to farms, we are waging a war against our own planet.
How can we help reverse these tremendously detrimental trends? One could say that strict governmental policies and tight regulation of industrial agriculture are necessary to avoid environmental disaster. Those are important, but people also can exert tremendous influence by pushing for sustainable farming through their food choices.
Project Drawdown is ESRAG’s research partner in protecting the environment. In 2017, Project Drawdown published a comprehensive plan to reverse global warming. This book became a New York Times bestseller. It ranked 80 solutions for their effectiveness in reversing climate change through reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Two among the top-ten are food related: shifting to a plant-rich diet and reducing food waste. Adopting a plant-rich diet would reduce the demand for animal products, which means less land degraded and fewer resources used to raise animals. In other words, one can free up more land to plant trees by eating more plants!
The Plant-Rich Diet (PRD) task force in ESRAG is hosting an annual, global challenge for everyone to incorporate more plants into their daily diet 1-15 October. There is no fee for enrollment and participants can access resources like recipes, live cooking demos, and interactive sessions with leaders in the plant-base food movement. Anyone over the age of 18 can sign up here to participate.
Please join us to discover an easy, tasty, and nutritious way to keep our planet habitable while improving your own health. All good things, like charity, begin in our homes. Protecting the environment begins on our dining tables.