Let's Not Talk About It
THE WEEK|September 19, 2021
Humanity’s greatest challenges remain, despite the pandemic having relegated them to the background
Ashwin Sanghi

A virus that was possibly spawned in a Chinese laboratory has played havoc with the world over the past two years. As I write this, there have been 209 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 4.4 million deaths globally. The good news is that around 4.5 billion doses of vaccines have been administered. And while it is true that new variants of the virus keep emerging with frightening regularity, it is equally true that safety guidelines, urban management, hospital protocols, scientific research and large-scale immunization may allow humanity to emerge from this war to see another day.

But the pain of stubbing your toe is felt only until you bang your head even harder. Alas, the challenge of fighting Covid-19 has relegated all other issues to the back-burner. I have always maintained, and continue to hold, that humanity’s greatest challenges in the 21st century will be climate change, water scarcity, population-resource disparity, power imbalance, and ideological extremism. These issues may have receded into the background owing to Covid-19, but they remain. A pigeon closes its eyes upon seeing a cat, hoping that the cat will magically vanish as a result. That is precisely what the world is doing with the most pressing issues of our times.

Recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that, over the next two decades, the world is likely to overshoot the 1.5°C thresholds above pre-industrial levels. This would probably result in rising sea levels, forest fires, rainstorms, heat waves, temperature extremes, coastal flooding, drought, ocean acidification, species extinction, and increased pest and pathogen threat. But talk to experts on climate change and we hear the usual suggestions: use public transport, take shorter showers, switch to electric vehicles, recycle waste, and plant trees. Very few discuss the billions of cows, goats, chickens, pigs, and turkeys that are crowded into industrial farms and produce enormous amounts of methane. Every gram of methane is 84 times as potent as a gram of carbon dioxide in trapping atmospheric heat. The US Environmental Protection Agency says that animal agriculture is the single largest source of methane emissions in America. So, if we truly want to fight climate change, humankind must transition to an increasingly vegan lifestyle. But such a view must be motivated by hippies, vegetarians, and tree-huggers. So, let’s not talk about it.

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