It was the kids that got me.
Ashland High School senior Sara Lashaff and junior Isaac Bevers are the newest members of the city of Ashland’s Climate and Energy Plan Committee. I’ve attended a lot of committee meetings and government hearings during my 13 years of protesting the Iraq war and advocating for military families and veterans. But the CEAP is the first group I’ve seen with teenagers at the table.
The Committee is fine-tuning a Public Involvement Plan to inform citizens about the local impacts of climate change and invite participation and suggestions. I am something of a late bloomer on climate change, but I wonder: What if we considered a sin tax on meat, with some of the revenue earmarked to fund a public-private partnership that would develop a land restoration program using regenerative agricultural practices?
A "sin tax" is one levied on items considered harmful to society, such as alcohol, tobacco and gambling. Mounting research has linked red meat to a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, including breast and colorectal. In addition to the public health effects are the colossal climate costs of meat production. The average American’s diet is responsible for nearly nine tons of carbon emissions annually, far more than is generated by driving a car. The carbon footprint of beef production is 11 times higher than vegetables or grain. Livestock generates massive amounts of methane, and Harvard researchers found that in the US alone, methane emissions spiked by over 30 percent between 2002 and 2014.
Much of the conversation about greenhouse gases has focused on carbon dioxide, but raw (unburned) methane is significantly more efficient at trapping heat. It’s estimated that switching to a plant-based diet would eliminate 29 to 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions linked to food by the year 2050.
Many scientists say regenerative agricultural practices can help reverse the carbon clock, decreasing atmospheric CO2 while increasing drought resilience and improving soil productivity. Regenerative practices include keeping fields planted year-round, and agroforestry combining crops, trees, and animal management.
But all of our attempts to regenerate and restore must be done with love. I’ve too often left love out of my efforts to transform, creating hurt where healing was intended. I understand, finally, that environmental advocacy — any kind of activism — must be infused with love, because a fierce love now is the only thing that will keep us engaged in saving the miracle of creation for today’s children and those to come.
Global temperatures are rising at record speed, risking a massive sea-level rise within the lifetimes of today’s youth and causing typically reserved scientists to say things like “shocking,” “crisis,” and even “insane.” What is also insane is thinking that big government and buying green will save us from ourselves.
Mankind is grappling with selective pressures of its own making. Selective pressures are environmental factors, including disease, pollutants and climate change that may affect reproduction, contributing to the modification or extinction of species.
If there’s anywhere in the country that can rapidly advance humanity’s evolution, and move the vision of a carbon-neutral community forward, it’s Ashland. This city banned plastic bags in 2014, and established a Culture of Peace Commission last year.
Should the community choose to establish itself as a national leader on conservation and climate change, a sin tax on meat is worth putting on the table. Your children, and the dreams of your grandchildren, are sitting at that table. I saw two of them at the meeting, and struggled not to cry as I thought of the climate we’ve created for them.
It was the kids that got me.
Stacy Bannerman is the author of "Homefront 911: How Families of Veterans Are Wounded by Our Wars" (2015), and "When the War Came Home" (2006). She was a charter board member of Military Families Speak Out, has testified before Congress three times, and spearheaded the passage of two bills. Stacy resides in southern Oregon, where she is working on her third book. Her website is www.stacybannerman.com.