Global warming: effects on the food.


Por Paulo Garcia

Modify your diet to combat climate change.  

I have to admit that when it comes to food, I am totally insensible. Whether it is sugar or grease or carbs, pretty much bring it all on! And I used to spend a lot of time in steakhouses, so for me that thick and poorly-aged steak was perfect and indispensable; pretty much as good as it gets. I know, I really know, now I do not do it often. I have to admit, I`m a little conflicted. And this is for a lot of reasons, including the planet, but how is what I eat a big problem? I mean, does it really make much of a dent in something as huge as global warming? It turns out that what we put on our plates matters a lot .  

About 25 percent of all the global climate change problems we are seeing can be attributed  back to the food and the choices that we’re actually making about what we eat on a daily basis. This is greater than all of the cars on the planet. In fact, it is about twice as much global warming pollution as cars. 

The connection between climate and diet!? 

A lot of people feel really helpless when it comes to climate change, like they cannot make a difference. And what my research is showing is that your personal decisions can really have a big impact. If you look at everything that went into making a single serving of beef, you end emitting about 300 grams of carbon. That is like driving a car for six kilometers. Now, if you choose to have a chicken instead, there is more than a drop of emissions. Switch to fish and you see the number go down even more. Now, look  at veggies. If I swap the beef out entirely for lentils, for example, we are talking about all the cars, trucks, planes and ships on the planet combined! This is partly because ruminant animals like cows and ships – they are just gassy! And the methane they produce is at least 25 times more potent that carbon dioxide! Plus, it takes a lot of land, fertilizer and about a billion tons of grain to feed all that livestock. 

A report published this week by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) has shown that the world’s top five livestock farms emit more greenhouse gases than major oil companies such as ExxonMobil and Shell. The report brings precious information at a time when almost all countries except the United States have agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions to keep global temperature increases well below 2° C. Demand for meat and dairy products has been increasing in developing places, such as China, where the middle class grows each year and is more willing to spend on such products. 

We found that publicly available data on emissions are incomplete and difficult to compare across companies over time. The  report, which was published by the IATP, was published in the United States, but according to the researchers, they were not clear. Large world agricultural enterprises contribute to air pollution in three ways: some emit gases directly from their facilities, from machinery or even from cow feces, which release methane gas; there are indirect emissions from the generation of energy needed to keep the facilities running; and there are also those that come from transporting animals, meat and milk. The report also points out that the largest polluters are a small group of countries and include the United States, Canada, The European Union, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand. Together, they account for 43% of the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.  

You can feed 4 billion people with grain; if we were just directly eating these grains ourselves, it would eliminate a lot of the CO2 that is emitted from cattle production. So, it is clear that meat has a pretty big carbon load, but it is also worth remembering that not all livestock is raised equally. In parts of the american West, for instance, ranchers are working to raise livestock in ways that actually help restore the land and they are experimenting with ways that soil and grassland can be used to keep carbon pollution out of the air. But, even  these sustainable ranchers will tell you, we are probably eating too much meat. I know a lot of people who if you do not serve them meat for lunch or dinner, they are kind of like “well, when is the meat coming out? Today only vegetables and fruit? Where is the meat?”

This is the point! Now where United States of America actually has one of the highest meat consumption per capita. So, what about not eating meat at all? Vegan is the way to go for the least impact on the planet, but it is not that much different in terms of emissions than, say, a vegetarian diet. And many researchers found that the environmental impact of the mediterranean diet is similar to vegan and vegetarian diets. It is a lot less meat heavy than what americans and gauchos are used to. So, fish and poultry a few times a week, one beef maybe once a month, plenty of plant based foods, flowers, and, of course, loads of natural olive oil is recommended.  

Eliminating like 90 percent of your meat intake is more important than eliminating all of your meat intake. We do not have to be a vegan. We do not even have to be vegetarian. If we can just reduce our meat intake, every little bit helps. And if you can bring it down a lot, you can help climate change a lot. If we all just switched to a mediterranean diet, it could actually reduce 15 percent of global warming pollution by 2050. If everyone were to move towards it, that is equivalent to taking somewhere around 1 billion cars off the streets, in terms of vehicle emissions each year. 

So, that kind of a footprint is big. But say you still want more meat than a mediterranean diet  recommends?! In fact, the doctors are telling us we are eating about twice as much meat as we really need for a healthy diet. The good news: we are listening to our doctors. In the last decade, there has been a 19 percent drop in the amount of beef we are eating (U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2016).

All these things that are already being told are good for me and you, and they also happen to be good for the planet. So, what we eat is a big part of the climate puzzle. I think we may not all be able to afford an electric car or put solar panels on our houses, but we all have to eat every day. And those choices we make can add up to high numbers. We need to pay attention to what we eat, and the amount we eat. I am honestly trying.

Maybe, it is just a smaller piece of steak, or simply swapping out a meat dish for a natural sandwich. It may seem like a small thing, but it really does add up to have a big impact.

Hey people, so what did you have for dinner today?

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