Your Diet & Climate Change

What is Climate Change?

Over especially the past few decades, the effects of climate change have been the premise of many popular movies; think ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ or ‘The Island President’’.

As drastic as the effects of climate change were in these movies, climate change is really a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns over an extended period of time, usually decades or longer. This has been evident from increasing global average air and ocean temperatures, melting of snow and ice and increasing average sea levels.

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Changes in Temperature, Sea Level & Northern Hemisphere Snow Coverage

While climate change in itself is a natural phenomenon, human activities have severely contributed to this.  Typically, sunlight passes through the atmosphere and warms the Earth and this heat is them radiated back out, this process is called the greenhouse effect.

However, the presence of gases in the atmosphere (water vapour, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons- we call them greenhouse gasses) are responsible for acting as a greenhouse and absorbing  most incoming heat, warming the atmosphere. Many human activities have contributed to these gases, thus, the earth receives more than its fair share of heat, given the name “human induced global warming or climate change.”

What Does Our Diet Have to do with Climate Change?

According to researches done by the University of California, the food system contributes about 30 percent of greenhouse emissions in the U.S. This is due to people’s dependence on animal-based food is drastically higher than on fruits and vegetables.  This UNEP report also states that agriculture contributes to 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions, half of which is from livestock.  It also states that:

Animal products, both meat and dairy, require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives.”

To break it down, Dr. M. Sanjayar, a researcher and CEO of Conservation International, says that steak contributes 330 grams of carbon to the environment. So, 170 grams of steak is equivalent to driving a car for around 5 kilometers. However, one can unshakably say that lamb and beef have a more negative impact on the climate than equivalent servings of chicken do.

Additionally, a more recent study of 40 food products, based on 40,000 farms in 119 countries, concluded that:

A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. (…) Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”

Without drifting too far afield from the primary topic, it is noteworthy that red and processed meat cause many human diseases, like diabetes, colorectal cancer, and several cardiovascular diseases, to name a few. While on the other side, our nutrition decisions have impacted the climate and polluted twice as much as cars.

Additionally, industrial farmers resort to deforestation for the sake of using that land as pasture for livestock and plantation.  Cattle ranching is the largest driver for deforestation, accounting for 80% of current rates in the Amazon Region. Trees and plants are responsible for maintaining the Earth’s carbon dioxide and oxygen levels. By cutting off trees and burning forests, carbon dioxide levels increase, contributing to climate  change

What Happens When we Eliminate Meat from our Diets?

 

A lot can change when we start reducing our animal-based intake, especially red meat and processed food in general and doubling our fruits and veggies. For example, the demand for livestock supply will decrease significantly. Researchers say that in a diet that contains no red or processed meats, the risk for type 2 diabetes would reduce by 20 to 40%. Needless to mention, several human conditions that are primarily caused by unhealthy diets will cease to exist. This means that health care costs will go down by $77 billionUSD to $93 billion USD annually and direct greenhouse emissions will drop by 222 kg to 826 kg per person a year.

Moral of the story: We, humans, sometimes tend to be unaware of the consequences of our actions. On the dark side, some of us can be quite aware, yet negligible and selfish or look at the consequences as merely collateral damage.

By taking full responsibility on how the smallest actions we commit can impact the environment, we will witness a remarkable transformation that has the potential to make Earth a better place for the next generations.

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