New Year’s has many people reflecting on goals for a healthier lifestyle. One goal often cited is the desire to eat healthier. You can also improve your diet by choosing a lower carbon footprint approach. Each of us has the power to lessen our environmental impact through changing living habits, and feel better. Here are some items to consider to help you decide on a new diet approach for 2018.
What is carbon footprint and how can we reduce it?
A carbon footprint is defined as the total amount of greenhouse gases produced through human activity, often expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Eating more plant food and less meat are the most efficient responses to how to reduce your carbon footprint; more efficient than switching to energy-efficient cars and lightbulbs. Avoiding animal food can be the most effective way to reduce your carbon footprint, particularly products from livestock. Producing meat emits about 250 times more greenhouse gases than growing beans, uses more water, and destroys topsoil. Water use per calorie for beef is 20 times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. Milk, eggs and chicken take 1.5 times more water than growing pulses (beans).
What’s the best way to reduce my carbon footprint and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions?
Reducing animal foods in the diet will reduce your energy input and pollution output. Animal agriculture is the single most destructive industry on the planet, responsible for the most greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, as well as deforestation and lack of biodiversity. It demands the most energy input, particularly from fertilizer, water, and the most energy for processing. It takes up more than half of our earth’s land resources, the majority of freshwater and drives more GHG emissions than all transportation combined (13%). The United Nations estimates that the livestock sector accounts for 14% of GHG emissions alone.
How much greenhouse gas emissions are animals responsible for?
Livestock utilizes 70% of agricultural land on earth, which includes growing the crops to feed animals, as well as grazing land. It’s the main driver of deforestation for these activities, which leads to biodiversity loss and land degradation. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), livestock (cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, and camels) produce large amounts of methane as part of their normal digestive process and from producing so much manure. But much more damaging is the amount of energy and fossil fuel it takes to produce animal food compared to crops for human consumption.
Can I Eat Meat and Lessen My Environmental Impact?
Feeding a meat-eater takes more than two acres of farmland compared to under a half acre needed for a plant-powered person. According to studies, transitioning toward plant-based diets that meet the standard dietary guidelines could not only reduce global mortality by 6–10% but also food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29–70%. Any reduction helps lessen your carbon footprint. You may want to start with swapping out meat from your diet one day a week, and continue from there.
How to Reduce a Carbon Footprint
The answer is simply by eating lower on the food chain. Consuming whole plant foods rather than animals, will lessen the amount of global warming gasses, both carbon dioxide and methane, emitted into the atmosphere, as well as lessen the amount of energy it takes to produce our food, in the form of fossil fuels. Further, the more whole food over processed food we choose, the less energy, resources, packaging and water used, along with less waste produced. And the closer we are to the farm, the less transportation fuel and cost utilized. So shopping for your produce at local farmers markets, joining a community sustainable farm and growing your own, allows for the least carbon footprint.
What is a Sustainable Diet?
A Sustainable diet is one that allows for optimal health and well-being through nutritious foods that can be sustained by individuals and populations long term. It promotes the health and longevity of people as well as the planet, using resources efficiently with the least amount of environmental impact and allowing for renewal of land, sea and ecosystems.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ official stance on vegetarian diets concludes plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable and less damaging. In 2015 it included the concept of sustainability in its recommendations to the USDA, defining a sustainable diets as “a pattern of eating that promotes health and well-being and provides food security for the present population while sustaining human and natural resources for future generations.” It made the case that a diet higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods both promotes health and protects the environment- resulting in lower greenhouse gas emissions, and less energy, land and water use.
Does Organic Mean Sustainable?
Raising cattle requires large amounts of land and feed, mostly corn and soy, which is heavily fertilized. Processing and applying fertilizer releases nitrous oxide, a gas with nearly 300 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, methane is emitted from cattle through their digestive systems and from manure disposal and it has at least 25 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.
4 Easy Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
These habits will reduce your carbon footprint more than most anything else, though changing to efficient light-bulbs and transportation help as well!
- Reduce meat in your diet,
- Base more of your diet on whole plant foods,
- Purchase them locally as much as possible, and
- Prepare foods at home whenever you can.
Studies on Meat Reduction to Curb Greenhouse Gas Emissions
We now have concrete research documenting that dropping meat lessens greenhouse gas emissions. Studies show that effective ways to reduce carbon dioxide include embracing a low resources-intensive diet. A couple of 2014 reports indicate that reductions in meat consumption lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emission. America’s decline of beef consumption by 19% between 2004 and 2015 reduced climate change pollution by 185 million tons. “Total emissions cuts from dietary changes were 271 million tons. During that time, overall U.S. greenhouse gas emissions averaged more than 6 billion tons a year,” reports the researchers from the National Resources Defense Council. Another large study comparing greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK demonstrates that reducing the intake of meat and other animal based products can make a valuable contribution to climate change mitigation.
Adapted from SustainableDiet.com