Climate change and diets


Before learning about these diets, one might wonder what is climate change? 
According to the UN, climate change can be defined as an alteration to the composition of our global atmosphere which in addition to natural climate variability, can be attributed to the direct or indirect impacts of human activity. 
Risks associated with climate change are rising sea levels, desertification, extreme weather events as well as a general harm to ecosystems on which individuals rely on for subsistence and wellbeing. 
Failing to address climate change may cause the displacement of populations with a new wave of climate refugees, conflicts over limited resources and extreme meteorological phenomena. 

Future generations and victims of climate change might question who is responsible for such alterations to our natural habitat.
Some might argue that western European nations are responsible as their initial growth throughout the 18th onwards started with an industrial revolution highly dependent on fossil fuels such as coal. 
Others might point the blame on economists who developed development models based on the objective of ever-increasing GDP and growth. 
In more recent times, large petrochemical companies are in the scope of climate activists as their industry promotes the use of fossil fuels which emit vast quantities of carbon dioxide.
However, blaming others for a global issue is all but too easy. This technique shifts the problem on others and expects from them to solve it at once. On the contrary, global issues such as climate change involve various actors who are all involved to varying extents in the issue, either as victims or contributors. 
In the end, don’t we decide with our individual purchasing power which industries or consumption goods we favour?

What is the environmental impact of our diets and are they sustainable?
Countries that have witnessed economic development have populations that rely on meat and dairy heavy diets. For example, the average American consumes 100 Kilograms of meat in one year. 
However, the livestock industry is a large contributor to climate change and exerts intense pressure on our natural resources. Worldwide, animal farming contributes to 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions and out of those, 65% are due to red meat and dairy production.
To produce 1 KG of beef, 15 000 liters of water are required whereas lentils, an alternative source of protein require only 2500 liters per KG. Additionally, questions arise on the capacity to feed an ever-growing population with a western diet. The livestock industry uses around 70% of agricultural land and every second 1 acre of land is cleared for animal agriculture. To feed the cattle, a billion tons of grain are produced yearly, a quantity which could be used to feed 3.5 Billion people if it were consumed directly. Compounded with an ever-growing population a meat heavy and resource intensive diet does not appear to be a sustainable way to feed an estimated world population of 10 Billion by 2050. 

Therefore, what is our role as individual consumers and how can our consumption choices make a difference?
Vegan diets have been on the rise in the last decade. They are diets that do not include any meat, eggs, dairy products and other animal-derived products. They can be taken up by consumers for personal health concerns, ethical reasons or for their reduced environmental impact. It is estimated that cutting meat and dairy products from our diets can reduce our individual carbon footprint by up to 73%, making it one of the most effective ways we can reduce our environmental impact. 
This demonstrates that we have some degree of power and responsibility to reduce our contribution to climate change. Veganism is not a diet that has zero contributions to Climate Change, but it is a greener alternative than traditional western diets. I am not advocating that we should all go vegan tomorrow as that would be far from sustainable or even plausible. Global supply chains and agricultural output are not currently organized to feed a world population solely on vegan agricultural products. Additionally, diets are a part of our culture which does not change overnight. However, we have a moral duty to future generations to be increasingly conscious of the environmental impacts of our diets and we cannot continue to blame others for an issue that concerns and is caused by all of us. 
Small actions can have large impacts whether it is deciding to adopt a Mediterranean diet which is less “constraining” than a vegan one or even trying meatless Mondays once a week. Maya Almarez, a climate and environmental researcher at UC Davis argues that eliminating 90% of our meat intake is far more important than eliminating all of it.
Overall, if we want to reduce our personal environmental impact and carbon footprint, a first place to look is in our plate. That responsibility is our own and a way to signal to businesses that develop vegan and sustainable products that there is consumer demand and future in a more sustainable way of feeding the world population.

Written by Pierre-Louis Godin