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Fighting Climate Change With Your Plate

The tide is turning when it comes to attitudes against a plant-based diet. As many communities are becoming much more environmentally aware and conscience about their effect on our planet, we are seeing a positive attitude shift. People are slowly reengaging with the environment: using less plastic, using alternative transport methods and now we are starting to see a change in diet. Altering our diets would save us money, improve our health stop animal welfare atrocities and perhaps most importantly, seriously cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Farming livestock accounts for a staggering 14.5% of greenhouse gas globally. That is more than the emissions from the entire transport sector. The average car today emits about 0.41 kilograms of CO2 per mile driven. In comparison eating a kilo of lamb is the equivalent to driving about 90 miles. Beef is easily has the biggest impact on our climate, a kilo of beef equates to 27kg of CO2. Cows also produce a lot of methane which is a potent greenhouse gas.

The livestock industry is accountable for a large proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions due to several aspects of the process. The carbon footprint on the food we eat from shipping it to our supermarkets is huge. The animals themselves also emit many harmful gases through their digestion process – yes, cow farts. The feed production and general upkeep of livestock, whether its dairy cows or pigs, uses a vast amount of energy to keep running. All these things are coupled with the fact that vast areas of rainforest are being cleared to make way for pasture. This deforestation is clearing important ‘carbon sinks’ as these forests naturally absorb carbon. Essentially the livestock industry is pumping greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere at the same time as destroying the planets natural carbon sinks.

Furthermore, this problem is not secluded to the terrestrial industries. If you want to clean up your carbon footprint, cutting lobster and shrimp from your diet could be one of the best ways. These fisheries chug through huge quantities of fuel and produce almost a ¼ of global fisheries emissions. Since 1990, emissions from fishing overall have ballooned by a shocking 28%, despite production staying the same. In fact, lobster and shrimp fisheries produce enough emission to outstrip chicken and pork farming. This is due to the fuel intensive fishing techniques used to get these species.

The impact of terrestrial livestock farming and fisheries on our environment are catastrophic and it is difficult to comprehend due to the lack of awareness. If climate wasn’t enough of a reason to push people towards a more plant-based diet, perhaps food security could. If America went vegan, that would free up enough extra farmland to feed an extra 350 million people. By switching beef, pork, poultry, dairy and egg farming for crops that have equivalent nutritional content, we could generate between two and 20 times more food with the same amount of land. Some suggest that we should view the livestock industry as food waste. For example a plot of land that produces 4 grams of protein from beef would generate 100 grams of protein from plants, because plants use land and resources much more efficiently. Effectively, that means beef farming constitutes a 96% loss of food production.

One way to meet the food demands of the 9.8 billion people who will walk this planet by 2050 is to reduce the amount of food that is being wasted in the first place. If we started thinking about meat consumption as food waste, we could encourage more people to shift their diet. Not just that but the shift could save individuals and governments a lot of money. Switching to a plant-heavy diet could save the US up to $80 billion dollars by averting greenhouse gas emissions and the national cost of health problems that stem from current diet trends.

Traditionally people have viewed veganism as being weird or only for ‘hippies’. Perhaps this stems from some organisations being too extreme and pushing their views onto the public. This has been a huge mistake from the people trying to spread the change. People should be encouraged to slowly shift their diet, moving away from livestock intensive diets, much the same way as we slowly stopped many people smoking. This could be helped by turning this relationship into public policy, in the form of a carbon tax on greenhouse-gas-intensive food.

A simple tax of just £2.86 per 100 grams of product per ton of carbon dioxide produced, would encourage people to shift their consumer trends and could also raise as much as £3 billion for the UK government. However, this kind of tax could burden those on lower incomes. Because of this governments could also place subsidies on low-carbon foods, making the scheme revenue-neutral for the government. With both a tax and subsidise system in place, people would buy less meat, dairy and eggs and start buying more fresh fruit and vegetables.

Models run with this kind of system have shown that greenhouse gas emissions will decrease by 16.5 million tons of CO2 as people shift their diets. Not only that but the model suggests the scenario would delay or avert 2,023 deaths annually, mainly from cardiovascular disease and cancers linked with a livestock heavy diet. While Britons would see their weekly shopping bills go up by about the price of a latte, the benefits are clear, and to avert this increase people can simply eat more healthily. Governments could also help by increasing the amount of vegetarian food in schools, hospitals and armed forces. If the world’s population cuts to healthy levels of meat consumption – about 70g per day- it would reduce carbon emissions by an amount equivalent to annual output of the US, the world’s second biggest polluter. Creating a new public understanding that industrial production of meat is not only dangerous to your own health but to human ecology as a whole is vital for future development.

Fortunately signs of this kind of change are already been seen today. Celebrities are endorsing a plant-based diet in order to save our environment. For example, the queen of pop Beyoncé recently announced she was going vegan for Coachella and invited her 112 million followers on Instagram to join her in a 22 day vegan challenge. An encouraging wave of political action is also taking place. In Portugal the parliament approved a new law that ensures there is a vegan option in all public canteens. In Argentina, a country well-known for its heavy meat consumption, President Mauricio Macri and his 556 employees at the Casa Rosada will be starting meat free Mondays. This move was made as part of a need to start conversations around healthy eating habitats and the effect on the environment.

Moreover, In China the legend that is Arnold Schwarzenegger is the face of a plan to cut citizens meat consumption by 50%, producing adverts encouraging Chinese people to eat less meat in order to curb climate change. If the government’s guidelines are followed, it could reduce emissions from Chinas livestock industry by 1bn tonnes by 2030. Lastly, here in the UK veganism has soared by 600% in the last couple of years. Roughly 7% of people say they are vegan – up from 1% in 2016. Another 14% are now vegetarian, extremely positive signs of change.

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