When we think about our food choices, many of us who are vegan, think first about animal compassion. But many people come to plant-based eating for reasons of health and there is ample evidence of a strong connection between health and food choices (more on this in later blogs). Over the last several years, though, a lot more attention has been focused on the environmental consequences of our food choices, primarily with global climate change and also water consumption and quality. For this post, I’ll concentrate on climate change, next time we’ll visit water issues.
The Keeling Curve, first started by Charles Keeling in 1958, is a measure of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Since it was first measured by Keeling, it has risen consistently to over 400 ppm (parts per millions), a level that has not been previously found on earth. You can see follow the measurements here.
The reason the Keeling Curve is significant is that carbon dioxide is thought of as the primary “greenhouse gas”. That is, a gas in the atmosphere that traps heat. But carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas. “While carbon dioxide is typically painted as the bad boy of greenhouse gases, methane is roughly 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas.” (source) And where does methane come from? The two main sources of methane are fossil fuel production and livestock farming, accounting for over 60% of all methane production. (source) This is important because methane is so much more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. It means that livestock farming alone contributes about 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions with the main food groups contributing being beef and dairy. A reduction in global meat consumption was recognized as a critical piece in controlling global climate change in a 2015 report by The Chatham House, the premiere UK think tank in their November 2015 report (source). They also recognized that although our governments should be leading us in changing our attitudes and behaviors toward meat consumption, there is little to no political will to do so. In the US, at least, this is almost certainly due to economic factors; there is little profit in pushing broccoli to your plate. The Lancet, a prominent medical journal founded in 1823, has recently broadened their scope and late last year published a report from the EAT-Lancet Commission, taking the information from The Chatham House reports and other scientific journals to promote a diet that is healthy for both the individual human and the planet (source) and, of course, it minimizes meat and dairy consumption.
So what does all this mean? It means that when people ask what they can do to make a difference with climate change, the most important answer is change what you eat if you don’t already eat a plant-based diet. Growing plants reduce carbon dioxide by converting it into oxygen and growing plants do not emit methane.
Make sure you listen to the first episode of our podcast here where we speak to Janet Brown from Climate Generation to talk about Will Steger, Climate Generation, Climate Change and the effects of our dietary choices on our planets climate!