By Dave Casey
Most Americans blame cars and coal-fired power plants for greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, but most aren’t aware of the cow in the room. Few of us are aware the livestock sector accounts for more emissions than cars and planes together.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a prestigious medical journal, recently editorialized that climate change represents the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. It also noted that chronic diseases caused by dietary choices are currently the leading cause of death.
Could there be a way to combine fighting climate change and combating chronic diseases at the same time? For example, using a bicycle for transportation versus driving a car is a win-win-win for our health, for the planet and for our pocketbooks! Are there similar win-win-win situations when it comes to diet?
The foods that create the most greenhouse gases (red meat, farmed fish and dairy) appear to be the same foods that contribute to many of our chronic diseases. Meat, dairy and eggs have substantial negative environmental impacts on climate. Grains, beans, fruits and vegetables have the least negative impact on the environment. Moreover, animal-based foods have less fiber, vitamins and antioxidants than plant-based foods. Meat and dairy also cost more per pound. That makes a possible win-win-win: reducing meat and dairy leads to less environmental impacts, greater health benefits and lower cost.
European Commission Study
In 2011, the European Commission commissioned a study on what individuals can do to help the climate. The Commission is the European Union’s executive arm. In terms of transport, if all Europeans started driving electric cars, it could prevent as much as 174 million tons of carbon from getting released. They also could turn down the thermostat and put on a sweater.
But the European Commission study concluded the single most impactful action people can take is to shift to a low-meat diet. The foods we eat may have more impact on global warming than what cars we drive or turning down the thermostat. Cutting out animal protein just one day a week can have a powerful effect. Meatless Mondays can reduce greenhouse gases as much as the weekly commute to work. A switch from the average omnivore diet to a 100% plant-based can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The European Commission’s study identified why it is difficult to reduce meat and dairy. It’s simply lack of knowledge, ingrained habits and culinary cultures. Most approaches to reversing climate change are expensive. A global transition to a low meat diet, as recommended for health reasons, can actually save money. A healthier, low-meat diet could cut the cost of mitigating climate change; while a no meat and no dairy diet could cut climate mitigation costs by 80%.
For most of my life, my family has enjoyed a great barbequed flank steak on Friday nights, a weekly cheese laden pizza, a weekly spaghetti or tacos with beef, and frequent crackers and cheese. Yet, over the past year, I have found myself and my family consuming less and less meat and dairy.
World Resources Institute Recommendations
The World Resources Institute recommends developed nations cut beef, lamb and dairy consumption by 40% to meet global emissions goals for 2050. The Institute is an environmental research group. I’m not sure I can commit to a 100% vegan diet. I can certainly substantially reduce my consumption of meat, dairy and eggs. Such efforts will reduce my carbon footprint, improve my health and save money. By helping the planet, we can help ourselves.
Courtesy of the Rossmoor News, March 4, 2020. Email Dave Casey at: firstname.lastname@example.org