Climate change arguably presents the greatest threat to ocean health. It is making oceans hotter, promoting acidification, and making it harder to breathe in them by reducing dissolved oxygen levels. Imagine how poorly a fish in an aquarium would fare if we turned up the heat, dripped in acid, and pulled out the oxygen bubbler. This is slowly but surely what we are doing to our oceans.
Global warming is causing sea levels to rise, threatening coastal population centers. Many pesticides and nutrients used in agriculture end up in the coastal waters, resulting in oxygen depletion that kills marine plants and shellfish. Factories and industrial plants discharge sewage and other runoff into the oceans.
We can each reduce our own carbon footprint and help decelerate climate change by making smart choices about what we eat. With 7.6 billion people on the planet, these decisions add up.
Rising temperatures correlate almost exactly with the release of greenhouse gases.
Before the 18th century, when humans in the industrial west began to burn coal, oil and gas, our atmosphere typically contained about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Those are the conditions “on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.”
Now, as the use of fossil fuels spreads through the world, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is skyrocketing — we’re now well over 415 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere.
Fossil fuel companies are taking millions of years’ worth of carbon, once stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere. In 2019, CO2 concentrations crossed 415 ppm in the atmosphere for the first time in at least 2.5 million years.
Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the most important step we can take to prevent further climate change.
Consequences of the way we eat on climate change
At the same time, the rapid growth in demand for animal-based agriculture by wealthier countries has seen other greenhouse gasses like methane and nitrous oxide rapidly rise. The contribution of agriculture causes about 15% of global emissions.
The way we currently eat is damaging both humans and the planet. One might think that we cannot do a lot about this because we all need to eat food. But we could feed more people while drastically reducing emissions and land-use caused by food.
Animal products are especially harmful to our climate
So what is causing the environmental footprint of food to be so large? By rule of thumb animal products usually cause more greenhouse gasses than plants. This is because additionally to keeping the animals you also need to grow plants to feed them. This results in much higher emissions than just eating the plants directly. Every day forests are cut down to grow animal feed and create new grazing land. Beef and dairy products are especially bad for the climate because cows produce large amounts of methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.
Greenhouse gas emissions per 1000 kilocalories
Beef (beef herd) 36.44 kg
Beef (dairy herd) 12.2 kg
Fish (farmed) 7.61 kg
Cheese 6.17 kg
Pig meat 5.15 kg
Eggs 3.24 kg
Rice 1.21 kg
Oatmeal 0.95 kg
Potatoes 0.63 kg
Nuts 0.07 kg
As countries became more wealthy their meat consumption also increased drastically. According to research by Greenpeace the EU is currently spending around 71% of its farmland to feed livestock which is only possible because animal agriculture is subsidized with over € 28 billion per year.
As seen in the graph below we can drastically lower the carbon footprint of food by eating a vegan or vegetarian diet. But even lowering meat and dairy products can have a great impact and at scale can be more effective than a few people going vegan. Currently a diet harmful to the climate is incentivized more than a climate friendly diet.
Average daily CO2e-emissions of different diets:
Meat lover: 7.19 kg CO2e / day
Low meat diet: 4.67 kg CO2e / day
Vegetarian: 3.81 kg CO2e / day
Vegan: 2.89 kg CO2e / day
Lab-grown meat could be a game changer
In addition to improving our current ways of producing food there are also some innovative and potentially game-changing solutions that think out of the box. One example that could have a huge impact is lab-grown meat.
Lab-grown meat is a real animal muscle being grown without having to grow the animal around it. While it sounds a bit weird at first producing it on large scale would allow us to stop wasting land and energy and forcing animals to grow up in horrible conditions while still being able to eat a product that is exactly the same as meat from an animal. Just recently the Singapore Food Agency was the first authority to approve a lab-grown meat product as safe for market While lab-grown meat will be much more expensive when it starts being sold (likely in 2021) the price will rapidly decrease as larger amounts are produced and more competition enters the market. According to GCFGlobal Lab grown meat is significantly more climate-friendly as it requires 45% less energy, 99% less land use, and produces 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
For more info on Lab grown meat you can listen to Bruce Friedrich podcast.
Plant based meat
“A few years ago, the base of most plant-based burgers was vegetables, oat, or beans. Now, with plant-based foods gaining more popularity, there are many more options. Two of the most popular brands, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, utilize pea protein or soy protein concentrate in their burgers, both of which closely mimic the texture and taste of real beef,” says Rhyan Geiger, RDN, a registered dietitian.
Alternative meats have skyrocketed in popularity due to a rise in overall awareness about meat’s impact on the environment and overall health.
If every American replaced all beef, chicken, and pork in their diet with a vegetarian option, that would save 280 million metric tons of carbon dioxide — or roughly Ohio’s entire yearly emissions. Decreasing animal product consumption also prevents water scarcity as more than 50% of Americans’ freshwater use is for livestock production.
For more info on plant based meat please visit our extensive Health Hacks.
We need scalable solution to reduce emissions from food in time
Cultural change of behavior is called for, but we don’t have time to wait for it to happen. Making changes in our own personal life makes a difference. We can either continue to be part of the problem or choose to become part of the solution. We need to get active and support innovative climate solutions.