Fighting climate change with diet

MORGAN TIEU / AGGIE

A decreased consumption in meat is thought to be better for the environment

It’s well-established that the food system is responsible for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. One of the best ways to fight climate change then becomes a matter of personal choice, specifically what we choose to eat. For years, people from meatless diets have been advocating that a diet free of meat is the best for the environment. The documentary “Cowspiracy” made waves for advocating the vegan diet, going so far as to say that if you eat meat, you’re not an environmentalist.

As our film ‘Cowspiracy’ points out, eating animals goes far beyond just climate change…Virtually any issue you could care about in the environmental world, animal [agriculture] is the primary driver of destroying it,” said Keegan Kuhn, filmmaker and a co-director of “Cowspiracy. “If we honestly looked at the timelines we are facing with the 3 major threats facing the planet; Climate Change, Desertification & Species Extinction. Nothing short of a global shift to a vegan diet will work. The idea that we as a human population can continue to eat animals in any real capacity simply isn’t looking at the whole picture of global depletion.”

However, Benjamin Houlton, a professor, chancellor’s fellow and director of the UC Davis John Muir Institute of the Environment, tried to find a middle ground between the extremes of veganism and not moderating meat consumption at all.

There’s been a lot of discussion and controversy swirling around impact of diet on global warming pollution,” Houlton said. “We decided to apply our model and existing studies to examine the connection, and look for resolution among some extreme viewpoints out there. Some suggest that veganism is the only way to go; others are very sensitive to the idea of moderating meat intake. So we used the power of science and knowledge to address the question, and quickly discovered that diet doesn’t have to be a divisive issue. Instead,  there’s a symbiosis between people and the planet, that a healthy diet can go a long way toward reducing greenhouse gases.”

Their research has shown that a Mediterranean diet, a diet recommended by doctors as the healthiest, could reduce global warming by up to 15 percent if adopted by everyone by 2050.

Eating a Mediterranean diet still allows you to consume animal products, albeit in lower quantities, has a similar carbon footprint to that of a vegetarian diet, and at the same time is good for your health,” said Maya Almaraz, a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow working with Houlton. “So eating a diet that’s good for your health is also good for the health of the planet!”

PETA is hopeful that this finding will make it easier for people to go vegan.

[The findings make] it easy to digest why going vegan is the best way to help the environment: Animal agriculture is the largest contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions,” said the Executive Vice President of PETA, Tracy Reiman. “While reducing our meat intake is a step in the right direction, farmed animals produce massive amounts of harmful waste, eat many more calories in plants than they yield as meat, and end up being cruelly slaughtered — so the kindest and most environmentally-friendly choice is to reduce our consumption of meat, eggs, and dairy products to zero.”

 

Written by: Kriti Varghese — science@theaggie.org