In our ongoing series on addressing climate change, Inanna Tribukait looks at how small changes to our diet can lead to big changes to the environment
Prognoses about climate change seem to be getting grimmer and grimmer every day. A report from earlier this month shows that unless manmade climate change is limited to a global warming of 1.5 degrees, the consequences will be disastrous. These include, among many others, millions of refugees, climate wars, natural disasters, islands disappearing and mass extinction.
There are a lot of different factors to blame for that, the great majority man-made, but animal agriculture is definitely among the top-players. On a global scale, livestock is responsible for between 14.5 and 18 per cent of greenhouse emissions - that's more than all means of transport combined. Animal agriculture causes deforestation, water shortages and pollution. It's clear that reducing or completely cutting out animal products from our diets is one useful step individuals can take minimise their own personal ecological footprint.
That does not necessarily mean going completely vegetarian or vegan overnight, and in any case reading up on nutrition or talking to a GP is a good idea before making any kind of big change in diet. Generally, one of the biggest worries is about getting protein or iron from animal products, as well as various vitamins. Almost all of these nutrients can be obtained from a vegetarian or vegan diet as long as one has done it correctly, although it is recommended that everyone does an annual blood test on vitamin levels, just to make sure that there are no deficiencies.
It might sound cliché, but the most important step to take when changing diet is to actually make a commitment. That doesn’t mean going cold turkey overnight on all animal products, but to make a decision and to stick to it. Particularly with food, it is also important to let your personal environment know, given that eating is often a social activity and by now, particularly vegetarianism is so common among our generation that most people will be understanding and able to cater for it.
If completely cutting out meat seems too daunting, another idea could be resolving to a flexitarian diet. It can also already be useful to look up the carbon footprint of different products. According to Business Insider, nine of the ten foods with the biggest carbon footprint are animal products, the top three are occupied by Lamb with 39.2kg of CO2 Emissions per one kilogram, beef with 27.0 kg CO2 and cheese with 13.5 kg CO2. Considering this, making those foods a treat rather than a daily meal could already have an impact for the better.
That being said, the beef industry in particular is closely associated with the dairy industry. In order to give milk, cows have to give birth first and since there is no use in this industry for the newborn male calves, these are usually sold to the beef industry. Luckily, there is a huge range of milk substitutes available and by now, almost all coffeeshops have at least one or two alternatives available. Again, this does not mean cutting out all animal products at once, or even at all, rather to be conscious of the environmental impact different foods have and to try to avoid them wherever that is possible.
And what about pescetarianism, that is, cutting out meat but continuing to eat fish? A report published in 2016 predicted that by 2016 there could be more plastic in the seas than fish. And at least partly, those two problems influence each other. According to the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd, “alongside consumer items … fishing gear such as line, nets, ropes, hooks, and buoys are lost or discarded at sea”. Regardless of all the important and relevant talk about straws and plastic bags, eating fish hugely contributes to the plastic pollution of our oceans, leading to an even bigger decline of marine life.
Without a doubt, incorporating big changes in diet can be hard, particularly if it means cutting out foods that so often have sentimental values or are part of family traditions. But making a commitment towards a more environmentally conscious diet doesn’t always have to be radical, it can come in steps. It doesn’t always have to be a big change, or a big choice, it can be ordering a chicken burger instead of a beef one, or to get an oat milk cappuccino whenever that option is available. The important thing to remember is that we can be making small choices every day about the way we treat this planet.