Reduce emissions one bite at a time: Start putting the planet before your protein
by SorayaOh on October 7, 2016 - 3:21pm
What if reducing your impact on the climate can be cheaper than purchasing an electric car, easier than going off the grid, and more convenient than riding your bike to work? Would you take part if science had an answer, even if it meant a small sacrifice in appetite?
According to a new report, you can shrink your carbon footprint simply by reducing your intake of animal-based protein. The report done by the World Resources Institute and reported on by the Toronto Star in the article “What we eat has bigger consequences for the planet than we ever thought”, studied the effects of different diet shifts that would cut back on agricultural land use and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The results: reducing animal-based proteins in diets of 1.9 billion people could reduce agricultural land use by 13% and greenhouse gas emissions by 10%.
The authors state that the goal is not to advocate for global vegetarianism, as that is not realistic, but instead to encourage a small diet shift that could have big impacts. Decreasing beef consumption would have the biggest single impact and could cut down GHGs and land use by 6%.
Research on food sustainability is becoming increasingly vital as the population is expected to reach over 9 billion by 2050 and according to estimates by the United Nations, 70% more food will be needed by then.
This article did not surprise me as I have learned about the impacts of agriculture in school, and am myself a vegetarian. But, every time I see the numbers behind it I get a little more disheartened regarding the gravity of the situation. Our future relies on the choices we make now. Diet is one of the easiest things to change on a personal scale without relying on the state or stakeholders to make the sustainable decisions for the planet.
Although the Canadian media draws attention to the issue of livestock and sustainability every once in a while, it does not usually delve deep or for long periods of time because Canadians can be very protective of their farming, especially beef and dairy. I noticed this in the summer surrounding the backlash when Earls, a Vancouver based restaurant chain, switched from Canadian beef to Certified Human Beef from the States. I was living in Alberta, where beef is a large part of the economy and there was a lot of uproar. Animal agriculture is heavily subsidized in Canada.
This brings up the issue of having a staples economy. If our economy relies too heavily on raw materials, such as beef, it is not very sustainable and has to be managed effectively. But what about when we rely economically on these markets that cause environmental degradation?
This is a value conflict in Canada when it comes to management because there are different ideas about what should be valued and prioritized by the state. I would argue that people should be encouraged (through advertisements, education, school curriculum, etc.) to pursue lifestyle choices such as diet that are best for the environment and health. But currently most outreach encourages Canadians to have pride in and support Canadian animal agriculture for the good of our economy, which clearly aligns with the values of the industry.
This article shows that the science is in and we cannot ignore the impact of our industries and choices. I think it is time we start shaping the economy to fit environmental goals rather than sacrificing the environment to fit our economy.
Further reading regarding Earls: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/we-made-a-mistake-earls-rev...