• Jessica Evans

How what you eat can save the world

A few months ago the UN announced to the world that we have 11 years before we reach an irreversible point in climate change. Once we reach this point we can expect a higher incidence of drought, flooding, fires and food insecurity as well as a rise in the sea level. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Temperatures fluctuate naturally but there has been a steady increase in temperature and carbon dioxide concentration since the first industrial revolution.

The current carbon concentration in the atmosphere is higher than ever. The last time it reached proportions this large was about 270 million years ago. Graph by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser from Our World in Data.

You don't have to be a specialist to see that global temperatures have increased with the atmospheric concentration of CO2. Graph by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser from Our World in Data.

You may find yourself talking about climate change loads. Inevitably, if you don’t say it, someone does. “I wish there was something I could do.”

WELL, get cosy, friends. Although a lot of greenhouse gas emissions are governmental or industrial responsibility, there is something you can do. There’s a lot you can do if you’re willing to make a few sacrifices . You’ll need to make changes to your lifestyle.

In 2016, South Africa released about 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the environment. And although a lot of this is due to our burning of poor quality coal for electricity, you have more power than you know.

South Africa released around 500 million tonnes of CO2 into the environment in 2016. Graph by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser from Our World in Data.

You need to get to places, so this isn't about transport. You need electricity, and not everyone can afford solar panels and it’s largely the responsibility of the government to employ green energy, so this isn't about energy either.

This is something you can actually do that will make a difference to your own carbon footprint and the more people who do it, the better our chances are for manageable climate change.

You can live your life however you want. But if you want to reduce your carbon impact you should consider reducing meat and dairy.

Here’s why:

In the US, just one kilogram of beef produces 26,5 kilograms of carbon! That’s because all the food put into raising cows uses carbon in the form of fossil fuel pesticides.

All the farting and burping of methane by cows is also a huge contributor to global climate change. Methane is 25 times more effective at trapping heat than CO2. In 2012, South African methane emissions were at 63 155 tonnes.

In 2008, 31% of South Africa's methane emissions came from agriculture, second only to energy.

14,635 tonnes of South African methane emissions in 2008 were derived from agriculture. Graph by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser from Our World in Data.

Most meat and dairy has a high carbon cost. So it isn’t great for the planet. You don’t have to be vegan. But you can start reducing how much meat and dairy you consume, even if just a little at first.

As the market for meat and dairy gets smaller, less and less land will be deforested for agriculture. Like the ocean, forests are a vital carbon sink and can suck up loads of what we put out into the air!

Conversely, if we dig up forests to make way for agriculture, we release loads of greenhouse gases that only hasten global warming. In 2010 alone, all the greenhouse gases released from forests that were deforested added up to 1,18 million gigagrams of greenhouse gas.

Reducing meat and dairy is also good for your budget. Unless you buy meat and dairy alternatives, veganism and even reduced meat and dairy consumption is relatively affordable.

All this info can be a lot to digest (see what I did there?) but you mustn't feel overwhelmed and you mustn't feel like your consumption won't make a difference. Remember, just one kilogram of beef produces 26,5 kilograms of carbon. And with less than 11 years until catastrophe, every kilogram counts.

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©2018 by Bite-sized Sci | Jessica Evans