Global leaders are assembling in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit, and decisions they make will impact the world’s citizens for several decades. To what degree will they help us to survive on a hotter planet? In what ways will they reconcile disparate views to mitigate what is likely even more dangerous levels of global warming? And, at this critical moment in the efforts to address the climate crisis, what is our part? Is it time for all of us to adopt climatarian diets to strengthen our individual efforts?
A decade ago, the world’s trajectory was to heat up nearly 4 degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century. Now, due to expansion in clean energy adoption, we’re down to a pace for roughly 3 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100. Yet scientists say that this current pace of climate change would bring ecological disaster. The Food Tank extends that argument to say that dysfunctional food systems have created a “triple planetary crisis” of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and a human health crisis.
Major changes in how food is produced are needed if we want to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. Where do we begin if we want to do our part to limit carbon emissions? Could a climatarian diet be an answer?
What is a Climatarian Diet?
When you follow a climatarian diet, you’re conscious how the foods you eat alter the planet. To do your part to reduce carbon emissions, you can choose lower-carbon, environmentally-friendly options. It means considering the carbon footprint and the emission level of the food you’re buying and about to consume.
A climatarian diet focused on whole plant-based foods can also reduce the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and obesity. 60% of the calories people in the US consume come from processed food products, providing enormous amounts of calories and huge corporate profits — but virtually no nutrition. Instead, eating a climatarian diet can increase your overall vitality, mental health, and longevity, says Mark Maslin, author of How to Save our Planet.
Here are some of the ways you can embrace a climatarian approach to eating.
Avoid meat — from factory farms and elsewhere: Meat, generally, and beef, particularly, represent the majority of the carbon footprint in the US consumer diet. If everyone ate a plant-based diet, we’d need 75% less farmland than we use today. The methane that cows emit when they have indigestion is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions as well. This digestive process, called enteric fermentation, releases the heat-trapping gas as a byproduct after it processes the microorganisms in the cow’s gut. Globally, cattle are responsible for 6% of emissions. To set this in context, all agriculture is responsible for about 24% of global GHG emissions.
Choose seasonal fruits and vegetables: Families for centuries raised or bought locally produced foods. In the last few decades, however, consumer food purchases have shifted toward wholesale, processed foods made in centralized plants. Produce that is grown and purchased in season is more nutritionally dense. Crops harvested in season have gotten more sun, which means more antioxidants and reduction of free radicals and inflammation. In contrast, food has been harvested during its ripe stage is often ripened artificially with chemicals, heat processes, and films to avoid spoilage in transit.
Eat sustainable seafood: Seafood Watch explains that, when you choose to buy sustainable seafood, you push suppliers to source more environmentally responsible products, driving significant improvements throughout the industry. The Oceanic Society adds that sustainable seafood sourcing prevents overfishing, minimizes incidental impacts to other ocean wildlife and habitats, identifies and protects essential fish habitats, and takes into account the social and economic impacts on the communities from which the seafood is sourced. Ultimately, your seafood choices have an impact on the health of the ocean.
Seek out local ingredients: Eating locally grown foods has many benefits for the consumer, grower, and the community. It just makes sense: local food travels much less distance to market than typical fresh or processed grocery store foods, therefore, using less fuel and generating fewer greenhouse gases. The more steps there are between you and your food’s source, the more chances there are for contamination. Food grown in distant locations has the potential for food safety issues at harvesting, washing, shipping, and distribution. Food systems as a whole are becoming more energy intensive, reflecting trends in retail, packaging, transport, and processing, says the UN.
Be conscious about food waste: Most people don’t realize how often they waste food and the negative impacts such waste can have for food security, the environment, and climate change. Households, not restaurants or schools or corporate cafeterias, are the dominant wasters. To decrease waste, try using minimally processed (frozen, chopped, or dried) fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These minimally processed foods are less likely to get tossed out—therefore, limiting environmental degradation. When you waste food, according to the USDA, you compromise land, water, labor, energy, and other inputs — all of which become involved in producing, processing, transporting, preparing, storing, and disposing of your discarded food.
Scientists have found that limiting global warming will be impossible without significant changes to how the world eats. However, there are positive signs of momentum toward systemic change in food consumption.
- 28% of the world food supply industry by revenue has a formal, science-based target putting it on a trajectory to halving emissions by 2030.
- Dozens of countries are developing voluntary national food systems pathways.
- Heads of state gathered at the UN Food Systems Summit called for sustainable, healthy, and inclusive food systems.
- The UN Secretary General has pledged to revisit progress on commitments made every 2 years.
- According to IFIC’s 2020 Food and Health Survey, 6 in 10 consumers in the US say it is important that the food products they purchase or consume are produced in an environmentally sustainable way.
Reforming the food system to cool the planet must include new laws, regulations, and corporate practices at all levels of government. But individual consumer behaviors matter, too. As the Atlantic notes, our diets are cooking the planet, and changing them, even in small ways, might help avert catastrophe.
A ribeye steak out at your favorite restaurant, a plastic bag filled with moldy apples, a grapefruit flown across the county — these may not be as obviously detrimental to the environment as a private jet or a gas-guzzling car. But they are choices we make daily, and they contribute to the future of the planet. The decision is yours.