In a recent article, George C. Wang, M.D., Ph.D., made a strong case for the impact our daily food choices have on climate change. “It may sound hyperbolic that our roast beef sandwich is contributing to environmental degradation of the planet,” Wang wrote, but mounting evidence reveals exactly that. While these words may sound dire, Wang does not condemn anyone’s choices. Instead, he encourages us all to view this as an incredible opportunity to make a measurable difference, simply by “taking what we eat as seriously as we take climate change.”
Stopping “The Most Significant Driver” of Climate Change
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified greenhouse gases as “the most significant driver” of climate change. Between 1990 and 2015, the warming effect of greenhouse gases added by humans to the Earth’s atmosphere rose by nearly 40%. When facing such a massive, looming danger, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, and to wonder what role an individual can play in halting the damage humans have done to the planet.
One option we can all put into practice today is to learn about the greenhouse gas emissions associated with different foods, and make our food selections accordingly. Statistics show that, per gram of protein, emissions generated from the production of beef and lamb are 250 times higher than those generated from the production of legumes. And the production of pork and poultry generates 40 times more emissions than the production of legumes.
Can Plant-Based Diets Save the Planet?
According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the
United States of America, a global shift toward a more plant-based diet could reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29 to 70% by 2050!
The study’s authors evaluated a range of diets, all of which represent a shift away from the meat-heavy norm. They found that by eating less meat while opting for more fruits and vegetables, Earth’s population could reduce greenhouse gas emission by nearly 30%. If we cut out meat all together, we could reduce emissions by 63 to 70%, and by omitting eggs and dairy, we could produce a further 15% reduction.
In short, adopting a plant-based diet is, as Wang put it, “one of the most powerful choices an individual can make in mitigating environmental degradation and depletion of Earth’s natural resources.”
How to (Finally) Commit to a Plant-Based Diet
There are many reasons why people find it difficult to commit to a plant-based diet, for instance…
- Learning new ways to cook
- Finding food options while traveling
- Letting go of old favorite meals
- Concerns over navigating social situations and meal sharing
You don’t need to make the change all at once. Every choice about what you’re going to eat offers you a chance to reduce your impact on the planet. For some, that might mean choosing a chicken wrap instead of a burger. For others, it might mean preparing meals in advance so you’ll have an easy, vegetarian option at the ready. “It is rare,” writes Wang, “that a single choice of ours can have a broad and decisive impact on the climate crisis.” Make the most of this power, and protect the health of the planet for generations to come.