Can your diet really help save the planet? | The Tylt
Can your diet really help save the planet?
According to a 2018 study from Nature, the food system is a major driver for climate change. The report concludes that what you eat does have an impact on the environment, and given the dire prognosis for the planet, more people should take on plant-based diets in order to help:
Here we show that between 2010 and 2050, as a result of expected changes in population and income levels, the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50–90% in the absence of technological changes and dedicated mitigation measures, reaching levels that are beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity
However, researchers conclude that plant-based diets are not enough to save the planet on their own; a trend towards plant-based diets, improvements in technology and reduction in food waste comprise a three-pronged approach that "will be needed to sufficiently mitigate the projected increase in environmental pressures."
Others have quite a different perspective. According to Sustainable Food Trust's Richard Young, those claiming that everyone should adopt plant-based diets are not thinking about the consequences beyond limiting greenhouse gas emissions; if everyone ate a plant-based diet, new problems would come into view.
For example, according to Young, crop and vegetable growers would not be able to produce the volume that they do (or a surplus, if the population was even more dependent on their crops) without dangerous pesticides, which many believe to be carcinogens. Plus, there is also soil degradation and the decline of pollinating insects to worry about.
Contrary to popular belief, continuous crop production is not sustainable. That’s the mistake made by the Sumerians 5,000 years ago in what is now Iraq, and the Romans in North Africa 2,000 years ago, and in both cases the soils have never recovered...we actually need to reintroduce grass and grazing animals into arable crop rotations.
There are many things we do which have far higher negative impacts, most of which are non-essential and do not bring with them the unique benefits that come from grazing animals.
CNN's Lisa Drayer spoke with the Nature study's author, Marco Springmann on how an individual diet can make an impact on the world.
Adopting more plant-based diets for ourselves could reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the food system by more than half...A mainly plant-based diet could also reduce other environmental impacts, such as those from fertilizers, and save up to quarter use of both farmland and fresh water, according to Springmann.
And if you're not ready to jump on the vegan or vegetarian train, experts say going "flexitarian" can still help. Essentially, you eat plant-based whenever you can, but you can add in meats where necessary or when you want them. As Springmann puts it:
Vegetarian and vegan diets would result in even lower greenhouse gas emissions, but a flexitarian diet 'is the least stringent that is both healthy and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough for us to stay within environmental limits.'
According to the BBC, demand for quinoa, a popular source of protein among vegans and vegetarians, caused a decrease in soil fertility and pushed llamas out of their natural grazing lands. Demand for the soybean, the foundation of many vegan foods, resulted in some of the Amazon rainforest being cut down.
There's a balance to be struck between eating meat and eating plants, but going totally plant-based in the name of saving the planet is probably not the answer.