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How Changes in Our Diet Can Help Mitigate Climate Change
By Anne-Sophie Brändlin
October 16 marks World Food Day this year, a day celebrated every year by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
World Food Day is a call to make healthy and sustainable diets affordable and accessible for everyone, while nurturing the planet at the same time.
But how can this be achieved?
One way, according to a new study, would be to introduce different ways for countries across the world to adapt their diets.
Researchers at the U.S. based Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future looked at diets in 140 countries across the world and measured the ecological impact of their food production in order to identify ways to mitigate climate change.
The study, called Country-specific dietary shifts to mitigate climate and water crises found that an important first step would be to shift Europe and the United States away from a diet heavy in meat and dairy.
But study co-author, Martin Bloem, notes that the solutions needed are not one-size-fits-all.
"The situation for poorer countries is not the same as for high-income countries and the solutions for high-income countries are much more straight-forward," Bloem said.
Why Meat and Dairy Are Bad for the Climate
Livestock are responsible for almost 15 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the FAO.
Cattle is the biggest culprit. Raised for both beef and milk, cows represent about 65 percent of the livestock sector's emissions, followed by pork (9 percent), buffalo milk (8 percent), and poultry and eggs (8 percent).
A byproduct of cow digestion is methane (CH4) and accounts for the majority of livestock emissions. The greenhouse gas is estimated to be at least 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
But livestock production is also responsible for other greenhouse gas emissions, such as nitrous oxide (N20) and carbon dioxide (CO2), mainly through the production of their feed, which often involves large applications of nitrogen-based fertilizers.
The Opposite Approach to Combat Hunger?
But with over 800 million people still going hungry every day, impact on the climate cannot be the only guide for what people eat, the study points out.
Animal source foods, specifically milk and eggs, are in fact a valuable source of protein and nutrients like calcium, which are especially important for young children and pregnant women.
"Some countries, such as Indonesia, India and most of the African countries may actually need to dramatically increase their greenhouse gas emissions and water use, because they have to combat hunger and stunting," Bloem said.
In these countries, there is still a 40 percent rate of stunting, a side effect of undernutrition that results in lower than average growth in children.
Stunting also has a major, long-term impact on the cognitive abilities of the children.
"It's irreversible by the age of two, so stunting has huge implications for the human capital in those countries. That's why it's very critical that we prevent stunting and we need animal source foods for that," Bloem said. "We cannot keep that out of the equation when talking about climate protection."
Another solution, according to Bloem, would be to fortify certain products, like cereal. This would help reduce the need to get nutrients through animal products. It's a practice already in use in many developed countries, but so far hasn't been applied in many poorer countries.
Fish Could Make All the Difference
Diets in which protein came predominantly from low food chain animals – such as small fish and mollusks – were found to have nearly as low of an environmental impact as a vegan diet.
"Small fish are really critical for poor people, particularly in Africa and Asia, as that's one of the main sources for protein and calcium, because the milk intake is very low in those countries," Bloem said.
"But 80% of all the fish produced nowadays actually comes from Asia and is imported in Europe and the US. And the feed for some of these bigger fish we import are actually those smaller fish, which means the poorer people have no more access to this vital source of protein and calcium."
Researchers also determined that a diet that reduced animal food consumption by two-thirds – termed by study authors as going "two-thirds vegan" – generally had a lower climate and water footprint than vegetarian diets that included eggs and diary, but not fish.
Where You Get Your Food From Matters
Researchers also found that local production wasn't always the best way to go from a climate perspective.
The production of one pound (0.45 kilograms) of beef in Paraguay, for instance, contributes nearly 17 times more greenhouse gases than one pound of beef produced in Denmark. Often, this disparity came from deforestation to create grazing land, according to the study.
"So a food's country of origin can have enormous consequences for the climate," Bloem said.
"In Europe the soil is much more fertile, for instance, which makes the production there more efficient. So trade could actually be good for the climate if food is produced in places where the climate impact is the lowest," Bloem said, adding that this is the case even when emissions from transportation are factored in.
The study concludes that middle- and low-income countries need to be guided and supported by developed countries to avoid environmental mistakes the planet is already paying for.
"It needs to be a close collaboration between developed and developing countries. It's a joint problem. We are all in this together," Bloem said.
Another way industrialized countries could reduce their impact on the climate is reducing food waste — one-third of all food produced worldwide ends up in the bin, with Europeans on average throwing away 95 kilograms (209 lbs) of food per person, per year. In low-income African countries south of the Sahara, it's only 6 kilograms (13 lbs).
Context Is Key
But despite the findings, one key conclusion of the report is that there aren't always straight-forward answers, according to Bloem.
"That's why we conducted analyses in all these different countries so that you can see what the most optimal way is for each individual country – but also the entire world to deal with diets and health criteria, as well as climate and sustainability," he said.
In the end, the study came up with nine plant-forward diets, ranging from no red meat to pescatarian (a vegetarian diet that includes seafood), lacto-ovo vegetarian (a vegetarian diet that includes dairy and eggs), to vegan, which are to be presented to policymakers in each country.
At the same time, the study urges people in the Western world to do more.
Baby boomers in the developed world, for instance, on average spend less than 10% of their income on food, while the same generation in countries like Nigeria, Kenya or Bangladesh spends 50 to 60% of their income on food, according to Bloem.
"For us in the Western world, we can pay more for our food so that we can pay for the unintended consequences."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Deutsche Welle.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Julia Conley
A new campaign unveiled this weekend by the nonprofit organization Fossil Free Media aims to expand on the goals of the fossil fuel divestment movement, cutting into oil and gas companies' profit margins through their public relations and ad campaigns.
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By Jason Farley
COVID-19 has disrupted our daily lives, and it is poised to completely disrupt the holiday season. As people make holiday plans and think about ways to reduce the risks to their loved ones, a strategy is essential.
Are masks really necessary at family gatherings?<p>If you're gathering with friends and family who don't live in your home, yes. Just because you're with people you know doesn't mean you're safe from the coronavirus. Infection rates are <a href="https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/new-cases-50-states" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">higher now than they have ever been</a> in the U.S., and <a href="https://youtu.be/ehdgceGzQxs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">small gatherings have been a source</a> of viral spread. All it takes is one infected person who doesn't know they have the coronavirus to infect others.</p><p>Remember, people can be <a href="https://medical.mit.edu/covid-19-updates/2020/07/how-long-symptom-onset-person-contagious" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">contagious two to three days</a> before symptoms show – that's one thing that makes this virus so hard to stop. And it's why, even if you feel fine, you should wear a mask.</p><p>The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that when both people are wearing masks, the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/masking-science-sars-cov2.html" target="_blank">likelihood of infection is low</a>.</p>
Who am I protecting when I wear a mask?<p>In a word: everyone. The coronavirus <a href="https://theconversation.com/aerosols-are-a-bigger-coronavirus-threat-than-who-guidelines-suggest-heres-what-you-need-to-know-142233" target="_blank">spreads through respiratory droplets</a> that you send out into the air when you talk, sing or even just breathe. The tiniest of these droplets can float on air currents for long periods.</p><p>Face masks stop many of those droplets, reducing the amount of virus in the air. That lowers your chances of getting infected, and it also lowers the chances that you'll infect someone else.</p><p><a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/masking-science-sars-cov2.html" target="_blank">Studies of people who had prolonged exposure</a> to others with COVID-19 have demonstrated how masks can reduce the chance of the virus spreading. In general, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/masking-science-sars-cov2.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">well-fitted cloth masks</a> made up of multiple layers can stop most large droplets and at least half of the tiny ones. Plastic <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.10.05.20207241" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">face shields</a> alone are far less effective. <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/08/13/cdc-mask-guidance-masks-valves/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Face masks with valves or vents</a> might be good for construction work, but they don't stop the wearer from breathing out virus into the air.</p>
Can I reuse a mask and when should I replace it?<p>Reusable masks should be kept clean and dry. We're moving into cold and flu season, and noses get drippy. A rule of thumb: Anytime a mask is wet to the point that you can discern the wetness, it's time for a new one if it's disposable, or it's time to clean your reusable mask.</p><p>Wetness allows viruses to more easily move through paper or fabric because it allows the threads to move and may reduce the electrostatic charge in the masks that add extra protection with some fabrics.</p><p>In general, you can use a mask that stays clean and dry for about a week before you need to wash or discard it.</p>
How should I clean a cloth mask?<p>Washing your mask is like washing your clothes. You know when it is time.</p><p>In general, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-wash-cloth-face-coverings.html" target="_blank">cleaning your mask weekly</a> should be sufficient. If odors develop before then, it's a good idea to wash it sooner. Odor generally means bacterial buildup.</p><p>Cleaning your mask by hand with soap and water is your best option. Using a general detergent on a gentle cycle in the washing machine is also fine, but that may increase the risk of damage, depending on the quality of the material. COVID-19 is not a hardy virus. Any soap or detergent should work fine. There's no need for special chemicals, bleach or harsh soaps.</p><p>Be careful to remove any inserts before washing. Inserted filters are generally not washable.</p><p>Air drying masks works best. Remember, masks should be completely dry before use. So be sure to have a replacement mask handy while the one you just washed dries.</p><p>Sunlight is always a great source of heat to dry your mask. Also, sunlight has ultraviolet radiation, which has been shown to <a href="http://doi.org/10.1111/php.13293" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eliminate coronavirus</a> and is also known to have antibacterial properties.</p>
Can I wear the mask below my nose?<p>Wearing your mask below your nose is, frankly, ridiculous.</p><p>Think about it. If you are breathing through your nose and only covering your mouth, you are effectively eliminating the point of the mask. Properly wearing a mask requires covering both your nose and mouth at all times.</p><p>Studies show that wearing a proper cloth mask or surgical mask while exercising <a href="http://doi.org/10.1513/AnnalsATS.202008-990CME" target="_blank">doesn't affect the flow of oxygen</a> or carbon dioxide in any detectable way. So, unless you have serious heart and lung problems, that isn't an excuse.</p>
How do I safely remove my mask if I’m going to eat or drink?<p>When you <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-to-wash-cloth-face-coverings.html" target="_blank">take your mask off</a>, remove it carefully by the straps without touching anything else and put it somewhere safe, like wrapped in paper in a purse, bag or pocket. Then wash your hands or use hand sanitizer. When you put it back on, wash your hands again.</p>
So, how can I have a safe holiday gathering?<p>The safest way to celebrate this year is to do so with members only within your household. The <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CDC is now stressing that point</a>, as well. If you do celebrate with friends and relatives from outside your household, you need an action plan to reduce the risk of exposure.</p><p>Here are five recommendations:</p><ul><li>Limit the number of people – fewer people means fewer opportunities for exposure, and you'll have more room to spread out.</li><li>Require masks when not eating or drinking.</li><li>Use physical distancing when eating. Try to seat people <a href="https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m3223" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least 6 feet apart</a>. Eat outside if you can.</li><li>Consider being tested for COVID-19 before traveling or gathering. It's not a guarantee, but it can help flag illnesses. Remember to self-isolate between the test and the event.</li><li>Be prepared to self-isolate for 14 days after traveling or participating in any event that involves people from outside your home.</li></ul><p>[<em>Research into coronavirus and other news from science</em> <a href="https://theconversation.com/us/newsletters/science-editors-picks-71/?utm_source=TCUS&utm_medium=inline-link&utm_campaign=newsletter-text&utm_content=science-corona-research" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Subscribe to The Conversation's new science newsletter</a>.]</p><p><em>The map has been updated with New Hampshire announcing a mask mandate effective Nov. 20.</em></p><p><em>Jason Farley is a professor, infectious disease-trained epidemiologist and nurse practitioner at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.<br></em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Jason Farley, PhD, MPH, ANP-BC, FAAN receives funding from the National Institutes of Health on the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics for COVID-19 and Becton Dickinson for studies on SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-face-masks-belong-at-your-thanksgiving-gathering-7-things-you-need-to-know-about-wearing-them-150130" target="_blank">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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By Tara Lohan
How much of U.S. energy demand could be met by renewable sources?
According to a new report from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the answer is an easy 100%.
Graphic: ILSR, Energy Self-Reliant States 2020