How Eating Beans Instead of Beef Will Save You and the Planet
By Susan Levin
As the world's second largest greenhouse gas emitter, the United States' withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement drastically curbs international efforts to fight global warming. But concerned Americans don't have to feel powerless. It turns out that simple choices we make every day—or three times a day—have the power to help protect our planet.
Recently, researchers from Loma Linda University released a new study finding that if Americans simply replaced the beef in their diets with beans, the U.S. would immediately reach up to 75 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets for 2020. It confirms what we've known for a while: To protect our warming planet, we must start moving animal products, like meat, cheese and eggs off of our plates. Animal agriculture now contributes more to global warming than all forms of transportation combined.
The livestock industry also gobbles up massive amounts of resources, including land. Part of the problem is that growing and then converting animals, especially cows, into food is tremendously inefficient. By some estimates, just one percent of the calories fed to cattle eventually translate into human-edible calories. That means that acres upon acres of land are devoted to growing crops or livestock feed, instead of food for humans. In fact, a whopping 80 percent of protein from U.S. crops is fed to animals. This would be enough to feed one billion people: every last person in the U.S., Canada and South America combined.
On top of that, meat production gulps up huge amounts of water. We usually think about shorter showers and drier lawns when we think about water conservation, but agriculture accounts for 80 to 90 percent of our water consumption. Think of it this way: An average American's daily shower requires about 17 gallons of water. Making a single hamburger guzzles up a staggering 660 gallons. Producing a pound of beef requires a total of 1,800 gallons of water. To put it in perspective, producing just 3.5 pounds of beef—or 10 burgers—requires the same amount of water as an entire year's worth of showers.*
So what can we do? The Loma Linda researchers were on the right track when they proposed swapping beef for beans. Producing equivalent amounts of protein from beans requires just a fraction of the resources needed to make beef. One study found that compared with beef, beans require just one-twentieth of land usage per unit of protein consumed. And when it comes to water, kidney beans require just a tenth of the water needed to produce beef. Even better, ditching the meat altogether in favor of plant-based foods reduces an individual's food-related water footprint by nearly 60 percent.
As an added benefit, it turns out that what's good for the planet is also good for our health. As a dietitian, beans are one of the superfoods I always recommend to my patients. Beans are packed with protein, but unlike animal products, they're low in the fat, saturated fat and cholesterol linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, weight problems, dementia and even some types of cancer.
Beans are also packed with fiber, an important nutrient 97 percent of Americans fall short on. Fiber, which is only found in plant foods, can help control weight, lower cholesterol and even fight off cancer. Fiber also helps control blood glucose, which may be why studies show that beans could play a key role in stemming our growing type 2 diabetes epidemic.
In addition to being versatile—take your pick from black, pinto, kidney, garbanzo, navy, soy and more—beans are also easy on the wallet. A pound of pinto beans runs for about $1.20, while a pound of lean ground beef now costs $5.70.
Choosing more plant-based foods is an astonishingly simple solution to so many of our nation's problems. As the mother of a toddler, I'm concerned. Unless something changes, our next generation—predicted to be the first to face a shorter life expectancy than their parents—is in trouble. Already, about a third of children today are overweight or obese, and a third will eventually develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetimes. By the time today's kids reach adulthood, projections show that health care spending will account for a third of our GDP. On top of that, they face the ever-increasing threat of global warming, fading air quality, flooding, and all of the health problems that accompany these disasters.
By simply incorporating more plant foods into our diets, we could exponentially find solutions for all of these problems without waiting for our leaders or policies to catch up with us. Our children's health and the planet are worth it.
*one shower = 17.2 gallons of water; producing one pound of beef = 1,800 gallons of water; showering for one year = the equivalent of producing just 3.48 pounds of beef; 17.2 gallons of water x 365 days = 6,278 gallons of water; 6,278 gallons of water / 1,800 gallons of water = 3.48 pounds of beef; 6,278 / 660 gallons to produce a burger = 9.5 burgers
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
A "trash tsunami" has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.
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By Harry Kretchmer
By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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By Jessica Corbett
In another win for climate campaigners, leaders of 12 major cities around the world — collectively home to about 36 million people — committed Tuesday to divesting from fossil fuel companies and investing in a green, just recovery from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
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