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.
By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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By Maria Caffrey
As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.