Most Americans Don't Consider Environmental Impacts of Food Choices, but Are Willing to Eat More Plants, Study Finds
Recent books like We Are the Weather advocate for considering how our dietary choices affect the climate crisis, but new research shows that most Americans are not discussing the environmental impacts of their diets with friend and family, as Inverse reported.
The bright side is that almost everyone surveyed said they were willing to eat more fruits and vegetables, while more than half said they were willing to cut down on red meat and choose plant-based alternatives, according to a new report of more than a thousand adults in the U.S. by Yale University and the nonprofit Earth Day Network, as The Verge reported.
The report, Climate Change and the American Diet, found that most survey participants noted a lack of information as the greatest barrier to making plant-based choices. That knowledge could influence nutrition guidelines and food marketing, if policy makers were willing to advocate for climate-friendly policies and stand up to the powerful beef and dairy lobbies. As Inverse reported, making facts about plant-based meat alternatives more accessible could make a big difference, and food labels are the ideal medium to share information.
"If we do not make the connection between food that we're eating and climate change, we're doing ourselves a disservice," said Jillian Semaan, food and environment director at the Earth Day Network to The Verge. "The most immediate action anyone can take [on climate change] today is to look at what they're putting on their plate and what they're putting in their body."
One way to improve the environmental impact of how people eat is to make it a point of conversation. The survey, which gathered answers from more than 1,000 Americans representing a cross-section of society, found that 70 percent rarely or never talk about the environmental impact of their food choices with friends or family. Nearly two-thirds of the Americans surveyed report having never been asked to eat more plant-based foods, and more than half rarely or never hear about the topic in the media, according to a summary from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
"Many American consumers are interested in eating a more healthy and climate-friendly diet," said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, in a press release accompanying the new report. "However, many simply don't know yet which products are better or worse — a huge communication opportunity for food producers, distributors and sellers."
In addition to the 70 percent of people who do not talk about the climate impact of the food they eat, there were some other surprising trends that Inverse reported:
- 94 percent: Are willing to eat more fruits and vegetables
- 54 percent: Are willing to cut down on red meat
- 91 percent: Are "moderately" concerned about health
- 67 percent: Are open to plant-based foods — fruit, vegetables, and dairy alternatives — but only if they taste better than their animal-based alternatives
- 63 percent: Would increase eating of plant-based food, if it costs less than meat
- 30 percent: Hear information about how food affects global warming at least once a month
- 50+ percent: Want to hear more information about food's environmental impact
- 50 percent: Would eat more plant-based foods if their friends and family did
- 13 percent: Would eat more plant-based foods if celebrities did
As The Verge pointed out, meat usually has a much larger carbon footprint than fruits, vegetables and grains. Raising animals for food is resource intensive, taxing land and water supplies. Demand for cattle has led to massive clear-cutting of the Amazon rainforest. There's ample evidence that for people who live in affluent countries, cutting back on meat is the single best thing they can do to fight the climate crisis."This data is a wake-up call for the climate movement," said Semaan in a press release. "Animal agriculture is one of the major drivers of our climate crisis, we need to provide people with the relevant information that connects food choices, animal agriculture and climate change."
A "trash tsunami" has washed ashore on the beaches of Honduras, endangering both wildlife and the local economy.
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More long-finned pilot whales were found stranded today on beaches in Tasmania, Australia. About 500 whales have become stranded, including at least 380 that have died, the AP reported. It is the largest mass stranding in Australia's recorded history.
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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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