Quantcast

How Cities Can Meat the Climate Challenge

Food

By Kari Hamerschlag and Christopher D. Cook

Addressing a crowd of mayors gathered in his hometown last week, former President Obama called on the "new faces of American leadership" on climate change to take swift action to spare our children and grandchildren from a climate catastrophe. Twenty-five U.S. mayors signed the "Chicago Charter," affirming a commitment from their cities to meet the Paris agreement target for greenhouse gas reductions by 2025.


Many of these leaders made commitments to pursue aggressive strategies like purchasing 100 percent renewable energy and fuel-efficient vehicles. But the list of climate commitments that emerged from the Chicago Charter omitted a critical sector, accounting for about one fourth of global emissions: food

As a coalition of dozens of environmental and health groups point out in a recent letter to the signatories of the "We Are Still In" declaration, municipal climate mitigation efforts will be "ineffective in halting climate change if we do not also significantly slash emissions embedded in the food we eat." That's because, simply put, the world cannot meet climate targets without curbing consumption of animal products, which are responsible for far more emissions than plant-based foods.

Cities and counties can address the food sector's significant impact on climate change by buying less meat and dairy and offering more plant-forward items on menus in large food venues operating on municipal property, like hospitals and airports.

Eating less meat for health and environmental reasons is backed up by science. Since the U.S. consumes 2.6 times more meat than the global average and 66 percent more protein than we need, there is plenty of room for more fruits, veggies and healthy grains on our plates.

Compared to other climate mitigation strategies, shifting how institutions buy food can be a relatively simple, cost-effective way to downsize our carbon footprint while improving access to healthy food. A case study from the Oakland Unified School District in California shows how successful this can be, slashing the school's food service carbon footprint 14 percent by buying less meat and dairy and offering more plant-based proteins, fruits and vegetables. This not only saved the carbon emissions equivalent to driving 1.5 million fewer miles annually, it also trimmed food service costs and earned high marks from the kids.

Despite these "win-win," benefits, fewer than five percent of municipalities have even basic healthy food service guidelines or nutrition standards. This presents a major opportunity to boost public health and climate action. The Meat of the Matter, a new report by Friends of the Earth and the Responsible Purchasing Network, lays out a roadmap for cities and counties to achieve progress on climate goals and healthy food access by changing the kinds of food they buy and shifting menus in large food venues.

We have the research and tools to help city and county leaders go further in their climate ambitions, and at the same time, use tax dollars more wisely and promote public health. As the Chicago Charter declares, and increasingly frequent climate catastrophes confirm, there is no time to lose. Reducing meat consumption is a pivotal piece of the puzzle and local government leaders can make an important contribution by putting less meat on the menu of climate change solutions.

Kari Hamerschlag is deputy director for food and farming at Friends of the Earth and Christopher D. Cook is the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A. Battenburg / Technical University of Munich

By Sarah Kennedy

Algae in a pond may look flimsy. But scientists are using algae to develop industrial-strength material that's as hard as steel but only a fraction of the weight.



Read More Show Less
Variety of fermented food korean traditional kimchi cabbage and radish salad. white and red sauerkraut in ceramic plates over grey spotted background. Natasha Breen / REDA&CO / Universal Images Group / Getty Image

By Anne Danahy, MS, RDN

Even if you've never taken probiotics, you've probably heard of them.

These supplements provide numerous benefits because they contain live microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, which support the healthy bacteria in your gut (1, 2, 3, 4).

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

Singapore will become the first country in the world to place a ban on advertisements for carbonated drinks and juices with high sugar contents, its health ministry announced last week. The law is intended to curb sugar consumption since the country has some of the world's highest diabetes rates per capita, as Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less

A typical adult takes around 20,000 breaths per day. If you live in a megacity like Beijing, with many of those lungfuls you're likely to inhale a noxious mixture of chemicals and pollutants.

Read More Show Less
Fred Stone holds his brown swiss cow Lida Rose at his Arundel dairy farm on March 18 after a press conference where he spoke about PFAS chemical contamination in his fields. Gregory Rec / Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

By Susan Cosier

First there was Fred Stone, the third-generation dairy farmer in Maine who discovered that the milk from his cows contained harmful chemicals. Then came Art Schaap, a second-generation dairy farmer in New Mexico, who had to dump 15,000 gallons of contaminated milk a day.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Protesters attend the 32nd annual Fur-Free Friday demonstration on Nov. 23, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. Ella DeGea / Getty Images

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that that bans the sale and manufacture of fur products in the state. The fur ban, which he signed into law on Saturday, prohibits Californians from selling or making clothing, shoes or handbags with fur starting in 2023, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
Watchfield Solar Park in England. RTPeat / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Simon Evans

During the three months of July, August and September, renewables generated an estimated total of 29.5 terawatt hours (TWh), compared with just 29.1TWh from fossil fuels, the analysis shows.

Read More Show Less
A demonstrator waves an Ecuadorian flag during protests against the end of subsidies to gasoline and diesel on Oct. 9 in Quito, Ecuador. Jorge Ivan Castaneira Jaramillo / Getty Images

The night before Indigenous Peoples' Day, an Indigenous-led movement in Ecuador won a major victory.

Read More Show Less