Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Michael Pollan: It's Time to Choose Climate-Friendly Food

Climate
Michael Pollan: It's Time to Choose Climate-Friendly Food

When the international climate negotiators assembling in Paris this week sit down for dinner, they might reflect on the climate impact of their meal.

Indeed, in the midst of a growing—and very encouraging—global conversation on how to address the common threat of climate change, far too little attention has been paid at the highest levels to the impact of our diets and farming practices on planet-warming emissions.

If we are serious about changing the climate, we need to get serious about changing agriculture. Photo credit: Common Dreams

To put it another way: if we are serious about changing the climate, we need to get serious about changing agriculture.

The climate impact of fossil fuel-based—and, not incidentally, extremely unhealthy—industrial agriculture and processed food is still far from common coin in climate discussions that focus mainly on coal plants, oil refineries and motor vehicles.

But while energy is indeed the top source of greenhouse gas emissions, the food system is #2. The best available estimates suggest that industrial agriculture and livestock account for as much as a third of the total emissions causing climate change. This situation has its roots in decades of unsustainable agriculture, particularly excessive meat consumption (more than a quarter of the Earth's land is now used, directly or indirectly, to raise animals for human consumption), monoculture farming and the overuse of nitrogen fertilizers. As I've noted elsewhere,

"Approximately one-third of the carbon [now] in the atmosphere had formerly been sequestered in soils in the form of organic matter, but since we began plowing and deforesting, we'[ve] been releasing huge quantities of this carbon into the atmosphere ... the food system as a whole—that includes agriculture, food processing and food transportation—contribute[s] somewhere between 20-30 percent of the greenhouse gases produced by civilization—more than any other sector except energy."

Moreover, these emissions are strongly associated with foods and diets that we now know are very unhealthy.

Industrial food and especially industrial meat, contains pesticides, hormones and antibiotics suspected to contribute to many diseases. More generally the so-called "Western diet," which includes large amounts of meat and highly processed foods, is associated with higher levels of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer. In contrast, people who eat mainly plant-based diets and unprocessed foods have far lower rates of these diseases.

So what can we do? Simple: we can make a choice—one that will benefit both our planet and our health. I discuss these issues—and these choices—in a new documentary, Time To Choose, which will stream live on the Huffington Post starting this morning just as the UN global climate talks get under way in Paris.

Either we can continue to feed ourselves using millions of gallons of fossil fuels to make synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to support the unsustainable monocultures that undergird the present food system or we can turn towards modern organic and regenerative agriculture. The good news is that, thanks to the innovations pioneered by our most creative farmers, we already know how to do the right thing.

We can produce healthier food while at the same time storing carbon in soil—carbon taken from the atmosphere, thereby helping to reverse climate change. Farmers, consumers, entrepreneurs and elected officials the world over are beginning to implement sustainable agriculture on a large scale. But far more needs to be done—and the more people know about the challenge and the solutions, the closer we'll be to a sustainable food system.

So here's hoping that our leaders take a good, long look at their plates in Paris and reflect on how a crucial part of the climate solution is right at the end of their forks.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

27 Examples of Journalists Failing to Disclose Sources as Funded by Monsanto


OlgaMiltsova / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Gwen Ranniger

In the midst of a pandemic, sales of cleaning products have skyrocketed, and many feel a need to clean more often. Knowing what to look for when purchasing cleaning supplies can help prevent unwanted and dangerous toxics from entering your home.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter


JasonOndreicka / iStock / Getty Images

Twenty-five years ago, a food called Tofurky made its debut on grocery store shelves. Since then, the tofu-based roast has become a beloved part of many vegetarians' holiday feasts.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Protestors walk past an image of a Native American woman during a march to "Count Every Vote, Protect Every Person" after the U.S. presidential Election in Seattle, Washington on November 4. Jason Redmond / AFP / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."

Read More Show Less
Marilyn Angel Wynn / Getty Images

By Christina Gish Hill

Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.

Read More Show Less
Former U.S. Sec. of Energy Ernest Moniz listens during the National Clean Energy Summit 9.0 on October 13, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Isaac Brekken / Getty Images for National Clean Energy Summit

By Jake Johnson

Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.

Read More Show Less