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Real Climate Action Starts With What's on Your Plate

Climate

Global food systems are at the root of many man-made challenges, but they could also be the catalysts for creating healthy and sustainable societies. No matter what political ambitions we put forward for the future, real change starts on our plates. Today, we launch the EAT in Sustainia publication that highlights the opportunities and solutions outlining the food systems of tomorrow.

2015 is a year filled with hope for political action on the world’s biggest challenges. A week ago, the UN adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, which range from eradicating poverty and hunger, to protecting our land and oceans, to limiting climate change. In December this year, the COP21 political negotiations in Paris offer an opportunity for the world’s heads of state to agree on an ambitious and binding agreement on emission targets. And today is World Food Day, which urges the global community to realize the connection between food and rural poverty.

Climate change, hunger, inequality, poverty, protection of land and oceans, reduction of global emissions. While these seem like disconnected challenges, there is one key thread that connects them and offers an entry point for change: food!

By now, it is an established fact that our current food systems are unsustainable for our planet, our health, and our economics. The food and agriculture sector is responsible for up to 29 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and its share could increase an additional 30 percent by 2050.

Moreover, our food systems are failing at one of their most basic jobs: keeping us healthy. In 2015, approximately 795 million people do not have enough food, 1.9 billion are consuming too much, and 2 billion suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that dietary factors account for at least 30 percent of all cancers in Western countries and up to 20 percent in developing countries.

This is putting a strain on global economies and the loss of biodiversity and the costs of NCDs are counted in trillions.

Looking ahead, we risk scaling up unhealthy and unsustainable systems to meet the appetites of the 9.7 billion people that will walk this earth in 2050. In order to create truly sustainable societies, food has to become a focus point.

We Can't Create Change on an Empty Stomach

Zooming in on the SDGs we see that many are either directly or indirectly related to food, and thus present us with the opportunity to use sustainable food systems as entry-points to achieving the SDG agenda.

For instance, a goal of creating good jobs and economic growth cannot overlook that farming represents the largest employment sector in the world. Smallholder farmers provide up to 80 percent of the food supply in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. 
Providing them with better access to resources, innovations, and markets will not only help the individual farmer to secure a more sustainable livelihood, but also create ripple effects for his or her family, and local economy.

If we wish to eradicate poverty, we must remember that the global food crisis of 2007-2008—caused
by soaring food prices—forced 100 million
 people into poverty in low- and middle-income countries.

And if we wish to combat gender inequality, we must realize that rural women in developing countries produce between 60-80 percent of the food in their home nations and are responsible for half of the world’s total food production. Yet, women own less than 2 percent of land globally.

Many of the man-made challenges we face are complex and interconnected, but recalibrating our food systems to become healthy and sustainable will catalyze positive change in all areas of society.

Luckily, all over the world, solutions are sprouting within the triple-helix of food, health, and sustainability and these opportunities are outlining the food systems of tomorrow.

The publication EAT in Sustainia gathers some of the best opportunities and solutions within the food sector and offers concrete examples and inspiration of how food can be used to create sustainable societies and healthy lives.

From solar-powered irrigation in Kenya to nudging in Norway, local innovations, technologies and initiatives are proving that better food systems are possible. However, bottom-up change alone isn’t enough.

As we go forward with our trying to reach political targets for creating a more sustainable world, collaboration and co-creation between politicians, food producers, farmers, scientists and consumers offers the only viable road to lasting change.

EAT in Sustainia is a collaboration between Sustainia and the global initiative EAT and merges the newest knowledge on health, food and sustainability and ready and available solutions. Download it here free of charge.

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Protesters holding signs in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en Nation outside the Canadian Consulate in NYC. The Indigenous Peoples Day NYC Committee (IPDNYC), a coalition of 13 Indigenous Peoples and indigenous-led organizations gathered outside the Canadian Consulate and Permanent Mission to the UN to support the Wet'suwet'en Nation in their opposition to a Coastal GasLink pipeline scheduled to enter their traditional territory in British Columbia, Canada. Erik McGregor / LightRocket / Getty Images

Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system

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Horseshoe Bend (seen above) is a horseshoe-shaped meander of the Colorado River in Page, Arizona. didier.camus / Flickr / public domain

Millions of people rely on the Colorado River, but the climate crisis is causing the river to dry up, putting many at risk of "severe water shortages," according to new research, as The Guardian reported.

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An alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, as seen here in Christmas Valley, South Lake Tahoe, California on Feb. 15, 2020. jcookfisher / CC BY 2.0

California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.

The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.

On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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