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Meal kit delivery services are an easy target for eco-conscious people concerned with waste: the ingredients are meticulously packaged in plastic and insulation, put into cardboard boxes and shipped to the customer's front door each week. But how does all that waste and energy use stack up against the environmental impact of buying the same meal at the grocery store?
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By Marlene Cimons
Gibran Vita makes every effort to get rid of the dispensable. He lives in a small home and wears extra layers indoors to cut his heating bills. He eats and drinks in moderation. He spends his leisure time in "contemplation," volunteering or working on art projects. "I like to think more like a gatherer, that is, 'what do I have?' instead of 'what do I want?'" he said.
By Reynard Loki
Humans have been moving food around the world for thousands of years. Toward the end of the second century BC, merchants traveled along the Silk Road, transporting noodles from Xi'an, grapes from Dayuan and nutmeg from the Moluccas Islands to eager buyers along its 4,000-mile network. While it's possible to trace the evolution of food through that matrix of ancient caravan routes that linked China to the West, it's hard to measure its environmental impact. It's likely that, as with any road, wildlife corridors were disrupted. But greenhouse gas emissions were fairly low, consisting of the methane from the belches and farts of the horses, yaks and Bactrian camels, and the fires that humans burned along the way.
By Meredith Rosenberg
In early October, the United Nations released a climate change report forewarning of global catastrophes (severe flooding, wildfires, droughts) that could begin by 2040 unless drastic changes are made to reduce greenhouse gases. It might seem like a daunting task, but here are five lifestyle changes you can make right now to start reducing your carbon footprint. If you really want to help the planet, follow the next-level suggestions to make the biggest impact.
By Amy McDermott
Food is expensive. Not just for pocketbooks, but for the planet. Worldwide, more than 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from food production. That's methane belched from cows and nitrous oxide escaping from soils, as well as fossil fuels burned by tractors, fishing boats and rumbling transport vehicles. Some foods cost more than others.
Seafood has a smaller carbon footprint than other animal proteins, on average, because fishing doesn't require farmland or care of livestock. But even among seafoods, fish and shellfish can have varying impacts.
By Anna Scott
Want to save the planet? Are you, like me, a young professional struggling to reduce your carbon footprint? Then join me in taking the train to your next professional conference.
Most of my low-carbon lifestyle is admittedly enforced on me by my student budget. I have no kids, bicycle to work and share a house with roommates. What dominates my carbon footprint is the flights I take—I'll be hitting frequent flyer status this year thanks to traveling for conferences, talks and workshops (not to mention those flights to see my family during the holidays—even being unmarried doesn't get me out of visiting in-laws overseas). This is a bittersweet moment for a climate scientist—my professional success gives me an opportunity to impact the world with my science, but is hurting the planet and leaving future generations with a mess that will outlive me.
By Kari Hamerschlag and Christopher D. Cook
What do meat-centric, cheesy-rich school lunches and climate change have in common? Both pose risks for our kids' health and our planet's future. In short, too much meat and dairy in our diets contributes to both chronic health problems and climate change.
Research shows that we cannot avoid the worst impacts of climate change unless we dramatically scale back our consumption of animal foods. That's because producing meat and cheese generates large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and guzzles huge amounts of water.
What if we could improve our kids' school lunches and reduce our impact on the climate at the same time?
One of California's largest school districts is doing just that, showing how we can reduce our impact on climate change and save money by serving less—and better—meat and dairy products. By trimming back the meat and cheese in kids' lunches and serving more plant-based nutritious meals, the Oakland Unified School District significantly reduced its carbon and water footprint, according to a new study by Friends of the Earth.
Over the past two years, Oakland's K-12 school food service cut their meals' carbon footprint by 14 percent and reduced its water use by 6 percent. Meanwhile, the district saved $42,000 by cutting costs per meal by one percent, enabling it to purchase better quality and more sustainable meat from organic, grass-fed retired dairy cows.
Consider one popular lunch food: a beef hot dog. Friends of the Earth's analysis found that one hot dog generates seven times the carbon footprint of a tofu-veggie rice stir-fry and more than three times that of a veggie bean tostada.
If every California K-12 school food service matched Oakland's carbon footprint reductions, they would reduce their footprint by 80 million kg of CO2 emissions—equivalent to Californians driving almost 200 million fewer miles per year.
We know kids can be picky eaters. So it's even more impressive that Oakland's effort actually increased student satisfaction with local, regional, fresh and tasty meals. Equally important, these plant-based meals met or exceeded the U.S. Department of Agriculture meal pattern requirements.
With such remarkable progress from just one school district over two years, imagine if all food-serving outlets served more plant-based foods and more sustainable, less resource-intensive animal foods. This would greatly benefit our climate future, help everyone eat healthier and reduce the risk of costly, diet related diseases associated with meat-centric diets. Currently, Americans eat 50 percent more meat than is recommended by U.S. Dietary Guidelines, while only 20 percent of us get the suggested amounts of fruits and vegetables.
Friends of the Earth
Fortunately, Oakland isn't alone. Across California and the nation, hundreds of school districts have adopted Meatless Mondays, generating important climate and water benefits by reducing demand for resource-intensive meat products.
Beyond schools, food service institutions in hospitals, prisons and elsewhere are saving money and improving health with plant-focused menus. A pilot program in four hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area (Health Care Without Harm's Balanced Menus: Less Meat Better Meat) saved the equivalent of $400,000 a year during its trial period. The Maricopa County Jail saved an estimated $817,000 in one year by switching from meat to plant-based foods.
Despite the growing trend towards serving more plant-based meals, the strategy of shifting institutional food purchasing to aid climate mitigation has rarely been tapped or quantified. We hope this report inspires more public institutions to track their animal foods purchases and serve less and better meat and more plant-based foods as a cost-effective way to achieve environmental and public health goals. We also hope policymakers will begin to consider meat reduction as a key climate mitigation strategy.
The vital role of meat reduction in mitigating climate change is well-documented in numerous peer-reviewed articles and two recent studies by the World Resources Institute and Chatham House. A 2014 climate mitigation report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that "the potential to reduce GHG emissions through reduction in consumption of meat ... (is) substantially higher than that of (any other agricultural) technical mitigation measures." The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Scientific Report reiterated the environmental benefits of less meat consumption.
According to a 2016 Menus of Change report from the Culinary Institute and Harvard's School of Public Health, a diet emphasizing plant foods "is the single most important contribution the foodservice industry can make toward environmental sustainability."
Reducing demand for resource-intensive animal foods is a relatively simple, cost neutral or even cost-saving strategy. Because animal foods production is a major part of greenhouse gas emissions, other climate mitigation measures will ultimately be ineffective if we don't dramatically reduce meat and dairy consumption. That's because the increased emissions from rising meat consumption trends would quickly wipe out the climate benefits from other mitigation strategies.
Yet another added benefit from Oakland Unified School District's approach: trimming demand for grain-fed animal products and promoting more sustainable pasture-raised meat from dairy cows also helps build healthier soils to sequester carbon, another key ingredient in fighting climate change.
At a time when people are hungry for positive solutions, the Oakland school lunch story provides an inspiring model for a growing movement across California and the nation. The evidence shows we can improve our kids' health, save money and help the environment, all while increasing student satisfaction and meeting federal school meal requirements. This is a rare triple win that all parents can embrace.
Kari Hamerschlag is deputy director for food and technology 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.
By American Renewable Energy Institute / As You Sow / Divest Invest
The American Renewable Energy Institute (AREI) announced milestones of minimizing waste generation and reducing its carbon footprint during its 13th Annual AREDAY summit last week. The gathering also inspired participants to align their financial investments with their values.
Called the Davos of Clean and Renewable Energy, the annual five-day gathering outside Aspen, Colorado catalyzes high level cross-sector networking that results in investments, collaboration, strategic alliances and new initiatives. This year's summit, From Paris to the Polls: Implementing Low Carbon Economies, was laser-focused on making COP21 Paris agreement goals a near-term reality.
At this year's AREDAY in Snowmass, Colorado. (Left to Right): John R. Seydel, AREI Co-Founders Chip Comins and Sally Ranney, and Iceland President Ólafur Ragnar Grimsson.Photo credit: Vanessa Green
"AREDAY moves private and public sector innovators from discussion to action in one week," Chip Comins, AREI chairman and CEO, said. "Because we take our role in the energy transition seriously, each of us is willing to do what it takes today to get us all closer to a fossil free world tomorrow."
If governments signaled to investors from Paris that the world is on course to carbon neutral energy systems, AREDAY participants, like Iceland President Ólafur R. Grimsson and former NATO Supreme Commander and U.S. Army General Wesley Clark, are growing the group of first adopters which also includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and others managing a combined $3.4 trillion in assets.
Aspen is no stranger to the impact and influence of big money. Amidst the financial power of Pitkin County stakeholders, AREI works to accelerate implementation of renewable energy and efficiency projects scaled to respond to current environmental and economic challenges. It does so while taking account of its personal level too.
"It's always been important to reflect our values in our conferences," Abby Stern, lead AREDAY organizer, said. "This year, we saw an opportunity coming out of Paris to raise the bar and ask our big thinkers and doers to go even further."
Vanessa Green, director of Divest Invest Individual, a global campaign helping accredited and retail investors accelerate the energy transition, agrees. "This is the kind of individual-meets-group leadership that will bring us to climate stabilization," she said. "We need everyone throwing weight behind the new economy and flipping the status quo—from how you run a conference to how you invest."
Several AREDAY participants have experienced the financial and moral rewards of investing in alignment with their values for some time.
"While we can't remove all fossil fuels from our lives overnight, we can make lifestyle choices to build a better future. This is why I own an electric car and have solar panels on my roof,"Leilani Münter, a racecar driver and environmental activist, said. "I'm happy to say I never invested in fossil fuels, all my investments are in clean energy. Fossil fuels are on the way out, it's time to leave them in the ground."
Fossil fuel-free portfolios continue to demonstrate similar or greater returns when compared with standard benchmarks. Long-time conservation advocate Maggie Fox remembers when she, along with her husband Mark Udall, a former U.S. Senator, divested from fossil fuels over a decade ago.
"As nonprofit public servants, investing for our children's future in a manner that honors our values has always been paramount," Fox said. "I am excited for other parents to learn that there really is a way to save and grow one's assets in a manner that protects our shared future."
"Carbon risk is real," Andy Behar of As You Sow, an advocacy group moving corporations into greater responsibility, said. "The companies, institutions and investors who respond to that risk and the shifting financial landscape will be winners in the clean energy economy."
In the words of John R. Seydel, a six-year AREDAY veteran and eldest grandson of media mogul Ted Turner, "The leadership of this community keeps me confident that we will achieve our global goals on the timeline needed."
Here's what other AREDAY participants had to say:
"For every dollar spent boosting renewables, nearly four dollars are spent to maintain a dangerous dependence on fossil fuels," said Gen. Wesley Clark who approaches clean energy from a national security perspective. "On top of emissions and waste reduction, I want my finances to be part of reversing that energy equation."
"The transition from fossil fuels to clean energy is fundamentally good business," said Iceland President Grimsson, whose country is the world's largest clean energy producer per capita. "Icelanders have seen seemingly small actions, from individuals, communities, companies and so on, drive markets to produce extraordinary transformation."
"Owning fossil fuels is owning climate change," said Clara Vondrich, global director of Divest Invest Philanthropy. "Our member foundations are breaking down the wall between philanthropic investments and grantmaking, putting their whole portfolio to work to meet the greatest challenge of our time."
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In recent weeks, we've been calling on President Obama to show the "courage of his convictions" when it comes to fighting climate change. In his speech last week, he agreed to take some essential steps in saving our planet, most notably cutting carbon pollution from power plants.
This is the right thing for our country. This is the way that America shows its leadership. And in taking these important steps toward a national plan for climate action, the President is showing his leadership.
Power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., and right now, those plants can spew an unlimited amount of carbon into our air and account for about 40 percent of our carbon footprint. When America's new climate plan takes on power plants, it will strike a blow against the climate chaos that threatens us all.
With the Clean Air Act, we can limit this source of climate pollution. In fact, under a plan the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has proposed, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could develop safeguards under which each state would have its own carbon reduction target, tailored to its specific energy mix. We can even take on carbon pollution from power plants in a way that is affordable for utilities and actually means a cost savings of up to $700 a year for consumers on their electric bills. That's real money for our families.
Without question, we're facing a climate crisis. And it is taxpayers who are bearing the high costs. Just last year, taxpayers spent nearly $100 billion on crop losses, wildfires and disaster relief from Hurricane Sandy. Our coastal communities are under siege. The Great Plains are suffering drought for the third year in a row. Our people are hurting—and they're demanding action.
That's why the second significant pronouncement of the President is also critical. Simply put, President Obama gave a climate test to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would bring the climate destroying tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast across our waters and farms.
The President said he is not going to approve the Keystone XL pipeline if it harms the climate because doing so would not serve the national interest. I applaud him on this and I know tens of thousands of other do as well. We know that we cannot fully address climate change while facilitating expansion of the tar sands. That's why the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is a bad idea. This pipeline will drive expansion of tar sands and its climate pollution. It's not in our national interest and could never pass a climate test. It needs to be denied. Our climate, our waters and our communities depend on it.
The need to keep moving forward with climate action on all fronts is imperative. Which is why it is incumbent upon us, in the months to come, to communicate with both the President and the American public about some of the more misguided parts of the plan. Specifically those that continue to support substantial expansion of the use of fossil fuels through natural gas fracking in the U.S. and building overseas markets for it, as well as pursuing "clean coal" technology.
The President is doing what's right for the country by limiting carbon pollution from power plants and establishing a national plan for climate action. And I hope he maintains the courage of his convictions next, by denying the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and continuing to fully engage in this multifaceted and most profound challenge of our times.
Visit EcoWatch's CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.