Climate crisis: dietary change can reduce your carbon footprint by 48%


TTo stem the climate crisis, humanity must tackle major problems, such as sustainable energy production and the development of efficient food systems. But even the smallest changes, over time, add up. Research presented Monday at the Baltimore 2019 nutrition conference show that if we only make a substitution in our daily diet, we can reduce our carbon footprint by almost half.

… This would be equivalent to about 3,700 km traveled by an average passenger car. "

Methane by-products from the beef industry are an important part of the greenhouse gases that accumulate in the atmosphere, and it is clear that the reduction in demand for beef is ultimately the key. Meat of plant and laboratory origin is gaining ground in beef substitutes, but for environmentally conscious people who are not ready to adopt the new Impossible Whopper, agricultural economist Diego Rose , Ph.D., says that a single small step can lead powerful change.

According to Rose, a simple mealtime substitution can make all the difference: tonight when thinking about what to eat for dinner, think about exchange beef for poultry. This exchange, he says, can significantly reduce daily dietary greenhouse gas emissions.

"Reducing their carbon footprint by 48% would happen every day when they would substitute poultry for beef," he says. "So it's a daily number, but it will happen as long as they do."

hamburgers, red meat,
If each person traded beef for poultry for one meal a day, Rose estimates they could reduce their carbon emissions by 48%.

These small daily steps could become very powerful. "For each person, if this type of change were made every day of the year, that would be equivalent to about 3,700 km traveled by an average passenger car," he continued. "We knew it would be lower, but we were surprised how much there was reduction of a simple change."

Rose's findings, which have not yet been published in a newspaper, are based on the predictions of a model he developed based on the dietary habits of 16,800 Americans. Each of these people listed the foods they ate in 24 hours as part of the National Health and Nutrition Survey. Using this model, Rose did a hypothetical exchange: replace one beef product per person with a poultry product.

"Substitution means that we have substituted a food product – a cut of beef or ground beef – for an equivalent poultry product. For example, chicken for steak, ground turkey for ground beef, "he explains. "If a respondent ate a steak, fries and a salad for dinner, we replaced the steak with the equivalent amount of chicken, but we left the fries and the salad."

In total, about 20% of participants had eaten beef or ground beef during the 24-hour survey period. According to the model, exchanging just one of these beef products made all the difference.

This change is only a small change that we can make to complement other efforts to reduce carbon emissions. It's important to remember that Rose's data is related to dietetic emissions – not emissions from other activities, such as travel by car or plane. All of these factors have played a role in the significant events of the climate crisis that humanity has gone through recently, including the highest monthly average of CO2. never registered.

Nevertheless, in a world where climate problems may seem systemic and uncontrollable, Rose's work sweetly reminds us that our choices are serious, even the smallest, who feel incredibly feasible.

Partial summary:

The methods: Based on a comprehensive review of life cycle assessment studies in the environmental science literature, we have created a food-related environmental impact database related to diets (dataFIELD ). We compared the data impact dataFIELD data to the nutritional data for the 24-hour recall in waves 2005-2010 of the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES). For all adults with a reliable diet (N = 16,800), we calculated their carbon dioxide equivalents per 1,000 kcal (kg CO2-1,000 kcal-1), a measure of GHGE density. A random sample of 10% (N = 330) of all the schemes in the top quintile of this variable was selected. The food with the most GHGs has been identified in each of these high-impact diets and has been replaced by an equal amount of calories from a similar but lower-impact food (eg, chicken for beef). Each of the 330 diets was then reevaluated to total GHGE / 1000 kcal and the Healthy Eating Index, a synthetic measure of nutritional quality developed for the US population.

Results: The food with the highest impact in each of the randomly selected diets was most often one type of beef (52%), a beef dish (33%) or a shellfish dish (10%). After substituting single elements for these foods with equivalent poultry components, the average impact of this diet sample dropped (p <0.001) from 4.35 ± 0.1 to 1, 95 ± 0.8 kg of CO2 equivalent of 1000 kcal-1. This represents a 54% reduction in average greenhouse gas emissions from diets. The healthy diet index values ​​for the revised diets showed slight improvements.

conclusions: Simple substitutions can be made to individuals' diets to reduce their carbon footprint without sacrificing food quality. Promoted on a large scale, such a strategy could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the US diet.


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