The Plant-Based Workplace   by Gigi Carter


Food and Climate Change

I can’t seem to open a newspaper or scroll through social media and not see at least one article or blog post about climate change. But it seems that very few are discussing the elephant in the room: our food choices. Yes, we must reduce, reuse, and recycle our paper, plastic, glass, and aluminum cans. Yes, we should turn off the water when we’re not using it and drive hybrid or electric cars. But what about that hamburger for lunch?

It’s common knowledge that the tropical rainforests are being decimated along with resident biodiversity. Since the rainforests control much of the global climate as well as our ecosystem, this is jeopardizing the quality of life for future generations as well as the way they will live it. The University of Maryland has provided satellite imagery of rainforest loss, and the net changes from the previous two decades are disturbing.

A chart showing the change in forest area by continent.

Why is there so much deforestation? Well, because people want to eat meat. With growing populations and rising incomes, demand to consume meat has increased. To accommodate this demand, land must be cleared for livestock feed and grazing cattle.

Nitrogen from synthetic fertilizers as well as manure waste (born of animal agriculture) are leaching into the waterways in the northern and central states that neighbor the Mississippi River and are flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. The result of this accumulation of nutrient runoff has been the creation of dead zones the size of New Jersey, killing off aquatic life and further threatening biodiversity.

Water usage to support the crops used to feed livestock, along with grazing land makes up 29% of the annual total water usage globally, of which the top 3 are: beef cattle, dairy cattle and pigs. Furthermore, agricultural activity, from livestock production accounts for about 15% of total greenhouse-gas emissions, further contributing to climate change.

Getting back to that hamburger for lunch, by replacing beef for a black bean veggie burger, one would be reducing water use by 95%, as well as reducing land use by 90%, greenhouse gas emissions by 96% and nitrogen use by 94%. Perhaps one could also gain in health by eating more legumes, which are a great source of fiber and plant protein. Bottom line, we can no longer ignore this elephant in the room, and what we choose to eat is arguably more impactful and should be combined with current activities of reducing, reusing and recycling in order for us to be the best stewards of our shared planet.

Additional information: World Bank Climate Change Report