Overshadowed by Brexit, and much more trivial, news, last week, the world was presented with a groundbreaking climate message.
The social cost of climate change
The landmark IPCC special report, published on 8 October 2018, is more alarming than any previous climate report. Not only must we limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, instead of 2°C, we only really have 12 years to achieve this.
The global two largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters, China and the USA, are facing some of the highest social costs of tonnes of carbon emitted, as well as India (currently already paying $86/tonne CO2), Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Assuming 2017 CO2 emissions, the global impact is more than $16 trillion. The magazine Nature commented: “Acting like a magnifying glass, it [the social cost concept] highlights horrendous climate-impact inequality.”
Eating up our planet or providing a better plate?
While it is right to focus attention on cars, other transport, and energy and construction industries to curb emissions, nearly 30% of all GHG emissions are caused by the global food system, of which half (14.5%) by the livestock sector. Climate change, pollution, over-fishing and illegal fishing also cause disastrous results for the planet.
If we don’t act now, not many fish and coral reefs will be left in the oceans in less than 20-30 years. We’ll witness the disappearance of thousands of species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and other organisms, as well as much plant and marine life. And we’ll experience more extreme, deadly, weather and climate-related disasters. We have known the predictions for a while, but we’ve ignored the science and change advocates for too long.
With global population and income levels growing between 2010 and 2050, the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50–90% according to a new analysis published 2 days after the IPCC report. Assuming we don’t introduce technological changes and dedicated mitigation measures, this would result in levels that are beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity. The authors, Springmann and colleagues, recommend dietary changes towards healthier, more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management, and reductions in food loss and waste.
Globally, we need to see a 75% reduction in consumption of cattle meat, 90 percent less pig meat and half the eggs eaten currently. On average, we need to eat three times more beans and lentils, and quadruple the amount of nuts and seeds to obtain the same amount of calories (substantially more vegetables would obviously also help, and not just to reduce climate change but also to improve public health).
In wealthier nations, such as the United States and Australia, which have the highest animal consumption, dietary changes would need to be even more profound. Consumption of cattle meat would need to be reduced by 90 percent and dairy would need to be decreased by 60%. Intake of legumes would need to be increased by four to six times to consume the same amount of calories.
These dietary changes can be achieved through education, subsidies for plant-based foods, changes to school menus, and increased taxes.
Be a part of the change
In the current socio-political climate where lies, deceit and gross violations of nearly all rights (human, non-human and environmental) are broadly rewarded, while facts and justice get distorted and denied, the 1.5°C temperature goal within a 12-year time frame seems sadly out of reach.
The New American, for example, reported the above-mentioned paper by Springmann et al. and concluded that the study had been designed in such a way to come to those diet change recommendations, because the authors were supposedly activists and had used scaremongering tactics… It’s very sad to see science being undermined in such a grotesque way by an increasing number of online and offline channels, and even more worrying to see the effects of these publications on the masses.
Millions of people are propping up self-serving politicians, regimes, and industries, and effectively drown out the voices and facts of more than 6,000 scientific references and contribution of thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide in the IPCC’s and thousands of evidence-based reports. What happened to critical reasoning, logic, science and facts?
Even real climate change events, which are already wreaking havoc around the planet, causing trillions of dollars of damage, taking hundreds of thousands of human and non-human lives, and resulting in the most vulnerable being hit the hardest, don’t seem to capture people’s imagination to act now. We are oblivious and, frankly, selfish.
Every day we make decisions not only based on what we need but frequently on what is being offered to us. And herein lies the greatest threat, but also opportunity. We can work with the food industry, catering and service providers to enable better food options and encourage more plant-based menu options in public institutions. Policy makers may lag behind, but companies and caterers can make large-scale changes relatively quickly.
Help organisations such as ProVeg International increase everyone’s appetite for a better world, the Good Food Institute, and related food advocacy and awareness organisations to turn the tide. It’s not too late. Yet.