News / Science & Technology

Global Diets Affect Climate

In this undated handout photo provided by ITTO (International Tropical Timber Organization) website, a man is seen standing in a clearing in tropical forest in an unknown location in Cameroon, Africa. Large swaths of the world's tropical forests have been officially shielded from deforestation, but an international organization says that may not be enough.
In this undated handout photo provided by ITTO (International Tropical Timber Organization) website, a man is seen standing in a clearing in tropical forest in an unknown location in Cameroon, Africa. Large swaths of the world's tropical forests have been officially shielded from deforestation, but an international organization says that may not be enough.

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua

A new study says the growing popularity of the Western diet could help worsen climate change. As more people make meat a principle part of their diet, the authors say it will be very difficult to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Listen to De Capua report on diet and climate change
Listen to De Capua report on diet and climate changei
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

The global population is forecast to grow to over nine billion by 2050. And as the population rises, so does the need for more food.  The demand for meat is rising especially fast in many of the world’s emerging economies. The Western diet has become fashionable there.

Many studies have warned that the Western diet – filed with fat, sugar and salt – is triggering more non-communicable diseases -- diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity. But the new study published in Nature Climate Change considers the health of the planet, not just the body.

Co-author Chris Gilligan, professor of mathematical biology at the University of Cambridge, said much of the study focuses on how greater food production will affect land use.

“Well, that’s going to be one of the major problems as we go forward. That has knock-on consequences then on conservation, on biodiversity, but also on use of land for other purposes. For organization, for example, for energy supply and how we manage water. How do we find enough land to produce the crops for crop growth – the crops that are then used to feed animals and also regions for rearing the animals?”

The study said using more land for food production carries a “high price.” Deforestation, for example, would result in greater carbon emissions.

“First of all, we think about where is that new land for agriculture going to come from? And a lot of it is going to come from pristine forests. So as you remove those forests, you’re removing trees which are very important traps for carbon dioxide. And in deforestation there’s an increase in greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

Gilligan said greater food production also will result in more methane being released into the atmosphere.

“Increasing livestock production also involves a large amount of greenhouse gas production from the animals themselves.”

Methane would also be released through the use of manure as fertilizer. The study says increased deforestation, fertilizer use and methane from livestock “are likely to cause greenhouse gas emissions from food production to increase by nearly 80-percent.”

Gilligan said that what people choose to eat is a major driver behind greenhouse gas emissions.

“For many people meat does taste exciting. It tastes different. [You] can do lots of things with it in a culinary way, as one can with vegetables, of course. But nevertheless there is an attraction there – an attraction in saying, well, yes, I eat a lot more meat than I used to.”

The study also said that “food production is a main driver of biodiversity loss…and pollution.”

The Cambridge professor added that reducing greenhouse gas emissions could involve persuading people to eat differently – but adds it won’t be easy.

“There may be economic means by which this is done, for example, through a carbon tax. But that’s a punitive measure and may perhaps be necessary. More preferable, however, is the notion of the nudge approach to behavior. So, how do you make it attractive for people to change their dietary behavior? That is about publicity about the health advantages and hoping that that really induces people to change what they do,” he said.

Reducing waste during food production, he said, would go a long way toward lowering pollution.

“There’s a huge amount of loss of material through waste in developing countries pre-harvest – and in developed countries, sadly, post-harvest. Were we able to move to a reduction in, for example, waste, that could have a significant reduction in the amount of greenhouse gas emission,” he said.

The U.N. Environment Program estimated one-third of the food produced for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted. That’s about 1.3 billion tons of food that nobody gets to eat. The UNEP reported in the U.S. alone 30 percent of all food is thrown away.

The study goes on to say the Western diet is characterized by an “excessive consumption of food.” Researchers came up with -- what they call -- an “average” balanced diet that would reduce pressure on the environment. It includes “two 85-gram portions of red meat and five eggs per week”, along with a daily portion of poultry.

They said it’s not about being vegetarian. It’s about eating sensibly, while protecting the environment. 

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More