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

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen; decision could come Monday More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid