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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs