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

Video Miami Cubans Divided on New US Policy

While older, more conservative Cuban Americans have promoted anti-Castro political movement for years, younger generations say economically, it is time for change More

2014 Sees Dramatic Uptick in Boko Haram Abductions

Militants suspected in latest mass kidnapping of over 100 people in Gumsuri, Nigeria on Sunday More

Video Cuba Deal Is Major Victory for Pope

Role of Francis hailed throughout US, Latin America - though some Cuban-American Catholics have mixed feelings More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacksi
X
December 19, 2014 12:45 AM
The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Putin Says Russian Economy Will Emerge Stronger

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country's sinking economy will not only recover but also become stronger, despite falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Detained Turkish Journalists Follow Teachings of US-Based Preacher

The Turkish government’s jailing of critical journalists has sparked international condemnation and is being seen as an effort to undermine the followers of an ailing Turkish preacher based in the United States. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.

All About America

AppleAndroid