News

Addressing Climate Change through Diet

A dead ironwood tree (Prosopis africana) in Senegal, West Africa, is one of many trees that have died due to climate change.
A dead ironwood tree (Prosopis africana) in Senegal, West Africa, is one of many trees that have died due to climate change.
Joe DeCapua

A new study says one of the best ways to curb greenhouse gas emissions is to eat less meat. In fact, the study says meat consumption in the developed should be cut by 50 percent per person by 2050.

Meat production and consumption are expected to soar by 2050. That’s because the global population is projected to grow from the current 7 billion to 9 billion. But also, the diets of people in many developing countries are changing. Countries with emerging economies are seeing a sharp rise in protein consumption, especially red meat.

Dr. Eric Davidson said changing how people eat can have a dramatic effect on greenhouse gas emissions. People in developed countries, he said, already eat much more protein than the daily minimum requirement.

“In the developed world there’s considerable room for us to manage our portion sizes and the frequency with which we eat meat. We’re not talking about everybody suddenly needing to become a vegetarian. Rather it’s kind of reversing the supersize trend and being more mindful of the impacts of the amount of meat and the types of meat, both for the environment and our own health,” he said.

Davidson is the president and senior scientist at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts.

Meat, manure and gas

“If there is a growing demand for meat, which of course there is, that is going to end up requiring use of more nitrogen fertilizer and production of more livestock manure, both of which end up resulting in unintentional releases of various forms of nitrogen to the environment, including nitrates to groundwater and surface water and also greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide to the atmosphere,” he said.

Dr. Eric Davidson
Dr. Eric Davidson

Davidson looked for ways to ease the effects of climate change that would support an aggressive strategy laid out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In particular, the effects of nitrous oxide, described as the third biggest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide and methane.

But while nitrous oxide ranks number three in greenhouse gases, it is considered the most potent. It’s much better at absorbing infrared radiation. In other words, the sun’s energy passes through the Earth’s atmosphere, heats things up and is then released through infrared radiation. But that radiation then hits the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and goes no further.

Davidson has a simple analogy.

“It’s sort of the same idea as a parked car. The energy goes through the windshield of a car pretty easily. It’s absorbed on the car seat. Gets the car seat hot. Re-radiates out and it cannot escape the windshield on the way out. This infrared radiation cannot escape the windshield and so the inside of the car heats up. The physics is pretty well understood for climate change. I think we’d probably have better acceptance of it if we called it the parked car effect instead of the greenhouse gas effect,” he said.

And nitrous oxide stays in the atmosphere a very long time before breaking down. It can take over a hundred years to break down one molecule of the gas. The main sources of nitrous oxide are synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and storage and use of livestock manure.

Start now

Davidson says farmers should be given incentives to use fertilizers and manure more judiciously.

“If we want to meet the most ambitious and optimistic goal of these scenarios of bringing harmful climate change under control, we need to improve the efficiency with which we use fertilizers in agriculture. We need to improve the efficiency of the management of manure. And we also need to consider changes in dietary patterns. And that means hopefully better diets in the developing world and better balanced diets in the developed world,” he said.

Even if it were possible to turn off all harmful greenhouse gas emissions today, he said climate change would continue.

“That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t start the mitigation now because the sooner we start it the more options our children and grandchildren will have in terms of being able to feed themselves and have prosperous lifestyles without environmental degradation,” he said.

Davidson’s findings appear in IOP Publishing’s Environmental Research Letters.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs