We hear a lot about plant-based diets and how they positively impact our health, however, there is debate on if eating more plant-based foods can actually have an actual impact on reducing climate change.
Current climate changes
A lot is happening with our planet including deforestation, changes in water resources, food supplies and most recently, high temperatures. From climate changes in the Arctic where average air temperatures rose by about 5℃ over the past 100 years, to oceans facing large-scale changes at a warming of 1℃ with the expectation to be raised even higher, shows how human-caused climate change is already doubled in the environment. More recent is the incoming heat waves like it was in the UK where the temperature hit up to 40℃ in 2022, being the first red weather warning for extreme heat. There are a lot of causes that contribute to climate change and that includes electricity and heat, transportation, manufacturing and construction and agriculture. Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, CO2, CH2 and N2O are the three top largest individuals contributors to global warming.
Effects of a plant-based diet on the planet
A plant-based diet contains a low amount of animal products and high amounts of plant products. There are different interpretations of a 'plant-based' diet and that includes flexitarian, pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan. We have some sort of knowledge on how plant-based diets can have positive impact on our health as well as how it can reduce diseases including diabetes. However, it is important to know if a plant based diet could reduce negative impact on the environment. Research shows that meat and dairy products add to climate change crises as agriculture is responsible for about half of global methane emissions whereas a vegan diet can help tackle climate change.
Plant-based diets could lead to substantial reduction of greenhouse gas as compared to current dietary patterns in most industrialised countries. The research shows that a plant-based diet could reduce mortality and greenhouse gases caused by food production by more than 10%, by 2050. There are lots of environmental benefits from changing diet including stopping livestock emission which accounts for 30% of global warming or reducing energy consumption and much more. Scientists, in 2018, has found that avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environment impact on the planet. This proves that we can start contributing to a better future from home by just adjusting our diets to be more plant-based.
Not all plant-based foods have a small environmental footprint
Even though a plant-based diet can be the biggest way to reduce the impact on the environment, it is not always the case when talking about certain foods. One good example to look at would be avocados. They require large amounts of water to be harvested, washed in hot water for an hour to prevent insects infestations as well as transferred in air which creates CO2 emissions. This is just one examples of foods that have special requirements creating good amounts of waste. Other could include mushrooms, coca, almonds, cashew nuts, mangos and other.
A sustainability researcher, Martin Heller, has recommended that reducing the meat consumption and paying attention to how foods are grown and transported can maximise how people can be more helpful and reduce impact on climate change. But of course there is much more to help the environment than just switching diets however, it is a good point from where to start.