Our way of living is largely contributing to climate change. On average, the ecological footprint of a US citizen is 9.0 gha meaning that this amount of land is needed to sustain one person in the US. It also means that 9.6 worlds would be needed to sustain the current population. Obviously, we only have one world.
Find out all about how you can reduce your footprint by reading my blog series in which I present every other week simple steps on a new topic. And guess what?, becoming more sustainable is more easy and fun than you would think. So stay posted!
The ecological footprint of several countries. Photo Source: The Green Market Oracle
This week we will talk about food! Your diet can have a large footprint via multiple ways. Let’s find out how that works and what you can do!
Livestock: how eating meat increases your footprint
Let’s start with meat. The meat industry is recognized by the Food and agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) as one of the main contributers to GHG in the atmosphere. This has various reasons. First of all, eating meat is less efficient as a lot more land is needed to produce food for the livestock we therafter eat. This uses a lot more land, water, pesticides etc then when we would only grow crops to feed ourselves.
In this table I made an overview of the numbers given in the FAO report ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’
|The livestock industry includes:|
|- 18% of the global warming effect
· 9% of total CO2 emissions
· 37% of total methane emissions
· 65% of total nitrous oxide emissions
|- 70% of all agricultural land|
|- 30% of all ice-free land|
|- 8% of global human water use (most of this is to irrigate feed crops)|
|- 55% of land erosion in the US|
|- 37% of the pesticides in the US|
|- 0.3-0.4% of forests in tropical Latin America lost due to pasture land|
Second, livestock such as cattle, buffalo, goats and sheep emit large amounts of methane (CH4) as a part of their digestive process. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 23 times as strong as CO2 and has therefore a large influence on the global warming effect. Reducing your meat consumption can therefore largely decrease your footprint, see also the image below.
[caption id="attachment_10883" align="aligncenter" width="400"] The footprints of several diet types. As you can see, the footprint of meat eaters is about 1/3 larger than that of vegetarians. Photo credit: Shrink That Footprint
The food miles of a product, i.e. the distance a food has to travel from farm to plate, is also something to take into account when you want to go green. For example, in the UK 95% of the fruit comes from abroad and more than half of the vegetables is imported. These longer travel distances cause CO2 emissions and in general more food gets wasted when it is transported over long distances. Food transportation accounts for about 11% of the emissions origing from food production. Therefore it is better to buy local food, this way you don’t only save the environment, you also support local farmers. This is important because with every purchase that you do you choose what you are supporting, a big greedy company with unsustainable manners or something greener!
The food miles of several products that are imported in the UK. Photo Credit: parkfieldict
On top of buying local it is also better to buy organic. Organic agriculture is better for the environment, better for the soil, and better for biodiversity. One of the main reasons is that in contrast to traditional agriculture no synthetic fertilizers are used in organic food production. The production process and transport of synthetic fertilizers requires high amount of fossil fuels. Furthermore, they are water soluble and therefore they end up in our groundwater, rivers and lakes causing health problems and biodiversity declines. Organic practices also decrease soil erosion and increase the return of carbon in the soil. As with the local food, by buying organic you are also less supporting the crops produced with chemical largely patented seeds coming from big companies
Rainforests are often referred to as the lungs of the earth. This is because they provide 20% of the world’s oxygen.
Rainforests have the largest biodiversity on the planet. While they only consist of 6% of the earth’s surface, they have ½ to ¾ of the worlds biodiversity. During the last 50 years more than 1/3 of the rainforest are destroyed, mainly to be used for food production. This does not only cause deforestation and a loss of biodiversity, but also displacement of indigenous people and a reduction of smallholders. Especially for the feed for livestock a lot of soy is produced for which often rainforest is cut down. Even more is cut down directly for livestock keeping, as you can see in the image below. This is thus another good reason to reduce your meat consumption! Last, the most produced vegetable oil is palm oil. For the production of palm oil also a lot of rainforest is destroyed. Palm oil is an ingredient in most processed foods, so next to checking labels of the products you buy, cooking yourself with fresh ingredients helps a lot to reduce your palm oil consumption.
The main causes of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, 2000-2005. Photo credit: Amazon
In summary, you can largely reduce your ecological footprint by (1) reducing your meat and diary consumption, (2) buy more local, (3) go organic, (4) try to avoid products for which rainforests were cut down.
Remember that all small steps help. They really do! If you are used to eat meat 7 days a week and now you start to eat it 5 days a week, that already makes a difference. Start realistic and with small changes and from there on you can always go greener as you go!
In the second blog of this blog series I will talk about how you can look good while having a lower ecological footprint. We will look at what is wrong in the clothing industry, some sustainable brands, and some tips on how you can reuse your clothes. See you there!