Did the blazing heat of summer come on a little too hot for you this year? You’re not alone.
July 2020 was one of Earth’s hottest months ever. It tied July 2016 as the second-hottest month on record, as per a report curated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Many experts attribute these record-hot temperatures to human-caused climate change. In the last couple of months alone, we have experienced wildfires, heat waves, hurricanes and droughts all over the world.
The climate crisis worses dramatically as the clock ticks. A 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that, at the current rate, global temps will climb 1.5°C higher than pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 205. The report added that the impacts of this high temperature will be beyond severe for our way of life, causing more than $54 trillion in damage. We are very close to the verge of this catastrophe, and we have to take action.
We’ve all heard by now that the key to softening this impact is a lower carbon footprint. That means decreasing the amount of greenhouse gases—such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, fluorinated gases and others—that you produce as you live your life. Most of your carbon footprint comes from things you do daily, from driving to work to shopping for clothes. According to the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, in order to pause the global temperature rise to 2˚C or less, individuals will need to average an annual carbon footprint of 1.87 tons by 2050. Currently, the average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world.
Thinking about climate change can be overwhelming as we all grapple with an uncertain future. In order to act effectively on the crisis, change needs to occur systematically from the national and global levels. However, everyone has a part in pushing for a cleaner and greener planet. Visit the EPA’s website to calculate your carbon footprint and see how many greenhouse gas emissions are caused by your daily activities.
It turns out the food we eat makes a big difference in the fight to lower our impact. Small personal changes can add up to make a big difference. Here, we’ve compiled some ways you can reduce your carbon footprint by simply changing your diet.
According to experts, a plant-based diet is one of the healthiest and environmentally-friendly diets you can adopt. Meat production, especially factory farms, gives off methane emissions, a harmful greenhouse gas. It also uses up a lot of crucial resources, such as food, water and land. A 2017 study published in Environmental Research Letters found that red meat can have up to 100 times the environmental impact of plant based food. Moreover, meat such as beef and pork give off significantly more carbon dioxide than fruits and vegetables.
In order to reduce your carbon footprint, fill up on plant-based foods and significantly reduce or even eliminate your meat consumption. Be mindful about how you replace meat in your diet. Dairy products and fish caught from net fishing can be equally as harmful to the environment. There are a variety of plant-based protein sources that are much healthier options, such as tofu, tempeh, beans and lentils. Start with a ‘Meatless Monday’ and slowly move toward a plant-based diet most days of the week. Not only will this help save the planet, it will nourish your body and benefit your wallet.
Think twice when it comes to eating local
A common myth is that eating local reduces your carbon footprint. This is not a one-size-fits-all solution, as it depends on how the food got to you, not just how far away it came. According to a 2008 study published in Environmental Science & Technology, most greenhouse gases happen during food production, not transportation. While transportation does matter, the impact may not be as significant as adopting a plant-based diet. The study found that eating only locally-grown food for a year would save the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 1,000 miles, but eating just one vegetarian meal a week for a year saves 160 miles more.
When it comes to eating local, think about how the food is produced. With meat, whether you buy it from the farmer’s market in your neighborhood or from far away, it is not the location that makes the carbon footprint of your dinner large, but the fact that it releases a ton of carbon emissions during production. A great way to minimize your carbon footprint with food production is to grow your own fruits and vegetables in your home. It may be easy to start with something simple like herbs and then branch off to other plants. This way, you know what goes in the production of your food and can avoid the pesticides and harmful chemicals involved in growing produce.
Cut down on food waste
We throw out about 1.3 billion tons of food a year worldwide, or a third of all the food that we grow, according to the New York Times. In the United States alone, we waste about 40 percent of the total food we buy. When food is wasted, all of the resources that went into harvesting, transporting and packaging it are depleted. It is incredibly harmful for our environment, because when it goes to the landfills, it produces methane gas, which is even more potent than carbon dioxide.
To reduce your carbon footprint, focus on minimizing your food waste. Steer clear of single-use plastics, and if you are not a big fan of leftovers, think about freezing them for another night or reusing them to make another meal. Get creative and plann your meals so you do not buy a ton of items at the grocery store, especially things you do not need. For scraps such as coffee grinds, vegetable peels and fruit rinds, save them for compost in your home garden or deliver them to a community garden. These small actions push for a more eco-friendly and sustainable future, and once you’re on a roll, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.