FOOD AND CLIMATE CHANGE – You should start to be concerned about your diet

Climate change is now a very popular topic, and when we talk about measures to prevent it we usually think about reducing plastics, switching to green energies and electric transport, and maybe planting more trees. All really important solutions, but many of us forget that the food system is one of the major drivers of climate change. – And by the way, it’s directly connected to all those issues listed.

 

BUSINESS AS USUAL IS NOT AN OPTION

Agriculture is one of the largest contributor of greenhouse gases contributing 19 to 29% of total GHG emissions. As stated in a study published last October in the journal Nature (1) “between 2010 and 2050 […] the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50-90% in the absence of technological changes and dedicated mitigation measures, reaching levels that are beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity.” The study calls for solutions such as more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management, and reductions in food loss and waste.

The topic is particularly current, given Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s declaration last week on reducing meat consumption. Without discussing the controversy arising from his statement, we believe the matter must be taken seriously because changes can not only be imposed from above but should also come from the conscious choices that each of us makes. And although much of the Irish economy is based on agriculture – and livestock farming in the Irish countryside seems to be rather sustainable – we need to think about the future of our planet.

As EPA Ireland reports, agriculture is the single largest contributor to the country’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for over 30% of the total. Ireland is a small country with a relatively small population, but emissions per person are amongst the highest of any country in the world. And if we look at meat consumption per person we can only hope for a change in our habits: we consume over twice the global average!

Also, according to another study (2) “very high calorie diets […] are associated with high total per capita greenhouse gas emissions […] due to high carbon intensity and high intake of animal products”.

through CGIAR Centers and Research Programs

through CGIAR Centers and Research Programs

 

820 MILLION PEOPLE HAVE INSUFFICIENT FOOD

In the study presented on the 17th of January by EAT-Lancet Commission in Oslo (3), twenty scientists from around the world called for the adoption of diets and food production practices to ensure that the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement would be achieved. Because, “although global food production of calories has kept pace with population growth, more than 820 million people have insufficient food and many more consume low-quality diets that cause micronutrient deficiencies and contribute to a substantial rise in the incidence of diet-related obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases, including coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes”. Researchers say that a sustainable diet should “largely consists of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and unsaturated oils, includes a low to moderate amount of seafood and poultry, and includes no or a low quantity of red meat, processed meat, added sugar, refined grains, and starchy vegetables”.

through The Irish Times

 

ARE YOU A FLEXITARIAN?

Here we go, vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan or flexitarian and then organic, local, something-free and so on: we are not talking about choosing more trendy diets or groceries! The problem is that we are harming the planet because of what we eat and how we produce our food (and how we transport it and sell it…). We should start to think about, to find out and to adopt sustainable habits. One of the least extreme approaches for example, is the Flexitarian diet – it is very similar to the recommendations of the EAT-Lancet Commission study – which requires a considerable reduction in the amount of meat consumed. In short, a Flexitarian is a vegetarian who eats meat occasionally.

As Oisin Coghlan from Friends of the Earth Ireland reminds us, the average Irish carbon footprint is around 12 tonnes of CO2 a year and we have to halve that by 2030 and get it down to 1 or 2 tonnes by 2050. 25% of that quantity (3 tonnes) comes from food. If you don’t eat beef and lamb it drops to about 2 tonnes, if you are a vegetarian it’s about 1.5, and if you are vegan it is lower again. So let’s start to rethink our diet and spread the word!

 

Notes
  1. Springmann et al. (2018). Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/
  2. Pradhan et al. (2013). Embodied greenhouse gas emissions in diets. Retrieved from https://ccafs.cgiar.org/bigfacts/
  3. Willett et al. (2019). Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Retrieved from https://www.thelancet.com/

 

Below you can find some diet suggestions
  • Drayer (2019, January). Change your diet to combat climate change in 2019, CNN. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/
  • Sawa (2019, January). Seeds, kale and red meat once a month – how to eat the diet that will save the world, The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/

 

Other sources

Our Climate Change song is out!

Check out the Climate Change song created and performed by Transition Year students of Mohill Community college! This song was made during the GEAI Climate Action Days initiative.

Climate Action by Mohill Students

GEAI recently organised Climate Action days for Transition Year students of Mohill Community College. The goal of the three days was to raise awareness of climate change, and to encourage the class to plan and carry out innovative projects based on sustainability, e.g. energy, waste, food production, etc.

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This initiative was a great success. All students participated enthusiastically and succeeded in carrying out Climate Actions that range from composting to raising funds for Irish Wildlife Trust; from interviews with the local community to litter picking. A highlight was a new Climate Change song composed and performed by four of the students! (We plan to record and publish the song shortly.)

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Ballinamore fights climate change

Ballinamore is on its way to becoming a Sustainable Energy Community (SEC)!

Ballinamore's Energy Action

On 30th October, a meeting of Ballinamore citizens interested in the transition of the town to a low carbon economy agreed to form an Energy Group and to start working with SEAI and a mentor to create an Energy Masterplan for the town.

Noeleen O'Callaghan at Ballinamore's seminar

Noeleen O’Callaghan from Leargas, Erasmus +

“This is an important step for Ballinamore,” said Mairín Martin, Chairperson, Ballinamore Area Community Council. “It is horrific to think that our town is spending €2 million each year on energy, the vast majority of which is oil, gas and coal.  It is clear that climate change is now happening and every town and citizen must play their part in working to save the planet. The most important thing we can do as individuals is to move away from fossil fuels for transport and heating. We must look at the possibilities of generating our energy from wind and solar. We also must consider how we can reduce our transport costs, currently around €1 million per year!”

Mel Gavin at Ballinamore's seminar

Mel Gavin from IT Sligo

The meeting was well attended, convened by Good Energies Alliance Ireland and supported by SEAI and the Erasmus+ programme. GEAI presented the results of an Energy Survey they did in Ballinamore. Mel Gavin from I.T. Sligo presented a potential Energy Roadmap to 2025 that responded to many ideas put forward by residents to tackle climate change. The meeting was enjoyable and very informative. A meeting of the new Energy Group will take place shortly and will look at the ways Ballinamore can be supported to get on a path to lower both its energy costs and its carbon emissions.

 

 

Mohill students take climate action

GEAI (Good Energies Alliance Ireland) is currently organising three Climate Action days for Transition Year students in Mohill Community College.  This initiative is facilitated by our EVS volunteers who are proving to be a big hit with the students!

IMG_1407For the first day in the school on October 23rd, the aim was that students would learn more about climate change and its impacts globally and on Ireland. The morning started with an ice-breaker where the students and our volunteers had great craic, and after that the real work began. It included a presentation given by the GEAI team about climate change, its impacts on Ireland and the world and what we can do to tackle it. The students were very well informed about climate change, but were happy to get more information on the topic.

IMG_1410After the presentation it was time for more work. Choosing pictures that we had laid in front of them, the students showed their interest in different aspects of climate change such as extreme weather, food production, energy efficiency, power generation and pollution. According to their interests they were divided in groups. The volunteers facilitated table discussions and the students participated with great enthusiasm. They talked about their topic, finding their causes and coming up with ideas to address the issue.  At the end of the session they presented their discussion results and we felt very proud of them.

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