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

 

Nino Rizzo

The UK is exploring its shale gas future, we should NOT do the same

Good Energies Alliance Ireland Launch Glenfarne 16th February 2012

Response to Aaron McKenna’s column in The Journal.ie (23rd March 2013)

 Mr McKenna was obviously briefed on fracking by the US oil/gas industry when he wrote this article as he quotes their propaganda extensively and when it comes to Ireland, has done little research himself. The article is a deliberate attempt to get us to assume that fracking is inevitable, good for us economically and that shale gas is the clean fuel of the future. We completely refute those assumptions.
Some important points:
  • Shale gas is Methane, which has a global warming effect 25 times that of carbon dioxide.  Whereas methane when burned is a cleaner fuel than oil or coal, fugitive emissions from fracking and gas transport systems are serious problems.  Howarth et al (2011)[1] calculate that during the life cycle of an average shale-gas well, 3.6 to 7.9% of the total production of the well is emitted to the atmosphere as methane, resulting in a greenhouse gas footprint more than that of coal over a 20 year period.
  • No fossil fuel is a “clean fuel”.  This is industry hype.  All fossil fuels contribute to global warming and shale gas is no exception.
  • The statement that “People living on top of shale gas reserves can win big” is not true in Ireland.  Unlike the US, Irish landowners do not own the mineral or gas rights under their land and will not be entitled to royalties or massive leases.  Any leases will be only for a few short years and the landowners will then be left with unusable land for which they will be responsible.  The only real winners are the oil/gas companies.  The gas would be sold into the international market and the Government would get the second lowest royalties in the world from declared profits.
  • The preliminary EPA report on fracking[2] said in its summary that ” there is a low and probably manageable risk to ground water from fracking …” This referred to the hydraulic fracturing stage of shale gas extraction, not to its life cycle, which includes land preparation, drilling, wastewater disposal, and gas treatment and transportation.  In addition, this conclusion was based on a report from Texas which has been subsequently discredited.[3]
  • European shale gas could not be sold cheaply The price of gas in the US has more to do with a glut of gas than the cost of production, which is actually 4 times its retail cost.  The cost of establishing a shale gas industry in Ireland would be huge and imposed “improved” regulations would also add costs to production.  Examination of models produced by Tamboran indicate that strict regulations could drive the price up to €16 per mBTU.
  • The whole US industry is a bubble scenario very much on the same lines as the sub-prime property bubble that has been shown to be totally unsustainable.[4]  Why would we have a repetition of the same system that already has had such disastrous consequences for our people and economy?Irish Exploration Licences come with the guarantee to allow exploitation of commercially viable reserves.   We should not go ahead with Exploration while the process has so many unknowns associated with it, in particular its impact on human and animal health.  Our agri-food and tourism sectors are far too valuable to be put at risk.  Better wait until independent peer-reviewed studies show that shale gas can be extracted without risk to the environment, people’s health or the national economy and then see if the burning of this valuable resource is the best use we can make of it.

AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW

Ireland has a unique situation on the edge of Europe, with the potential for development of a carbon-neutral society by 2050, as proposed by the National Economic and Social Council (NESC). [5]

 “To achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 we must act now to create:

  1. An energy system built on wind and other renewables, using a smart grid and integrated into a clean EU energy system;
  2. An energy-efficient society that uses renewable forms of energy for heating;
  3. A sustainable transport system which serves economic, societal and environmental needs;
  4. A world-class agri-food sector working within a carbon-neutral system of agriculture, forestry and land use; and
  5. An approach to resource management that provides a competitive and comparative advantage in international trade and factor flows.”
The NESC report concluded that “Ireland has an opportunity to be a real leader by building an institutional architecture suited to the nature of the climate-change policy problem and the major ways in which progress on ‘how to’ achieve decarbonisation is made.”
THERE IS NO MENTION OF NEW FOSSIL FUEL SOURCES IN THE ABOVE STRATEGY!
This is where we should be turning our attention, not looking to short-term fossil fuel extraction, with negative impacts on the environment, health and the reputation of our country, to put off the day when we have to change our life-styles and energy sources.
Aedín McLoughlin
[1] Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Robert W. Howarth, Renee Santoro, and Anthony Ingraffea. Cornell University, Ithaca (April 2011)
[2] Hydraulic Fracturing or ‘Fracking’: A Short Summary of Current Knowledge and Potential Environmental Impacts  EPA Preliminary Report (12 May 2012)
[3] Fact-Based Regulation for Environmental Protection in Shale Gas Development. The Energy Institute, The University of Texas at Austin (February 2012)
[4] Drill, Baby Drill. Can Unconventional Fuels usher in a New Era of Energy Abundance? J. David Hughes. Post Carbon Institute February ‘13
[5] Ireland and the Climate Change Challenge: Connecting ‘How Much’ with ‘How To’ Final Report of the NESC Secretariat to the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government. Dec’12

Impact Research Group new website and report

Check out the Impact Research Group’s new site http://shalegasresearchireland.wordpress.com/about/ and their new report on Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Industry and the Shale Gas Question. This study presents an industry snapshot, focusing on the Dairy and the Infant Milk Formula sectors as examples.
The Impact Research Group is not a campaigning group. Our aim is to help inform the debate concerning Shale Gas for Ireland, and to widen the economic context in which the debate is taking place. We set ourselves the task of examining the particular economic and employment conditions in Ireland, and what impact the proposed  shale gas hydraulic fracturing might have.

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