How to Combat Climate Change from the Comfort of Your Kitchen

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

This is it! The third and final installment of my Reasons to go Vegan Saga... by which, of course I mean, eat more vegan/vegetarian meals or just cut back in a way that works for you, because, every little bit REALLY DOES HELP.


(Here's Reason #1 and Reason #2 if you missed them)


Let's take the roughly 7 billion people on the planet, and assume that less than 1% of the population is already vegan/vegetarian. Now if every single one of those meat-eaters gave up animal products for 1 day of the week, it would be the equivalent of A BILLION PEOPLE becoming full vegans. That's, um... that's huge.

"But, Sarah," you may ask, "What does eating meat have to do with climate change?"


WELL, let me tell you.

First off, let's lay out the TWO BIG ISSUES that animal agriculture creates


#1 - Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Basically ~ how much carbon is being released into the atmosphere ~ causing the atmosphere to hold more heat ~ and warming the planet. I'll come back to this later...

#2 - Land Use

You need a lot of land to grow crops. You also need a lot of land to let cows graze. You need even more land to grow food for animals that we eat. Animals are inefficient energy converters. What do I mean by that? I mean if you grow an acre of corn, you can feed more people by giving them the corn than you can by feeding that corn to some cows and then eating the cows. If you have corn and soybeans, (Both produced in tremendous quantities in the U.S. and both largely used for animal feed) then you get way more nutrition from just eating the plants, than by passing them through an animal first. A cow converts only 3% of the protein it consumes into high-quality animal protein that we might actually eat. (1) Granted, a lot of beef cows consume plant products that are inedible to us, so no harm no foul, but grazing still requires a ton of land. Other animals are a little more efficient, but all livestock in the U.S. averages around 7-8% conversion... still not great. MOST of the corn crop we grow in the U.S. ends up as animal feed. (2) To put that in perspective, livestock animals in the U.S. (roughly 9 billion of them) consume five times as much grain as the entire human population of the country. (3) Agriculture around the globe covers 43% of land considered usable (not a desert or covered in ice.) For those of you keeping score at home, that's nearly half. 83% of that, is land used to grow food for, or graze animals. (4) So in total 36% of all usable land on earth is used to raise animal livestock for human consumption.


Okay, so a meat-prominent diet takes up A LOT OF LAND, what's the big deal?


I'll give you the easy answer first. Agriculture is a HUGE contributor to animal extinction, and the loss of general biodiversity. Loss of habitat is the second largest reason animal species are going extinct today. We ARE in the midst of a mass extinction event with an extinction rate 100 times higher than it was before human civilization(5) According to one study, roughly 62% of species (all lifeforms, not just animals) that are on the threatened - critically endangered spectrum are challenged by agricultural expansion. (6) Plants can't move, so if we plow over the primary areas where they grow, they're likely to die out, obviously. Some species grow only in small regions. If we kill those plants, we also kill the animals that might have specialized in eating or pollinating that plant. We've seen plant extinctions increasing for decades in the Amazon rain forest due to deforestation. A lot of new medications are derived from chemicals found in tropical plants, so this has affected humans directly. When we lose a species, we've destroyed any value to us that species could ever have, even a value we don't know about yet... (Like in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, when only humpback whales could communicate with the alien probe and tell it to stop destroying the earth but they were extinct, so they had to go back in time to get some. Silly example, but you get the point.) Beyond that, we've stopped in its tracks the evolutionary process of a creature that's probably been unique since before the human species, and wiped out anything that species may ever become. That's a lot to claim responsibility for.

What's even worse is that the problem goes beyond just losing an animal.

Our global ecosystem is intricately woven. There are connections between animals, plants the land, the water, and the wind that we barely understand. When one species goes extinct, it can cause the extinction of others that depended on it.

When species disappear the land changes. When the land changes, even more species are threatened, bodies of water change, and even the weather changes.

Everything is connected.


If you want to read about a really cool, and positive example of this happening, check out this article: https://www.yellowstonepark.com/things-to-do/wolf-reintroduction-changes-ecosystem


Grazing animals, (at least the way we organize this now) world wide contribute largely to the expansion of deserts. (7) This, made worse by a warming planet, is a serious threat to humans around the world.


Of course, the warming planet is a serious threat all by itself, so let's talk about those GHGs! (Greenhouse gasses)


GHGs

We're gonna start with a couple scientific factoids for ya to give you some context.

When scientists, reporters, blah, blah, blah talk about "releasing carbon," "carbon footprint" etc they're mostly talking about CO2 (carbon dioxide, the stuff we breathe out that plants like) but they're also talking about methane. Methane is a hydrocarbon, which means it has... (wait for it) hydrogen and carbon. That's it. It's a highly reactive gas that's the same basic type of molecule as the fuel you put in your car. It doesn't explode in the atmosphere or anything, there's only very small quantities of it in the atmosphere, BUT it is a VERY POWERFUL greenhouse gas. Basically, compared to other gasses it holds onto A LOT OF HEAT. So if you up the balance of methane in the air even a little, you can start a warming spiraling effect. Here's how it goes:


  1. Amount of methane increases

  2. Air is slightly warmer so it holds more water vapor

  3. WATER VAPOR HOLDS MORE HEAT THAN REGULAR AIR

  4. So the air gets even warmer...

  5. So it holds more water vapor...

  6. You see the problem?


CO2 accomplishes the same thing, only it's released any time we burn LITERALLY ANYTHING. All lifeforms on this planet are based on carbon molecules, including things like... let's say grass. If herds are consuming grasses on a piece of land in an unsustainable way, that land turns into dusty nothingness (kinda like a desert) and now... What happened to all that carbon that was in the grass? Well, digestion is a form of burning. The herd ate it, burned it, and breathed out the resulting CO2. If the land is managed sustainably, there's more of a natural cycle where the plants on the land absorb the CO2 and turn it into more plant. This is called carbon sequestration, basically the act of getting it out of the atmosphere. This is why everyone's so big into planting trees.


Animal agriculture alone produces about 5% of the country's greenhouse gasses (this figure only accounts for CO2 not other gasses). It puts about 1.1 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere per person in the U.S. per year. (8) While this figure seems modest, it accounts for over half of GHG emissions for ALL OF FOOD PRODUCTION, despite the fact that only 17% of our calories come from these animal products. (4)


The more significant impact in this industry comes from methane. Cows alone produce 37% of all human methane emissions. (9) There are ways being researched to combat this, things like genetically modifying the cows to produce less methane, or invest in technology to capture the methane and use it as fuel. Still, perhaps the easiest and fastest way to reduce this is to... eat less beef. Beef is actually by far the worst product in terms of land use, water use, nitrogen leeching (a pollutant) and GHGs, so if you have to pick something... lose the beef.


There's a great paragraph from one of the studies cited that'll serve nicely to wrap this all up...

(I've removed some figures, and left the percentages for better readability)


"Moving from current diets to a diet that excludes animal product has transformative potential, reducing food’s land use by ... 76%... food’s GHG emissions by... 49%... acidification by 50%... eutrophication (from nitrogen fertilizers) by 49%; and scarcity-weighted freshwater withdrawals by 19%..., the land no longer required for food production could remove ~8.1 billion metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year over 100 years as natural vegetation reestablishes and soil carbon re-accumulates."


I think you get the point here. Animal agriculture just takes up TOO MUCH SPACE, produces TOO MANY GHGs, and is damaging our global ecosystem in some REALLY significant ways. (There are pollution issues I didn't even get to.) Those of us in the developed world are more likely to eat a diet that is HEAVY in animal products, which makes us the best people to make an impact! If you have meat in every meal, try having vegan lunches. If you don't know that you can come up with that many meal ideas, try going vegetarian one day out of the week. You could even do something simple like switch to cashew milk (my favorite milk substitute) or switch to a vegan protein powder instead of whey protein. If everyone made small changes, and encouraged others to do the same, the impact could be tremendous!!!


So, on that note, an EASY way to do some vegan breakfasting is to try my original Date Breakfast Bars! Enjoy!


Medjool Dates come from one species of date palm that is incredibly resistant to dry conditions and highly resistant to salty soils. It's a crop that will grow in desert-like climates where other crops won't. Try out my lovely breakfast bars featuring this hearty fruit of the desert! (As always, click the pic for the printable recipe!)


These bars are jam packed with nutritious and delicious ingredients. I think they taste kinda like a PB & J sandwich! While I consider this a healthful treat, it is NOT a light snack. Very nutrient dense, one 2 inch x 2 inch square will get you through your morning! As it is mainly comprised of dates, it has a fair amount of sugar too, (no added sugar of course) so keep that in mind

Let’s get to it!

· 1 Cup Medjool Dates · 1/3 Cup Peanuts (You can use any nut, but it won’t taste like pb & j) · 1/3 Cup dried fruit of your choice (I like to use dried apricots) · 1/3 Cup Oats · 1/4 Cup Flaxseed Meal · 1/4 Cup Chia Seeds · 2 Tbsp Coconut Oil (Use unrefined for coconut flavor, and better nutrition) · 1/2 Cup Hot Water (Don’t add it all at first. You want just enough for the ingredients to come together as a sticky paste. Add as needed) Possible Add-ins · Unsweetened Flaked Coconut (YUM) · ½ tsp Cinnamon · Dried Apple chunks - Avoid fresh fruit as this will greatly reduce the shelf life of these bars. This is a very simple recipe, we’re gonna take all the ingredients and throw them in the food processor! If you don’t have a food processor, you might be able to use a blender, but some blenders don’t do well without high liquid content, so watch out. It’s also possible to just finely chop most of the ingredients and then mix them in a bowl, but of course that’ll take a little longer. Line a pan with wax paper. I used a 9-inch pie pan, but you could use an 8 by 8 baking pan. The dimensions aren’t critical, and we’re not baking this so whatever you got. Transfer the mixture into the pan, then put another sheet of wax paper on top. Now you can just press the mixture evenly into the pan using your hands. Refrigerate at least one hour. You need enough time for the oats and chia seeds to absorb some water. Remove the top layer of wax paper. Cut into 2x2 bars (or just however much you wanna eat), and enjoy! Keep refrigerated.

  1. Feed to Food conversion efficiencies https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/10/105002

  2. Corn crops in the U.S. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/corn-and-other-feedgrains/feedgrains-sector-at-a-glance/

  3. Feeding grain to animals vs. people https://news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-million-people-grain-livestock-eat

  4. Agriculture's impact on environment https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325532198_Reducing_food's_environmental_impacts_through_producers_and_consumers

  5. Animal extinction rate https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2018/10/millions-of-years-mammal-evolution-lost-news/

  6. Greatest threats to biodiversity https://www.nature.com/news/biodiversity-the-ravages-of-guns-nets-and-bulldozers-1.20381

  7. How grazing animals affect the terrain. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-livestock-grazing-stop-desertification/

  8. Analysis of animal agriculture land, water, GHGs and reactive nitrogen https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4143028/

  9. Methane produced by Cows https://phys.org/news/2019-07-potential-methane-cows.html

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