Fighting Climate Change through diet - JAGRITI KAUSHIK

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time which have great impact on natural world as well as human society. From shifting weather patterns that threatens food production to rising sea level that are increasing risks of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope. Without drastic actions today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.

Animal agriculture worldwide uses 33% of land and water resources to raise 80.3 billion animals globally each year for production of food like meat, eggs and dairy products contributing 14.5% of Green house gas emission. This GHGs are directly linked with average global temperature of the earth. Animal agriculture is the second highest emitter of GHGs more than the transportation industry. While carbon dioxide is the most notorious greenhouse gas, responsible for about 27% of animal agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions,methane is potentially 28 times more harmful than carbon dioxide in terms of its global warming potential, while nitrous oxide is 265 times as potent.The greatest source of the former is cattle, who, like all ruminants (cows, sheep and goats), produce methane during their digestive process. This gas is responsible for about 44% of animal agriculture’s total greenhouse gas emissions.Nitrous oxide, on the other hand, is released when animal manure is used as fertiliser, composted, or otherwise processed. It is especially problematic if more nitrogen is used than the vegetation can absorb. About 29% of the meat industry’s emissions are in the form of nitrous oxide.The immense scale of beef and dairy production means that cattle farming contributes the biggest share of the meat industry’s total greenhouse gas emissions, at 65%. Emission levels continue to rise due to ever-intensifying meat and dairy production.11/3rdof planet’s arable land is used to grow feed for livestock.

This sector is also among the largest driver of land-use change. Amazon forests, also called “Lungs of earth” providing shelter to 3 million species of plants and animals and billions of trees which absorbs tonnes of Carbon dioxide every year and slows down climate change along with providing us 20% of earth’s oxygen is facing a multitude of threats of deforestation for producing a land for cattle ranching and soy plantation for feeding livestock. If the current trend continues, deforestation would double to 48 million hectares till 2030 and leading more than a quarter of Amazon biome without trees. Instead of producing crops to feed animals in agriculture, producing plant proteins for direct human consumption would significantly increase the number of people the planet could feed.

Apart from land use, water resources are hugely impacted due to animal agriculture. 1 kg of chicken right from its rearing in factory farm, slaughtering, cleaning meat requires 4325 litres. Of water and 1kg cereals requires 1644 litres. World is covered by 71% of water out of which only 3% is fresh water fit for consumption. The planet is already facing the problems of water crisis.

Animal agriculture is also affecting Global food security by polluting soil, degradation and erosion of soil and poor soil and land management. The animals inlivestock farms produces nitrogenous wastes which are directly released in nearby water bodies without treatment leading to water and soil degradation. This manure polluted waterways are not just harming the environment but also having negative impacts on public health. In India, 2/3rdof population drinks untreated water, only 8% boils it. This is opening channels for a lot of water-borne diseases to occur in humans causing severe destructions. The livestock are fed with antibiotics to keep them safe from bacterial infections but this leads to antibiotic resistance in humans leading to emergence of antibiotic resistant microbes. Animal agriculture is among top three reasons of Antibiotic resistance in human race globally. This is an unsustainable way of food production.

In 2050, the estimated population of humans will be 9.8 billion. With this growing population, we need to find more sustainable way of food production and consumption. 107 leading scientists of the world have warned that climate change has threatened world food supply and we need to have a big change to our eating habits and farming methods.The future is Plant-based if we truly want to combat climate change. Humane eating does not just make a difference to the animals but also to the planet.

Sustainable agriculture is the way of farming that meets the needs of existing and future generations ensuring profitability, environmental health and social and economical equity. While COVID-19 has hit us hard, it has also underscored the urgency of meeting Global goals. This pandemic like others before it, is closely linked to the way humanity treats nature as a commodity that is gobbled up to fuel our economies. We urgently need to step us an ambition and action on the three planetary crisis of climate change, nature loss and pollution to head off further pandemics.

References:

Gerber, P. et al. (2013): Tackling climate change through livestock: a global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. FAO, Rome. p. 15

Myhre, G., D. Shindell, F.-M. Bréon, et al. (2013): Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Gerber, P. et al. (2013): Tackling climate change through livestock: a global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. FAO, Rome. p.15

BBC (2005): Amazon destruction accelerating. Available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4561189.stm [03.03.2018]

Saatchi, S., S. Asefi-Najafabady, Y. Malhi,et al (2013): Persistent Effects of a Severe Drought on Amazonian Forest Canopy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110, no. 2 (January 8, 2013).

IPCC (2007): Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, Pachauri, R.K and Reisinger, A. (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland

Tilman, D. & M. Clark (2014): Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health.



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