red meat on a chopping board

How is your diet affecting climate change?

In February the weather across the UK reached record breaking temperatures, registering 10 degrees higher than the national average. While many enjoyed the luxuries of an early summer, the reality behind the heatwave leaves little to be celebrated.

Last October scientists warned that by the end of the century we will reach double the earth’s average temperature if we continue to make little alteration to our lifestyles. This will mean a significant change to the environment, creating droughts, floods and extreme heat.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that there would need to be ‘rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.’

What can we do?

While that sounds like a challenge beyond the average individual, there are things we can do in order to make a difference.

Believe it or not, our diets are currently one of the most significant contributing factors to climate change. Eating animal products, in particular red meat, has a high environmental impact.

“What a lot of people don’t consider is how the meat is actually produced” says Emily Wolstenholme, researcher for the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change.

“We go to the supermarket and we pick up things from the supermarket shelves and put them in our trolley, without thinking how it actually got there.”

The production and consumption of animal products releases damaging greenhouse gases into the atmosphere due to livestock, as well as causing deforestation and water shortages from farming.

with meat, it seems quite separate from the impact it has

Emily continues: “When a lot of people think about climate change and greenhouse gas emmissions they think about transportation. When you see gas coming out of an exhaust pipe, it’s a visual indicator of the problem. Whereas with meat, it seems quite separate from the impacts it has.”

“When you pick up a packet of bacon from a supermarket shelf you don’t even think about the fact it comes from a pig, let alone how that pig was raised or how it affects the environment,” she says.

1/4 of all global emissions comes from food

Last month, the University of Oxford released a study showing the extent of the impact food production and consumption has on the environment.

It was recorded that 1/4 of all global emissions comes from food, and more than half of those emissions comes from animal products. The results of the study show that by cutting meat from your diet, specifically beef and pork, you can reduce your carbon footprint by two thirds.

Hakay Ross, leader of Happy Vegans in Bournemouth, states: “It is the single biggest change we can do as individuals in lessening the affects of climate change. This is in our hands. I know a bunch of people who switched [to veganism] for the environment, and many more for whom it is a contributing factor.”

This doesn’t mean that to make a difference you need to adopt a completely meat-free and vegan lifestyle.

“I don’t think it’s feasible to say to everybody you need to give up eating meat” says Emily. “A better way is to ask people to reduce their meat consumption. Red meat, such as beef, has a far greater impact on the environment than chicken, so even just people reducing their beef intake can make a difference.”

Going forward, Emily suggests that people should try being meat free one day a week. This is a more manageable technique for those who are opposed to drastically changing their eating habits, and who use meat products as a staple part of their diet.

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