Category Archives: Environment

America is thirsty

America is thirsty. But there’s something powerful we can all do to help quench that thirst.

First, let’s unpack some stats. 43% of the U.S. and 51% of the lower 48 states are currently in drought. 234 million acres of cropland in U.S. is experiencing drought. 130 million people in the U.S. are currently affected by drought this week. It’s a big problem.

What can we do about it? After all we can’t change the weather. True, but we can change what we eat and it turns out that may be more effective than anything else. Eating vegetarian foods saves a huge amount of water because producing meat is so water-intensive compared to plant foods.

Unfortunately, local officials seem to be unaware of this. They suggest, among other things, that we install low-flow toilets, cut down on the length of our showers, and remember to turn off the faucet when brushing our teeth.  All of which is fine but it’s rare that any of them suggest that we take a look at what we eat, despite the fact that what we eat has a huge impact on the amount of water consumed overall. So, let’s do some math and add up the potential savings.

It takes about 5,200 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, about 1,700 gallons of water to produce a pound of pork and about 800 gallons of water to produce a pound of chicken, when considering both the water needed to grow the crops to feed them as well as their drinking water.  Now let’s say on a given day that a person chooses to eat a 4 ounce serving of beef, a 4 ounce serving of pork and 4 ounce serving of chicken in a day.  They would use up about 1,300 gallons of water in the beef production, about 420 gallons of water in the pork production and 200 for the chicken production, giving a grand total of 1,920 gallons of water in just one day.

On the other hand, it takes about 530 gallons of water to produce a pound of soybeans, about 370 gallons of water to produce a pound of corn and about 230 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat. Now let’s say a vegetarian chooses to get his nutrition from plant sources such as tofu, wheat and corn and uses 4 ounces of each ingredient during the course of the day. He would use up about 132 gallons of water through soy production, about 92 gallons of water on raising corn and about 59 gallons on the production of wheat, giving a grand total of 283 gallons of water. He therefore saves 1,637 gallons of water over the meat-centered diet every single day.

Compare this to common recommendations for water conservation. One can save about 10 gallons a day by using a water efficient toilet, 2 gallons of water a day by using an efficient bathroom faucet, 25 gallons of water a day by taking shorter showers and using an efficient nozzle, 4 gallons of water with an efficient dishwasher, and 16 gallons a day with an efficient washing machine, giving a grand total of 57 gallons of water per day.

Now saving 57 gallons of water is a day is good, and it is right that those savings are pointed out.  However, the greatest impact is from the 1,637 gallons that could be saved by switching to a plant based diet. Here in the Northwest, many people may understandably be less concerned with saving water than in other areas of the country. But consider that much of our food comes from those other regions, and that even here in Washington, much agricultural land is in the center of the state which receives much less rainfall.

Switching to a vegetarian diet is a change that has a powerful effect on the environment. In addition to saving large amounts of water, our diets help save the rainforests, reduce soil erosion and water pollution, and fight global warming.  A vegetarian diet is the single most environmentally friendly lifestyle choice a person can make and is so delicious that it will leave a good taste in your mouth too.

Invest in plant-based foods

Cows emit huge quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas

The earth needs you. More and more businesses and multinational organizations are sending us the same message: a plant-based diet is vital and necessary for a sustainable environment. One of the latest is the global management consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which published a report entitled, “Food for Thought: The Untapped Climate Opportunity in Alternative Proteins.”

Investing in plant-based foods can make a big difference. According to BCG’s report, investments in plant-based alternatives result in 11 times more greenhouse gas reductions than those in zero-emission cars. They also come out on top when compared with green cement technology and green building investments. “There’s been a lot of investments into electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels, which is all great and helpful to reduce emissions” says BCG’s M. Clausen. He goes on to say, “We have not seen comparable investment yet [in alternative proteins], even though it’s rising rapidly,” he added. “If you really care about impact as an investor, this is an area that you definitely need to understand.”

The good news is that plant-based investments are picking up, and experts expect the market to soar in the coming years. In fact, last year, Bloomberg Intelligence projected that the plant-based food market could hit $162 billion in the next decade. That’s serious money.

Some climate activists have come up with a plan called Appetite for a Plant-Based Treaty which highlights how the United Nations IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has repeatedly demonstrated that a vegan diet is the best diet to drastically reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions. The treaty has so far been endorsed by over 50 groups and prominent individuals. The Plant-Based Treaty has 3 core principles: relinquish the expansion of animal agriculture, redirect policies favoring a plant-based food system, and restore ecosystems and reforest the Earth.

There’s more good news. Environmental organizations are finally beginning to get on  board. For instance, Dr Peter Carter, of the IPCC and Director of the Climate Emergency Institute says, “The science is definite, global climate catastrophe cannot be averted without the elimination of meat and dairy in our diet, and that must happen fast.”

Courtney Vail, Campaign Director at Oceanic Preservation Society, added: “Changing our diets from a focus on animal-based to plant-based products is one of the most powerful things we can do to positively impact the world. Animal agriculture utilizes precious water resources, releases climate-altering greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and reduces the planet’s ability to sequester carbon by destroying diverse ecosystems.”

As investors contribute to the plant-based alternative market, a wider variety of products will become available, making it ever easier for people to shift their diets away from animal based products.  As demand for animal products reduces, fewer animals will need to be raised, thus lowering the greenhouse gas emissions and pollution caused by animal agriculture.  Let’s hope that society can do this soon enough to avoid a climate catastrophe.

Local vs vegan – which is better for the planet?

Many people advocate buying local as a way to reduce the greenhouse gases causing climate change. Buying from local or regional farmers who grow and raise your food, so that it doesn’t have to be shipped a long distance, saves the CO2 used in transportation, but in fact doing so only saves about 10 percent of the total greenhouse gases that are generated in growing and processing most of the food we eat, according to an expert who has analyzed where most of the climate impact of our food comes from.

It’s the kind of food that ends up on the truck that determines the carbon footprint, explains Sandra Noonan, the Chief Sustainability Officer of Just Salad, a restaurant chain, and it is one more reason to switch to a plant-based diet. Supporting local farmers is always a good idea, but it doesn’t have a huge impact on our carbon footprint, since most of the greenhouse gases generated in producing food happen earlier than the final step of trucking it to your local market or store.

More important from a sustainability point of view than how far it has travelled, is what the food actually is. The big advantage here goes to plant foods. One new report published by Stanford University says that by shifting away from meat and dairy, we could lower our climate impact by 68 percent.

Buying locally sourced beef is almost never going to be a better option than shifting to a plate of all vegetables, legumes, fruit, and whole grains. Locally raised beef is still worse for the environment than buying broccoli or lentils that was grown further away and had to be shipped across the country to your store, although of course, locally grown plant foods are best of all.

Now, companies like Just Salad and others are adding labels to ingredients and the food they serve up, that shows the environmental impact of our dish, how much CO2 was burned, and methane was released in the growing, harvesting, processing, and transporting of our food from soil to bowl and beyond. It’s here that consumers will see the big difference between plant foods and animal foods. Let’s hope these new labels will help encourage more people to switch to plant-based options.

Meat is hogging the land

Raising meat wastes land – a lot of land. In fact, if everyone shifted to a plant-based diet, we would reduce global land use for agriculture by 75%. This large reduction of agricultural land use would be possible thanks to a reduction in land used for grazing and a much smaller need for land to grow crops. If we combine pastures and cropland for animal feed, almost 75% of all agricultural land is used for meat and dairy production. That 75% translates to a lot of land when one considers that according to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, half of all habitable land is currently used for agriculture.

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Cows are the new coal

Cows are the new coal! Companies supplying meat and dairy to McDonald’s, KFC, Tesco, and Nestlé, among others, are falling short of their pledges relating to methane emissions and deforestation, a new report found. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas.

Jeremy Coller is chair of the FAIRR investor network, made up of members with $40 trillion in assets. In a statement, he said: “The post-COP26 era leaves large parts of the meat and dairy supply chain looking outdated and unattractive. Failures from methane to manure management underline the growing sense in the market that cows are the new coal.

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Frances Moore Lappé

Frances Moore Lappé receiving a Humanitarian Award from the James Beard Foundation

If we can see further today it’s because we’ve been standing on the shoulders of giants. This is certainly true of the veg movement. One of those giants is Frances Moore Lappé, author of the wildly popular book, “Diet for a Small Planet”, which came out 50 years ago and yet even today its influence is still being widely felt.

Lappé explained that a vegetarian diet was much better for the planet and was healthy for us. Ms. Lappé was 25 and attending graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, when she began to question her life’s purpose. Like many in her generation, she was inspired by the ecological movement that led to the first Earth Day.

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The problems with wool

Don’t let them pull the wool over your eyes. Wool is neither ecofriendly or animal friendly! Wool production is a significant driver of biodiversity loss, according to a new report, and is worsening global warming. Experts recommend replacing the animal product in favor of vegan alternatives.

Wool producers have been pushing the narrative that wool production is “natural, traditional, and sustainable.” One industry player, Woolmark, which represents 60,000 Australian wool growers, even refers to wool as “a friend to the environment.”

Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity says that claim is nonsense. “The industry has been pulling the wool over our eyes for decades, claiming that wool is a sustainable fiber,” Feldstein said in a statement. “Wool clothing comes with a heavy price tag of greenhouse gas emissions, land use, biodiversity loss, and pollution. Nothing about wool is sustainable.”

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Deforestation & methane reductions

Save our forests! During the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP26), 105 countries signed a pledge that aims to end deforestation by the year 2030. Leaders worldwide have banded together behind the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forest and Land Use, which will dedicate billions of dollars to ending deforestation and promoting reforestation efforts. The declaration says, “…to catalyze further progress on eliminating commodity-driven deforestation.”

We know which commodity they should start with, raising meat! For example, in the Amazon rainforest, raising cattle is the prime cause of the burning down the forest with fires so massive the astronauts can see them from outer space. The land is cleared not only for direct use by the cattle but also to grow feed for the cattle. In fact, the UN’s 2019 IPCC report concluded that nearly 80 percent of global deforestation could be directly attributed to agricultural production – significantly tied to the production of animal feed for livestock.

As climate change activists narrow in on the animal agricultural industry, governments worldwide are initiating programs to cut down emissions across the entire market. Recently, eight countries announced pledges to reduce methane emissions by 30 percent over the next ten years. The United States and European Union just announced the Global Methane Pledge to reduce worldwide methane emissions ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) this year. The European Commission has declared that reducing methane emissions, across every industry, is the “single most effective strategy in reducing global warming.”

Methane is a greenhouse gas 30 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide and is largely driven by raising meat.  Cows, in particular, are potent methane producers. Cows produce between 250 and 500 liters of methane every day. That’s a lot of gas! The number of livestock in the world keeps rising and livestock is grown to a larger size than before, all to meet the growing worldwide demand for meat and dairy products.

We can all do our part in reducing methane emissions by simply not eating meat. We’ll also be helping to save the forests and other environmental problems such as water pollution. Going veg is a powerful move to help make a sustainable environment for the planet we all live on.

Menu items labeled for their carbon footprint

At the COP26 conference, running from Oct 31 to Nov 12 in Glasgow, Scotland, every item on the food menu had its climate impact indicated.  The COP26 conference is promoted as having the goal of promoting a global response to the climate crisis.  While many commitments have been made by various countries participating, most people agree that their promises won’t be nearly enough to reach the goal of only a 1.5 degree increase in average global temperatures, and this was particularly evident in the case of their approach to food. 

One of the most impactful ways that this goal could be achieved is by eliminating the consumption of animal products, especially beef.  To that end, many organizations and demonstrators have been pushing for the conference to provide only plant-based food during the event, to demonstrate their acknowledgement that meat and other animal products are so devastating to the environment.  While the conference organizers weren’t willing to go that far, they did come up with a novel way to educate attendees on the impact of their food choices.

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Cutting livestock by a third

There’s no fixing a climate change catastrophe without slashing the number of animals raised for food.  A new Meat Atlas 2021 report revealed that globally, the world’s five largest meat and dairy companies together account for more emissions than oil giants such as BP or Exxon.  Many people now recognize this fact, but governments appear loath to acknowledge it publicly in their policies due to pressure from large animal agriculture producers and meat-eaters.  However, one country has taken the first step in this process, and are considering cutting the number of livestock by nearly a third. 

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