The alarming problems created by global warming are numerous. One of them is an increase in extreme weather events (1). Mocoa, a town in south-western Colombia, was recently devastated by a landslide, killing at least 290 people, and leaving 300 missing (2). There have been criticisms that the government didn’t act quickly enough. This may be true, although President Juan Manuel Santos disputes this. But what is perhaps more pertinent is why the landslide happened in the first place.
Climate change has received the blame (3). After all, environmental authorities point out that the amount of rain that fell in a few hours – which caused the landslide – equalled the amount of rainfall normally seen in 10 days in this area. Indeed, the total volume of precipitation increases as the planet warms (4).
Colombia hasn’t been the only country to recently suffer from extreme weather. Cyclone Debbie has been passing over New Zealand and been causing all kinds of damage (5). The town of Edgecumbe is being completely evacuated following flooding. Photos show the extent of the damage.
Events like this should be a wake up call to the reality and seriousness of global warming. A new study highlights that carbon emissions from human activity are linked to extreme weather (6). So in order to avoid more frequent and serious instances of flooding, slides, tornadoes, cyclones and hurricanes, we will need to reduce our carbon emissions. This is where sustainable nutrition fits in. One way to substantially reduce our carbon emissions is to change our diet – to ensure that we are eating in a way that meets our nutritional needs, and which protects the environment.
Promoting sustainable diets
Food policy expert Tim Lang and nutritionist Pamela Mason have co-authored a new book titled Sustainable Diets: How Ecological Nutrition Can Transform Consumption and the Food System (7). They argue that people in both developed and developing countries need to transform their diets, for both environmental and health reasons. Poorer countries are now adopting the American diet, which is heavy in cheap, processed meat, dairy and refined carbs (8). This kind of diet is not sustainable (9).
Authors say it is clear from the available evidence that people need to increase their intake of plant-based foods – including fruits, vegetables and whole grains – and limit their consumption of meat and processed foods high in sugar. They also define a sustainable diet as one that prevents socio-economic divisions, such as those caused by economic inequality, bad governance, poor wages and lack of education.
Mason argues that a certain amount of ignorance can explain why so many people are failing to transform their diets. She lays the blame on the food industry:
“Consumers are largely ignorant of how many ticking time bombs there are within the food system. Many supermarkets and food processors know but are acting below the radar, when it is time for them to come clean with the public and to engage people in the change.”
People are also worried that changing their diets, in a way that reduces meat and includes more fruit and veg, will be expensive. Undoubtedly, fast food is affordable. But this attitude reflects a common misconception about sustainable diets. They’re not actually expensive. In fact, they can be cheaper than a diet heavy in animal products.
Furthermore, some countries are doing a better job than others in helping consumers change their eating habits. Mason and Lang claim that only Sweden, Germany, Brazil and Qatar have been acting effectively in this regard. Part of the problem lies in the fact that meat and dairy lobbies can block attempts to introduce sustainable dietary guidelines (10).
Image source: Wikipedia
Human lives are at stake
Lang, who is a professor at the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London, says:
“Humanity is entering a new era for food consumption. The new goal for consumers is to eat low impact diets. Only sustainable diets will give future generations the chance of decent living. It is a fantasy to say we can produce our way out of the coming crunch.”
It can be difficult to change your diet when you’re just thinking about carbon emissions. Even if you know that eating beef is more significantly more environmentally harmful than eating beans, this can still seem very abstract. However, the recent weather events in Colombia and New Zealand show that human lives are being lost and ruined, partly due to our diets. And as Lang stresses, it’s not only present human lives that are at stake, but the lives of future generations as well. People need to make the connection. The food on our plates can threaten our very existence.
About the author: Sam Woolfe @samwoolfe
Sam is a writer who is especially interested in space exploration, sustainability, animal agriculture, nutrition, wellbeing and smart drugs. He is also currently writing a book about the psychedelic drug DMT.