It’s not all about fossil fuels – fuel and shelter are such basic human needs, but so are food and water. Many people understand that fossil fuels must go, but are unaware of the relationships between our food and climate change. Indeed some researchers estimate that industrialised animal farming creates as much greenhouse gas as all of the world’s transport methods combined. Food production is linked to climate change in 3 ways:
1. Food production is a major cause of climate change
Rainforest is unnecessarily disappearing for food production. One fifth of the Amazonian rainforest has already gone and livestock rearing is a major cause of this. Approximately 30% of the world’s land surface is given over to grazing livestock or growing animal food. This is an incredibly inefficient way of meeting human dietary needs, as well as a major cause of biodiversity reduction and species extinction. Industrialised meat and dairy farming also leads to methane production. Methane is produced by ruminant animals (cows, sheep) when they burp and fart. Methane is the most powerful greenhouse gas producing twenty one times more global warming than carbon dioxide. Long distance transport use increases the carbon footprint of meat (as well as being cruel to animals)
The excessive use of water in industrial farming practices is also bad for the planet. It takes up to 15,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of beef, while many global communities are short of water. Yes, of course we all have to eat, but there are other ways.
Impact of industrialised animal farming
2. Food production is affected by the consequences of climate change
Climate change is already resulting in increased incidence of weather extremes resulting in unpredictable harvests. Two contrasting examples are long-term global wheat market fluctuations leading to price increases, and the recent European shortage of courgettes.
Other consequences include desertification, soil infertility and water shortages e.g. Zimbabwe has suffered increasingly severe droughts, but this rainy season, severe rains in Southern Zimbabwe have caused flooding and washed topsoil away.
Elsewhere, sea level rise is threatening vast areas of densely populated fertile land, such as river deltas. These global factors combine to create food shortages which we are concerned will be the earliest, most severe symptom of climate change to directly impact on us in the UK. Meanwhile the number of climate change refugees will continue to rise.
3. Changing food production and consumption is a solution for Climate change
There are very real concerns about feeding 10bn people globally by 2050. However, as with the arguments in favour of extracting less accessible fossil fuels, this assumes ‘business as usual’ in the wealthier, highest consuming nations. Changing land use by changing current dietary trends can contribute greatly to both climate change mitigation and adaptation. The Zero Carbon Britain Project report
describes a scenario where “a healthy diet is provided for the UK population on 29% of the land currently used for food production, supplemented by low carbon imports…This would lead to an 80% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and free-up land for reforestation and taking carbon from the atmosphere’’. This may sound optimistic, but there is little doubt that a more plant based diet would help solve the climate crisis facing the planet, and would also lead to a healthier population. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are on the rise especially in wealthier countries where people are eating too much processed food and too much meat and dairy products.
What we are doing
Sheffield Climate Alliance Food Group campaigns to raise awareness of the complex issue of feeding a growing population on a planet with finite resources. Our main themes are to: encourage a reduction in meat and dairy consumption; support local, sustainable food production to build up Sheffield’s resilience to food supply irregularities; reduce food waste, from field to plate. (Remember £400m worth of food is wasted each year in Sheffield alone.)
The Food Group has contacted local councillors, MPs and MEPs. and is working to help people see the connection between Climate Change and Food. If you would like to come to this group, please see details of the next meeting.
What you can do
- Think about where your food comes from.
- Buy seasonal local food.
- Buy less processed food – cook your own!
- Aim for zero waste.
- Eat less meat and dairy. Eat more plants.
- Support local sustainable producers.
- Could you get an allotment?
- Spread the word and talk to friends and family about this
Download our leaflet here.