An international coalition of more than 200 researchers and other experts identified and modeled the 100 most substantive, already existing solutions for addressing global warming. This tremendous work, known as Project Drawdown, became a best-selling book in 2017 and continues today. My friend Camille and I gave our first workshop on Reversing Global Warming: Introduction to Drawdown in September. We love that so many of the solutions have to do with food: at least 17 out of 100! The people who came to our workshop found something that spoke to them as well. Almost everyone said they wanted to dig deeper by taking the five-part Drawdown Solutions workshops. Whoo-hoo!
The Project Drawdown researchers ranked the solutions according to their potential value in either putting less carbon into the atmosphere or pulling it back down into the Earth. They were shocked by the results. Educating girls was #6! The top solution for climate change isn’t solar or wind energy. It is improved refrigerant management, saving about 90 gigatons of CO2. (If you replace a refrigerator, freezer, dehumidifier, or air conditioner, make sure the old, inefficient one gets retired, not used by someone else. If a cooling appliance needs repair, act promptly.)
Climate Change and Food?
Ninety gigatons of carbon is a big deal. But combined, reducing food waste and eating a plant-based diet make more of a difference than better handling of refrigerants. Wasting less food earns #3 on the solutions chart by saving over 70 gigatons. Eating a plant-based diet ranks #4 by keeping over 66 gigatons of heat-trapping greenhouse gases out of the air. Together, that’s 136 gigatons total compared to 90 gigatons for refrigerant management.
Waste Less Food, From Farm to Landfill
Project Drawdown found that:
A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions.
The further the food makes it through the food chain before being wasted, the more energy it has taken. For example, it’s better to not harvest a peanut than to dig it up, clean it, dry it, ship it, grind it into peanut butter, put it in a jar, label the jar, put the jar in a box, ship the box, put the jar on the shelf, light and heat/cool the store, ring up your purchase at the cash register, drive the jar home, and then throw the peanut butter away so it can be hauled off in a garbage truck to rot and spew methane in a landfill. The more processing, packaging, heating, and cooling involved for a food item, the worse the waste. Which brings us to eating a plant-rich diet.
Eat More Plants
Project Drawdown found that:
Plant-rich diets reduce emissions and also tend to be healthier, leading to lower rates of chronic disease. According to a 2016 study, business-as-usual emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent through adopting a vegan diet and 63 percent for a vegetarian diet, which includes cheese, milk, and eggs. $1 trillion in annual health-care costs and lost productivity would be saved.
Wow! This gets to the core of why I started to the Cook for Good project. Eating plants and wasting less food helps you save money, eat well, and make a difference.
As the Environmental Working Group showed in its Meat-Eater’s Guide to Climate Change and Health, animal products produce a lot of greenhouse gases. Lamb, beef, cheese, and pork are the worst. When I was a vegetarian, I ate a lot of cheese. But I went vegan in 2011, the year the EWG published this report. It’s hard to believe that environmental and social-justice groups still serve meat and cheese, often with few or no vegan options. Frankly, it makes me think they aren’t serious about working toward their stated goals.
Eating Plants Can Make a Big Difference
Researchers Dr. Kim Nichols and Seth Wynes asked the question:
What can one person in an industrialized country do about climate change?
They found that eating a plant-based diet is among the high-impact actions, including having one fewer child, living car free, flying less, switching from an electric car to car-free, and buying green energy. Click to see the whole infographic from their study, including medium- and low-impact actions such as recycling, hanging clothes to dry, and changing light bulbs.
[Data from Wynes, Seth, and Kimberly A Nicholas. 2017. “The Climate Mitigation Gap: Education and Government Recommendations Miss the Most Effective Individual Actions.” Environmental Research Letters 12(7). DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/aa7541. I edited the image above for size, based on the original image by Catrin Jakobsson.]
Project Drawdown closes its description of plant-rich diets this way:
As Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has said, making the transition to a plant-based diet may be the most effective way an individual can stop climate change.
The Solutions Surround Us! Let’s Save the World!
We are in a climate crisis. We can take action to literally save civilization and reduce the vast amount of suffering ahead. The terrific news is that we already know how to do it. We just need the political and personal will to do it. If you get overwhelmed, remember that how you get food and what you eat can help cool the Earth. How you eat also shows others that you are taking our situation seriously. If you worry about talking with friends, family, and co-workers about this, remember there are so many solutions that almost everyone can find ways to help.
As Camille and I say in our workshops: from fear and despair to hope and action!
For more information
- Find all the Project Drawdown solutions, details about the process, and updated information on the official Drawdown site.
- Take the Pachamama workshop Reversing Global Warming: Introduction to Drawdown online or in person. I’m thinking about offering one online for Cook for Good readers. Let me know if you would be interested. If you live in North Carolina, consider joining our Pachamama RTP Facebook group.
- Watch the recordings of last month’s international conference: Research in Action, the Science of Drawdown.
- Find out more about getting rid of refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners, including what your community can do to minimize the damage. (Note: the link goes to a copy of the an old EPA website page. Tragically, the current administration has taken down many valuable pages of research results paid for with our tax dollars. Thanks to the many people who saved versions of these valuable resources.) That’s because the greenhouse gases that make refrigerators, freezers, dehumidifiers, and air conditioners work are so much more powerful than CO2. If you replace one of these appliances, make sure the old, inefficient one is removed from the grid and disposed of properly. If it needs repair, act promptly.
- Find loads of information on the Cook for Good website about cutting food waste and eating a plant-rich diet. Of course, check out my free vegan recipes. If you enjoyed this post, consider joining Cook for Good for access to the Supporters’ Recipe Library and to help me continue helping people save money, eat well, and make a difference.