Taking responsibility by eating a more plant-based diet

Taking responsibility by eating a more plant-based diet

Climate scientists generally agree that we are in a state of climate crisis. Last year (2023) was the warmest year on record, with global temperature about 1.2C warmer than pre-industrial levels. The ten warmest years since 1850 all occurred in the last decade. Ocean heat is at record levels. Many other environmental indicators are just downright depressing. And projections about what we will face over the coming decades, if we don’t dramatically change course, are scary (check out Mark Lynas (2020) Six Degrees of Warming for an overview). 

People often ask us about what they can do to make a difference. With over 8 billion people on the planet, it’s true that any individual action will only make a trivial impact on the global environment (unless you’re one of the super rich!). However, it’s important to be part of the solution. If you lead a responsible, purpose-filled life, you can do your part and hopefully inspire others to join you. Sparking or reinforcing a social movement for good is the best way for any of us to make lasting change.

So what is the best way for an individual to make a difference? There are many possibilities associated with transportation, housing, and landscaping. 

But probably the easiest change we can all make is by eating “lower on the food chain.” In other words, eating a more plant-based diet.

Agriculture is a main contributor to climate change. Globally, about 18% of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. These emissions come mainly from land clearing and fertilizer use. In addition, agriculture is probably the main contributor to our current biodiversity loss, described as the planet’s sixth great extinction. 

How can we reduce agriculture’s impact on the climate? The most effective way is for people in richer countries to use less resources. And while sometimes messages like this might seem like a drag, there are ways to reduce your impact without sacrificing your quality of life. In fact, some reductions in resource use can actually improve life quality. Eating a more plant-based diet is a great example.

Eating a more plant-based diet is win-win-win. 

One win is that it improves the environment. Greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture are anywhere from 10-120 times higher than emissions from plant (crop) production. If we could just eat grains, vegetables, and fruits instead of feeding them to animals, we could massively decrease the environmental impact of agriculture. A recent study in PLoS Climate estimated that phasing out animal agriculture over the next 15 years would be equivalent to about a 68 percent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions through 2100. 

A second win is the effect plant-based diets have on your health. Mortality from chronic conditions (type II diabetes, cancer, heart disease) are 10-25% higher on typical US “omnivorous” diets than on more plant-rich diets (like the “Mediterranean” diet) (Tilman and Clark 2014). 

The third win is the increase in animal wellbeing. Most people have probably seen features on animal cruelty in agriculture. Wouldn’t it be better to not be a part of that?

Much of the US food system encourages meat consumption. Subsidies exist to encourage farmers to grow animal feed over food for humans. Big agricultural conglomerates make and market products that help ensure that our consumption of meat stays high.

But there are things you can do.

Probably the best thing to do is just to keep things simple. Eat basic fruits and vegetables whenever you can. Cut out meat from some of your meals or make meat portions smaller. And push for policies that help everyone make those healthy, plant-rich diet choices. 

Let’s not just throw up our hands about climate change.

Let’s be part of the solution.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.