Climate change is impacting our food supply today and is likely to have significant impacts in the future.
I realize I’m wading into a topic full of political controversy, but my focus is health — and healthy eating in particular — rather than politics.
Besides, the impacts of a warming planet on our food and our health aren’t dependent on whether the warming is a natural cycle or the result of human action.
We have all heard the climate news that occurred recently in Paris. The Paris Agreement reached at the Conference of the Parties is a global agreement for the reduction of climate change. Once adopted by 55 countries and the agreement gets officially signed, countries will adopt their own systems to meet the established guidelines.
The goal globally is to hold the temperature change of global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Zero greenhouse gas emissions by the period 2030 and 2050 is the goal all wish to achieve.
On local and personal levels, both climate itself and government efforts to stop climate change are going to impact our lives and food.
How will that affect us and what can we do in order to maintain a nutritious diet in the midst of change?
Impacts on our Food Supply
In the years ahead, the world’s food supply can be at risk from the effects of a warming planet.
- The productivity of our crops will be reduced if the forecast heat, drought and flooding occur.
- If drought conditions persist, we may be forced to rely on irrigation of crops in more areas, putting more stress on water supplies in regions that are already seeing problems. In addition, irrigation takes energy to pump water where it needs to go from where it is located.
- Planting, growing and harvesting will be affected by flooding conditions. Many crops are adversely impacted by too much water, especially at the wrong time, in addition to drought.
- The pest population could increase if cold weather is insufficient to interrupt their growth cycle and keep them in check naturally.
- Changes in the oceans through warming water temperatures and the loss of coral reefs will impact global fisheries.
The lower in the food chain a food is, such as is the case with plants, the less energy it requires to produce. Reducing the use of chemicals and fertilizers to produce food will also lower the impact on our climate.
Impacts on Public Health
Stressors on our health as a result of climate change are expected to increase our health threats.
Health disruptions can affect us all but will affect certain populations more severely depending on location, economic resources, age and current health status.
Respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, premature death, vector borne disease such as West Nile Virus, water quality disease such as cholera, food supply disease such as malnutrition, mental health disturbances, increasing allergens and injuries can all result from from warming global temperatures.
It is estimated that there are 7 million deaths globally from air pollution now. This number is anticipated to increase as the planet continues to warm.
What Can We Do Now?
Increase the amount of plants in our diets
Yes, add more plants and reduce the amount of meat we consume. This can be done by following the Meatless Monday movement and choosing to eat plant based protein one day a week.
Buying local does reduce transportation emissions but more can be saved from going meatless for 30% of your calories. Most of the emissions from our food source don’t come from transporting it, as many believe, but producing it. That includes methane from cattle and sheep which exceeds gases from raising fish, chicken and plants. Growing feed, fertilizing and watering their feed, converting forests to grazing, and the waste from the animals also contribute to emissions.
A combination of locally grown foods and going meatless one day a week will definitely reduce your carbon footprint.
Reduce personal food waste
Americans waste an estimated 40% of our food annually and each household wastes 14% of their food purchases. Spoiled food sent to landfills produce methane as it decomposes sending gas into our atmosphere.
Plan meals ahead of time, rotate your food so you use it before it expires, freeze produce that is beginning to wilt to use in casseroles, soups and stews later, avoid impulse buying at the grocery with things not on your list, and prepare what you will eat without leftovers that go uneaten (or plan leftovers into your menu).
Conserve water wherever possible
Turn off running water, steam instead of boiling food, shower instead of bathe, use right size pot for cooking, thaw food in refrigerator not sink, run washer and dishwasher when full and fix the leaky faucet.
Eating green encompasses many actions. Reduce or avoid open-ocean harvested fish, such as Bluefin tuna and swordfish, preferring sustainable fisheries; choose fresh produce which is the least processed product.
Compost food waste; choose local and in-season foods; reduce and recycle packaging; cook with safer, energy efficient cookware and appliances.
Reduce convenience foods; pack lunches using leftovers; avoid disposable plates and cutlery; use reusable containers rather than disposable sandwich bags or cling wrap; cook quicker with convection and pressure cookers; cover you pots;
Use reusable shopping bags; buy refillable bottles; and grow some of your own food.
We must be resilient and adapt, making positive changes as the climate of our planet changes. In doing so, we are also having positive impacts on our global community.
Changing even a few small things when it comes to our food supply and the choices we make can make an impact if not individually, certainly collectively.