What can you do?
After reading about the impacts of agriculture on climate, the challenges of food security and climate smart agricultural practices, you may be asking what you can do?
Figure 1: Display of eggs at a regional agriculture show in the UK ©University of Reading
Buying regional means that you are supporting a local farmer and that your food has travelled fewer miles, however this does not mean that the product has been produced in a more climate friendly manner. So in addition to finding out which geographical region your food comes from, try to find out how it has been produced. For example, a scientific study has shown that tomatoes grown in greenhouses in Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden had a higher carbon footprint than tomatoes imported from Spain, which had been grown under the sun.
Figure 2: Different food products ©University of Reading
Currently, there is no specific labelling to indicate that a product has been produced in a climate smart way, although there are some that certify strict conditions regarding the composition or production of a product or production. With more and more labels appearing on packaging in shops, it becomes less and less clear which label stands for what. We are left to inform ourselves as best we can, about what a label stands for and to choose which options best meet our expectations. In terms of climate change, looking for a measure of the carbon footprint of a product might be a good indication of how climate friendly a product is. However, some labels can be misleading, so remember to be critical and do your research before you buy.
Figure 3: Insects could provide a climate friendly protein alternative to meat ©University of Reading
The choice of the right product is a very complex problem. Should you buy fish caught locally even if the area is heavily overfished? Should you get your beef from an organic farm across the world, or a non-organic farm nearer to home? Buy tomatoes grown in greenhouses or fair trade mangoes that have been imported from far away? Soy or a steak? Dairy products or almond milk? Choosing the right products gets confusing, so consider the type of product, its origin and how it has been produced.
As we discussed, animal products generally contribute more to the emission of GHGs than products of plant origin so one option might be to consider cutting down your meat and dairy consumption. Poultry products are responsible for a much lower proportion of GHG emissions, so eating locally farmed chicken instead of beef imported from across the world could offer a further choice. Generally, whilst people in developing countries may benefit from an increase in animal protein in their diet, many people living in industrial countries, could safely consider reducing the amount of animal products they consume.
Fish would be a great alternative to meat but from an environmental and conservation perspective, has become problematic due to overfishing. You might like to check that your purchase has been fished or bred sustainably or, even better, choose a product that generally has a low environmental impact, such as mussels. Mussels filter nutrients directly out of the ocean, so other than good quality water they don’t need any further input and actually contribute to cleaning the water.
Insects offers another possible source of protein; a staple food for a large proportion of the global population but still comparatively unpopular in the Western world. Recently, a growing number of businesses and organisations have started to promote insects as a source of food in developed countries. These animals require comparatively few resources, grow quickly, emit a very small amount of GHGs and provide a valuable source of nutrients - so we may yet see a growth in these kinds of foods on our supermarket shelves.
Your choice will have environmental implications and ultimately influence the income of the producer.
References and further reading:
There is plenty of information on the web, about how you can reduce your impact on the environment. You may find the following related material helpful/of interest:
- Food miles website
- The carbon footprint on the WWF website.
- A video on creating a BioDigester by TheUrbanFarmingGuys on YouTube.
- Love Food, Hate Waste website
Wynes, S & Nicolas, K A. 2017. The climate mitigation gap: education and government recommendations miss the most effective individual actions.
- Carlsson-Kanyama, A. 1998. Food consumption patterns and their influence on climate change. Ambio, 27(7): 528–34. Please note: this is a reference and only the abstract is available to view for free
© University of Reading