As standards of living rise around the world, more people are adopting the standard Western diet of refined sugars, processed foods and beef. Agricultural and manufacturing processes supporting this diet are becoming recognized as unsustainable in regard to population growth and climate change.
However, a group of researchers predicts that universal adoption of a Mediterranean-type diet promises a brighter future for both human health and Planet Earth.
Climate change and food production
Although we take this fact for granted, the foods we eat depend on very specific climate conditions. Research of the effects of climate change on food production has found that increases in temperature and carbon dioxide can be good for crops in some parts of the world, and mostly bad for crops in other places.
One thing is for sure: climate change will disrupt ecosystems on land and at sea. If the human race doesn’t adapt, we could be in for some big trouble. On our present course, researchers from the University of Minnesota predict that by 2050, the food production required to support our diets could increase global greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent and destroy habitats in every corner of the planet.
Destined for disaster?
Recently the United Nations Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change warned that Global greenhouse gas emissions will need to drop by 40 to 70 percent by 2050 to prevent massive and irreversible changes to the Earth’s climate by the end of the century. That’s a tall order, but according to the UM scientists, changing our diets is one of the most important things we can do as individuals to control the damage.
In a report on their study in the journal Nature, the researchers analyzed global trends for consumption of meat protein, empty calories and total calories per person. If you think our diets are bad now, by 2050, they predicted humans will be eating even fewer fruits and vegetables, about 60 percent more empty calories and up to 50 percent more meat products.
The changes wrought should these trends continue not only included pandemics of diabetes, heart disease and cancer, but catastrophic increases in greenhouse gasses and widespread habitat and cropland destruction.
A dietary solution
After painting that dark scenario, the researchers projected the possible health and environmental impacts of adopting Mediterranean, pescatarian (fish as a protein source) and vegetarian diets around the world. Were that to happen, incidence of type 2 diabetes could drop about 25 percent, cancer rates could fall about 10 percent and heart disease deaths could be reduced about 10 percent.
What’s more, by adopting a plant-based diet, humans could prevent virtually all of the greenhouse gas emission increases and planetary destruction due to food production that otherwise lies in store if we follow our current diet trajectory.
It may seem unlikely for humans to make a species-wide change toward eating healthier in order to save the planet. But an awareness of the possibilities, both good and bad, that lie ahead could help people understand how the personal choices they make affect everyone.
Choosing what you eat could become one of the most important personal choices you will make.
Environmental Protection Agency