Food and climate change

Simple living, extreme early retirement, being wealthy, ...
Post Reply
Alphaville
Posts: 2427
Joined: Thu Oct 03, 2019 10:50 am
Location: Quarantined

Food and climate change

Post by Alphaville »

Just ran into a paper on Science which implies that even eliminating fossil fuels today our food production would give us a global heat increase of 2°C.

https://science.sciencemag.org/content/370/6517/705

So I went to look at climate change in food production. Which I always tuned out because hey, I like to eat, and please don’t preach at me about my diet, and I always plead guilty to eating meat. On the other hand it’s easy to hate exhaust fumes and fossil fuels.

But anyway this seemed significant. I got curious and ran into this:

https://ourworldindata.org/food-ghg-emissions

26% of our carbon emissions come from the food supply?

And the biggest chunk out of that portion... not transportation, but livestock (by itself) + land use for livestock (which is land use change, counted separately).

See chart:
https://ourworldindata.org/uploads/2019 ... 68x777.png

I’m not a vegan, but damn... after looking at this... I almost want to? (Tried before, failed spectacularly).

Anyway I’m not posting this as an invitation to question climate change or trash the Paris Agreement which saves as a framework for the paper (but only as an easy to understand reference, independent of the material facts discussed.)

Rather my intention starting this thread is to see who here takes into account their food’s carbon footprint, and if you have any methods or tactics or strategies to deal with it.

Would prefer to stick to empirical fact and science and practical solutions if possible.

Found more data on the subject that compares emissions per animal species, but would rather not cram the first post with a subordinate matter.

Thanks in advance.

jacob
Site Admin
Posts: 12976
Joined: Fri Jun 28, 2013 8:38 pm
Location: USA, Zone 5b, Koppen Dfa, Elev. 620ft, Walkscore 73
Contact:

Re: Food and climate change

Post by jacob »

Many people eat meat knowing (or in general ignorance) that this prices out about a billion humans who can not afford full nutrition. I therefore do not expect CC to change people's habits.

What will change habits, at least temporarily, is double-regional food failures which are predicted to occur on a regular basis (once every 1-2 decades(*)). This will cause massive culling of the world's livestock herd (about 2x the biomass of the human biomass). In this case, humans likely will stop eating meat and start eating what the livestock ate (corn and soybeans) for a while. It's one thing accepting malnutrition on the other side of the world. It's quite another when it happens to your neighbor.

I figure this will happen in a rather reactive way as usual.

(*) Historically, famines were extremely regular ... of course after famines come epidemics that are rather worse when people are so weakened. Figure that "unwelcome diets" will eventually become a way of life ... or death again.

As it is, we use meat/dairy more like a condiment (okay, we made turkey yesterday). Non/low meat diets have the benefits of being healthier (let's NOT have the silly diet discussions again), cheaper, and eminently more storeable. In short, we're already resilient to these problems.

Ultimately, the world will see some transition. You basically can not have 9 billion people and twice the biomass in livestock on a planet that will ultimately only admit a couple of billion humans having used up the natural capital. On a more practical level, I think lab-grown meat will shortly become commercial at scale. I also expect insect based protein to come into play as the caloric delivery systems become squeezed for efficiency.

Also expect the same squabbling in terms of culture wars as we saw with COVID. The world is simply changing too fast for human mental faculties to adjust. I'd expect this thread to contain at least one comments about "taking the bacon from my cold dead hands" or how "humans can't live without meat". That doesn't change reality. In fact it unintentionally shows exactly what will happen.

User avatar
Ego
Posts: 4992
Joined: Wed Nov 23, 2011 12:42 am

Re: Food and climate change

Post by Ego »

Good timing. 18 years ago today we began eating a plant-based whole food (healthy vegan) diet. We did it for health reasons and I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I still use it as a rationalization to do a bunch of airline travel every few years. Mrs. Ego made the lentil Thanksgiving loaf yesterday.

Flurry
Posts: 63
Joined: Tue Oct 27, 2020 1:30 am
Location: Vienna, Austria

Re: Food and climate change

Post by Flurry »

I take the carbon footprint into account (I buy mostly regional, plant based food) but I have to admit that I mostly eat vegan/plant based because of ethical reasons, I oppose animal cruelty. But except storable foods/spices I only buy food grown in Austria or maybe somewhere else in Europe, that made me quit bananas and avocados (except as a rare treat). It was never hard for me to eat plant based but that's probably because I'm a carb lover.

Alphaville
Posts: 2427
Joined: Thu Oct 03, 2019 10:50 am
Location: Quarantined

Re: Food and climate change

Post by Alphaville »

Rather than a wholesale approach I’m looking at transitioning via power/Pareto eliminations from the emissions curve.

Seems like beef is the biggest culprit even as a standalone, due to ruminant fermentation + land use.

See:
https://academic.oup.com/af/article/9/1/69/5173494

My region actually produces beef cattle, and having a cabin in a family ranch I actually was around it, and tried it out a bit, but getting into the production aspect seemed to me a losing game when I did the numbers. It’s lot of work and a lot of environmental impact from overgrazing for minimal gains. My wife actually hates it, as she sees cattle destroying the forests where she grew up.

For some people it’s a cultural thing, like a hobby that takes on quasi religious aspects. There are a lot of government subsidies going into this, like allowing grazing in public lands. But it’s a losing bet. In my region, increasing drought and desertification are reducing grazing quotas. In other words, more land is require per animal unit, but people still flaunt these regulations. I’ve tried to bring up other ways to make productive use of the land in the ranch, but it’s a nonstarter.

The cowboy is a mirage. The money is in buying cheap cattle at auction, fattening with feed and antibiotics, and selling for processing. But that’s a stinky unromantic horror—go a few miles west of Amarillo TX on I40 to get a whiff of that mess.

Nevertheless, I like to eat beef, I’m accustomed to it, I try to use it judiciously, but it seems to me removing it from regular rotation would have the greatest impact in my family’s emission’s reduction after ditching the v8 truck.

Next might be dairy, per the Oxford paper linked in this comment, but as a fan of butter and cheese and homemade yogurt, it might be a shock to proceed immediately.

Pigs and chickens look like low emitters, judging from the chart. Those come with a different set of (bio)hazards however and I don’t eat as often as I do beef.
Last edited by Alphaville on Thu Nov 26, 2020 1:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Flurry
Posts: 63
Joined: Tue Oct 27, 2020 1:30 am
Location: Vienna, Austria

Re: Food and climate change

Post by Flurry »

Alphaville wrote:
Thu Nov 26, 2020 1:34 pm
Nevertheless, I like to eat beef, I’m accustomed to it, I try to use it judiciously
Have you every tried the pea protein based alternatives like Beyond Meat? These have a very similar taste, maybe that helps.

UK-with-kids
Posts: 209
Joined: Tue Oct 09, 2018 4:55 am
Location: Oxbridge, UK

Re: Food and climate change

Post by UK-with-kids »

What's interesting to me about this subject is that a few decades ago the concept of "overpopulation" was widely discussed as it was realised that the human species couldn't keep growing exponentially and we needed to find a way of stopping it. Even raising that subject in polite company seems a bit beyond the pale these days, and talk is more about unequally shared resources and the importance of plant based diets.

I don't think people in the West realise just how little meat is eaten in some countries compared to the SAD (Standard American diet). Clearly the whole world can't eat like we do so what's the solution? I know many vegans and I'm not sure they all have particularly healthy diets (but certainly healthier than someone who eats big Macs every day). There also seem to be a lot of overly processed and airfreighted foods and drink in their shopping cart. I often wonder if there's a place for more locally grown meat even in densely populated countries. I'm thinking about backyard chickens, rabbits or even pigs that could eat scraps which currently go into landfill as well as weeds. And then there's the fact that there are more wild deer in Britain now than any time in the last 1,000 years (about 2 million). I can't see any of this being particularly popular though - switching to vegan "milk" in your tea is much more on message.

Another bizarre aspect from my POV is the number of meat eating pets which people keep (and vegans often seem to do this). About 15 million dogs and cats in the UK I seem to remember. Eating more protein than some of the poorest humans on the planet. That seems an obvious area to cut down on!

Alphaville
Posts: 2427
Joined: Thu Oct 03, 2019 10:50 am
Location: Quarantined

Re: Food and climate change

Post by Alphaville »

Flurry wrote:
Thu Nov 26, 2020 1:37 pm
Have you every tried the pea protein based alternatives like Beyond Meat? These have a very similar taste, maybe that helps.
I’ve been acquainted with “health foods” for decades but have never found the fake meats satisfying with the exception of Israeli soy schnitzels. What’s in them that tastes so good? No idea.

I hate tvp, I hate soyrizo, I only tolerate a little tofu, but those Israeli schnitzels I used to devour, wow.

Recently I tried Beyond Sausage and it tasted like unseasoned falafel. I’d much rather eat good falafel. : )

Mmmm, falafel! I could eat falafel daily. Hummus too is a good staple. Garbanzos are great.

Another problem with these fake meats, besides the disappointment, is the price. Not a good value.

Currently I’m eating a lot of wheat, which being a high protein grain actually diminishes my meat cravings. I think this is how I unconsciously started paying attention to the meat problem: by baking more and making pasta, my meat cravings have diminished.

But on the wheat front, I’d rather eat a nice loaf of bread than seitan, if that makes sense?

Also I love me some beans etc. Not a hurdle on that front. Dry peas also lovely in winter—I can eat them directly. They make a beautiful mash, like potatoes.

7Wannabe5
Posts: 6822
Joined: Fri Oct 18, 2013 9:03 am

Re: Food and climate change

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

You don’t need meat to make cookies, so I’m okay with mostly giving it up. In fact, I pretty much do give it up whenever I break up with some grouchy old man. OTOH, I do love to eat crustaceans which are pretty much insects.

Here’s a bit from permaculture site which shows how complex the discussion/science can become:
I have often been accused of producing methane by using hugelkultur but the decomposition of wood in the soil is very slow. Burning, however, is very quick and produces carbon dioxide.
Regardless of almost everything, when something decays the process is catalyzed by microorganisms and the formula is:
CxHy+(x+y/4)O2=xCO2+(y/2)H2O
Of course the process of decay is a lot more complicated than this and the contribution of archaea is not fully understood at the moment.

However, the final product of composting, everything else considered, is carbon dioxide and water. A proportion of the carbon will be diverted for a time into the bodies of bacteria, fungi, plants and animals but eventually, lastly and finally we all end up as carbon dioxide and water – with a relatively small amount of iron, calcium, phosphorus etc.
This is exactly the opposite of photosynthesis where carbon dioxide and water are combined with the help of sunlight energy to produce carbohydrates.
There are other pathways for the carbon to go depending on the microorganisms that it encounters. If anoxic conditions occur – and they very often do, then methanogenic bacteria will use organic molecules to produce methane. They are strictly obligate anaerobes, which are poisoned by the presence of oxygen levels as low as 0.18 mg/L of molecular oxygen.

2C organic+2H2O=CO2+CH4

Composting, it is suggested, when done well constitutes an aerobic environment where methanogenic bacteria will not be able to live. Let me tell you a secret, methanogenic bacteria are ubiquitous. They are everywhere and what is more; anoxic environments are more common than you expect. Obligate anaerobic bacteria can happily live in the plaque on your teeth. Micro environments in compost heaps will be anoxic. Methane is produced.

So why are we not overwhelmed by methane? Why is there so little in the atmosphere? Possibly because there are another set of bacteria called methanotrophs or methanophiles that are able to use methane as a source of both carbon and energy. What is more they can grow aerobically like Methylococcus capsulatus or anaerobically, which means that regardless of where the methane is formed (in the compost heap or deep in the ground after I have buried logs and brushwood) these bacteria can metabolize methane by either incorporating the carbon into their bodies or producing carbon dioxide and water in energy production. Some like Methylomirabilis oxyfera reduce nitrate to nitrogen with the help of other microbes and so contribute to nitrogen loss from the soil. An archaeon is implicated in the breakdown of methane by sulphate reducing bacteria, and this leads to the characteristic smell of hydrogen sulphide or rotten eggs that is sometimes associated with the breakdown of organic matter. .

The difference between the relatively aerobic conditions of a compost heap (I still maintain that even the best of compost heaps are mostly anoxic) and the relatively anoxic conditions of buried vegetation is the speed at which methane can be metabolized. As methane use by methanotrophs is slower in anoxic environments there could be a buildup of methane but my contention is that I bury comparatively small amounts of green matter and that the soil methanotrophs can deal with it fairly easily. Also, anaerobic decomposition is a relatively slow process.
In land fill sites there is a vast amount more organic matter compared to my allotment. This has been demonstrated to overwhelm the methanotrophs and the production of methane is very evident.
So I argue that burying vegetation will produce no more methane than a compost heap would. If some of the carbon buried in whatever form is prevented from quickly decaying, possibly it could become a carbon sink. There is some evidence of carbon staying in the soil for considerable amounts of time. Remember, burning is an instant production of carbon dioxide.

Burning just bypasses all of these processes and goes straight to the greenhouse gasses of water vapour and carbon dioxide without the opportunity for carbon capture within the bodies of heterotrophs.
What is going on in a cow’s mouth and bellies or the core of a landfill is not necessarily all that different than what goes on in a fake meat fermentation tank or when you power up your blender to make a high nitrogen green smoothie. Tofu factories are terribly stinky. But the inputs and outputs to a cow do not lend themselves as well to efficient management, and the cow’s own necessary metabolism beyond meat and milk production is also a “waste.” Also, a meat centered diet simply provides too much protein which is also wasted in a system which does not cycle human poop and urine back into food production.

Alphaville
Posts: 2427
Joined: Thu Oct 03, 2019 10:50 am
Location: Quarantined

Re: Food and climate change

Post by Alphaville »

UK-with-kids wrote:
Thu Nov 26, 2020 1:40 pm
I often wonder if there's a place for more locally grown meat even in densely populated countries. I'm thinking about backyard chickens, rabbits or even pigs that could eat scraps which currently go into landfill as well as weeds.
This is precisely what I found bewildering about the charts linked above, see... I only buy beef from local ranchers.

Closer to me, less transportation cost, etc. And being ground beef I get to process the “scraps” so to speak... helping make use of the whole animal and reduce waste.

But the main emissions of beef cattle don’t come from the supply chain—they come from the actual belly of the beast (ruminant fermentation) + the deforestation we create to make room for pastures.

This has been a bit of a shock for me.

So in my Pareto reductions I’m (trying to) say bye-bye to beef as a staple, as a first step.


eta:
7Wannabe5 wrote:
Thu Nov 26, 2020 2:06 pm
brilliant post, thank you

bostonimproper
Posts: 270
Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2018 11:45 am

Re: Food and climate change

Post by bostonimproper »

I started donating a lot to GreenWave (from the guy who wrote Eat Like A Fish) and ramped down my meat consumption (particularly beef) when I figured this out.

Fish is also better than land meat per gram protein. Then chicken then pork then a huuuuge jump to beef. This works particularly well in New England, where I am, since there are many local fish farms.

Even if going vegan feels out of reach, less meat and less CO2 generating meat-- and less plane travel and less consumption generally-- is still a step in the right direction.

User avatar
Ego
Posts: 4992
Joined: Wed Nov 23, 2011 12:42 am

Re: Food and climate change

Post by Ego »

Jacob posted that study a while back (which I can't find right now) that showed the one thing people could do that had a 10x impact over vegan, no driving, no flights. .

7Wannabe5
Posts: 6822
Joined: Fri Oct 18, 2013 9:03 am

Re: Food and climate change

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Right, not having kids. However, the difference between this strategy vs the others is that on global level somebody has to have kids else just different version endgame (obviously.)

I wasn’t in possession of all this knowledge when I chose to have kids 30 years ago, and it seems weird to take responsibility for the current decisions* of my very adult children, so all I can do is try to get my spending and permaculture project in alignment with supporting myself AND one theoretical grandchild on less than 1Jacob.

* Although I would note that neither owns a car, one is vegetarian, and both occupy less than 400 square ft. One reason I finally broke down and bought a car was it was very difficult to get together with my kids when we were all car-free. Of course, I can only fit one of them into my Smart car and only if I take 1/3 of my worldly belongings out of the passenger seat.

stoneage
Posts: 132
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 4:24 am

Re: Food and climate change

Post by stoneage »

Methane having a 10 year half life in the atmosphere, If you ate the same amount of meat each year for the last 20 years, your impact on CC is now null : cows eat grass and corn that feed on CO2, digestion produces CH4 which degrades back to CO2 and H2O in the atmosphere : It is a cycle.

So the thing is, what causes CC is not your meat consumption, but more mouths to feed every year, and poor people transitionning from mainly plant based to more meat.

It does not mean we don't have to share our "right to meat", it simply means that no amount of vegan eating in the west will make a difference in the end.
Last edited by stoneage on Thu Nov 26, 2020 3:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.

white belt
Posts: 275
Joined: Sat May 21, 2011 12:15 am

Re: Food and climate change

Post by white belt »

@ego Yes, I’ve been looking for that post as well and I can’t seem to remember which thread it was.

I will admit that I eat a lot of meat. I also eat a high protein diet due to my hobbies that include weightlifting and require me to build/maintain large quantities of muscle.

One solution I’ve been considering, since at this time I am unwilling to wholesale give up meat, is to transition to more wild/locally-sourced meat that I procure from hunting and fishing. I haven’t seen many studies on the carbon footprint or environmental impact of eating hunted meat and fish, but I’d be curious if anyone knows of something.

I know that agriculture and factory farmed meats can support a larger human population than hunting and foraging for food. I also know that in many locations deer populations are so out of wack because their predators have been driven away, so often there is an incentive to hunt them. Additionally, in most waterways in the USA one can find an invasive species of fish that is both edible and does not fall under game fish restrictions (e.g. Asian Carp).

Therefore, I see my solution as a transition solution that will be viable for the next decade, but may not work over the long term if food shortages become more serious. On the other hand it is a solution that an individual can take right now that will have a positive impact.

In terms of vegetables, I am about to start growing microgreens to replace the need to purchase leafy greens at the grocery store. My plan is to have a mostly closed loop system where I get my fertilized soil from my worm composting bin (I can also use my worms as fish bait). In the spring I will start my first outdoor vegetable garden.

I believe the above solutions will make me more resilient and at least reduce carbon impact by reducing demand for fossil fuel and packaging that our modern industrial food system requires.
Last edited by white belt on Thu Nov 26, 2020 4:00 pm, edited 2 times in total.

chenda
Posts: 1610
Joined: Wed Jun 29, 2011 1:17 pm

Re: Food and climate change

Post by chenda »

UK-with-kids wrote:
Thu Nov 26, 2020 1:40 pm
I don't think people in the West realise just how little meat is eaten in some countries compared to the SAD (Standard American diet).
Yes but I understand meat consumption continues to rise dramatically worldwide as poorer countries become more affluent. Paradoxically vegetarianism seems to be more of a lifestyle choice of the already affluent.

User avatar
Ego
Posts: 4992
Joined: Wed Nov 23, 2011 12:42 am

Re: Food and climate change

Post by Ego »

white belt wrote:
Thu Nov 26, 2020 3:21 pm
@ego Yes, I’ve been looking for that post as well and I can’t seem to remember which thread it was.
Found it. Actually quite a bit more than the 10x I had remembered.
viewtopic.php?p=153157#p153157

7Wannabe5
Posts: 6822
Joined: Fri Oct 18, 2013 9:03 am

Re: Food and climate change

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

@white belt:

Hunting, foraging, and casual horticulture can, at best, only support about 1/500 of human population supported by fossil fuel based agricultural. That said, since less than 1/500 people living in affluent regions do attempt to primarily feed themselves as hunter/ gathers, you as an individual could probably do it with little negative impact.

However, closed cycle intelligent design bio-intensive with some small livestock is the more expandable model. Aquaculture is a good, relatively compact example. You could even tweak a system to make it better than carbon neutral, but it would take some doing. Obviously, before it became most efficient to feed livestock Field Corn 2, which they can’t even properly digest, the advantage was that livestock can digest plant material that humans can’t. For instance, meat rabbits like mulberry leaves. Simplest way to think about it is if you eat a lb of meat/day then that’s like having to grow enough plant material to feed yourself plus another 365 lb human each year, plus replace what is lost from the soil, which can only partially be achieved with human and animal manure within boundaries of system, so you will need green manure crop too. And you only get 2 good acres and 1 crappy acre on which to do your project if global land mass is divvied up equitably.

white belt
Posts: 275
Joined: Sat May 21, 2011 12:15 am

Re: Food and climate change

Post by white belt »

@7Wannabe5

Right, your first paragraph sums up what I was trying to say. I see it as similar to the dumpster-diver scavenger who can get everything he needs from affluent society waste streams, but we know that he won’t be able to do this in a less affluent society where all waste streams have already been reduced at earlier level. It’s a bridge strategy.

I agree that bio-intensive design at the individual level is a more widely applicable model. Again I recommend taking a look at David Holmgren’s Retrosuburbia as he goes into a lot of such strategies and also bridge strategies to get from here to there.

In my current rental apartment salary man lifestyle, I cannot set up a bio-intensive homestead, so my suggestions are steps I can implement right now. I think if zoning laws weren’t a concern then meat rabbits and garden with a tiny house would be even a more viable solution than hunting/foraging, but alas that doesn’t fit my web of goals right now.

I agree that aquaculture does provide a lot of protein sources, however I’ve yet to see an intelligent design way to implement at a scale smaller than a backyard pond. Additionally aquaculture tends to require a lot of input in the form of fish feed (unless you have a natural outdoor pond) and the research I’ve read is that substituting with insects and/or plant sources does not yield as good results. Aquaponics also sounds great on paper, but has similar limitations.

Alphaville
Posts: 2427
Joined: Thu Oct 03, 2019 10:50 am
Location: Quarantined

Re: Food and climate change

Post by Alphaville »

quote=bostonimproper post_id=231708 time=1606418525 user_id=6293]
Fish is also better than land meat per gram protein. Then chicken then pork then a huuuuge jump to beef. This works particularly well in New England, where I am, since there are many local fish farms.

[/quote]

the charts i linked put “fisheries” right along with livestock as the biggest offenders. in their case, due to amount of fuel used, apparently. having spent some time on a fishing boat in my dissipated youth, i can confirm large quantities of diesel are burned.

never been a big fan of farmed fish, but maybe some day.

saying goodbye to sardines is gonna be heartbreaking... :cry:

well, i’ll start with le bœuf & go from there.

white belt wrote:
Thu Nov 26, 2020 3:21 pm
@. I also eat a high protein diet due to my hobbies that include weightlifting and require me to build/maintain large quantities of muscle.
i’m putting on muscle with a diet rich in wheat, oats, rye, and dairy, and my appetite formmeat has gone down spontaneusly (but i still been eating some)

granted, it’s more “gladiator style” (coated walrus style) than “cut”, but muscle is muscle. working on strength rather than bulk.

https://www.historytoday.com/gladiators ... egetarians

ofc ymmv.
Last edited by Alphaville on Thu Nov 26, 2020 4:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Post Reply