Coming to COP24, I expected to laser-focus on the issue of livestock production.
But being here has opened my eyes to all the complicated issues around food production including deforestation, water conservation, energy use in food preparation, decarbonizing supply chains, carbon release in soil, methane mitigation, food transportation, gender equality in agriculture, crop insurance, economies for farmers in third world countries, and hundreds of other topics that are related to what we eat and how it contributes to our changing climate.
The United Nations issued a publication for the conference, Climate 2020: Degrees of Devastation that notes, “a global shift to vegetarianism by 2050 would lead to a drop of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by about 60%”, and “lowering meat consumption would also mean that more land becomes available for farming, and that there is less of a need for expensive climate mitigation.”
So if this makes up such a large part of our emissions, why isn’t this the top priority of every government panel and NGO here? It’s complicated.
Emissions can happen at various stages of the food chain and the intensity varies depending on what part of the world you’re in.
Developed countries are more likely to manufacture processed foods, in which case the culprit tends to be energy and water use. They are also responsible for the largest concentrations of meat production and create enormous amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is more difficult to capture than CO2. In developing countries like India, you see more of the GHGs happen in the food production stage, which can include meat processing and packaging.
A global shift to vegetarianism may also disrupt the millions of people in developing countries that are dependent on animal farming as a livelihood. It seems quite obvious that the billions we spend in meat and dairy subsidies for farmers could quite easily be moved to other agricultural products that are both more profitable from a business standpoint and more important from a carbon sequestration perspective, but that’s a luxury we have as one of the richest countries on the planet.
I attended a session from Plant For The Planet (PFTP), which is an organization that connects businesses and tree planters.
They said that there are currently three trillion trees on the planet and with three trillion more, it would reduce global emissions by 25%. With the low cost of planting a tree, this seems like a really easy way we can all encourage companies we support to make a contribution every time we buy a product. Can you imagine if Starbucks planted a tree for every person in the world that bought a latte each day?
I have committed to PFTP that we will have them plant a tree for every guest that comes into Fig + Farro starting immediately. The added benefit in addition to our guests feeling like they are doing something wonderful, is that we are connected to a transparent system that shows how many trees have been planted and allows us to compete against other businesses.
So look out Starbucks, we’re going to win this one!