A global switch to diets that rely less on meat and more on fruit and vegetables could save up to 8 million lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds, and lead to healthcare-related savings and avoided climate damages of $1.5 trillion (US) , Oxford Martin School researchers have found.
The study, published today in PNAS, is the first to estimate both the health and climate change impacts of moving towards more plant-based diets for all major world regions.
“What we eat greatly influences our personal health and the global environment,” says Dr Marco Springmann of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, who led the study. “Imbalanced diets, such as diets low in fruits and vegetables, and high in red and processed meat, are responsible for the greatest health burden globally and in most regions. At the same time the food system is also responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore a major driver of climate change.”
To assess the health and environmental impacts, the researchers modelled four different dietary scenarios for the year 2050: a ‘business as usual’ scenario based on projections of future diets; a scenario based on global dietary guidelines which includes minimum amounts of fruits and vegetables, and limits to the amount of red meat, sugar, and total calories; and vegetarian and vegan scenarios which both conform to the dietary guidelines.
They found that adopting diets in line with global dietary guidelines could avoid 5.1 million deaths per year by 2050. Even greater benefits could come from vegetarian diets (avoiding 7.3 million deaths) and vegan diets (avoiding 8.1 million deaths). Approximately half of the avoided deaths were due to reduction of red meat consumption, with the other half due to a combination of increased fruit and vegetable intake and a reduction in calories, leading to fewer people being overweight or obese.
The study projects that by 2050, food-related greenhouse gas emissions could account for half of the emissions the world can afford if global warming is to be limited to less than 2°C. Adopting global dietary guidelines would cut food-related emissions by 29%, vegetarian diets by 63%, and vegan diets by 70%.
The researchers also modelled the economic benefits of dietary change and found that the changes in diets could produce savings of $700-$1,000 billion (US) per year on healthcare, unpaid informal care and lost working days. The value that society places on the reduced risk of dying could even be as high as 9-13% of global GDP, or $20-$30 trillion (US). In addition, the researchers found that the economic benefit of reduced greenhouse gas emissions from dietary changes could be as much as $570 billion (US).
“Putting a dollar value on good health and the environment is a sensitive issue,” says Dr Springmann. “However, our results indicate that dietary changes could have large benefits to society, and the value of those benefits makes a strong case for increased public and private spending on programmes aimed to achieve healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets.”
Dr Springmann points out that there are large regional variations in the health impacts of dietary change. The greatest number of avoided deaths is projected to be in developing countries, particularly in East Asia and South Asia, but per-person benefits would be twice as large in developed countries, due to larger per-person reductions in red meat consumption and total calorie intake.
Reduced red meat consumption was the factor that had the biggest effect in East Asia, in Western high- and middle-income countries, and in Latin America, while increasing fruit and vegetable intake was the biggest factor in reducing deaths in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Reduced calorie intake, and the resulting reductions in the number of overweight or obese people, played a key role in improving health in the Eastern Mediterranean, Latin America, and Western high- and middle-income countries.
“The regional detail of our study can be used to identify the most appropriate interventions for both the production and consumption sides of the food system,” adds Dr Springmann.
The scale of the task is “clearly enormous,” he says. The study finds that just to meet global dietary recommendations, fruit and vegetable production and consumption would need to more than double in some regions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, whereas red meat consumption would need to be halved globally, and cut by two thirds in Western high- and middle-income countries, East Asia, and Latin America. In addition, overconsumption would need to be tackled.
“And that might not even be enough,” Dr Springmann warns. “Our analysis indicates that adopting global dietary guidelines would not be enough to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions to the same extent that total greenhouse gas emissions will need to fall to keep global temperature increases to below 2°C.”
“We do not expect everybody to become vegan,” he adds. “But climate change impacts of the food system will be hard to tackle and likely require more than just technological changes. Adopting healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets can be a large step in the right direction. The size of the projected benefits should encourage individuals, industry, and policy makers to act decisively to make sure that what we eat preserves our environment and our health.”
Build, Buy, Or Retrofit? 3 Green Housing Considerations
Green housing is in high demand, but it’s not yet widely available, posing a serious problem: if you want to live an eco-friendly lifestyle, do you invest in building something new and optimize it for sustainability, or do you retrofit a preexisting building?
The big problem when it comes to choosing between these two options is that building a new home creates more waste than retrofitting specific features of an existing home, but it may be more efficient in the long-run. For those concerned with waste and their environmental footprint, the short term and long term impacts of housing are in close competition with each other.
New Construction Options
One reason that new construction is so desired among green living enthusiasts is that it can be built to reflect our highest priorities. Worried about the environmental costs of heating your home? New construction can be built using passive solar design, a strategy that uses natural light and shade to heat or cool the home. Builders can add optimal insulation, build with all sustainable materials, and build exactly to the scale you need.
In fact, scale is a serious concern for new home buyers and builders alike. Individuals interested in green housing will actively avoid building more home than they need – scaling to the square foot matter because that’s more space you need to heat or cool – and this is harder to do when buying. You’re stuck with someone else’s design. In this vein, Missouri S&T’s Nest Home design, which uses recycled shipping containers, combines the tiny home trend with reuse and sustainability.
The Simple Retrofit
From an environmental perspective, there’s an obvious problem with building a new home: it’s an activity of mass consumption. There are already 120 million single-family homes and duplexes in the United States; do we really need more?
Extensive development alone is a good enough reason to intelligently retrofit an existing home rather than building new green structures, but the key is to do so with as little waste as possible. One option for retrofitting older homes is to install new smart home technology that can automate home regulation to reduce energy use.
Real estate agent Roxanne DeBerry sees clients struggle with issues of efficiency on a regular basis. That’s why she recommends tools like the Nest Thermostat, which develops a responsive heating and cooling schedule for the home and can be remotely adjusted via smartphone. Other smart tools for home efficiency include choosing Energy Star appliances and installing water-saving faucets and low-pressure toilets. These small changes add up.
Ultimately, the most effective approach to green housing is likely to be aggressive retrofitting of everything from period homes to more recent construction. This will reduce material use where possible and prevent further aggressive land use. And finally, designers, activists, and engineers are coming together to develop such structures.
In the UK, for example, designers are interested in finding ways to adapt period houses for greater sustainability without compromising their aesthetics. Many have added solar panels, increased their insulation levels, and recently they even developed imitation sash triple glazed windows. As some have pointed out, the high cost of heating these homes without such changes will push these homes out of relevance without these changes. This is a way of saving existing structures.
Harvard is also working on retrofitting homes for sustainability. Their HouseZero project is designed for near-zero energy use and zero carbon emissions using geothermal heating and temperature radiant surfaces. The buildings bridge the gap between starting over and putting up with unmanageable heating and cooling bills.
It will take a long time to transition the majority of individuals to energy efficient, green housing but we’re headed in the right direction. What will your next home be like? As long as the answer is sustainable, you’re part of the solution to our chronic overuse – of land, energy, water, and more.
How the Auto Industry is Lowering Emissions
Currently, the automotive industry is undergoing an enormous change in a bid to lower carbon emissions. This has been pushed by the Government and their clean air plans, where they have outlined a plan to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040.
Public Health Crisis
It is said that the levels of air pollution lead to 40,000 early deaths in the UK, with London being somewhere that is particularly bad. This has led to the new T-Charge, where heavy polluting cars will pay a new charge on top of the existing congestion charge. Other cities have taken action too, with Oxford recently announcing that they will be banning petrol and diesel cars from the city centre by 2020.
It is clear that the Government is taking action, but what about the auto industry? With the sale of petrol and diesel plummeting and a sharp rise in alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is clear that the industry is taking note and switching focus to green cars. There are now all kinds of fantastic eco-friendly cars available and a type to suit every motorist whether it is a small city car or an SUV.
Of course, it is the cars that are currently on the road that are causing the problem. The used car market is enormous and filled with polluting automobiles, but there are steps that you can take to avoid dangerous automobiles. It is now more important than ever to get vehicle checks carried out through HPI, as these can reveal important information about the automobile’s past and they find that 1 in 3 cars has a hidden secret of some kind. Additionally, they can now perform recall checks to see if the manufacturer has recalled that particular automobile. This allows people to shop confidently and find vehicles that are not doing as much damage to the environment as others.
With the rise in sales of alternatively fuelled vehicles, it is now becoming increasingly more common to see them on UK roads. Public perception has changed drastically in the last few years and this is because of the air pollution crisis, as well as the fact that there are now so many different reasons to switch to electric cars, such as Government grants and no road tax. A similar change in public opinion has happened in the United States, with electric car sales up by 47% in 2017.
The US is leading the way for lowering emissions as they have declined by 758 million metric tons since 2005, which is the largest amount by far with the UK in second with a decline of 170 million metric tons. Whilst it is clear that these two nations are doing a good job, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in order to improve the air quality and stop so many premature deaths as a result of pollution.
With the Government’s plans, incentives to make the change and a change in public perception, it seems that the electric car revolution is fully underway.