Climate change is the biggest issue facing us today.
People are used to speaking about it. We know about things like our carbon footprint. We know that the release of carbon into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels is heating up the planet. We are encouraged to think about our energy use, something that can feel a little overwhelming when we are so reliant on electronic technology. And when we do think about cutting down on energy use we think about driving cars less or trying to use public transport. Turning off the lights when you leave the room. Doing your laundry at 30°c.
But while individual action will be a huge part of combating this looming crisis this kind of approach will not help and that’s because we’re thinking about our energy use all wrong.
Rethinking our energy use
Energy is everywhere. To cut down our carbon footprint we need clean energy like renewables. And meanwhile we need to streamline our energy use so it is at its most efficient. But what do we use most energy on?
The simple answer is producing more energy.
Growing food is the human race’s number one priority. As our population expands we need to produce more and more food to sustain us. The energy expended on this is massive. But it doesn’t have to be. At least not as massive as it is now.
The energy discrepancy
Certain food is simply more energy intensive to produce than other food. Rice is a staple food all around the world because it is a nutritional, high energy food that can be grown, dried and stored cheaply with little energy expended. Of course for a healthy human diet it’s important to have access to a variety of foods. But it is possible to live very healthily on foods that take a smaller proportional amount of energy to produce. These foods are, in the most part, plant based.
On the other hand animal based products are, without exception, much more energy intensive. This is because rearing living creatures to the point where they are slaughtered creates a net loss of energy. We must first grow food to feed the animals that we want to eat. The amount of energy we expend on that is staggering. The energy, land and water needed to grow 100 calories of vegetables is far less than the energy, land and water needed to grow 100 calories of meat.
Problems and solutions
Unfortunately the western diet is rich in animal based foods. Meat, fish and dairy are desirable to eat. They are dense in fat and protein. For a species that developed as hunter gatherers the eating of energy rich foods when available was hugely important as food was more of an uncertainty. This hangs over us to the present day and though we have all the food in the world to choose from we continue to gravitate towards meat and cheese as a base for every meal.
But just by being aware of this and making changes in our diet to consume mostly or only plant based foods we can cut our carbon footprint drastically. A change in diet is the single biggest thing a person can do to reduce the energy they use. Eating differently can be difficult, especially when you’re dealing with a lifetime of habit. But it’s also very manageable in this modern era. Much more manageable than giving up your car. Especially when giving up your car still won’t actually have as big an impact.