There can be no doubt that, along with the obvious culprits of industry and transportation, the way we eat is one of the major driving forces behind the sweeping and catastrophic shift in climate for our species is responsible. Perhaps, then, a change in these culinary habits might go a long way in aiding any hope we have of preventing further harm.
By David Lewis
The ripple effects of climate change are being felt across the planet.
We see the symptoms of an ever warming world almost every day, as the warning signs of shifting weather patterns surround us.
In recent months, huge chunks are breaking off of Greenland’s ice cap. Wildfires cut across much of the North American west, choking the sky with ash and dust. Meanwhile farmers in water-poor regions are scrambling to find tech-driven solutions to maintain their food supply as the harvest climate worsens.
It’s easy to feel powerless about climate change and the damage we’re causing our planet. Perhaps there is a different way to look at this problem – one that paints a better picture of solutions within our reach.
The Carbon Cycle
Carbon may be the building block of all life, but when a high concentration is trapped in our atmosphere the earth begins to overheat.
There has always been carbon in the air, oceans and soil.
Carbon enters the atmosphere with every volcanic eruption, wildfire and even with an act so simple as when living things breathe. It’s natural.
Plants with sunlight and water pull carbon from the air and use it for nourishment. The excess is pumped through their roots to micro-organisms in the soil, where the carbon is captured and stored.
All is well when this natural cycle is in balance, but humans have tipped the scales.
The Human Problem
Humans are rapidly moving captured carbon into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels. And, broadly speaking, the way we humans manage our agricultural land disturbs the soil and actively releases carbon. It also undermines the ability of our soil to store carbon for the future.
As carbon concentration increases in the atmosphere, our oceans attempt to compensate for the imbalance. The excess CO2 is absorbed by the surface of the ocean, resulting in more hydrogen ions and increasing acidity. Every day, fewer species are equipped to survive the changing pH of our oceans.
The Solution Beneath Our Feet
So, how do we restore balance to the cycle? The solution may be in the soil.
There is still more carbon stored beneath our feet than anywhere else on earth. And it is possible to use plants, trees and farming techniques to capture much more carbon and place it back in the soil where it belongs.
Slowing global emissions may seem like an overwhelming task, but restoring the soil is something that everyone can contribute to.
It may be as simple as changing the way we eat.
Eat a plant-rich diet.
Big animal agriculture is especially stressful on the environment.
It does major damage to the soil, and releases incredible amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere. The modern food system is responsible for about a third of our current global greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the UN’s Climate Change panel, moving toward a plant-based diet is one of the most significant ways you can reduce atmospheric carbon. Diets centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes use less land and water.
They also help maintain healthy topsoil.
Compost your leftovers.
About 30% of the world food system output ends up as waste before it hits the dinner table. Even more ends up in landfills or incinerators after passing through a kitchen.
In the United States, food scraps and yard waste make up more than 28% of what we throw away.
These materials can be repurposed in a meaningful way. Instead they take up space and release an incredible amount of methane gas into the atmosphere.
Composting greatly reduces, or even prevents the release of methane gas during the breakdown of organic materials like food. Even a thin layer of compost will increase organic matter in the underlying soil, making it an excellent place to capture carbon from the atmosphere.
Shop regenerative agriculture.
Every product you buy is a vote for that thing to be made in mass quantities. And when food shopping, your purchase decisions help shape the way agriculture is done.
At an industrial level, regenerative practices can turn big agriculture into a big carbon capture machine.
Practices like planting cover crops, crop rotation, no-till and rotational grazing improve soil health and keep farm animals healthy. These methods promote higher yields in most crops, allow the soils to retain water, and can even clean the ground of hazardous waste.
Farming is hard. A lot of “organic” labels are nothing more than greenwashing. Some conventional farms are doing a great job of soil stewardship. On the whole, most organic products are better for the environment than their conventional alternatives.
There is a new revolution of regenerative farming coming, for which there are not yet widely adopted certifications.
Get to know your farm, and where your food comes from.
A Better Future Begins At The Table
There is no silver bullet for climate change, but adapting the way we eat can make a huge positive impact on the carbon cycle.
The kitchen has always been a central space for community gathering and personal ritual. It is a literal source of energy that feeds our bodies, relationships and intentions for the day.
Bringing a layer of intention to how food enters our kitchen, and makes its way onto the dinner table may also be the key to a healthier planet.
As we move into a season of renewal and reflection, say a word of thanks to that sacred dirt beneath your feet. It’s made us strong for generations. Perhaps this is the year where we return the favor.