The #1 environmental solution isn’t what you think
Who saves the world? Plant based, non food-wasting, educated girls
Can we actually combat climate change at this point, and how do the things we do in our daily lives even matter? Here is the most up to date, science based list of actions that really give a bang for the buck.
A group of scientists, geologists, engineers, biologists, economists, architects, NGOs, activists, entrepreneurs and scholars already asked this exact question, and together they wrote the amazing book “The Drawdown – The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming“, edited by Paul Hawken. The book maps, measures, and describes the 100 most impactful solutions to global warming. There are reasons to get excited, because half of the top 20 solutions involve food on our plates and educating girls.
The goal of the research behind the book is to determine if we can reverse the buildup of atmospheric carbon within thirty years. (Breakdown: atmospheric carbon is the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, which has increased over the past years due to burning of fossile fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. When greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) go into the atmosphere they act as the glass in a greenhouse, trapping heat below the atmosphere. Scientists believe that this contributes to global warming (1)).
The Drawdown list of climate change solutions consists of actions recommended to take regardless, since they benefit communities and economies. It is ranked according to total atmospheric CO2-eq reduction (breakdown: when calculating the warming effect of a specific gas, it is measured in CO2 equivalents, called CO2-eq, which is a unit describing the effect a given amount of CO2 has on global warming for a fixed period of time), net cost and savings (billions US$).
We want to highlight the Drawdown-inspired actions that you can do from the comfort of your own home!
#1. Materials refrigerant management
This might be new to many, but refrigerators and air conditioners contain something called chemical refrigerants, which basically absorbs and releases heat to enable chilling. There are different types of chemical refrigerants, where the most dangerous one for the environment are the CFCs and the HCFCs (ozone depleting chemicals). However, due to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, they have been gradually phased out (2). Today, the most common refrigerant is HFC, which is said to be better than its predecessors, but harms the environment by its global warming effect. It has 1,000-9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than CO2, and is said to add a potentially disastrous 0.5 C to global temperatures if it’s not phased out (3).
So, whats the tip here? Check your old appliances for which refrigerants they are using, and when buying a fridge, freezer or air conditioner find out if they contain CFCs, HFC or HCFCs. Do not look for buying old, used appliances, as they definitely do more harm than good. Modern producers such as Miele, Siemens, Bosch etc. only make freezers and fridges that are CFC and HCF free (4). A modern, more eco-friendly alternative to the substances mentioned above is hydrocarbons (HC) (5).
In short: Bad guys = CFC/HCHC/HCF. Good guy = HC.
#3. Reduce food waste
As we have written about before, a third of the food produced never makes it to your plate. Greenhouse gases are released at each step of the production, causing food waste to be responsible for about 8% of global emissions (6). The sad thing about food waste is that in higher income countries the reasons for the waste are mostly superficial. We are served too much food, and we reject food based on its color, shape or bumps and bruises.
#4. Eating a plant-based diet
Starting with your next meal you can already make a difference and transitioning to a plant based diet may be the most effective way an individual can stop climate change. Eating a plant based is easy and delicious, and you don’t have to become a hard core vegan or vegetarian to reduce your meat consumption. Eating meat is the most expensive diet for the planet, and as the Drawdown points out, “if cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases” (7). Plant based diets also tend to be healthier and reduces the risks of chronic disease. The study highlights:
Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations shows that if 50 percent of the world’s population restricts their diet to a healthy 2,500 calories per day and reduces meat consumption overall, we estimate at least 26.7 giga tons of emissions could be avoided from dietary change alone. If avoided deforestation from land use change is included, an additional 39.3 giga tons of emissions could be avoided, making healthy, plant-rich diets one of the most impactful solutions at a total of 66 giga tons reduced (8).
Not only does the study find that emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent with a vegan diet, but $1 trillion in annual health-care costs and lost productivity would be saved.
…And what about the girls?
The effect of #6 and #7 combined tell us that educating girls is the number one most important measure. Better educated girls can have less children, which prevents over-population and enables more well informed financial and dietary choices.
Stay tuned for a new post on this topic.