Eating on the Brink: How Food Could Prevent a Climate Disaster

Last month, as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to demand action to prevent catastrophic climate change, I was 30,000 feet in the sky, the jet-fueled irony not lost on me. I was heading to Paris to talk food and climate change with 260 scientists, civil society leaders, and advocates from 40 countries at a meeting hosted by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food. The overarching message was clear: If we want to address climate change, we have to talk about food.

What we eat is responsible for a whopping one-third of all atmospheric warming today. Global meat and dairy production together accounts for roughly 15 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, making the livestock industry worse for the climate than every one of the world’s planes, trains, and cars combined.

At the meetings, Christine Figueres, who led the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, reminded us that climate stability requires limiting warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius. To do that, we need to start reversing current emissions trajectory, start a downward turn, by 2020. Yes, 2020. That means engaging every sector, food included.

“We must all swallow the alarm clock,” Figueres said. “We cannot give it to the next generation. We must solve this.”

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Photo: Esteban Chiner

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