How can we fight climate change by eating better?


During my environmental studies I learned that agriculture is one of the main contributors and accelerators of climate change. But I also learned that good practices in agriculture, and an overall sustainable food production and consumption can actually help save the planet. How is this possible?

Regarding the negative side, a big part of nowadays global agriculture is based on methods that were developed in the 1970′ s. In what was called the “Green Revolution”, many technical advances and new chemical formulas allowed humans to double agricultural production worldwide. Ever since then we have had cheaper and faster access to all kinds of food, but… at what price?

The modern irrigation systems that created more agricultural seasons took much more clean water than the ecosystems could support. Huge plantations of the same crop variety destroyed all types of animals and plants that previously inhabited those areas. Artificial pesticides and fertilizers brought in short term plague destruction and yield increase, but in the long term they caused plague resistance, soil erosion, air and water pollution.

Not to mention a very controversial topic nowadays: The global intensification of livestock production, which is currently responsible for close to 15% (FAO,2020) of the total annual green house gas emissions to the environment.

If all of those agricultural practices are so bad for the environment, how could eating better bring a positive change into the way food is produced nowadays?

Human beings have been predominantly vegetarians for centuries! In the past, societies from all over the world would only eat meat in special occasions, or whenever their domestic animals were too old or sick. It was only in the past 50 years, when many reproduction and feeding techniques were improved in livestock production, that suddenly it was possible to produce so much more meat than ever before.

Just in 2018, consumption of red meat in the United Stated and China exceeded 35 kg. per capita. While in countries with a strong vegetarian culture like India or Nigeria, their annual consumption of red meat was less than 5 kg. per capita (OECD, 2018).

The equation is easy: More meat demand equals more meat production. If we go back to basics and limit our meat consumption at healthy levels, and we concentrate in a predominantly vegetarian diet, we will take out a huge pressure on the earth’s soils, waters and air.


Furthermore, an excellent human diet consist on a variety of fruits, vegetables and legumes, if possible from local supply. However, since the boom of the Green Revolution there has been a constant reduction of crop varieties all over the world. Plantations of one single crop are more susceptible to pests, and they tend to take all the nutrients from the soil, since there is no other interaction of plants and animals in that specific environment. Thus, the need to apply vast amounts of chemical fertilizers so the crops can actually grow and yield.

The most developed agricultural societies of the past understood that the more types of agriculture varieties they cultivated, the healthier and food secure they were. Studies (Frison, et. al., 2011) have shown that even a single area cultivated with as little as two varieties of vegetables can successfully prevent a plague. Diversity in agriculture creates resilience!

Not only it is important to consume different types of plant based foods, but especially if they are locally grown. Consumption of locally grown foods is a topic for another article. However, it is crucial to mention that the more we include local production in our diets, the more we support a more fair and ecological economy. Plus, we save huge amounts of harmful emissions due to transportation of industrial food production.

And finally, but not less important; nowadays it is a real need to support (buy) agricultural practices that are specifically created to protect the environment: Organic production and other agro-ecological practices are crucial to fight climate change, and they are also very beneficial for human health too. These practices have been specifically designed to work under an equilibrium that understand the global needs of food production, and the protection and restoration of the environment.

To be aware of the damaging consequences of mainstream agriculture can create new awareness in society, and simple and doable shifts in our eating habits can actually boost a new revolution in agriculture, but this time not just painted in green, but a real ecological revolution that can fight climate change, and help create better resilience to some of its inevitable consequences.


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