Climate change can feel like a distant phenomenon in Cleveland because of our temperate climate and infrequent natural disasters. But, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the climate in Northeast Ohio is changing faster than the rest of the United States. We are experiencing more frequent heat waves, shorter snow and ice seasons, more precipitation, and more instances of heavy downpours. That’s right, it’s getting warmer, wetter, and frankly, weirder.
Although all but one of the 19 hottest years ever recorded by NASA have occurred since 2001, climate change doesn’t mean that we’ll have warmer weather all the time here in Cleveland. It means that on average, our climate is warmer and that our weather patterns may become more extreme and less predictable. These changes affect infrastructure, agriculture and food security, public health, and our ecosystems.
Here are a few great ways to get started:
- Summer is peak cookout season in Cleveland, and throwing a veggie burger on the grill instead of a beef burger is an easy way to lighten your environmental footprint. Choosing a vegan burger over a beef quarter-pounder uses 99% less water, 93% less land for agriculture production, and generates 90% fewer carbon emissions. Meat products have larger carbon footprints per calorie than vegetables and grains because of livestock methane emissions and the energy it takes to grow the plant-based animal feed. In fact, it takes approximately 11 times the amount of fossil fuels to produce one calorie of meat protein versus a calorie of plant-based protein.
- While a vegetarian diet greatly reduces the carbon footprint of your food, you don’t have to go whole hog to make a difference. Eating just one vegetarian meal each week, for 52 weeks, could reduce your carbon emissions by the equivalent of driving 1,160 miles. Replacing a serving of beef with chicken or fish, which have fewer intensive energy requirements to produce, is also a great way to cut your carbon by more than half.
- If beef is on the menu, grass-fed is the more environmentally friendly alternative versus conventionally raised beef because of reduced nutrient run-off and energy consumption used in its production. Whether we opt for meat, dairy, or plant-based foods, going the organic route requires between a third and a half less energy to produce than conventional food.
- Eleven percent of food’s carbon footprint in the U.S. is from transportation, so when you buy your ingredients, buy local to reduce the carbon footprint even more. In Cleveland, we have an abundance of farmers markets, CSAs, and grocers who stock local produce, meat, and dairy to make choosing local more convenient. Eating primarily locally sourced food for one year could save the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving 1,000 miles.
Approximately 20% of the global greenhouse gas emissions comes from food production, so every time you take a bite, you can make a difference. Eating like a climate activist doesn’t mean you have to punish your taste buds. Choosing to buy, grow, cook, and eat foods with a lower carbon footprint is something we can all do for the benefit of our palates and our planet.