Saturday, November 27

Does eating pollute?

After the encouragement for consciences that all the proclamations of the 26th conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change have meant, it seems necessary to reflect on the issues that most stress environmental sustainability and how to address them in a climate context where options are running out. Although the results are once again disappointing, there is a consensus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, although the deadlines, procedure and financing remain to be agreed. Not only is it urgent to move towards less polluting energies and end deforestation, it is also necessary an exercise in uncomfortable pedagogy where collective responsibility is assumed. Little has been said at COP 26 about reviewing something as everyday as eating and analyzing what effects it has on climate change how the food we eat daily is produced, marketed and consumed.

When referring to the environmental impact of food, it is necessary to consider not only its ecological footprint, but also its ability to mitigate climate change. Eating is vital, but the type of crops, the chosen resources and their use, the consumption patterns and the handling of food both inside and outside the value chain are definitive factors in the environmental impact.

The food system is responsible for 26% of total greenhouse gas emissions. But far from what could be deduced, only 18% has to do with packaging, transport and logistics. That is, 82% of these emissions are derived from the production of the food itself. The ingredients that produce the most emissions on average, since emission levels vary according to the production method and the resources used, are linked to beef, lamb and pork, in this order, but also to cheese, chocolate, coffee and prawns. Therefore, the sustainability of the food system also depends on consumption patterns and individual responsibility. The rationalization of diets, beyond taste, offers the double benefit of health and sustainability of ecosystems.

Governing food requires paying attention to its consequences on climate change. In the Paris Agreement (2015), the mitigation foreseen on the production side is not enough to stay below 2 ° C of warming. Reserves like the Amazon have already started to emit more CO2 than they absorb. If citizens are not involved in a global commitment, given the complexity of the problem and the lack of political action, eating will become increasingly unsustainable.

The destructive potentialities of the food system imply great environmental costs. The intensification of the exploitation and extraction of natural resources has unleashed unbearable pressure. Not only has the productivity of food crops increased: also crops for alternative uses such as biofuels, grains for animal feed and as a source of production of all kinds of merchandise (not strictly food) for packaging. All this entails pollution and water scarcity, the impact on the territory, but also animal abuse.

In the same way, renewable energies, through the cultivation of solar panels and wind farms, displace more unpredictable and less profitable food crops. Although human action has always put pressure on these resources, the pace with which it was exerted has allowed their recovery (fallow land, for example). However, the acceleration of these cycles of sustainability of nature is causing the destruction of entire ecosystems, degradation of tropical systems, loss of hydrographic basins, decreased integrity of the soil, erosion, the disappearance of biodiversity in traditional varieties and seeds. autochthonous, the decrease in carbon sequestration and the deterioration of the air. A collapse that at the local level implies the advance of desertification, the depletion of minerals and aquifers, the contamination of agricultural soils and forests by long-lasting toxic residues (agro-toxins), agricultural operations in ruins, desert mining cities and abandoned industrial landfills. . This excess is making it difficult to regulate the climate, the regeneration of air and water quality, even for the waste itself to be recycled, etc. Agricultural activity deepens its disconnection with the environment, intensifying overexploitation and deterioration of local resources (labor and natural resources), while dependence on inputs (materials and energy) from other territories increases.

The exercise of the right to food implies taking responsibility for how biodiversity is produced and affects rural livelihoods and the systems that regulate the functions of the planet, such as forests, soils or oceans. For this reason, in the dominant strategy of eradicating hunger, dependence on oil and pressure on resources, it must be replaced by alternatives that prevent the economic projections of agribusiness from ruling. During the 2008 crisis, the G-20 took over all decisions about the rise in food prices and its crisis. Everything that was deregulated was decided by an exclusive group of countries whose financial interests do not respond to the vital need to feed themselves and where the most food insecure countries are not represented. Therefore, financial sustainability was prioritized instead of considering the balance of natural cycles and the time to replenish ecosystems with biodiversity as urgent.

The decline in biodiversity that unifying crops has meant, beyond even the business of patenting the only viable seeds, is irrecoverable. Although there are 10,000 different plant species available to produce food and feed, only 150 crops feed the majority of the planet’s population and only 12 crops provide 80% of food energy. 60% of this energy comes exclusively from wheat, rice, corn and potatoes. The decrease in agricultural biodiversity undermines dietary diversity, prevents increasing food production, income and addressing environmental constraints. If genetic diversity is not preserved, it will be less able to cope with climate change. Deeper rooted varieties, if combined with proper agronomic practices, can retain more carbon in the soil. Other varieties of forages can also be considered so that ruminants emit less methane, and varieties that require less nitrogen and, therefore, reduce the need for fertilizers and in turn emit less nitrous oxide. A diversity that is sustained by native varieties practically swept away by biotechnology, but also by other practices that seek to mitigate climate change.

All the pressures that arise from food and the environment must fit together, they are issues of the first order in the sustainability of a vital exercise. But eating is also culture, a way of life, a daily decision where information about the origin and procedure of food is refused. It means rationality in the acquisition and consumption to avoid waste and diseases. Few decisions are so linked to their consequences, few challenge us so much in our individual responsibility.

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