Welcome to Healthy Living on Supreme Master Television.
Today the urgent need to reverse climate change is widely recognized around the world, and many have come to realize that the most effective and immediate individual action is to adopt a nutritious, vegetarian, meaning animal-free, diet.
Studies on the relationship between a plant-based diet and a sustainable environment have opened up new frontiers for scientific research and presented new food choices in everyday life.
On this episode of Healthy Living, we speak with Dr. Annika Carlsson-Kanyama, a prominent scientist from Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology.
Currently a researcher and project leader at the Energy and Environmental Security Group/FOI, in Stockholm, Dr. Carlsson-Kanyama also works an associate professor at the Department of Industrial Ecology.
She earned her PhD at Lund University and has written numerous articles about the environmental impacts of human consumption and production patterns.
Let’s now meet Dr. Carlsson-Kanyama.
SupremeMasterTV: You talked about the sources of greenhouse gases as being methane and also carbon.
Annika: Nitrous oxide; we add that too when nitrous oxide has to do with the production of nitrogen fertilizers, applying them and taking care of the manure.
So when you have cattle or pigs or whatever, you have to add the emissions of nitrous oxide as well.
Annika: They are much more potent, in a hundred-year perspective. Nitrous oxide is almost 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide, while I think methane is around 50 or 60 times as potent. So there is really a huge difference.
Annika: These two gases have caused quite a lot of the global warming already. And they are intimately related to the agricultural sector and to the livestock industry, actually.
I could refer to a study made by the Food and Agricultural Organization in late 2006, where they said that 18% of the global greenhouse-gas emissions are emitted by the animal industry.
That is more than all the cars in the world together, and a large part of that 18% is nitrous oxide and methane emissions actually.
So it is a big problem. And I think also, in the public debate about how consumers can mitigate climate change, you could drive your car less, you could have energy-efficient light bulbs, but eating less meat or eating less food that pollutes a lot in terms of emissions of greenhouse gases is hardly mentioned.
And it’s very important at least to raise awareness among consumers of this.
SupremeMasterTV: Can you walk us through the life cycle of the carbon emissions of red meat, versus a vegetable, a bean-based diet.
Annika: First of all, if you start with a bean, the bean life cycle, it starts with a growing bean somewhere on a field. A tractor is plowing the field, weeding, harvesting and so on, and there are emissions of carbon dioxide because diesel is used in the tractor.
We always calculate the inputs, the emissions from fertilizer production, if any; after that there is transportation, drying, there is packaging, there is retailing, there is transportation again.
These beans are taken home, they are cooked. Some electricity and gas are used and so on. And then you can also proceed to calculate the use for washing the
dirty pot if you want to.
So that’s a very simple life cycle, actually. If you look at the lifecycle of meat, any kind of meat, it starts in the same way; by producing beans, for example, soya beans, and producing, it could be rye, wheat or corn, anything.
And these products are then made into feed and fed to the animals in a pen or in a stable; slaughterhouse, chilling, packaging, retailing and finally being cooked.
So the lifecycle of meat is much more complicated than for any vegetarian product because it involves first producing the vegetable products that are then converted into feed. And that’s partly why it’s much more polluting to produce beef or pork or chicken than a vegetarian product.
Because sometimes there are ten kilos of feed needed to produce one kilo of beef, for example, so there are large emissions of carbon dioxide, emissions of methane from the stomachs of the animals.
And we sort of add up all these emissions and it turns out that, for example, for one kilo of beef compared to one kilo of beans there can be a difference of a factor of 40 in terms of emissions of greenhouse gases per kilo.
HOST: When Healthy Living returns, we will continue our discussion with Dr. Carlsson-Kanyama on how our diet affects the environment. You are watching Supreme Master Television, please stay tuned.
HOST: On today’s Healthy Living, Dr. Annika Carlsson-Kanyama discusses the healthy, climate-friendly diet. One of her pioneering articles entitled, Climate change and dietary choices – How can emissions of greenhouse gases from food consumption be reduced?,
clearly establishes that a vegetarian, meaning animal-free diet, based on domestic food sources produces the lowest level of emissions for the highest level of nutritional value.
Annika: I’m very curious to see if the issue of an environmentally-friendly diet pattern is going to surface on the policy agenda.
SupremeMasterTV: How is it changing in Europe?
Annika: It is changing, actually, because I think it’s dawning upon us more and more that climate change may eventually, if we don’t curb emissions, cause such a challenge to society that we can’t cope.
I mean the latest projections or scenarios from the IPCC show that if emissions continue to increase, we may have a global temperature rise of more than six degrees by the end of this century.
That is a bigger difference than the last ice age, minus five degrees. We can’t even imagine that kind of world. There is a risk that sea levels will rise several meters during this century if things go bad, and we don’t want that to happen, absolutely not. That would be a disaster; we can’t imagine how we would cope with that.
So we have to look into new areas for mitigating climate change and we have to do it quickly. And diet, dietary pattern is one important step.
SupremeMasterTV: So can you tell us a little bit about how you help people to put together a climate-friendly diet?
Annika: I think when you can give some fairly simple and robust advice to people and that is to, in a climate-friendly diet, avoid red meat, for example. And also if you pick vegetables, pick those that are not transported by plane;
the same goes for fruit. And avoid those grown in greenhouses, heated greenhouses during the winter. And I think the most important advice is to eat the food you bring home; don’t throw it away, because that’s a waste of resources. So I think if you stick to this simple advice I think you can do a lot.
Annika: I think nowadays it’s very difficult for consumers to make decisions. If you know the way things grow, you know that if you see a long, green cucumber
in the winter in Sweden, you know that it has been grown in a greenhouse because it has to get 25˚C of temperature and clearly can not be grown outside in the winter in Sweden, and it can not be stored. We have other vegetables that can be stored throughout the winter if they are grown in summer, and they are very climate friendly.
Like for example, carrots or potatoes or onions or leeks or whatever. These are vegetables you can eat all year round. But long transportation, even across the oceans, if carried out by boat, is very climate-friendly. There are not huge emissions for taking something by boat from New Zealand to Sweden or the UK.
So I think it’s very well, because if you eat vegetable products, you can eat imported stuff as long as you avoid those taken by plane.
That’s my opinion. It’s still very much more climate-friendly than to eat meat anyway.
SupremeMasterTV: How is it going in Sweden, with all your work?
Annika: Since 2007, there has been an enormous media interest in this kind of work.
I think the time has come where producers have to take responsibility to declare the carbon footprint or whatever on their products.
Because if you go into any store here, or anywhere, there are thousands of products, you know.
And the content changes, the origin of these products change, so it’s only the producers that can really tell us about the carbon footprint.
It’s not something a researcher or a research group can sort of carry out.
Annika: But I think the time has come. The Swedish government called the food industry to a meeting quite recently and said,
“We wish you to develop a carbon-labeling system for the products.” And so I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s really on the agenda now.
HOST: We thank you, Dr. Annika Carlsson-Kanyama, for your diligent research in raising the public’s awareness on the importance of a plant-based diet
to save the environment. Healthy Living airs every Monday on Supreme Master Television. Thank you for being with us today.