Scientists study how climate change impacts food production

April 21, 2008

The old adage, “We are what we eat,’’ may be the latest recipe for success when it comes to curbing the perils of global climate warming. Despite the recent popular attention to the distance that food travels from farm to plate, aka “food miles,” Carnegie Mellon researchers Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews argue in an upcoming article in the prestigious Environmental Science & Technology journal that it is dietary choice, not food miles, which most determines a household’s food-related climate impacts.

“Our analysis shows that despite all the attention given to food miles, the distance that food travels is only around 11% of the average American household’s food-related greenhouse gas emissions,’’ said Weber, a research professor in Carnegie Mellon’s department of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy.

The researchers report that fruit, vegetables, meat and milk produced closer to home rack up fewer petroleum-based transport miles than foods trucked cross country to your table. Yet despite the large distances involved—the average distance traveled for food in the U.S. is estimated at 4,000-5,000 miles —the large non-energy based greenhouse gas emissions associated with producing food make food production matter much more than distance traveled.

The authors suggest that eating less red meat and/or dairy products may be a more effective way for concerned citizens to lower their food-related climate impacts. They estimate that shifting to an entirely local diet would reduce the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions as driving 1,000 miles, while changing only one day per week’s meat and dairy-based calories to chicken, fish, or vegetables would have about the same impact. Shifting entirely from an average American diet to a vegetable-based one would reduce the same emissions as 8,000 miles driven per year.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

Explore further: Invasive brood parasites a threat to native bird species

Related Stories

Invasive brood parasites a threat to native bird species

September 16, 2015

North Americans might be seeing new species of birds in certain areas of the continent in the near future. According to research conducted by a psychology professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and his co-authors, ...

NASA to study Arctic climate change ecosystem impacts

September 1, 2015

As part of a broad effort to study the environmental and societal effects of climate change, NASA has begun a multi-year field campaign to investigate ecological impacts of the rapidly changing climate in Alaska and northwestern ...

New study rewrites genetic history of sheep

September 1, 2015

At a time when the price of mutton is climbing and wool crashing, a groundbreaking new study has used advanced genetic sequencing technology to rewrite the history of sheep breeding and trading along the ancient Silk Road—insights ...

Recommended for you

Asteroid impact, volcanism were one-two punch for dinosaurs

October 1, 2015

Berkeley geologists have uncovered compelling evidence that an asteroid impact on Earth 66 million years ago accelerated the eruptions of volcanoes in India for hundreds of thousands of years, and that together these planet-wide ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Apr 21, 2008
Considering what a large percentage of fresh vegetables, fruit and meat are thrown away, for example sitting on grocery shelves until they expire or rot, an important part of the solution might be to focus on efficiently distributing food to consumers.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.