To address hunger, many countries may have to increase carbon footprint

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Achieving an adequate, healthy diet in most low- and middle-income countries will require a substantial increase in greenhouse gas emissions and water use due to food production, according to new research from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The paper will be published online September 16 in the journal Global Environmental Change.

Obesity, undernutrition, and change are major global challenges that impact the world's population. While these problems may appear to be unrelated, they share food production and consumption as key underlying drivers. By recognizing the role of food production in climate change, this study examines the challenges of simultaneously addressing hunger and the climate crisis at both the individual and country levels.

For their analysis, the researchers developed a model that assessed how alterations to dietary patterns across 140 countries would impact individual- and country-level and freshwater use. They used this model to assess the per capita and whole country climate and water footprints of nine plant-forward diets. The plant-forward diets examined ranged from no red meat, pescatarian, lacto-ovo vegetarian, and vegan, among others.

A key finding of the study showed that a diet in which the came predominantly from low food chain animals, such as small fish and mollusks, had nearly as low of an environmental impact as a vegan diet. Researchers also determined that a diet that involved reducing animal food consumption by two-thirds—termed by study authors as "two-thirds vegan"—generally had a lower climate and water footprint than the more traditional lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.

"Our research indicates there's no one-size-fits-all diet to address the climate and nutrition crises. Context is everything, and the food production policies for each country must reflect that," says senior author of the study, Keeve Nachman, Ph.D., director of the Food Production and Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and an assistant professor with the Bloomberg School's Department of Environmental Health and Engineering.

To counter these climate impacts and to address diet-related morbidity and mortality, the authors recommend, based on this report, that high-income countries accelerate adapting plant-forward diets. The authors emphasize that an examination of these diets and their environmental footprints allows for consideration of dietary recommendations or behavioral changes that would balance health and nutrition needs, cultural preferences, and planetary boundaries.

"Our data indicate that it is actually dairy product consumption that explains much of the differences in greenhouse gas footprints across diets. Yet, at the same time, nutritionists recognize the important role dairy products can have in stunting prevention, which is a component of the World Bank Human Capital Index," says study co-author, Martin Bloem, MD, Ph.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and the Robert Lawrence Professor of Environmental Health at the Bloomberg School. The World Bank's Human Capital Index calculates the contribution of health and education to the productivity of future generations of workers.

"The study findings highlight the difficulty in prescribing broad dietary recommendations to meet the needs of individual countries," says Bloem.

A food's country of origin can have enormous consequences for climate, according to the study. For example, one pound of beef produced in Paraguay contributes nearly 17 times more greenhouse gases than one pound of beef produced in Denmark. Often, this disparity is due to deforestation resulting from grazing land. "Where you get your food from matters," says Nachman. "Trade patterns have an important influence on countries' -related climate and fresh water impacts."

The methodology used in the study allows for new data-driven comparisons between countries and regions, and also takes into account the different contexts and conditions in these countries. The study integrates country-specific data such as current food availability and trade and import patterns with information about greenhouse gas and burdens that are associated with the production of specific food items by country of origin. It also takes into account the carbon emissions associated with land use changes for purposes of food production.

"It would be satisfying to have a silver bullet to address carbon footprints and the impact of production; however, with problems as complex and global as nutrition, , freshwater depletion, and economic development, that's not possible," says Bloem. "There will always be tradeoffs. Environmental impact alone cannot be a guide for what people eat; countries need to consider the totality of the nutritional needs, access, and cultural preferences of their residents. The good news is this research can be a part of the solution, as it now gives policymakers a tool to develop nationally appropriate strategies, including dietary guidelines, that help meet multiple goals."


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One change can make diet more planet friendly

More information: "Country-specific dietary shifts to mitigate climate and water crises" Global Environmental Change, 2019.
Citation: To address hunger, many countries may have to increase carbon footprint (2019, September 16) retrieved 23 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-09-hunger-countries-carbon-footprint.html
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Sep 16, 2019
To address hunger, many countries may have to increase carbon footprint


That is doubtless true. We have not significantly reduced our need for carbon fuel and developing countries are going to need significant energy expenditures to continue to develop.

The article is mostly about food production. Certainly, one size does not fit all. Dietary resources should fit what is normal and possible for the various countries.

Slowing population growth would also be useful in feeding the world, but population control is not a popular subject.

Sep 16, 2019
The US wastes 40% of its food, while it maintains the status of fattest country. Yet no mention of the good old US of A in this turd of propaganda. All the long eye of the AGW Cult can see, to lay blame, are the poorest countries on the planet.
Yep, these are the ones who will fix hunger and GloBull warming.

Sep 16, 2019
If we incentivized the production of food near its consumption location, we would have warehouse-size buildings stacked up to the limits of practicality with Aeroponic food flowing out by the ton each hour. The power cost and water usage are far lower than ever with LED lights and modern techniques.

Sep 17, 2019
Many of these loser countries could be productive enough to feed their population. Benign re-colonization is the best thing that could happen to them.

Sep 17, 2019
So, how many of these countries have nuclear weapons?

Just askin'.

Sep 17, 2019
Whats with the picture of a homeless guy?

Sep 17, 2019
Food redistibution is what matters. We produce way enough today.

Sep 17, 2019
Long term not sure why this is an issue. There have been a many articles on phys.org showing great potential for carbon/CO2 reduction and more importantly, carbon/CO2 sequestration. If advances in AI continue, I cannot imagine humans not being able to control the carbon/CO2 content of the atmosphere by 2050 and maybe even before. Couple that with plant genetics that will allow for much more production with a lot less resources and its not a long term issue.

Sep 17, 2019
@JeffHans1

Transport carbon accounts for 15% of carbon, and commercial transport is very efficient. E.g. if you drive 5 miles to the store to buy a 1 pound apple and back, you will have have burned 1/3rd a gallon of gas in your 30 mpg car. The trucks that transported that apple 600 miles from orchard to store, will have burned 100 gallons at 6 mpg, but that apple is 1/40,000th of what they carried, so that apple cost 0.0025 of a gallon. The result is that your 10 mi drive accounted for 99.2% of the carbon produced, and as the transport distances get longer, they get more efficient as ships and trains are more likely to be involved.

Sep 17, 2019
@luke_w_bradley
You present a very salient point. That longer transport, however, results in adverse effects such as depleted nutrition and visual appeal. Which translates into waste.

Sep 18, 2019
Long term not sure why this is an issue. There have been a many articles on phys.org showing great potential for carbon/CO2 reduction and more importantly, carbon/CO2 sequestration. If advances in AI continue, I cannot imagine humans not being able to control the carbon/CO2 content of the atmosphere by 2050 and maybe even before. Couple that with plant genetics that will allow for much more production with a lot less resources and its not a long term issue.

It'd ask for too much involving and cooperation from too many people. You can hope for the end of the century, regarding AI's progress, certainly not before. And that'd be awesome enough!

Here is your silver bullet: create and enforce binding family size policies worldwide. Everything else is just worsening the planet's devastation already under way.

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