For many people across Europe, this summer will be one that they won’t forget in a hurry. Many parts of the continent were hit by catastrophic floods, causing billions of euros in damage and hundreds of deaths. Belgian Minister of Home Affairs Annelies Verlinden described the events as ‘one of the greatest natural disasters our country has ever known’.
Irreversible tipping point
At the time of writing, Greece is being gripped by raging wildfires. As the country tries to cope with its biggest heatwave in thirty years, thousands of people are being evacuated from their homes. The temperature reached a scorching 47 degrees Celsius at one point. But Greece is not alone. From California to Russia, fires are continuing to cause untold damage. Worse, they are becoming a yearly occurrence in many places.
We are faced with such unprecedented evidence of the Earth’s warming. A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change only adds to the gloom. It shows we are in danger of reaching an irreversible tipping point. Forests have begun to die, and Antarctic ice sheets are melting to such an extent that sea level could rise by more than a meter by the end of the century.
The report makes for a sober read, but it comes exactly at the right time. The world’s leaders are preparing to travel to Glasgow, Scotland for COP26, the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference. This year’s conference, which begins in October, will be the first time since 2015’s historic COP that leaders collectively agree to raise their ambitions.
The so-called ‘Paris Agreement’ – adopted in 2015 – sees the world’s nations committing to substantially reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to limit global temperature increase in this century to two degrees Celsius, while pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 degrees.
It’s no wonder then that leaders like Boris Johnson and Joe Biden are increasingly featured in the press talking about the shift to renewable energy, or the speed at which we must adopt electric vehicles.
It’s all part of a narrative that will set the tone for the Glasgow conference in a few months’ time.
Diet and the climate crisis
But once our leaders take a break from the endless rounds of meetings, will they pause to consider how the food and drink they consume at the conference also impacts the planet?
Meat and dairy account for around 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the UN’s own Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).
Governments around the world acknowledge that we should be eating less meat and dairy. But imagine the message it would send if the delegates at COP26 were served only plant-based options.
It’s unlikely to happen. But we can take solace in the fact that taking matters into your own hands can be as simple as adjusting your own diet. For instance, walking down a different supermarket aisle, or picking up a dairy-free coffee from your local café.
Plant-based food and drink options have a significantly lower carbon footprint. For example, 1 liter of oat milk emits 0.9 kg of CO2. In contrast, the same amount of cow’s milk emits 3.2 kg of CO2.
Many people start to make the switch to plant-based by cutting the amount of dairy they consume. And what’s great is that there are so many resources to help you, including the World Plant Milk Day website.
We don’t expect Boris Johnson to be sipping oat milk lattes anytime soon. But if more of us commit to going plant-based, we might just hand over a better planet to the ever-expanding next generation of Johnsons. Not to mention our own children, too.