From going vegan to buying organic, here are three important ways to tackle climate change by watching what we eat. 

We live in a world of constant change. One of the biggest issues facing our generation is man-made climate change. 2018 is the fourth hottest year on record, with heat waves on four continents causing wildfires, electricity grids to crash, and dips in the harvest of staple grains. Sadly, a related issue is that many people deny the existence of the phenomenon, the most vocal and influential of these being Donald Trump.

In 2017, shortly after his inauguration, Trump pulled out of America’s pledge to reduce climate pollution, formed by the Obama administration in Paris in 2015. This has sparked mass protest to the point that senior figures (of all states), celebrities, and diplomats from around the world are this month (ed note: September 13, 2018) convening for their own summit on climate change. But what can individuals do about climate change? Scientific research suggests that watching what we eat is a crucial and an all-too-often underappreciated factor. There are three primary ways this can be done: going vegan, eating organic, and buying fair-trade.

At the forefront of this issue is our ethical decision-making when buying food. This is particularly punctuated when the commodity status of animals is so deeply sanctioned in society. The choice to become a conscious consumer really is a moral one. Not only should we change the way we eat for our health, but for the environment on which our lives depend.

When I say the word ‘veganism’, what image comes to mind? Most likely a pompous braggart who sniggers when you buy a Big Mac. However, veganism really is an ethical lifestyle worthy of serious thought. Veganism, the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, is also is related to climate change in an important way. Indeed, the United Nations has even gone so far to admit that “a global shift to a vegan diet is one of the steps necessary to combat climate change.”

Research suggests that the vegan diet is the most effective in combating climate change, with meat, dairy and egg consumption being responsible for nearly 84 percent of food-related greenhouse gas Emissions. But why is this the case? In short, raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, planes and other forms of transportation combined.

Of course, abstaining from the use of animal products is also justified because, in many respects, veganism is a reaction to problems of speciesism – the bias preference of one species over another. Perhaps there is something unsavoury in the view that sees humans preferred over other animals (also known as human supremacism); dogs preferred over chickens etc. All of this simply because of the hierarchical nature used in speciesism, a hierarchy arranged by perceived intelligence, or cuteness.

Speciesism is a particularly difficult problem because victims cannot speak for themselves. Just because animals cannot vocalise their pain in the same way as humans does not strictly mean it’s fair game with respect to eating and exploiting them. Peter Singer, a well-renowned ethicist, is certainly correct here when arguing that we should not base the worth of other human beings on their interests, their abilities, or their intelligence, since these things are out of our control. By the same token, we should not so judge the status of animals.

However, if you feel you just can’t face veganism, organic options should be seriously considered. With the problems of climate change, we must adopt agricultural systems that come with a better portfolio of sustainability benefits. For those who are sceptical of organic options, perhaps knowing that organic farming is one of the healthiest and strongest sectors in agriculture might change your mind?

The synthetic fertilisers and pesticides used in non-organic farming are often made using fossil fuels, therefore manufacturing and transporting them adds to the carbon emissions already harming the Earth’s atmosphere. Additionally, synthetic fertilisers containing nitrogen produces nitrous oxide when used in soil. This gas is around 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide for trapping heat within the ozone. So organic food isn’t just healthier for us to eat, it makes a significant impact on the greenhouse-gas emissions causing global warming.

Organic production is often seen as having no real value. Although marginally more expensive than its alternatives, organic food has some incredibly important, and certainly propitious, side-effects. Indeed, organic farming aims to cycle resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.

But what about fair-trade? We all know that it gets a bit of a bad rap for being puffed up middle-class fodder. However, fair trade produce relates to climate change in an important way. Fair trade premiums — the additional sums of money beyond the fair trade price paid to producers for social, environmental and economic development projects — are proving to be effective vehicles for addressing climate change at the local level.

Fair trade products also ensure safe working conditions and appropriate salaries, thanks to organisations such as the World Fair Trade Organisation. Fair trade in turn guarantees a much less negative effect on the world’s ecology respectively. Products such as palm oil, avocados, cocoa, coconut oil and soya all have their own environmental difficulties, causing mass deforestation, while farming animals causes mass water and air pollution. In its own way, fair trade contests these problems, for instance by ensuring that products such as those listed above are grown in a sustainable way that doesn’t affect the local ecology.

The clearest conclusion to all of the above is, if you eat meat, be wary of where it comes from and don’t settle for the cheapest, but for locally reared, organic, and free range; ration your meat to a weekend treat, or only have it in restaurants. If you’re willing, become a vegetarian or vegan. And if you’re already vegan, avoid unsustainable products and buy organic. The recent evolution of intensive farming has had an extreme effect on the state of the planet where we reside, but the damage is not irreparable. The world doesn’t need us, but we need the world, and we must take care of our carefully balanced ecology. When inaction amounts to complicity, if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.