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If Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef

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A recent trend among emerging conditions is ‘Eco-anxiety’. In 2011, the American Psychological Association describes it as the dread and helplessness that comes along with “watching the slow and seemingly irrevocable impacts of climate change unfold, and worrying about the future for oneself, children, and later generations.”

It is not a formal diagnosis, however. Traditionally, anxiety is defined by an outsized stress response to a given stimulus. In this case, the stimulus is real, as are the severe effects of stress on the body.

The disposition toward ecological-based stress does not pair well with the current political atmosphere and the present presidential administration who seem to give little thought to the Environmental impact we have. Our current president, Donald Trump has repeatedly spoken out about the false fabrication of climate change. Additionally, he has called out China as the main aggressor with the idea that China is attempting to make the U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. Trump has also led the United States to becomes the only G20 country that will not honor the Paris Climate Accord, and who has appointed fossil-fuel advocates to lead the Department of Energy as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.  To be quite blunt, Donald Trump along with his administration does not care for the environment in any capacity, shape, or form.

Sadly, for those who experience climate-related anxiety, the current political environment all serves as a catalyst that exacerbates these anxious feelings along with a gaslighting president. The remedy for this condition is knowing what can be done to mitigate environmental degradation, from within a country singularly committed to it.

Like what, though?

cattle farm

Helen Harwatt, a researcher who is trained in environmental nutrition, a field focused on developing food systems that balance human health and sustainability. She is most interested in policy but realistic about how much progress can be expected under the aforementioned leadership. Sher along with her colleagues are doing research on maximizing the impacts of individuals. As with so many other things in life and health, it mostly comes down to food.

Recently, Harwatt and a team of scientists from Oregon State University, Bard College, and Loma Linda University calculated just what would happen if every American made one single dietary change: substituting beans for beef. They found that if everyone were willing and able to change, the U.S. could still come close to meeting its 2020 greenhouse-gas emission goals, previously pledged by President Barack Obama in 2009.

That is, of course, even if nothing about our energy infrastructure or transportation system changed–and even if people kept eating chicken and pork and eggs and cheese. This one dietary change could achieve somewhere between 46 and 47 percent of the reductions needed to meet the target.

“I think there’s genuinely a lack of awareness about how much impact this sort of change can have,” Harwatt said. There has been past analysis regarding the environmental impacts of veganism and vegetarianism, but this study is novel for the idea that a person’s dedication to the cause doesn’t have to be complete in order to really have some effect on a grand scale. A relatively small, single food substitution could be the most powerful change a person can make in terms of their lifetime environmental impact. Moreso, this impact can be even more powerful than downsizing one’s car or being vigilant about turning off light bulbs, and certainly a sounder option that quitting showering.

global warming

To get a better understanding of why the climate impact of beef alone is so large, it is important to note that much of the soy, corn, and grain produced are for feeding cattle. Some cattle farms hold up to 38,000 cattle, which require about 900 metric tons of feed every day in order to fatten and grow the cattle. That is to say, that these grains, soy, and corn will be eaten by the cattle, the cattle then is converted into meat, and finally, the humans eat the meat. In this process, the cows will emit as much greenhouse gas as well as consume far more calories in beans than they will yield in their meat consumption. Meaning, far more clear-cutting of forests to raise and feed farm cattle is necessary rather than if the beans were eaten for human consumption alone.

This process is extremely inefficient, yet it continues to happen on a massive scale. Brazil, which is one of the world’s largest exporter of red meat, holds around 212 million cattle. In June, the U.S. temporarily suspended imports of beef from Brazil due to abscesses, which are collections of pus in the meat. According to the United Nations, 33 percent of the arable land on Earth is used for raising and growing and feeding livestock. Even more than that, 26 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface of the Earth is used for grazing livestock. In all, almost a third of the land on Earth is used to produce meat and animal products.

In addition to the well-documented health benefits of a plant-based diet, this case also brings empowerment or at least reprieve to those suffering from anxiety regarding the Environment. Regardless of a person’s degree of Eco-anxiety, there is still some recourse in knowing how far individuals can go to make up for a regressive Federal administration all by simply eating beans.