By Joshua Ball
A few months ago Bill Gates made seven predictions about our future. On the whole Mr Gates was quite optimistic. When I think about the future however, let’s say the next 50 years, I imagine swathes of unemployment due to automation, a ravaged ocean, acidified and emaciated by overfishing, over population, struggling to overcome the lack of housing and the lack of fresh water and the lack of food. Yeah, I’m a genuine ray of sunshine.
The United Nations have created a list of the major global issues that humanity currently faces. After a quick browse through the list I find it’s quite easy to come to the conclusion that we’re all screwed. I should just party like it’s 1999 until Kimmy presses the red button and a giant tsunami steals my selfish body and drags it out to the open ocean, where I will see a montage of my best bits, like Facebook’s Friendaversary video, right before a giant mutant shark devours me.
But there’s always hope isn’t there? One of the greatest redeeming features of the human race: hope. Hope is a powerful force, so powerful that it has driven civil rights movements, environmental protests, real historical change. Hope is all well and good though. For example; I hope that a long lost relative has left me a vast media empire that I can use it to take down Murdoch and promote Everton FC, I hope I can afford to buy those really nice shoes I saw in Calvin Klein, I hope that faster than light travel is discovered in my life time so I can finally boldly go where no one has gone before. For it to be of any use though, all that hoping has to be combined with some action.
So, what can the individual do to make a difference? It’s an overwhelming question. A famous internet meme once said “We must become the change we want to see in the world.” Sounds simple but then it’s all too easy to get caught up in your own little world of working, exercising, binge watching Orange is the New Black, keeping up with family and friends and so on and so on. There are only 24 small hours in a day. Still, it’s important that we choose something in our lives that will have a positive impact on society and the planet isn’t it? Even if it doesn’t seem to have monumental, Tiananmen Square style importance. Then it’s equally as important to stop yourself becoming self righteous and holier than thou. Everyone knows there is nothing more irritating than being talked at by someone who starts sentences with “Well I do this…”, “You really should…”, “During my last yoga retreat I found…” You know who you are, stop it.
One of the most important parts of my life is food. I am privileged to be able to cook and eat anything my heart desires, unless you count the end of the month, when all I can really afford is a small tomato and a loaf of reduced price bread. About a year ago, when I realised the impact that eating meat has on the planet, I decided to make a difference: I decided that I would stop eating it. Allow me to throw some facts at you, because everyone loves facts. Around 30% of the world’s (ice free) surface is used to rear cattle and chickens for human consumption. Livestock production (including meat, milk and cheese) uses a third of the world’s fresh water. 1.3 billion tonnes of grain are consumed by farm animals each year. A cow consumes between 75 kg to 300 kg to produce a kg of protein.
Eating meat is one of the least efficient ways to feed the planet. Even if you forget the ethical and health aspects of the issue, eating meat is one of the biggest contributors to our carbon dioxide problem. More facts! According to a recent study, if you eat a meat rich diet, (an average of 100 grams a day) that results in 16.8 Kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions per day. That is roughly 2.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year! As opposed to a vegetarian diet which emits roughly 1.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually (still quite a lot). Apparently, to halt climate change each individual should not exceed 2 tonnes of carbon emissions on their carbon footprint. Food for thought.
I calculated my carbon footprint here and I still produce roughly 5 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. A lot of that is beyond my control, such as how efficient my city is at recycling, having to use a car to get to work, having to fly home a few times a year so my parents don’t forget who I am. But one of the easier ways to reduce that is thinking about what we eat. I’ve really enjoyed this past year eating a mainly meat and fish free diet. It has forced me to become more creative in the kitchen, think about where the ingredients I use come from and I’m increasingly mindful of the balance of my diet.
There are still times, after a long day at work, when I get home tired and grumpy and the last thing I want to do is spend an hour in the kitchen preparing a meal that is nutritionally balanced but also tastes nice. I’ll admit, cooking vegetarian food still takes me way more time. I never said change was easy!