Darcy Dumont

Editor’s note:   This column appeared previously in The Amherst Bulletin.

Climate change has presented us with an existential crisis unlike any in history. And now we’ve learned that we need to draw down emissions to half their current level by 2030 in order to prevent a worst case climate scenario. Climate has risen to the top of the agendas of presidential candidates who are clambering to showcase the most progressive plans. 

Clearly, solving this crisis will require a multi-pronged approach–with multiple solutions drawing down our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The book Drawdown, edited by Paul Hawken and researched by Project Drawdown’s team of two hundred scientists and researchers, lists the top climate solutions world-wide, ranked by how much each solution can potentially avoid or remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere over 30 years. 

The most effective climate solutions are listed by sectors: Buildings and Cities, Energy, Food, Land Use, Materials, Transport and Women and Girls. In this column, I’ll be discussing top solutions in the area of food that residents, businesses, higher education institutions and the Town could apply in Amherst.

The solution ranked #3 in Drawdown is “Reduced Food Waste”. One third of food raised or prepared doesn’t make it to mouths. Producing uneaten food wastes a whole spectrum of resources and then produces methane when that waste hits the trash bin. Restaurants, food services and supermarkets could be encouraged (or required) to give away food that would go to waste to charities or for animal feed or compost rather than sending it to the transfer station. They could also join online food donation portals, food waste fairs and waste reduction challenges that recognize successful efforts by local businesses. Individuals could be encouraged to eat rather than throw out leftovers – to cook those vegetables from the grocery store or your farmshare before they spoil. Our Amherst goal could be zero food waste by 2030. 

Ranked #4 is “A Plant Rich Diet”.  I guess the question here is, would you change your eating habits to help solve the climate crisis? It would benefit the planet greatly by 2050 if we all decided to be vegans (70% emissions reduction from business as usual projections) or at least vegetarians (63% emissions reduction). The direct and indirect emissions produced as a result of raising livestock amount to more than 50% of global GHG emissions, including those from manure and from land use, fertilizer use and the associated energy consumption to grow livestock feed. 

If we ate a plant rich diet, it would not only lead to lower rates of chronic disease but growing plants would open up land formerly used for grazing or growing feedstock to preservation and carbon sequestration and would do far less damage to freshwater resources and ecosystems, currently caused by fertilizer runoff.

This is a hard one, though, since many people are accustomed to certain types of meat and to eating meat as a matter of custom, but it is not impossible over time to transition to tasty alternatives. Millions of people in the U.S. currently eat far more meat than they need to for a healthy diet. If you are not ready to become a vegan or vegetarian, you could eliminate or decrease the amount of meat – especially red meat – consumed. Residents could learn about how to cook a plant rich diet by listening to or watching cooking shows or buying cookbooks such as the Eat for the Planet cookbook.  As for local businesses, restaurants and food services could offer less meat or meatless days for the climate.

Drawdown does not take a political stand on the global food system as a whole, so it leaves out a very compelling climate solution – localization. This is an area where Amherst is already making progress –  with our multiple local farms, summer and winter farmers’ markets and burgeoning Common Share Food Coop. We could do more to encourage our residents and businesses to eat and serve food grown locally. And when we go to the supermarket, we could choose to buy local food over the same food grown or raised on the other side of the world.

We focus a lot on energy solutions to the climate crisis but our relationship to food can also critically affect whether and how fast we meet our climate goals. The next time you open your refrigerator, or go to the supermarket, or to a farm or restaurant, think about your choices and how, together, we can accelerate positive change around food and food systems.

Darcy DuMont is an Amherst Town Councilor representing District 5 and the lead sponsor of the legislation to establish an Amherst Energy and Climate Action Committee. Views expressed are hers and not those of the Town Council.

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