We care about climate change

NUTRISPEAK by Vesanto Melina



The question “What’s responsible for all this climate change?” has most Canadians pointing to the closest SUV or highway. As it turns out, our sky-high gas prices have a plus side; they are forcing us to reconsider our highly polluting transportation habits.

Yet transportation isn’t the biggest contributor to global warming. Livestock generate even more global warming gases, including immense volumes of methane from enteric fermentation by ruminants (gas from both ends of cows) and of nitrous oxide from manure.

The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report summarizes livestock’s threats to the environment as follows:

Greenhouse gas emissions: Livestock are responsible for highly damaging methane and nitrogen emissions.

Land degradation: Livestock damages grazing land, encourages soil loss and destroys sensitive areas.

Water pollution: Animal waste from factory farms and manure on croplands pollutes our water.

Biodiversity loss: We lose wildlife and its habitat.

In the 1970’s, when I lived on a ranch near Kamloops, I noticed that the ranch’s 3,000 “beef” cattle would be trucked 600 kilometres to Alberta for fattening. After slaughter, many would be trucked back to BC supermarkets, in parts. Considering the entire commodity chain of feed, water, fuel (for the transport of feed, animals and meat) and emissions, the FAO estimates that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of human transport.

Yet there is good news. For example, 26 North American universities and colleges have been given a grade of A-minus or better in the four categories of campus sustainability. One of these leaders in sustainability is our own UBC. To quote the report: “The UBC ECOTrek program, the largest water and energy retrofit in any Canadian university, was finalized in 2006 and has tallied energy savings that represent a reduction of 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The program is saving the university $2.5 million annually as a result of a 20 percent reduction in energy use. Since 1990, carbon dioxide emissions per square metre of building have been reduced by 30 percent.”

UBC committed to sustainability targets such as a 25 percent reduction in campus emissions below 2,000 levels by 2010. UBC’s sustainability office assists with building design and a campus energy and water retrofit. Other initiatives in various universities include buying food from local farms, offering more plant-based food on cafeteria menus and recycling.

Along with eating low on the food chain, sustainable farming and organic food make sense. We used to think that “organic” was synonymous with “more expensive.” An E-book you might enjoy is David Hennessey’s How to Buy Organic Food Inexpensively. Packed with practical information, the book is available online for only $5 (www.davidhennessey.ca/buyorganicfood.htm)

WindSong Cohousing Community, where I have the immense good fortune to live, had the vision to implement green solutions for our heating, lighting, energy use and car sharing. These initiatives are led by community members Patrick Meyer and Kim Rink, a planet-friendly pair who develop sustainable communities (www.ecotek.ca). Their efforts are starting to save us money.

How can you show that you care? At your next picnic, opt for a veggie burger. There are many brands and you are sure to find one you like. Test plant-based recipes with your friends and family. Frequent vegetarian restaurants. Check out www.vegdining.com where you’ll find listings for vegetarian restaurants across the globe; there are 52 in Vancouver and 13 others throughout BC. If you know of other veg-friendly restaurants that should be listed, let them know and also send an email to the people at www.happycow.net The website has 97 food-related listings for BC. Encourage everyone you know, young and old, to eat healthy, recycle and do what they can to take care of our dear planet.

Vesanto Melina is a dietitian and author based in Langley, BC. Call 604-882-6782 for a personal consultation or visit www.nutrispeak.com Also see www.healthyschoolfood.org to get a year’s worth of daily Wakeup Wellness Messages for a $50 donation.