How do we reduce our carbon footprint through changes in our diet?

81 1

Figure 1

Overview:

Climate change is a growing problem today and a looming threat in the future. The destruction of the ozone layer in Earth’s atmosphere has a wide scope of effects: declining water supplies, increasing number of wildfires, damage to infrastructure, ecosystems, and fisheries compromised, etc. Humans increasingly contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer daily. One harmful action is human food consumption. Typically, the recommended diet of an average person consists of an array of food groups. However, the promoted dietary patterns, like many people, do not take into effects certain foods have on the environment into consideration. The climate crisis has many contributing factors, including the world’s food system which is responsible for 26% of the world’s production of greenhouse gases. Within the food system fossil fuels are produced from the cultivation of the goods to their shipment. Different foods rank differently in their contributions to the emission of greenhouse gases. In particular an article published by UC Davis concluded that livestock produces 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Meat consumption is something people can effectively substitute in their diet. These substitutions can make great strides for an individual’s carbon footprint. In my project, I aim to encourage mindfulness in human consumption while maintaining a healthy lifestyle by demonstrating the value of a modified diet with game theory.

Focuses of a Diet:

  • Health implications 
  • Environmental impact 

Figure 2

The Problem: 

Figure 2 poses 5 different diets and their carbon footprints. In my game each diet is a strategy and will be labeled A-E from left to right. Because diets C-E are already modified to reduce their consumption of meat, they will be ignored. This game is for those who are unaware of the implications of their diet or simply do not care to change. The game is conducted with a meat lover and an average person as players. The meat lover is Mike and the average person is Nancy. The player’s diet preferences, health benefits, and environmental impacts of the selected diet is calculated to determine the payoffs of the game’s matrix. The player’s preferences are based on their meat loving or normal diet characteristics. However, the values placed on health are constant.

 

 

A

B

C

D

E

Health Benefit

-1

0

+1

+3

+2

Explanation

The Atlantic reports that heavy meat diets correlate to premature death and various illnesses. 

No change in the average diet provides no changes in health. 

This diet is a reduction in meat consumption, therefore more healthy when replenished with the proper substitutes. 

The Mayo Clinic writes that a vegetarian diet can reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers

According to Healthline Veganism is more likely to cause nutrient deficiency if not well played

Furthermore, the environmental impact of an outcome is the sum of the carbon footprints for the strategies chosen. Defined by Figure 2, each strategy is given the amount of CO2 it will inevitably produce. As the players choose a strategy their total carbon footprint is calculated on the chart below.

These valued factors come together to be the player’s payoffs of a selected outcome.

Mike The Meat Lover

A

B

C

D

E

Diet Preferences

+4

+3

+2

+1

+0

Health Benefit

-1

0

+1

+3

+2

Combined Carbon Footprints

x

x

x

x

x

Total 

3 – x

3 – x

3 – x

4 – x

2 – x


Nancy with The Normal Diet

A

B

C

D

E

Diet Preferences

+3

+4

+2

+1

+0

Health Benefit

-1

0

+1

+3

+2

Combined Carbon Footprints

x

x

x

x

x

Total 

2 – x

4 – x

3 – x

4 – x

2 – x

The matrix of these payoffs is as follows:

(payoffs of Mike is on the left side of the box, payoffs of Nancy are on the right)

Using a movement diagram, the Nash Equilibrium (optimal outcome) of this game is found to be the outcome of Mike: D, Nancy:D. Strategy D is the vegetarian diet. The result of this game suggests that those who have not already adjusted their diets to incorporate less meat should, if able.

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Micro and Macro Response: 

Individuals who do not have dietary restrictions can adapt lifestyles that limit or completely expel meat from their diets. If this change were to be done on a larger scale, there would be a drastic change in greenhouse emissions. As an example, the World Resources Institution reported that if a person replaced ⅓ of their beef consumption with pork, the food-related emissions would decrease by 13%. Furthermore, reducing meat in a diet is an acceptable change and even provides health benefits. For reassurance:

“A healthy vegetarian dietary pattern can be achieved by incorporating protein foods from plants.” -US Dietary Guidelines for 2020-2025

To help reduce our production of greenhouse gases, encourage friends and family to make conscious choices in their food consumption and other areas of life.

Things to Think about:

  • Start a discussion: 
    • What foods are you willing to give up? How would you rank your diet preferences?
    • What are other ways you contribute to the emission of fossil fuels? How would you reduce your footprint?

Sources

Feedback regarding my topic and/or project are welcome in the comments below!

1 Comments

1 comment

  1. Hi Julia! I loved reading through your page and learning more about sustainable diets. Now more than ever it’s important to take into consideration the effects that our food consumption has on the environment. If we can reduce our carbon footprint and gain health benefits that’s a win for everyone! I’ve slowly been trying to eliminate some meats and animal products from my diet, checking out the link and looking at the tables above really helped to reinforce the importance of dietary changes! Wonderful job!

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