2018: A turning point for climate change?

2018 witnessed a world awakening to the outcries of leading scientists, climate change activists and few but desperate government leaders, particularly those from from low-lying countries. 2018 is also the year where our diets and food systems have come in the spotlight of public opinion. The Guardian, the Economist and the New York Times have all been addressing the urgency of the issues related to what we are putting on our plates. So what has the buzz been about? What good has it done, where do we stand and what can we do? We are looking back at the year that has passed and highlighting some of the most interesting events. 

Major and urgent changes are necessary, the IPCC reports

After experiencing a record-breaking hot and dry summer, it seemed the world was all-ears when the world’s leading climate scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their latest report on October 7th, 2018.

The IPCC report calls for "rapid and far-reaching transitions" if we are to limit global warming to 1.5oC. Rising just half a degree above that limit will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people, the report warns.

The IPCC has presented governments with some hard choices in order to keep to the limit. “We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of the working group on mitigation, as quoted in an article by the Guardian.

Power to the people

The IPCC’s message has resonated with global citizens, who are not prepared to wait for governments to make changes, but who are increasingly changing their own consumer habits.

Speaking to world leaders at COP24 in Poland, climate-activist and 15-year-old Greta Thurnberg, gave us all a wake up call reminding us that governments have been incapable of creating the change that is need: “Change is coming whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.”

An increasing number of people would seem to agree with Greta, as reflected in the staggering rise of veganism. An article from the Guardian that went viral, and a range of similar articles, explain that avoiding meat and dairy, is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on Earth.

2018 has seen veganism go from being a fringe movement to becoming mainstream, with vegan food ranges in taking up entire supermarket aisles, vegan food markets and restaurants popping up and lists of celebrity vegans booming - Ariana Grande, Natalie Portman, Ellen DeGeneres and Liam Hemsworth to mention a few.

The vegan movement, which is led by young people, especially teenagers, state animal welfare, environmental concerns and personal health as the three main motivations for changing diets. They are accompanied by an array of new businesses, cookbooks, YouTube channels and polemical documentaries – Earthlings, Forks over Knives, Live and Let Live.         

Future food

Not only veganism has experienced a surge this year. The World Economic Forum predicts we will be eating five new foods in the future: cricket bars, kernza bread, plant burgers, algae oil and “clean” chicken nuggets, meat made from animal cells in labs. All we can say, is that means the future has arrived earlier than expected. :) 

The predictions are interesting because not everyone is prepared to go vegan, and because covering your nutritional needs on a purely vegan diet is a challenge without taking supplements. Some nutritionists have shared their worries that some vegans get B12, iron and even protein deficiencies.

While there are still debates about how much change we as citizens can actually make contra the need for greater moves in policy and regulations, a TED talk by strategist Chad Frischman notes that out of 20 solutions for halting global warming, a staggering 8 of them have to do with food and land use. 

So while it may seem gloomy and difficult to change anything, we would argue that our diets are crucial for halting global warming, if not only to inspire and show that change can happen.