The Final Day of our Plant-Based Challenge.
Many of you that have followed this challenge with me will know that I am passionate about health. Not just our health but also the health of the planet.
If there’s one common problem that every inhabitant of the Earth is currently facing, it’s climate change.
Those two words sound innocent enough: “climate change.” And maybe that’s part of the problem; with everything that’s going on right now, thinking about the climate changing in 10 or 50 or 80 years just isn’t that much of a priority for most of us.
But that’s got to change. Because really, what’s happening isn’t just climate “change”, it’s climate chaos. And as crazy as things have gotten, unless we change course, we are barely seeing the tip of the iceberg of what’s coming.
But already, climate chaos is beginning to unfold, and it’s not looking good.
With unprecedented heat waves in unlikely places, unprecedented droughts and, the first rainfall on the peak of Greenland’s ice sheet for the first time in literally ever — and a truly alarming new scientific report on the now-unavoidable impact of global warming on our world, we can’t keep acting as if this isn’t an urgent matter of life or death.
So here’s the latest update on the crisis — and on one of the most important things we can do to turn it around (that almost nobody is talking about!).
Earth’s temperature has risen about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, with about two-thirds of that warming occurring since 1975. What’s causing this rise in temperature? Well, we are.
If we don’t collectively start making major changes now, scientists predict the path we’re on will have dire consequences for all life on Earth.
The primary greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. They become trapped in the atmosphere and prevent heat from leaving the planet — causing the planet to overheat.
Storms are becoming more powerful, frequent, and unpredictable. Agricultural patterns are being overturned, with massive droughts in some places, and floods in others, leading to widespread crop failures.
Insect populations are falling, threatening entire ecosystems with collapse. Without pollinators, crops will fail. Other crops — including key global staples — are threatened by pests who move in along with warmer temperatures. And as polar ice caps melt, coastal communities, including entire nations, are being threatened by rising ocean levels and saltwater encroachment.
Sea levels are rising. Ecosystems are being destroyed. Species are going extinct. And if we don’t change course, we may soon look back on the 2020s as the “good ol’ days.”
And unless we act collectively, that temperature increase could easily exceed 3.6 degrees F, which could be so catastrophic for humans and other species that the scenario could easily exceed the limits of our predictive models.
The most likely outcomes, according to the IPCC summary for policymakers, include “increases in the frequency and intensity of hot extremes, marine heatwaves, and heavy precipitation, agricultural and ecological droughts in some regions, and proportion of intense tropical cyclones,” as well as more severe floods and droughts. And these changes will be “irreversible for centuries to millennia.”
The report shares “unequivocal” evidence that, as most scientists have been arguing for years, human activities are the biggest driver of our warming atmosphere.
But what can we do?
The problem can seem so daunting, and our individual power can feel so limited. Most of us don’t want to stop driving our cars, heating our homes, or buying the manufactured goods that keep us alive and comfortable.
Do we have to throw up our hands and hope that technology will save us? Or that the world’s energy companies will decide to stop drilling for oil?
The good news is, we all share one thing that can have a significant impact on climate change: the food we eat.
By making small adjustments to your daily food choices, you can help counteract the biggest environmental threats we’re facing today.
You have the power to help save the planet — starting with what’s on your plate. It’s not the whole story, but you can take a real bite out of the problem.
Some of the Major Ways Modern Food Production and Climate Change are Linked
Livestock production is responsible for a surprisingly high amount of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. This comes from both animals and their manure. Cows alone are responsible for the majority of livestock’s contribution, releasing methane through their and their manure. Methane is at least 28 times as destructive as carbon dioxide when it comes to heating the atmosphere.
Methane’s contribution to climate chaos has sometimes been overlooked because methane doesn’t remain in the atmosphere nearly as long as carbon dioxide (CO2). But while methane is in the air, it traps a tremendous amount of heat — far more than CO2. So a dramatic reduction in methane emissions, which would occur automatically if we ate far less beef, would actually be a quick fix that would seriously help slow the rise of global temperatures.
Eating less (or no) beef will not in and of itself solve the climate problem. But there is no possible way we can solve it without eating far less (or no) beef.
Animal agriculture is a leading cause of deforestation. We’re destroying countless acres of land just to grow food (like corn or soy) for livestock, or to create grazing land for cattle. And we’re doing it in very delicate ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest. Not only does this destroy habitats for already endangered species, but it also releases the carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere that those plants and trees absorbed for us.
Growing food for livestock gives off nitrous oxide. The biggest livestock crops are soybeans, alfalfa, and corn. Corn is especially dependent on large amounts of carbon-emitting chemical fertilizer.
The 9 Top Climate Damaging Foods
By now, you’re probably wondering — exactly which foods contribute most to climate change? Where can you start if you want to shift your diet to help prevent global collapse?
A 2011 analysis by the Environmental Working Group looked at the carbon footprint of various foods. In other words, how much do different foods contribute to the greenhouse gas effect? Their report shows how many kilograms of carbon dioxide is emitted per kilogram of each food consumed.
The worst offenders included beef, of course, and also lamb, cheese, pork, farmed salmon, turkey, chicken, canned tuna, and eggs.
Beef production emits about 10 times more greenhouse gases per pound of meat than chickens or pigs, which themselves emit about 10 times more than legumes. The lowest greenhouse gas-producing animal product, chicken, is still seven times more damaging to atmospheric stability than lentils.
Plants also need natural resources to grow, but they’re far less resource-intensive than animal products.
Foods like peas, lentils, and beans need little water and can grow in tougher climates. Legumes also have the ability, in partnership with certain soil fungi, to extract inert nitrogen from the soil and use it, which reduces the need for fertilizers that release nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.
11 Foods That Are Better for the Environment
By making more environmentally-friendly food choices, you can make a big impact.
Many plant foods contribute to far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than animal products. The EWG report included several plant foods for comparison, as outlined below:
#1 — Lentils = 0.9kg carbon per kg of lentils consumed
Lentils come in several varieties. Green and brown lentils are great for making cold lentil salads, while red lentils do well in soup and dal. You can find lentils both canned and dried.
#2 — Tomatoes = 1.1kg carbon per kg of tomatoes consumed
Tomatoes may be one of the easiest plants to grow at home, but whether you grow or buy them, they have countless uses. I enjoy them sliced on sandwiches or on top of avocado toast, chopped into salads, or blended into homemade tomato bisque.
#3 — Dry Beans = 2kg carbon per kg of dry beans consumed
Dry beans are a great, affordable bulk food to keep in your pantry. After an overnight soak and a rinse, they’re ready to cook and use in soups, bean dips, on nachos, in chili, or in a bean salad.
#4 — Tofu = 2kg carbon per kg of tofu consumed
Tofu is one of the most versatile plant proteins and comes in a range of soft and firm consistencies. Tofu takes on most any flavor or seasoning it’s given. You can eat it baked, sautéed, blended, crumbled, scrambled, or even eaten raw. (Tofu comes from soy, so keep in mind that if it isn’t organic or certified non-GMO, then it was made using GMO soy.)
#5 — Broccoli = 2kg carbon per kg of broccoli consumed
Broccoli is delicious both raw and cooked. It makes a nutritious snack any time of day and an excellent side to just about any dish.
#6 — Nuts = 2.3kg carbon per kg of nuts consumed
Nuts are another nutrient-dense food to keep on hand. They make great snack food, but you can also use them to make nut milk, mix them into oatmeal, sprinkle them onto salads or casseroles, or use them to make dairy-free cheese.
#7 — Rice = 2.7kg carbon per kg of rice consumed
Rice is a low-cost grain that complements many simple meals, such as stir-fries, curries, burritos, and cooked beans. It’s also a key ingredient in rice pudding, homemade veggie burgers, and sushi.
#8 — Potatoes = 2.9kg carbon per kg of potatoes consumed
Potatoes are great mashed, roasted, or air-fried. Twice-baked potatoes loaded with veggies can even be the star of the meal. Leave the skin on for added nutrients.
Other Environmentally-Friendly Plant Foods Include:
#9 — Green peas
They naturally fix nitrogen in soil. This reduces the need for fertilizers and helps maintain the soil’s nutrients. For more on peas click here.
#10 — Amaranth
This grain is resilient and can grow in difficult climates.
#11 — Oranges
These fruits are water-efficient in their whole form. They require around half as much water to grow as bananas.
So Just How Big of an Impact is There Between Eating Plant-Based Food and Climate Change?
According to a 2018 study published in the journal Nature, adopting a plant-based diet could contribute to cutting food-related greenhouse gas emissions by more than half.
So when we look at the health of the planet, our food choices to matter. Let’s now look at how a healthy planet can help us be healthier!
If we played a quick word game, and I asked you to blurt out the answer to the question, “Where do people go to exercise,” you would probably answer, “the gym.” After all, that’s the cultural and commercial default: hit the gym a few times a week, do your reps and your cardio, and boom, you’re done.
And there’s nothing wrong with the gym, if that’s your thing. But if you’re not a gym rat, no need to despair. Some research shows that exercising outdoors, in nature, may actually provide more health and well-being benefits than indoor workouts.
We evolved in and as part of nature. As such, we have an inherent need to connect with the outdoors. We need light cues from the sun to regulate our circadian cycles. We need regular contact with environmental bacteria to keep our microbiomes diverse and robust. And we require relaxation cues in the form of vistas and sources of awe to reset our nervous systems even in the midst of often stress-filled lives.
In fact, our modern industrialized lifestyles that have separated us from nature may be inducing a brand new disorder, first named by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods: nature deficit disorder.
Since Louv wrote the book in 2003, our distance from nature and natural spaces has only grown. Many of us spend the majority of our time indoors and in front of screens. Some people, especially those in urban environments, don’t have easy access to green spaces at all.
So for many of us, if we want to experience the healing powers of nature — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually — we need to proactively make time for such encounters. And one great way to take in lots of nature is through green fitness.
3 Ways Green Fitness Can Benefit You
As we’ve seen, exercise of any sort — providing it’s done safely and within your limits — is beneficial for your health. A comprehensive 17-year study of almost 500,000 Americans found a correlation between exercising and a reduction in all-cause mortality. Specifically, aerobic exercise lowered participants’ chances of dying more than resistance (strength) training. But the clear winner was a combination of aerobic, strength, and stretching workouts. Folks who engaged in both were 40% less likely to die during a given year than their sedentary counterparts.
Outdoor exercise offers many additional benefits, so much so that urban planners are urging cities to improve access to nature as a means of reducing the financial burden of disease on their populations. These benefits can be physical, psychological, and motivational. Let’s start with those directly linked to physical health.
Green Exercise Improves Physical Health
One surprising benefit of exercising outdoors is fewer injuries. It turns out that running on treadmills and doing other repetitive motions on gym equipment can lead to repetitive strain injuries. Think about it; our bodies have evolved for natural settings, which include constant variations of terrain. Researchers found that outdoor running, especially in areas with hills, required greater ankle flexion, which can strengthen muscles and provide greater stability over time.
Exercising in nature also contributes to healthier blood pressure and cortisol levels. Experts surmise that since humans evolved outdoors, there’s something about certain outdoor environments that signal safety and ease to our nervous systems, which regulate blood pressure and stress hormone secretion.
If you think you enjoy exercising in nature, the microorganisms that live in and on you like it even more!
We know that our microbiome benefits from exercise in general. And now we’re discovering that exercising outdoors can have an especially positive impact on your microbiome. People who live in rural areas are less likely to suffer from allergies than their urban counterparts.
Also, there’s a concept in exercise science known as “muscle confusion.” This refers to the strategy of constantly altering workouts, so your muscles can’t adapt to a single protocol, and therefore stop improving in response to the continual challenges. It’s easy to fall into set routines at the gym, where you might move your body in exactly the same way every time you get on the shoulder press or leg curl machine. Or repeating the same asanas each time you step on your yoga mat.
Nature, however, offers a natural variability and unpredictability that confounds our muscles and perception and continually challenges us. Because outdoor environments are less controlled than indoor environments, they provide greater diversity of experiences, contours, and temperatures — forcing our muscles to adapt to all of them. This can be good for developing core strength, agility, robust temperature regulation, and many other elements that are beneficial for overall health.
Finally, outdoor exercise can benefit us thanks to exposure to sunlight. We replenish our levels of Vitamin D when sunlight shines on our skin. That’s a good thing, considering how many people in industrialized countries may be borderline deficient in vitamin D.
Green Fitness Supports Psychological and Mental Health
Speaking of mental health, outdoor exercise is one of the most powerful interventions ever studied for improving mood and psychological health. For starters, it appears to reduce anxiety, improve subjective well-being, and may even facilitate healing from trauma.
Certain outdoor environments appear to benefit mood and increase people’s energy more than others. For optimal results, you ideally want to find spaces with high biodiversity, water features, and shady woods. But the most important features appear to be related to safety and sociability. Good natural light, accessibility, and the presence of other friendly or at least respectful people create green spaces that are welcoming and conducive to forming and deepening connections with others, as well as nature itself.
And according to the relatively young field of ecotherapy, moving in nature may even help people process their emotions. While most western psychology views individuals as distinct units, or as members of families or communities, ecotherapists and depth psychologists see human beings as part of a web of life. As such, we’re incomplete and unsupported when we’re not immersed in that web and connected to other species and the earth.
Another example of ecotherapy looks a lot like trail running, or mountain biking. In fact, it is trail running, done with the express intention of unwinding and connecting with others in a beautiful natural environment, in which case it’s called “trail therapy.” In addition to the awe-inspiring vistas and close encounters with trees and other plants (and hopefully not with their roots), trail running appears to foster mental health by inducing side-to-side eye movements, not unlike those experienced during REM sleep. Researchers tell us that “optic flow” calms some of the stress circuitry of the body, and may help us process difficult experiences by separating the emotional content of a memory from the current reality.
Green Exercise May Motivate You to Exercise More
Being in nature makes it easier and more fun to exercise. Not only that, we seem to move more vigorously, and for a longer duration, than when we’re indoors.
Studies show that people work out more intensely in nature — without feeling like they’re working harder. Something about oceans, mountains, meadows, and forests seems to lower rates of “perceived exertion,” which means people can go harder and longer than they do in gyms. But the positive effects of green exercise go far beyond exertion.
Because nature is so much more varied than built environments, there’s an inherent novelty factor involved in outdoor exercise. It’s easy to switch up what you’re doing to keep things interesting. You can walk, stroll, saunter, strut, jog, race walk, run, sprint, hop, skip, and jump over the same terrain. You can play a game, or go for a hike, or do pushups on the grass. In fact, you can exercise your creativity at least as much as your muscles!
As ecotherapists have noted, we need nature to be healthy, whole, and happy. So it makes sense that as we engage in green exercise, we develop an appreciation and gratitude for the planet, and all the species that comprise our ecology. The more we immerse ourselves in nature, the more protective we can become of our beautiful Earth, and the greater likelihood we’ll pass on that attitude to future generations. This in turn has an impact on the choices that we make to protect the very environment that is protecting our health.
Exercise can support other healthy habits, which is also good for the planet
There’s a concept in behavioral science of the “keystone habit” — a single behavior that makes lots of other habits easier and more likely. One of the most common keystone habits is exercise. Regular physical exercise triggers “longitudinal gains in self-regulation,” which is psychology-speak for “do the right thing over time.” In one study, participants who exercised at least three times a week smoked less, drank less coffee and alcohol, ate better, performed household chores more diligently, improved their study habits, and monitored their spending better than those who did not have an established exercise habit.
What does this have to do with helping the planet? Well, our food choices constitute one of our most powerful levers of change. What we eat, on a day-to-day basis, may affect the climate more than whether we drive a Tesla or a gas-guzzler, or whether we take 30-second cold showers or 45-minute hot ones. And moving away from processed foods and factory-farmed animals, and toward fresh produce (ideally organic and locally grown) can reduce our carbon footprint significantly.
Blog based on research from the Food Revolution Network