By Mohammed Aldulaimi
The year 2050. People have stopped recycling their waste since 2024. Factories are throwing their waste into the ocean. Governments succumbed to economic pressures, and they’ve abandoned the international environmental agreements they once had. Plastics are still being used, now more predominantly, and are not being recycled. Fossil fuel is still our only major source of energy, continuing to pump greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Despite the early concerns about global warming, no action has been taken to reverse the effects, and now, the temperatures around the globe are 6˚ F higher than they were in the past century. With some countries having reached as high temperatures as 115 degrees in 2018, many of these countries are on the verge of turning to real-life furnaces and may eventually become ghost towns.
Where some cities and villages are experiencing deadly droughts and famines, other cities are on their way to being completely flooded and submerged under the ocean, succumbing to the drastic sea level rise, another product of global warming. On the other hand, animals are quickly becoming extinct. As we continue to cut down forests and fuel global warming, many animals are losing their habitats and experiencing deadly temperatures. For instance, red wolves, Bornean orangutans, and Hawksbill turtles have vanished and haven’t been observed since 2030, they’ve gone extinct. We’re slowly losing our planet, not in a thousand or million years, but it’s happening now, in real-time.
Public health has seen better days. Many, once known as, healthy adults, are now frequent patients in hospitals. Our diet has been enormously affected by the drastic environmental change we ceased to address. Now, it is very hard to find food that is clean of plastic particles. The microplastic ‘epidemic’, being untreated for years, has become part of our daily diet. Plastics are known to cause damage to our cells, slowly degrading our overall health and our life expectancy.
Today, wildfires have become very frequent and have been worsening our air quality and destroying our forests. Air pollution is a global health hazard that seems to have become an intrinsic character of our cities. For instance, cities like New Delhi have become so extremely polluted, they are now unsafe environments for many people. Air pollution, partially caused by wildfires, may potentially contribute to cancer occurrence in global populations. The age expectancy around the world is quickly shrinking, and so is the life quality of people. Whether it’s because of our food or our environment, the Earth is on its way to becoming another ghost planet in the universe, vacant of the once-thriving creatures that walked on it.
Global environmental conditions seem to only worsen. It is not only a simple rise in temperatures, but a global loss of the quality of life. Is it enough of a wake-up call for us? Our world is no longer our envisioned utopia, did we really give up? Is there still hope for change? In reality, it’s never too late. Now, government entities have realized their mistake. Cooperations are joining hands again, in an attempt to reverse the impact we humans are contributing to. In fact, you can become part of the change. It’s now only one click away (and possibly a few thousand miles away).
By Cailey Carpenter
Eat plant-based! Buy local produce! These may be claims you’ve heard in connection to reducing your environmental impact. You may be wondering: Are these claims founded? How much do your food habits affect your carbon footprint? Globalization has disconnected citizens in developed countries from the source of their daily meals, making it difficult to see the direct impacts our food choices have on the environment.
Where do our food emissions come from?
Food accounts for approximately 26% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by humans. In the United States, food is responsible for 10-30% of the average household carbon footprint; this category is the third largest, preceded only by transportation and housing. These numbers may not seem particularly shocking, as we all rely on food to survive day-to-day. It is easy, and reasonable, to focus efforts on reducing less necessary emissions, such as biking instead of walking or making sure to turn the lights off when leaving a room. However, many people don’t realize that their choices in the grocery store dictate whether they are releasing 5 or 15 tons of CO2 equivalents (CO2e) into the atmosphere annually. Consider this: one ton of CO2 requires an offset of approximately 50 trees to offset. This means that small lifestyle changes to reduce the GHG emissions of your diet can make the same environmental impact as planting 500 trees.
These numbers can be broken down further into categories such as land use, farming practices, resources, processing, and transport. In 2018, Poore and Nemecek published a comprehensive study of the environmental impacts of farms in 119 countries that make up 90% of global food consumption. The results of this study are well summed up by this figure from Our World In Data:
Our World In Data
What’s the deal with plant based?
It can be seen from the graph that there’s a large disparity in the total greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram between produce such as peas or wheat and red meats such as beef or lamb. We may rationalize this by considering that 1 kg of beef offers 2,500 Calories, while 1 kg of peas only offers 814 Calories of energy to the body. When normalizing these CO2 emissions to dietary Calories offered, though, we see a strikingly similar result:
Our World In Data
Animal-based consumption results in significantly higher CO2 emissions, despite the higher caloric value per unit mass of these products. In the average American diet, approximately 75% of the GHG emissions from food are a result of meat and dairy. However, there’s no need to splurge on expensive plant-based imitation meats to reduce your carbon emissions. Legumes (tofu, groundnuts, other pulses – chickpeas, lentils, peas) are a significant alternative source of protein that results in only a fraction of the carbon footprint of meats and their derivatives (and a fraction of the cost!). In fact, research shows that a vegetarian diet saves an average of $2 per day compared to the traditional American diet.
Why do animal products result in much higher emissions?
I find this easiest to think of in terms of the trophic pyramid. Plants are primary producers, meaning that all of their energy comes from the sun. Furthermore, the biomass of these photosynthetic plants is made up entirely of CO2 from the atmosphere that has been converted to sugars, lignin, and cellulose. The species that eat these producers must take these compounds and transform them into smaller compounds that are digestible in their metabolism. This process takes energy, and only approximately 10% of the energy (calories) from this plant are transferred to the consumer. 10% is lost as heat at each level, meaning herbivores conserve 10% of the energy from the food they eat, while carnivores gain only 0.1-1% of the initial energy from their food. Metabolism works by expelling CO2, and moving up trophic levels requires more metabolic cycles to occur to get the energy we need. Eating plant-based can result in a ten-fold decrease in CO2 production in metabolism alone. Furthermore, cattle produce large amounts of methane (CH4), which has over 80 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) as CO2.
Buying local and in-season
A first step for many people in their journey of sustainable eating begins by frequent trips to the farmers market to buy local produce. This effort supports lower environmental costs from transport of goods, but often comes with a higher price tag. Are these efforts worth it? It depends on a few factors.
Food waste accounts for 25% of food emissions, equating to 6% of total GHG emissions. In the United States alone, 119 billion pounds of food enters landfills – this is 30-40% of all food in the country. Some of this waste is a result of food loss in transport, but a majority of food waste comes from individuals and restaurants. Food waste makes up 24% of landfills, where it rots to produce methane, and 22% of combusted waste, where it enters the atmosphere directly as CO2, CO, and particulate matter (PM) that contribute to global warming. While food is a necessary commodity, food waste is not. Actions such as planning meals and engaging in food waste recovery (e.g. donation to food banks) can have a significant impact on your carbon footprint while contributing to other UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Where do we go from here?
COP28 marks the halfway point between the 2015 Paris Agreement and the 2030 goals to limit GHG emissions to 50% of their 2005 levels. While food systems will not be the most pressing topic at this COP, this conversation is crucial for multi-level climate action. While ordinary citizens may not have a large impact on the politics of oil reserves or land use, they can directly impact climate change by making environmentally conscious decisions when it comes to their meals.
By: Tehreem Hussain
Climate change and antimicrobial resistance are intrinsically intertwined; this is one of the primary ways that rising temperatures are disrupting human health systems across the globe. The two main ways through which climate change exacerbates antimicrobial resistance are by creating greater areas of overlap between zoonotic species and humans, along with the increased use of antibiotics caused by the COVID-19 pandemic resulting in larger amounts of contaminants saturating natural water bodies.
Even without the realities of climate change, antimicrobial resistance is a large public health concern; in the European Union alone, 670,000 infections have been reported annually and these infections have resulted in 33,000 deaths. However, with the environmental impact of climate change intersecting with global human health systems, the problem becomes much more dire.
In 2023, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) published a report outlining how climate change is linked to the transmission and proliferation of antimicrobial resistance. The report also highlighted the fact that pharmaceutical manufacturing, food production systems, and the healthcare delivery industry all contribute heavily to the rise of antimicrobial resistance.
Like other climate change related issues, antimicrobial resistance does not target communities and countries uniformly. According to a study published in The Lancet in 2022, low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) had 1.5 times higher fatality rate in relation to antimicrobial resistance in relation to their high-income country counterparts. Given that the United States Agency for International Development estimated that the effects of climate change will disproportionately impact human health in LMICs, it can be reasonably deduced that this trend will translate to antimicrobial resistance rates as well.
Dr. Scott Roberts, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Medicine told CNN in a statement following the publishing of the UNEP report that, “Climate change, pollution, changes in our weather patterns, more rainfall, more closely packed, dense cities and urban areas – all of this facilitates the spread of antibiotic resistance. And I am certain that this is only going to go up with time unless we take relatively drastic measures to curb this.”
Rising temperatures due to climate change are challenging human inhabitation in more than one way. With antimicrobial resistance on the rise, human health systems will experience growing precarity as the climate crisis worsens. However, according to a World Bank proposal, an investment of $9 billion in LMICs to combat antimicrobial resistance will alleviate the burden faced by the healthcare systems in affected nations and preserve the efficacy of modern medicine in combating infections.