You’ve heard of vegetarians, but have you heard of “climatarians”?
A climatrian is a new dieting fad among eco-conscious food snobs purporting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with raising, transporting and disposing of foods. They believe their dieting choices will help reverse global warming.
The New York Times even listed climatarians as one of the top new food words of 2015 along with “hangry,” “piecaken” and “zarf.” The Times defined a climatarian as a “diet whose primary goal is to reverse climate change.”
“This includes eating locally produced food (to reduce energy spent in transportation), choosing pork and poultry instead of beef and lamb (to limit gas emissions), and using every part of ingredients (apple cores, cheese rinds, etc.) to limit food waste,” The Times reported last week.
In environmentalist circles, climatarianism has caught on among those who think veganism isn’t hardcore enough (though being a climatarian is nowhere near mainstream).
Enviro blog EcoWatch praised the diet in a Tuesday article, claiming the “evidence supporting a climatarian diet is abundant.”
“Several reports within the past year, including one from the UK think tank Chatham House, have found that eating less meat and dairy is essential to curbing climate change,” according to EcoWatch. And a carbon-conscious diet is not only good for the planet, but is healthy for people, too.”
Increasingly, international groups and environmentalists have been pushing people to eat less meat, saying it’s not just unhealthy, but is also bad for the environment. Earlier this year, the United Nations released a report linking processed meats to cancer.
The U.N. has also encouraged substituting insects in people’s diets as a way to reduce consumption of beef and pork, which environmentalists commonly cite as big emitters of greenhouse gases.
Before you go ditching your hamburgers for roasted cockroaches, it’s not clear that being a “climatarian” is all that good for the environment. In fact, years of evidence from the “eat local” movement show the tenets of eco-friendly diets are often worse for the environment than eating a normal diet.
For example, “locavores” argue locally-grown food is better for the environment because it reduces the energy use from transportation — all that gasoline contributes to global warming, they say.
Numerous studies, however, have debunked the idea that locally-grown food is more environmentally friendly.
Efficiencies in agriculture are highly dependent on trade specialization, meaning certain regions will just be better at growing things at a lower cost than others. The locavore movement ignores this central tenet of economics, according to experts.
“Forsaking comparative advantage in agriculture by localizing means it will take more inputs to grow a given quantity of food, including more land and more chemicals—all of which come at a cost of carbon emissions,” agricultural economist Steve Sexton wrote in 2011 for the blog Freakonomics.
“In order to maintain current output levels for 40 major field crops and vegetables, a locavore-like production system would require an additional 60 million acres of cropland, 2.7 million tons more fertilizer, and 50 million pounds more chemicals,” Sexton wrote. “The land-use changes and increases in demand for carbon-intensive inputs would have profound impacts on the carbon footprint of our food, destroy habitat and worsen environmental pollution.”
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