'There is No Planet B' - But what does this mean for food production?

'There is No Planet B' - But what does this mean for food production?

Apr 16, 2019

CDEC Vice-President and volunteer Joe Human takes on Mike Berners-Lee's 'There is No Planet B' and suggests the salient points to us in a series of articles. In this, his first, Joe takes a quick look at the impact of food production on our planet.

In my last article I wrote about Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist who has inspired the global movement of school climate strikes, and who has also inspired my wife and me to do more – far more – to help combat climate change. 

In this article, the first of a series of three, I am going to write about Mike Berners-Lee’s book, There Is No Planet B, whose title inspired many of the placards on the recent school climate strikes. 

Because it is so packed with information I cannot possibly cover it all.  Instead I will focus on issues which interest me the most.  But I am going to urge you to buy the book – if possible from your local bookshop (Use it or lose it!) – as it is one of the most influential I have ever read. 

In fact, I shall turn to it again and again, along with his earlier How Bad Are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything.

There Is No Planet B is arranged as a series of question under nine headings. Here are just four of the 135 questions he asks:

  1. Why is GDP such an inadequate metric?
  2. What can I do to help with population?
  3. Do we drive technology or does technology drive us?
  4. What are the fourteen things every politician should know about climate change?

For this short article I am going to focus on his answers to just two questions in his section on Food:

I.  What is the carbon footprint of different foods?

Take a look at this graph, constructed from a huge analysis of over 38,000 farms. It shows the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of common protein sources per 50g of protein broken down by supply chain stage. (Note: a. The average person needs about 50g of protein/day; b. CO2e = Carbon Dioxide equivalent.) 

This is what Mike has to say about it:

1.   Beef and lamb have the highest impact because they ruminate (burp up methane). Beef also has considerable deforestation associated with it, when land is cleared for feed production and for grazing.

2.   Dairy products are lower impact … because it is more ‘efficient’ to keep an animal alive as a protein producer [rather] than kill it.

3.   Of the meats chickens are more efficient than the larger animals.  They grow quickly, especially if you pack them full of antibiotics, and they don’t waste much energy walking around or keeping warm if you keep them in a crowded indoor space. (See below.)

4.    Note how dramatically lower impact all plant based protein sources are.

And that leads inevitably onto his next question:

II. Should I go veggie or vegan?

To which his answer is:

Great idea! Lower consumption of meat and dairy is essential for the food supply, climate change and biodiversity.  But none of us needs to go quite all the way, unless we want to. (If we are to eat meat, then clearly chicken is the best choice, and free-range chicken for ethical reasons.)

And this is typical of the advice he gives throughout the book, in that he indicates what I would call helpful directions of travel. 

In my next article I will look at what he has to say about Transport and Travel.

Joe Human

'There is No Planet B' - But what does this mean for food production?