06/22/2015 05:38 EDT | Updated 06/22/2016 05:59 EDT

The Climate Change Diet: Three Things You Can Do Right Now to Help the Planet

Luka via Getty Images

Could it be that world leaders are finally waking up to the pressing need for action to address climate change? Two weeks ago, the leaders of the G7 group of industrialised nations agreed to decarbonize the global economy by the end of this century. It's only words at this point, but it's still a big deal. Then last week Pope Francis released a sweeping encyclical that said climate change "represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day."

Now, I'm not normally a big God person, but the fact that the Pope has brought his considerable clout to this issue is a huge boost for those of us fighting for an urgent response to the threat of global warming.

As Pope Francis says, climate change posses a massive challenge and demands collective action by governments and international organisations -- we can't do this by ourselves. But we also can't sit on our hands while we wait for our leaders to convert their inspiring words into real action. What can you and I do right now to make a difference? I think changing the way we eat is by far the best place to start.

Our global food system is the single biggest driver of climate change. According to an excellent analysis by GRAIN, the way we grow and transport our food accounts for about half of all the greenhouse gases produced by humans. This is a mind-boggling statistic, but there are simple steps that each of us can take to lessen our impact. Here are three things you can do right now to opt out of the industrial food system that threatens our global environment:

Eat Less Meat: This should be step one for anyone who's serious about doing something to address climate change. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN, animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gasses than the global transportation system. You heard that right: when it comes to climate change, your steak is a bigger problem than your car. Our insatiable demand for cheap meat is the biggest driver of rainforest destruction, gobbles up a third of all farmland to grow feed crops, and creates mountains of manure, the source of potent greenhouse gasses like methane and nitrous oxide. Eating less meat is better for your health, and perhaps the best thing you can do for the health of the planet. On our farm, we've stopped raising pigs and have cut beef out of our diet completely -- the two biggest culprits when it comes to greenhouse gasses.

Eat Closer to Home: Our industrial food system burns a huge amount of fossil fuels transporting food over huge distances and keeping food cold on the long journey from field to table. It also wastes a staggering amount -- up to 50 per cent by some estimates. Somewhere between ten and 20 per cent of all greenhouse gasses produced by humans come from the transport, storage and waste of food. Eating locally and seasonally is a good way to reduce this impact. We have a small root cellar on the farm that keeps our potatoes, beets, carrots, cabbage and other vegetables fresh all winter, without using a single watt of electricity -- something most people could do at home with very little effort.

Eat Real Food: Food processing and packaging is a huge and energy-intensive industry, accounting for about ten per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. You can virtually eliminate this impact from your personal carbon footprint simply by eating whole, unprocessed foods. Eating organic also helps -- chemical fertilizers are primarily derived from fossil fuels and contribute to the large amount of greenhouse gasses produced on conventional farms. And organic farming can sequester enormous amounts of carbon in the soil -- converting just 100 acres from conventional to organic production removes enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year to offset the emissions of about 50 cars.

It's easy to feel helpless in the face of a problem as big as climate change, but even small changes in the way we eat can make a big difference. The real bonus is that everything you do to reduce the environmental impact of your diet will have a positive impact on your personal health, as well. So start your anti-global-warming diet today, for yourself, and for the planet. Even if you're not Catholic, I'm sure the Pope would approve.


Climate Change: 10 Beautiful Places Under Threat