On October 4, the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, YouTube Originals premiered the documentary “The Letter: A Message for Our Earth,” which includes a call from Pope Francis for everyone to take action on climate change.
Experts estimate that by 2050 some 1.2 billion people will be displaced worldwide due to climate change. According to the United Nations Climate Programme, we are in a “red code for humanity”. Global average temperatures are on the rise and are expected to exceed 3 degrees Celsius this century. This means catastrophic consequences, which we have already begun to feel in different parts of the world.
We have all felt this impact in terms of greater damage caused by natural disasters and greater effects on food production.
Only the winegrowers were terribly affected. In 2021, French winemakers produced a third less wine after harvests fell 29% due to extreme weather, frost and disease in spring and summer. Many of France’s most important wine regions, such as Bordeaux, Champagne and Languedoc-Roussillon, were hit by the out-of-season spring frost. It was so severe that the country’s agriculture minister, Julien Denormandie, described the devastation to grape and fruit crops as “probably the greatest agricultural disaster of the early 21st century”.
The figures presented indicate that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions must be reduced by 30 gigatonnes per year by 2030 to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C, which is necessary to stop the worst impact.
Every effort counts, especially from the restaurant industry. Food production and service industries are responsible for up to 30% of global GHG emissions. Specifically, the food system contributes 19-29% of total emissions. The energy that goes into producing, harvesting, transporting and packaging this wasted food generates more than 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Therefore, large-scale industrial changes can have an effective impact in countering climate change.
Here are some actions restaurants can take:
Stand up for sustainability. Studies have observed that even for restaurants, when the brand champions something like sustainability, it can boost brand presence and be good for business.
Impose a climate surcharge. In California, to tackle the carbon footprint of the restaurant industry, some restaurant owners have launched a surcharge to raise funds to stabilize renewable agricultural practices in the state. For example, the Mission Chinese Food restaurant in San Francisco already charges its customers a 3% “CO2 offset” fee on a purely voluntary basis (but no one is backing down!). If 1% of California restaurants could implement the 1% surcharge, the fund would raise $10 million for renewable farming practices. If every restaurant in California could implement it, the budget would be closer to $1 billion.
Support climavorism. A climavore is someone who eats environmentally friendly food and makes daily food choices a call to action. It’s actually an effort of consumers, not just restaurateurs. But restaurants can also adapt to changing behavior by serving food from farms that care about sustainable practices.
Opt for plants. Studies have shown a strong correlation between climate change and the production of foods of animal origin. More than half of the restaurant industry’s emissions come from raising and processing livestock. Beef has become today the greatest agricultural threat to our environment because its production generates almost four times more GHG emissions than that of pork. In fact, producing beef requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more GHGs than plant-based protein. Not so fun fact: global beef production releases as many GHGs into our atmosphere as the whole of Indian Country. Therefore, the United Nations Environment Program’s International Panel on Sustainable Resource Management has declared that a global shift to a vegan diet is essential to protect the world from the worst effects of climate change.
Consider carbon farming. It is an agricultural method that allows carbon to be absorbed by the soil. According to a soil scientist from Ohio State University, a mere 2% increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100% of all GHGs released into the atmosphere.
Eliminate or at least reduce food waste. Food consumption represents between 15 and 50% of GHGs. Even if 30-40% of the food produced globally is not consumed or simply spoils after harvest or during transport, the emissions associated with food waste could drop from 0.5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year to 1, 9 to 2.5 gigatonnes per year by mid-century.
Eliminate or at least reduce plastic waste. This is the easiest and most practical step a restaurant can take to reduce its carbon footprint and prevent unnecessary waste from ending up in landfills or the ocean. Banning single-use plastic may not be possible, but reducing plastic waste is easy. Some measures can be taken: replacing plastic cutlery and packaging with biodegradable alternatives; adding small signs at self-service stations asking customers to take only what they need; and only give cutlery and straws on request.
For online orders, add a checkbox to request cutlery, if needed.
Buy local. By supporting local farms and vendors, restaurants can reduce their carbon footprint by reducing reliance on long-distance delivery. Travel causes constant GHG emissions, but the problem can be solved simply by finding local suppliers.
Use energy efficient appliances. In the United States, lighting alone accounts for 6% of CO2 emissions, and a global switch to LED lighting could offset 1.4 billion tons of CO2. Therefore, simpler and more cost effective alternatives can have an additional difference on energy bills and carbon footprint, such as installing automated lighting and using energy efficient LED bulbs.
These proposals may take a little effort to launch, but once they are put into practice, people adapt easily. Mother Nature is too sick now to ignore it. Let’s all work together to fight climate change!
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