Can changing our diets save the planet?

A new report from the United Nations is sounding a dire alarm on climate change, warning that temperatures will rise more than 1.5 C (2.7 F) if world leaders don’t act immediately to reduce carbon emissions.

hamburger bun stuffed with lettuce and no burger

The report by scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describes an apocalyptic scene of wildfires, sea-level rise, extreme weather, coral reef extinction, and massive food shortages as early as 2040 if global warming is allowed to continue at its current rate. With the help of technology, some of which hasn’t been invented, the world can become carbon-neutral and hold the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the report said.

The U.N. report adds urgency to the argument that human beings must change their diet by reducing meat consumption and eating more sustainable foods in order to save the planet. Methane release, agricultural pollution, water shortages, and other problems have long been tied to the production of livestock. 

Karen Glanz, a nursing and epidemiology professor, and Brian Berkey, a Wharton professor of legal studies and business ethics, discuss the difficulties of altering food consumption patterns. Change is difficult, they say, but not impossible. Changes are often driven by health trends that catch on slowly as the message is repeated over time.

Read more at Knowledge@Wharton.