Eat a 'flexitarian' diet to help stop climate change
Whether or not there are tropical islands in 50 years might depend on whether or not we can eat fewer hamburgers.
- Results from recent research suggest we have roughly 12 years to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. If we can't, then the amount of greenhouse gases released to the atmosphere will have compounding feedback loops that progressively warm the planet up further.
- One of the biggest culprits in warming the planet is the production of beef and sheep meat.
- Anybody could help prevent climate change by consuming less beef and sheep, or by cutting them out entirely.
Isn't it nice when complicated problems have simple solutions? Take, for example, our diets. There's a confoundingly large amount of research on what goes into a healthy diet, and fads such as the Atkins, keto, and paleo diets all claim to be the easiest, best, and one true way to lose weight and stay healthy. But really, all of the critical information one needs to stay healthy was summed up in seven words by the journalist Michael Pollan: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
Easy! Now you don't have to buy new diet books every five years. But those seven words might also be a simple answer to an even more complex problem: Climate change.
In October of 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released an extremely gloomy report. In it, researchers wrote that humanity has just 12 short years to change our behavior in order to limit global warming to a tolerable — although still dangerous — 1.5 degrees Celsius. If we can't do that, we can say goodbye to coral reefs, and say hello to increasingly extreme weather events, sea level rises between 33 and hundreds of feet, and an equator too hot for most forms of life.
What can we do?
It may feel like an individual can't do too much to make a contribution. But fortunately, changing your diet is something everybody can do. Based on the report's findings, we can drastically cut emissions and pollution if we switch to "flexitarianism."
Flexitarianism is just a flexible form of vegetarianism. You don't have to give up meat, you just have to follow the last part of Michael Pollan's advice: For the most part, eat plants. If that doesn't seem feasible, we can still mostly eat meat so long as we take more care in what kind of meat we eat.
Rice, roots and tubers, and corn are among the least-polluting types of food. Dairy, sheep, and beef, however, are particularly bad polluters. World Resources Institute, 2018.
This graph shows the amount of greenhouse gases produced by different foods and the amount of land they take up. A cursory glance shows you what you need to know — beef and sheep meat production are resource intensive. In a CNN interview, researcher Marco Springmann from the University of Oxford explained,
"Beef is more than 100 times as emissions-intensive as legumes. […] This is because a cow needs, on average, 10 kilograms of feed, often from grains, to grow 1 kilogram of body weight, and that feed will have required water, land and fertilizer inputs to grow."
While digesting this resource-intensive feed, cows and sheep emit methane, a greenhouse gas that is 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide.
So, by either limiting how much beef and sheep they eat or cutting it out entirely, your average Joe can make sure there are still islands in the Caribbean for their kids to visit. Here's some flexitarian techniques that can help.
How to become a flexitarian
As the graph above showed, eating low-impact meats can make a big difference. Chicken, pork, and fish all contribute relatively minor amounts of greenhouse gases, and they're healthier than beef too.
For those who can't forgo a burger, try a beef-mushroom burger. Mushrooms retain water, have a meaty texture, and also pack that umami flavor you get from beef. Mixing mushrooms into the ground beef for a burger makes for an excellent combo that you may even enjoy more than a 100 percent beef burger. What's more, if just 30 percent of every burger sold in America was made of mushrooms, it would have the same impact as taking 2.3 million cars off the road, retain the equivalent of 2.6 million Americans' water consumption, and free up a portion of agricultural land larger than the state of Maryland.
There's also many alternative, beef-free burgers. Lab-grown beef, as we covered in early December, is just beginning to be served in restaurants. Moreover, companies such as Memphis Meats, SuperMeat, and Mosa Meats are currently selling lab-grown beef.
The brave can try eating bug burgers, too, which are typically made of a mix of chickpeas and mealworms. If you're feeling experimental, try to find an Ikea that's offering their mealworm-based "neatball" as an alternative to their classic Swedish meatballs. And of course, there are plenty of vegetarian burgers being sold. The Beyond Burger looks and tastes like a beef burger, and it even "bleeds" beetroot juice.
It would be great if we could convince industry to stop polluting, if we could switch our power-grid to an entirely renewable system, or if every car was electric. In time, we might actually manage to realize some of these goals, but they will require coordinated and persistent effort. In the meantime, going flexitarian might be the best thing any person can do to prevent climate change.
- What is a Flexitarian Diet? - YouTube ›
- The Flexitarian Diet: What To Know | US News Best Diets ›
- The Flexitarian Diet: A Detailed Beginner's Guide ›
What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.
- Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
- Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
- Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
A recent study gives new meaning to the saying "fake it 'til you make it."
- The study involves four experiments that measured individuals' socioeconomic status, overconfidence and actual performance.
- Results consistently showed that high-class people tend to overestimate their abilities.
- However, this overconfidence was misinterpreted as genuine competence in one study, suggesting overestimating your abilities can have social advantages.
Is this proof of a dramatic shift?
- Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
- Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
- A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses
Dramatic and misleading
Image: Reddit / SICResearch
The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.
Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.
The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.
Let's zoom in:
- It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
- By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
- Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
- In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
- Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
- By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.
Image source: Reddit / SICResearch
This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?
- "The end is near."
- "The idiocracy grows."
- "(It's) like a spreading disease."
- "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
- "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
- "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
- "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
- "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."
Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:
- "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
- "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
- "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
- "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."
"Old people learning to Google"
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)
But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:
- "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
- "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
- "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
- "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."
A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.
The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.
One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.
Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.
It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.
CNN, Fox and MSNBC
Image: Google Trends
CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison
For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):
- Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
- MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
- CNN: 706,000 (-9%)
And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
If you thought your mother was pushy in her pursuit of grandchildren, wait until you learn about bonobo mothers.
- Mother bonobos have been observed to help their sons find and copulate with mates.
- The mothers accomplish this by leading sons to mates, interfering with other males trying to copulate with females, and helping sons rise in the social hierarchy of the group.
- Why do mother bonobos do this? The "grandmother hypothesis" might hold part of the answer.
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