A push to pan plastic straws gained momentum this summer.
Vancouver city council voted ("in principle") last June to do away with straws and other plastic dining instruments that are only designed for one-time use. Other jurisdictions as well as large corporations have initiated or announced similar intentions. Among them are Starbucks, Alaska Airlines, Taiwan, and San Francisco, to name just four of many.
The summer of 2018 has come with a frightening number of extreme-weather events and dramatic climate-change news. "Planet at risk of heading towards irreversible 'hothouse' conditions," reads an August 6 headline from CBC News. And so it's encouraging to see governments and powerful corporations move against a wasteful product that's mostly useless and harmful to the planet.
But banning plastic straws won't actually do a lot for the environment, as Vox explained recently. (Regardless, plastic-straw bans are still a good idea, Vox notes there.)
What can one person do to help save our burning planet? It's not like anyone can single-handedly shut down a coal power plant.
If you, as an individual, really want to do something that would make a relatively significant contribution to the fight against climate change, there is one thing you can give up. It's not plastic straws. It's meat.
That's according to a June 2018 paper published in the research journal Science. The massive meta-analysis of food production around the world examines intakes such as water and outputs such as carbon emissions and shows that humans' consumption of meat and dairy products is a hugely inefficient use of the planet's agricultural resources.
The scientists, Joseph Poore of the the University of Oxford and Thomas Nemecek of Switzerland's LCA Research Group, calculate that the production of meat and dairy products uses 83 percent of existing farmland and emits 60 percent of agriculture's greenhouse-gas emissions.
Meanwhile, meat and dairy only provide 18 percent of calories humans consume and 37 percent of protein.
If all humans went vegetarian and gave up dairy products, the amount of agricultural land used today could be reduced by more than 75 percent, according to Poore and Nemecek's analysis.
The research suggests a mainstream shift to vegetarianism will likely have to originate with consumers as opposed to industry.
"Today, and probably into the future, dietary change can deliver environmental benefits on a scale not achievable by producers," it reads.