Editor’s Note: Alec Baldwin is an actor and activist. The views expressed here are the author’s. View more opinion on CNN.
What does your diet have to do with saving the planet? Everything, says a new report by the world’s leading scientists and health experts.
Over the last few years, I have become a student of certain global environmental issues. Preparing for the Paris Climate Conference, and since then, I have worked with the United Nations advocating for protecting tropical forests and the rights of indigenous peoples. Through this work, scientists and community leaders from around the world have given me a truly frightening insight into what the international community and those on the front lines of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges are up against.
Here is a fact: Human activity is fundamentally altering the planet.
We are causing what scientists call the “sixth great extinction,” erasing countless species from the face of the planet. We are driving biodiversity loss, unraveling the web of life that keeps ecosystems functioning and that make the Earth habitable for humans. We are, without much or not nearly enough introspection it seems, destroying the planet’s rainforests at alarming rates. And we are causing global climate change, which, if we do not act, will be our undoing.
What is driving this environmental destruction? One leading issue is what experts call extractive industries – mining, logging, and oil and gas exploitation. However, the single largest driver of land conversion that is putting pressure on the planet is actually much less sinister: food.
We have developed almost half of all vegetated land area on the planet, research shows, and most of it has been for agriculture.
A new report published by the EAT Foundation, a nonprofit working to transform our global food system, and the EAT-Lancet Commission earlier this month debunks the common and perilous misconception that we need more land to produce more food as the global population grows.
The report is revelatory on a number of levels.
It says that half the vegetated land on Earth is enough. No more development, no more expansion, no more deforestation, no more environmental destruction is needed.
It is not a matter of claiming more land but making better use of what we already have. It is about the reorientation of agricultural priorities away from producing more food and toward producing higher quality food.
It says that we can feed a growing population of nearly 10 billion by 2050 without further compromising the environment and while leaving half the planet to nature.
The solutions are clear. More efficient farming practices and higher crop and livestock productivity will get us a lot of the way there. At the same time, we also need to cut down on the staggering one-third of food that is lost or wasted between the farm and the fork.
In wealthier countries, we also need to shift our diets away from rampant overconsumption, notably of meat, and toward a nutritious mix of plant-based foods that are less resource intensive, require less land and are better for our health.
That means us: you and me. A shift to a more plant-rich diet can help save the planet.
So, we can no longer throw up our hands in resignation and say that global environmental challenges are beyond our control, that we are only one person, or that our individual decisions can’t have a significant cumulative impact.
Because here are more staggering facts: One-third of the world’s cropland is used to grow feed for livestock rather than the fruits, nuts, vegetables and whole grains needed for healthy people. Adding in pasture lands, the production of animal-based foods takes up more than three-quarters of the world’s agricultural land, and global meat and dairy demand continues to rise, putting pressure on the world’s remaining forests. And here is another: Per gram of protein, producing beef requires 20 times more land than producing beans.
We can feed the world with the land we have. While our current food systems are causing great harm to the planet, as well as our health, it does not have to be this way. There is a better path, and it starts with our diets.
Now, what are you going to do about it?