global warming

Should we all be eating insects?

It’s no secret that we are not using the earth’s resources sustainably, meaning that if we do not change our current habits drastically, the world will be a very different place in the not too distant future. And not in a good way as our supply won’t be able to meet the demand.

The positive news is that a large number of both industries and individuals are becoming more aware of the seriousness of our negative progress, and therefore changing the way that they use natural resources.

Our meat consumption is a huge player in this topic, and as a result, some businesses have even begun implementing a ‘meat-free Monday’ or other meat reduction plans. But is this enough, or is it simply the epitome of ‘too little too late’? However, despite some shocking revelations about the rate that we are using the earth’s resources, I always like to remain optimistic, looking for alternatives to save the world, no matter how damaged it may seem.

A relatively new idea that I recently came across is ‘entomophagy’, which is defined as the human use of insects as a food source.

Whilst this might seem like a bit of a crazy idea for us, two billion people across the world currently already include insects as a food group in their diet. And in fact, you are probably eating insects already and you don’t even know it.

Next time you eat a bag of marshmallows, pink gummy sweets, or in fact anything with pink dye in it, take a look at the ingredients list. If you see the word ‘cochineal’, ‘E120’ or ‘carmines’, you are eating insects. These processed and powdered cochineal bugs are known for producing a beautifully rich dye which means that manufacturers can legally write ‘no artificial colours’ on the packaging.

And if the idea of eating insects still sounds alien to you, let me take you back to the late 16th century, when the potato was first introduced to the Old World by the Spanish. People thought that eating potatoes was a crazy idea as they were seen as very creepy novelty items, whereas today eating potatoes is as normal as eating bread, rice, and other common everyday staple foods. So will insects be the new potato of the 21st century?

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Could insects really be a substitute for meat?

There are currently over 1,900 species of insect that have been recorded for food use around the world, including beetles, caterpillars, wasps and ants. And just like you would with your current food items, insects can be cooked in a variety of different ways with a variety of different spices to flavour them further. In Stefan Gates’s book on eating insects, he says, “we need to continue evolving and adapting our food and our diets to sustain the planet’s population in a way that doesn’t create an untenable burden on existing resources, and exploring new food sources is integral to that.”

I think that this statement is incredibly true, and we certainly do need to explore other ways of utilising the earth’s resources in the most efficient and waste-free way if we want to create a healthier planet. According to the UN, by 2050 there are likely to be 9 billion mouths to feed on earth, so unless we explore new ideas we will never move forwards, or know what works and what doesn’t before it’s too late.

Sure, the idea of eating insects is pretty weird, and not at all what your brain and palate are used to, but surely that’s the same when you try any new food? In the Western world we are used to eating, chicken, for example. And eating chicken seems like a perfectly normal thing to do because we have simply grown up with it, in supermarkets, in restaurants, and on our dinner plates. But imagine if it hadn’t been, if we had only ever seen chickens walking around in the wild…surely we would think it extremely strange to eat that feathered bird that walks around and eats corn?

Are insects better than cattle?

Studies of entomophagy have found that there are huge benefits to the practice, and even some that could outweigh those of eating ‘traditional meat’. As previously mentioned, our current meat consumption across the world is way too high to make it sustainable. Something huge needs to be done about this to make enough of an impact, and substituting some of our beef consumption for insect protein could alleviate a lot of current pressure on the environment.

One of the major reasons why meat is not currently sustainable is due to the amount of feed that the livestock need to grow and be a good protein source for us. In comparison, insects are a lot less wasteful, as well as requiring a lot less land space, and in order to produce protein insects only use 50% of the amount of feed in comparison to chickens and pigs, four times less than sheep and 12 times less than cattle.

The livestock industry also currently produces 44% of all anthropogenic methane greenhouse emissions. In huge contrast, some insects produce less than 100 times less methane compared to beef and pork production, whilst many other insects do not produce any methane at all.

Another highly crucial factor in the meat consumption problem is the element of water. As climate change becomes more prominent in farming methods, focusing on water use is crucial. It currently takes 22,000 litres of water to create just 1kg of beef, not to mention the huge amount of land use that is needed for livestock, both of which are dramatically reduced factors when examining insect production.

As well as these land use facts, insects themselves as a food source have huge nutritional benefits. Insects are generally a very high source of protein, as well as being an excellent source of fat including fatty acids such as omega, which are also found in fish and are essential for organs, the brain and bones. Cricket powder contains over double the amount of protein compared to the same amount of chicken breasts, and insects are also packed with numerous micro-nutrients which include minerals and vitamins, and a rich source of iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium and sodium.

Whilst the idea of including insects in our diets is still a relatively new idea, lots of studies are finding that it really could be one of the ways forward to save our planet.

What do you think, would you give it a try?

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Going greener: everyday ways to reduce your carbon footprint

Over the past 50 years, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history. Despite what some climate change deniers may say, experts in the field state that this trend is accelerating.

Global warming caused by climate change is the biggest threat our planet and population faces at this time. Already we are witnessing the early stages of what could be an unimaginable future for our planet if not dealt with today.

Even some of the more optimistic scientific predictions show a sharp increase in global temperature in the coming decades. The results of which will lead to a range of catastrophes including widespread flooding, species extinction, droughts and famine to name a few.

There’s no doubt that the most significant changes must come from policy makers, and that means we must continually apply pressure on politicians to make greener choices. Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement has already been widely condemned, and should hopefully demonstrate to any world leader that going backwards on climate change is unacceptable.

With so much control being in the hands of the few, is there anything that we can do as individuals to help curb emissions and global warming? Thankfully there is. By making a few changes to our everyday lives, we as a population have the power to do our share of good for the planet.

Around the home

An environmentally friendly lifestyle really does begin at home. Some of the most simple things can have a huge impact on your carbon footprint. It’s therefore vital to make conscious decisions around your house.

Replace any regular incandescent light bulbs with energy saving light bulbs. These tend to use up to 80% less energy. The same consideration should be given to purchasing new appliances too; look for labels showing the A+++ rating. This means the appliance is not only better for the environment, but should be cheaper to run than a less energy efficient model. And make sure you don’t leave those appliances in standby mode. On average UK households spend £30 a year powering appliances left in standby mode.

When it comes to your central heating, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a programmable thermostat installed. This makes it easier for you to control the temperature of your home, and thus saves you money whilst also being better for the environment. You can also turn your thermostat down just two degrees in the winter to save a huge amount of carbon dioxide emissions. If you’ve still got a hot water tank then make sure the insulation is in good condition or consider re-insulating it.

Speaking of hot water, if possible try to use it less often. Heating water uses a lot of energy, so it’s best to only use it when really necessary. Try turning down your washing machine to 30 degrees, and only use it when you have a full load of washing. Install a low-flow shower head to not only save on hot water but to save water in general. Take showers instead of baths to really maximise your water saving efforts.

Powering your home

Burning fossil fuels to create energy for our homes and commercial buildings is the leading contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Everybody knows that in an ideal world we would all have solar panels or wind turbines installed on our properties; but the reality is that it’s often difficult and expensive to do so.

However, in most areas of the country it is possible to switch to a greener energy provider. Sites such as Green Electricity Marketplace allow users to find providers offering energy created using a number of environmentally friendly techniques, and often at a cheaper rate than a standard provider.

It’s not just getting green energy into your home that’s important though – it’s making sure your home is equipped to make the most of it. Swapping old single glazed windows for energy efficient double glazing is a great way to help the planet and save some money. This one does require some investment and it isn’t cheap, but can reduce energy loss by between 50% and 70%. If it really is more than you can afford, then installing secondary glass panels or even heavy lined curtains can make a difference.

It’s also important to consider how much energy is lost through the walls and roof of your property. In an uninsulated home, a quarter of all heat is lost through the roof of the property. The Energy Saving Trust says that “insulating your loft, attic or flat roof is a simple and effective way to reduce heat loss and reduce your heating bills. Loft insulation is effective for at least 40 years and it should pay for itself many times over”. In fact, you may not have to pay for the insulation at all, as a number of energy providers offer this service for free.

Recycling

Recycling household waste is arguably one of the easiest things a person can do to help the planet, and yet many people still fail to do it. On average more than 65% of all household waste is recyclable, yet in the UK we only manage to send around 44% of it to recycling plants. In fact, in 2015 the amount of household waste being recycled dropped from 44.8% the previous year to 43.9%. 

Recycling really couldn’t be easier and is an incredibly effective way of saving energy. For example, one recycled tin can would save enough energy to power a television for 3 hours. And 70% less energy is required to recycle paper compared with making it from raw materials.

Remember to re-use those shopping bags too. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency: “Worldwide, as many as one trillion plastic bags are used each year and less than 5 percent of plastic is recycled. In the United States, according to the EPA, we use over 380 billion plastic bags and wraps yearly, requiring 12 million barrels of oil to create.”

It’s not just packaging that can be recycled though. Much of the waste that goes into landfill in this country is food waste, which can be recycled just as effectively as non-organic waste. If you have the room in your garden then why not start a compost pile, which is an effective and environmentally friendly way of disposing of a lot of your scraps and peelings. Not everything you throw out of your kitchen should be composted, but what you can compost you should. If you aren’t able to compost at home, many local councils now provide food bins which are collected weekly and taken to be used in anaerobic digestion to create electricity.

Food

What we eat has a far bigger impact on the planet than many might realise. Animal agriculture, for example, is a leading cause of climate change and a greater contributor to greenhouse gas emissions that the entire travel sector combined. A report released by the United Nations in 2010 outlined the need for our population to move to a meat and dairy-free diet for the sake of the planet.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), global agriculture—dominated by livestock production and the grains grown to support it—accounts for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) finds that “18% of global greenhouse gas emissions is directly attributable to livestock production”. Whichever figure you decide to trust, the evidence is clear; continued consumption of animal products is not environmentally viable.

It’s not just the amount of carbon dioxide produced by animal agriculture that’s the problem though. Globally we raise approximately 60 billion animals for food each year. This creates a serious problem with the amount of methane produced by the livestock. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown that animal agriculture is globally the single largest source of methane emissions and that, pound for pound, methane is more than 25 times as effective as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere.

The 2014 documentary Cowspiracy built on this, revealing that “Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years”.

According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA): “Chatham House, an international affairs think tank, has called for a carbon tax on meat to help combat climate change. Of course, eating vegan foods rather than animal-based ones is the best way to reduce your carbon footprint. A University of Chicago study even showed that you can reduce your carbon footprint more effectively by going vegan than by switching from a conventional car to a hybrid.”

Whilst switching to a plant-based diet is certainly the best way to combat climate change, it’s also important that you monitor where your vegetables are coming from. Ensuring the majority of fruit and vegetables you buy are locally grown means you can rest assured that your diet is not having a negative effect on the planet. By also eating as seasonally as possible, you can avoid the energy used shipping out of season produce to your area.

Transport

The transport sector may not be the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, but it certainly is up there. Despite some truly pioneering inventors working on creating the vehicles that will carry us all in the future, the reality today is that we are still largely dependant on fossil fuels when it comes to running our cars, buses and planes.

It goes without saying that it’s better for the environment for people to car pool or use public transport. The fewer vehicles there are on the road, the less greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere each day. So if you can share, do share.

If you do need to be on the road in your own car, then you can still do your bit for the planet. For many of us, switching to a hybrid or electric car is too expensive to consider, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on making your daily commute more eco-friendly. By making sure your tyres are fully inflated, and that you’re not carrying any additional weight, you can reduce fuel consumption. Also, properly filled tyres last longer which means less of them end up in landfill.

It’s also important to make sure your engine is properly maintained so that it is using fuel efficiently. And if you can make do without the air conditioning being on, you’ll be saving even more fuel.

Whatever changes you make to ensure your vehicle is running efficiently, you are obviously still going to be contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, but this can be offset through a service offered on a number of websites. According to World Land Trust: “Carbon offsetting is a process whereby an individual or company takes action to prevent the release of emissions elsewhere, or secures the absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide as part of a wider approach to measure, reduce and then offset emissions through impactful conservation projects.”

Conclusion

It goes without saying that many of the most powerful ways to tackle climate change are also the easiest. You can start making these changes right now, and begin having a more beneficial impact on the health of our planet. Without all of us making changes to the way we live, there really isn’t a lot to look forward to. But if we work together and all do our bit, then just maybe we can leave our children a safer, healthier world.

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