How to Have a Climate-Friendly Fourth of July Barbecue

5155750Backyard barbecues remain a hallmark of the Fourth of July, even though this means burning gas or charcoal, which emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases.

Greenhouse gas emissions drive climate change, whose impacts are now visible at just about every national park visited by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, she said in a recent interview. “In Historic Jamestowne, we’ve actually had 98 feet of coastline wash away, including half of what was a Civil War fort,” she said. “Glaciers melting in Glacier National Park;  Joshua trees dying in Joshua Tree National Park — and all these things are tied in to a changing climate.”

Yet measures that can have people continue barbecuing without guilt are proposed in a recent article in the journal Global Change Biology. Specifically, by replacing products such as grilled beef and chicken with alternative products — such as Beyond Meat burgers, Gardein cutlets, Field Roast sausages and Morningstar riblets — people can generate a unique dual benefit. That is, the large amount of greenhouse gas attributable to animals raised for food can be eliminated, while the huge amount of land used for livestock and crops to feed them can be freed up to grow trees that can absorb a vast amount of greenhouse gas from our atmosphere.

Using renewable energy to achieve the same outcome isn’t possible, according to the International Energy Agency, which has estimated that sufficient renewable energy would cost at least $18 trillion and take at least 20 years. This would be long past the time available to stop the melting of Antarctic, which threatens to raise sea levels by ten feet or more, submerging some of the world’s largest cities. Research shows that a rise of less than four feet would make Miami, New Orleans, New York and Boston highly vulnerable to being submerged.

However, it is possible to reverse climate change through large-scale improvements in our food choices.  Better alternatives to livestock products are generally made from whole grains and legumes, such as peas, sorghum, and beans. Such products are generally responsible for minimal greenhouse gas emissions, and it is possible for agricultural change to draw down greenhouse gas from the atmosphere to pre-industrial revolution levels within five years.

Agriculture is outdoors to a unique degree, exposing it to greater risk from emissions attributable to livestock than any other industry’s risk from the same emissions. So food industry leaders have a compelling commercial incentive to reduce those emissions.

For consumers, Bill Gates has been promoting the idea that we can stop climate change by replacing livestock products with alternatives with little or no change in taste. This way, greenhouse gas emissions attributable to various foods can be dramatically reduced on the Fourth of July and beyond, more than making up for the gas or charcoal that people may continue to use to prepare these foods.

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