Climate Change: Want to Help Save the Planet? Eat Less Meat
Sunday, August 6th, 2023
This week’s core story is about: Eating less meat to curb climate change.
Heads up: The Bagel will be away next weekend! See you soon!
KNEAD TO KNOW
A new survey by The New York Times and Siena College underscores the stranglehold Donald Trump has on Fox News viewers. Regarding the recent investigations into the former president, the survey found just 5% of likely Republican voters who get their news from Fox News believe Trump has committed serious crimes, compared to an overwhelming 91% who say he’s done nothing wrong. For comparison, 38% of Republicans who get their news from mainstream media believe Trump has committed serious crimes.
A new study by researchers at Harvard University linked the ancient DNA of more than two dozen enslaved people with tens of thousands of their living descendants. The researchers analyzed DNA from Black Americans buried at the Catoctin Iron Furnace in Maryland between 1774 and 1850, comparing it with data from the 23andMe genetic database to identify more than 40,000 of their living descendants (the researchers have yet to notify the descendants out of ethical concerns). “Each time we are able to find an enslaved ancestor, we are defeating the purpose of slavery,” said study author Henry Louis Gates Jr. “The purpose of slavery was to rob us of that information.”
A first-of-its-kind clinical trial by researchers at Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research helped restore a paralyzed man’s sense of touch and movement. The trial involved implanting microchips in the man’s brain and developing AI-algorithms to re-link it with his body and spinal cord to translate his thoughts into actions, also known as “thought-driven therapy.” Lead researcher Chad Bouton says the man is the first human to receive a double neural bypass, marking the first time the brain, body, and spinal cord have been electronically linked in a paralyzed person with the hopes of restoring lasting movement and sensation.
A new study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles found OpenAI’s artificial intelligence model GPT-3 can reason about as well as a college student. The study asked the model to solve the type of reasoning questions that typically appear on standardized tests like the SAT, finding it solved around 80% of the problems correctly, higher than the human subjects’ average score of just under 60%, but well within the range of the highest human scores. The researchers say the study raises the question of whether GPT-3 is mimicking human thinking or engaging in a fundamentally new kind of cognitive process.
Climate Change: Want to Help Save the Planet? Eat Less Meat
New research adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting eating less meat can drastically cut your personal contribution to climate change. The findings should encourage policymakers to take action to reduce meat production and consumption, though it’s unclear whether people will get on board with the change.
So, what does the research say about eating less meat to reduce your climate impact? And who can lead the way if individuals are slow to make a change?
If you haven’t heard by now, July was the hottest month ever recorded.
While yet to be officially confirmed, last month was the warmest month in the robust dataset maintained by the E.U.’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. The dataset already shows July was the hottest month since at least 1940, but measurements using other instruments and paleoclimate records (like tree rings and ice cores) show it was most likely the hottest month in at least the past 100,000 years.
It’s a damning record to set, and one scientists say we should expect to be broken again at some point in the future.
Experts have long said solving the climate crisis won’t come down to one or two things, but rapid, holistic change at the national and individual level. It’ll also take buy-in from corporations, which share the responsibility of combating global warming.
Setting aside national and corporate action, how can that be done? What action can we, as individuals, take to lower our personal contribution to climate change? New research offers a simple solution: eat less meat.
What the research says:
A new study by researchers at the University of Oxford in the U.K. analyzed the diets of 55,000 Britons, drawing on data from more than 38,000 farms in 119 countries to comprehensively assess the environmental impact of high meat, low meat, pescetarian (fish-eaters), vegetarian, and vegan diets. The study population came from a major study of cancer and nutrition that’s been tracking the same participants for more than two decades.
Richard Tiffin, an economist at the University of Reading who wasn’t involved in the study, said the work “represents the most comprehensive attempt to link food consumption data to the data on the environmental impacts of food production.”
Taking into account greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use, water pollution, and biodiversity impact, the analysis found vegan diets had 30% of the dietary environmental impact of that of high-meat diets (defined as eating at least 100 grams of meat per day, equivalent to a steak about the size of a deck of cards).
More specifically, compared to high-meat eaters, vegan diets had just 25% of the dietary impact for greenhouse gas emissions, 25% for land use, 46% for water use, 27% for water pollution, and 34% for biodiversity impact.
Low-meat diets (defined as 50 grams of meat daily) had around 70% of the dietary impact of high-meat eaters across most of the studied measures, while pescetarian diets performed better than low-meat diets and vegetarian diets performed better than pescetarian diets, though the differences between the three diets were minimal.
“Our results … show that high meat diets have the biggest impact for many important environmental indicators, including climate change and biodiversity loss,” said lead author Peter Scarborough. “Cutting down the amount of meat and dairy in your diet can make a big difference to your dietary footprint.”
Why it matters:
The global food system is estimated to be responsible for around 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, 70% of freshwater use, and 78% of freshwater pollution. Other data shows half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture.
Importantly, the study shows you don’t have to go full vegan or even vegetarian to reduce your dietary impact, simply eating less meat will make a big difference. That finding is significant, as a 2022 Ipsos survey found 44% of people across 31 countries say they’re likely to eat less meat in an effort to reduce their personal contribution to climate change. A third of Americans (33%) are willing to do the same.
How likely is it that Americans actually reduce their meat consumption? Your guess is as good as mine or the experts, though the survey data suggests it’s unlikely. That same Ipsos poll found that while a third of Americans are indeed willing to eat less meat to reduce their climate impact, just under half (49%) said they’re unlikely to do so.
Still, the authors of the present study hope their findings encourage policymakers across the world to support actions reducing meat production and consumption.
In the U.S., at the 91st annual Conference of Mayors held in Columbus, Ohio in June, 1,400 mayors adopted a resolution supporting a plant-based approach in part to combat the global climate crisis. Among other things, the resolution calls for “exploring opportunities to evaluate the environmental impact of food choices and move toward a more plant-centered approach for individual and population health.”
The adoption brings the Conference of Mayors in line with New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who’s led the charge advocating for a plant-based approach to combating climate change and improving population health.
At the same time, “exploring opportunities to evaluate” is about as vague and noncommittal as legislative language gets, so we’ll see whether it amounts to real change.
If people and politicians don’t have it in them to take action, new research shows schools could lead the way.
Presenting at Nutrition 2023, a conference of the American Society for Nutrition held in Boston last month, University of California, Los Angeles nutrition scientist Renate Boronowsky presented new research finding U.S. school districts could almost halve their carbon emissions by making two changes: only serving beef once per month and replacing their highest carbon-emitting meal each week with a plant-based option.
Boronowsky and her colleagues also found New York City’s school lunch program had the smallest carbon footprint out of the six major school districts included in the study, while the program in Austin, Texas had the largest. Boronowsky said the difference likely stems from New York City serving all-vegetarian meals at least once per week.
Happily, the resolution adopted at the Conference of Mayors calls for “exploring opportunities to include more plant-based options in any setting where city government provides food to constituents,” including in schools.
Like the authors of the Oxford study at discussion, Boronowsky hopes her work encourages policymakers to take action, telling Nutrition 2023 attendees the findings “offer a valuable policy opportunity to significantly reduce carbon emissions.”
Beyond policymakers, Michael Clark and Keren Papier, lead authors of the Oxford study, hope their findings encourage individuals to adopt more sustainable food habits.
“The choices we make about what we eat are personal. They are highly ingrained habits that can be difficult to change. But our study and others are continuing to solidify evidence that the food system is having a massive global environmental and health impact which could be reduced by a transition towards more plant-based diets.”
Deepfake Audio Frequently Fools People, Even After Detection Training
A new study by researchers at University College London found humans correctly identified deepfake speech in audio clips 73% of the time, and efforts to train the participants to detect deepfake speech had minimal effect. Put differently, deepfake speech clips fooled participants roughly one out of every four times, even after participants were taught how to identify the speech.
Speech deepfakes are synthetic voices produced by machine-learning models. They often resemble a specific real person’s voice and can be paired with video clips to mimic someone’s complete likeness.
Experts say deepfake speech raises several security concerns, including particular concerns ahead of the 2024 election, as “situation deepfakes,” combining synthetic video and audio, have already played a role in political messaging in recent months.
50% of Humans Will Have a Mental Health Disorder by Age 75
A new study by researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia and Harvard Medical School analyzed data from more than 150,000 adults across 29 countries between 2001 and 2022, finding half (50%) of the population can expect to develop at least one mental health disorder by age 75. The data was pulled from the World Health Organisation's World Mental Health Survey Initiative, the largest ever coordinated series of face-to-face interviews.
The cross-national analysis found the most commonly developed mental health issues were mood disorders like depression and anxiety, and that most disorders first emerge in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood.
The study also revealed some differences by sex, with the three most common mental health disorders experienced by women being depression, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorders (in that order), while men experience alcohol abuse, depression, and phobias (in that order).
A Massive Solar Explosion Was Simultaneously Measured on Earth, the Moon, and Mars for the First Time Ever
A new study by an international team of researchers describes the first coronal mass ejection (CME) detected simultaneously on Earth, the Moon, and Mars. The massive solar explosion on October 28, 2021 shot particles over such a wide area the three bodies were each bathed in radiation despite Earth and Mars being located on opposite sides of the Sun at the time (around 250 million kilometers apart).
The explosion was detected by an international fleet of spacecraft, including NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the European ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, the Chinese Chang'e-4 Moon lander, and the German Eu:CROPIS Earth orbiter.
Scientists say understanding CMEs is vital for future space exploration, as manned missions to the Moon and Mars will leave astronauts exposed to the intense radiation given off by the explosions since the bodies lack a protective magnetosphere, like the one that protects us here on Earth.
$25 million - The damages sought in a defamation lawsuit filed this week by high-profile honesty researcher Francesca Gino against Harvard University, where Gino works, and Data Colada, an academic watchdog website. Harvard and Data Colada investigated allegations Gino published research relying on falsified statistics, with Data Colada finding at least four papers with data it believes Gino forged (three of the four papers have been retracted with the fourth retraction scheduled for next month). Harvard placed Gino on leave in June without announcing the results of its investigation.
19% - The percentage of U.S. workers last year who were employed in jobs that are the most exposed to artificial intelligence, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center. The report defined AI-exposed jobs as those in which the most important activities can be either replaced or assisted by artificial intelligence.
450,000 - The estimated number of Americans who could be affected by alpha-gal syndrome (AGS), a rare red-meat allergy brought on by tick bites, according to a new report issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. AGS is a serious, potentially fatal allergic condition people can experience after they consume alpha-gal, a sugar found in meat and animal products like dairy and gelatin.
187,000 to 750,000 pounds - The estimated weight of Perucetus colossus, an ancient whale species that lived some 38 million years ago, according to a new study by researchers at the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History in Germany. The findings make P.colossus the heaviest animal ever known to exist, weighing twice as much as modern blue whales.
Long Video. Uncovering the biggest bank heist in history (and why you’ve never heard of it). (18 min)
Short Video. How did cruise ships get so big? (7 min)
Fun Video. Learn how to enter the “flow state.” (5 min)
Good Read. Learn how the pop-tab opener became the standard for our canned drinks. (1,504 words; 7 min)
Neat List. Here are eight destinations on Mars future tourists may visit.
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Written by Ryan Wittler