Tuesday is predicted to be the hottest day ever recorded in British history, as this week, Europe gets blasted by an unprecedented and punishing heat wave. The sweltering temperatures have sent many cities into crisis mode, as people unused to living in climates above 100 degrees have to adapt to a new reality: Climate change is here.

As Western Europe faces temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (or nearly 40 Celcius) in Portugal, Spain, Italy, France, and the United Kingdom many without working airconditioning, the pressing question becomes what, if anything, can each of us do right now to stop further heating of our planet? The answer, or part of it, is as simple as changing the way we eat and lowering our food systems' production of greenhouse gases.

European Countries React to Record Temperatures

In England, officials are painting railroad tracks white and telling commuters to stay home, in the hopes that they can prevent the tracks from buckling in the extreme heat. British citizens are experiencing the first-ever “Extreme Red” heat warning, a new level of danger in a country where many businesses and homes don't have AC. In fields, farmers are inspecting crops that appear to be cooking on the vine. As crops fail, food prices soar. The time to make changes in how we eat and how we think about our food is here..

Europe’s heatwave places climate change front and center on the agenda as European lawmakers scramble to address the dangerous temperatures. With European infrastructure unfit to accommodate higher temperatures, this heat wave is exposing how unprepared the world is for the real impacts of climate change and high greenhouse gas emissions.

Between July 10 and July 15, approximately 360 people died due to extreme heat in Spain. On Saturday, the Portuguese health ministry told Reuters that over 650 people died due to heat-related causes, meaning that one person died every forty minutes between July 7 and 13. In France, 14,000 citizens have evacuated from the southwest regions due to forest fires.

“This is not just summer,” Green French lawmaker Melanie Vogel wrote on Twitter. “It is just hell and will pretty soon become just the end of human life if we continue with our climate inaction."

On July 7, the European Union’s executive stated that the continent would face one of the worst seasons in regards to climate disasters. The EU warned citizens of droughts and wildfires to continue to worsen over the course of the summer. Drought conditions have worsened in Greece and Italy – where the government has declared a state of emergency across the Northern regions. The EU executive attributes this change to worsening climate change.

Stalled Climate Action in the United States

Meanwhile, in the US, two-thirds of the continental map is in a "red zone" of record temperatures, and climate change policy initiatives have stalled in a divided Senate.

President Biden and congressional Democrats developed a climate policy package over the last two years that would have finally been able to break the gridlock that has stalled environmentally-conscious legislation. Supported by 49 senators, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) blocked the Build Back Better bill, stalling climate change action. Machin’s disapproval of the bill will cut regulations to cut carbon pollution and gut subsidies intended for the clean energy section.

This closely follows the Supreme Court decision to roll back environmental protections carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency. The decision will limit the EPA’s ability to regulate power plant carbon emissions. The three dissenting justices state that the six justices responsible stole the EPA’s power to respond to the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.”

What Can We Each Do About Climate Change?

Despite all this grim news and government inaction, there is something we each can do to help dial back or slow the march of climate change, and that is to change our diets. By eating more plant-based and less red meat and animal protein, each of us can drastically reduce our impact on the release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere by our food systems.

This April, the United Nations released its latest climate change report that emphasized that while the consequences of climate change have already started, there’s still time to combat worsening environmental issues. The report highlighted that governments and citizens can effectively curb climate change by using less carbon energy, reducing atmospheric Co2, and most easily, eating plant-based.

Eating for the environment is the easiest and quickest method to help curb climate change. Now, 55 percent of consumers consider the sustainability of their food choices when grocery shopping, meaning that most shoppers can be considered climatarians. Coined in 2015, the Cambridge Dictionary defines a climatarian as "a person who chooses what to eat according to what is least harmful to the environment."

Climatarians represent the most recent category of plant-based or plant-forward dieters. The quick rise of the climatarian can be attributed to increased consumer awareness. Climate change is directly affecting millions of people worldwide. Last year, extreme weather events cost the US $145 billion in damages and many hundreds of lives lost, according to the US National Centres for Environmental Information (NCEI). With these numbers set to get worse, here’s why eating plant-based can help reduce the consequence and slow down climate change.

Why Eating Plant-Based is More Environmentally Friendly

  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 57 percent of food-related greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Plant-based diets can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 61 percent.
  • Meat and dairy products currently use 83 percent of total farmland, according to The Guardian.
  • Eating plant-based twice a week for a year is the equivalent of planting 14 billion trees by helping minimize land use and reversing deadly greenhouse gas emissions
  • Eating plant-based for one day saves enough water to take 100 showers.
  • Eating plant-based for one day is the equivalent of NOT driving your car that day.
  • Eating just one plant-based meal a day for a year saves the carbon equivalent of not driving from New York to Los Angeles, according to One Plant-Based Meal a Day founder Suzy Amis Cameron.
  • Eating plant-based helps foster biodiversity and protect approximately 626 species from losing habitable areas.
  • An Impossible Burger requires 78 times less land use to create than a conventional beef burger.
  • Eating beef one to two times a week for a year contributes six to 30 times more missions than plant alternatives such as tofu.

How You Can Start Eating Plant-Based

Looking to eat and shop with the planet in mind? Check out The Beet's plant-based Beginner's Guide. Incorporating even one plant-based meal a day helps the environment by curbing the risk factors associated with animal agriculture. No matter if you start as a vegetarian, flexitarian, vegan, partly-plant-based, or climatarian diet, any shift towards plant-forward eating helps slow down the lethal consequences of climate change.

Soon, products may have labels that will inform shoppers about how sustainable their food choices are. Most recently, Denmark announced that its government will introduce climate-conscious labels on food products. The initiative intends to help improve customer choices and keep companies accountable for their impact on the environment and the climate crisis.

For more planetary news, visit The Beet's Environmental News articles

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