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A farmer dries corn in a field in China. Photo: Yu Liangyi/VCG via Getty Images

A new study finds changing the food system is vital to keeping global warming below potentially dangerous levels.

Why it matters: The global food system is projected to generate nearly 1.5 trillion tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 80 years, which by itself is enough to ensure the Earth warms by some 2 C over pre-industrial levels. Preventing that will require changes that go beyond what food we eat to how we produce it.

By the numbers: In the study, published in the journal Science, researchers calculated the emission reductions that could be achieved through various changes to the food economy, both behavioral and technological.

  • The biggest savings would come from a near-complete global switch to a plant-heavy diet, which would cut 750 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Reducing daily consumption to the appropriate number of calories by age — around 2,100 calories for most adults — would save 450 billion tons.
  • More efficient farming would cut almost 600 billion tons.
  • Engineering better-yielding crops through genetics would reduce some 210 billion tons.
  • Vastly reducing food waste would save almost 400 billion tons.

How it works: Going halfway on all five of these recommendations — plus cuts to fossil fuels, an even bigger source of greenhouse gas emissions — should be enough to prevent the world from warming 2 C by 2100.

  • While most experts consider it extremely unrealistic to expect a global move away from meat — especially when consumption continues to increase — mixing some behavioral changes with technological reforms seems more achievable.

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 28, 2021 - Energy & Environment

GM plans to end sales of gasoline powered cars by 2035

GM CEO Mary Barra at the GM Orion Assembly Plant plant for electric and self-driving vehicles in Michigan. Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

General Motors is setting a worldwide target to end sales of gasoline and diesel powered cars, pickups and SUVs by 2035, the automaker said Thursday.

Why it matters: GM's plan marks one of the auto industry's most aggressive steps to transform their portfolio to electric models that currently represent a tiny fraction of overall sales.

Ina Fried, author of Login
Updated Jan 27, 2021 - Technology

Apple's quarterly sales top $100 billion for first time

Credit: Apple

Spurred by strong sales of the latest iPhones, Apple reported it took in a record $111 billion in revenue for the three months ended Dec. 31, as the company crushed expectations.

Why it matters: The move showed even a pandemic didn't dull demand for Apple's latest smartphones.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

Americans increasingly see China as an enemy

One in three Americans, and a majority of Republicans, now view China as an enemy of the United States, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center.

By the numbers: Just 9% of Americans consider China a "partner," while 55% see Beijing as a "competitor" and 34% as an "enemy."

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