Accepted abstract - Creative Tastebuds Symposium 2020

Redeem, replace, reduce: strategies for sustainable lifestyle change

Opinion paper

By Lotte Dalgaard Christensen, Department of Environmental Science, and Bonnie Averbuch, Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University, Denmark

Human consumption and behavior patterns are causing detrimental environmental impacts leading to unprecedented climate change. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, causing acceleration of the severity and frequency of extreme climate events. Using weight loss as an analogy and multi-level perspective as an analytical framework, we identify three scenarios for healthy lifestyle and climate change mitigation.

In essence, a similar problem challenges public health and climate: mindless overconsumption. However, when it comes to healthy dieting, strategies to solve the problem seem more intuitive than strategies for climate change mitigation. Why is that so? We seek to answer this through three scenarios for lifestyle changes, which are:

1) Redeem: consumption patterns remain the same and focus is on increasing exercise to lose weight/using geo-technologies to pull carbon out of the atmosphere or planting trees to offset carbon-emitting behaviors. We argue that this approach is both shortsighted and ineffective, as it requires an enormous and continuous effort while not removing the root of the problem, i.e. excess calorie intake and carbon-intensive behaviors.

2) Replace: consumption levels remain the same but low-calorie/low-carbon options replace high-calorie/high-carbon options, such as meat-free burgers replacing beef burgers. While this approach seems easy, we are critical because of rebound effects, negative externalities, the resource-intensive innovation process required to develop substitutes, and the ensuing “health-washing”/greenwashing of suboptimal substitutes. This scenario requires hyper-vigilance in terms of label-reading and understanding corporate practices to a level most consumers cannot be expected to achieve.

3) Reduce: decrease overall consumption levels, while continuing to allow a small degree of high-calorie/high-carbon behaviors. Similar to the French diet that does not eliminate wine, cheese, and chocolate, but instead promotes small amounts of a high quality, this option encourages conscious consumption and minimalism. You should be able to include the foods you like in your diet but cut out the excess to achieve balance. For example, if you cannot give up driving to work, choose a high-quality car (i.e. an electric car) and carpool with others to fill up the car and reduce the total number of cars on the road. While we find this option appealing and agree with its core message because it ultimately frees up a lot of resources, it requires considerable behavior change, which takes more time than we have available to achieve carbon-reduction goals.

 

Perhaps the best solution is to think of lifestyle changes that incorporate all three scenarios. In this opinion paper, we present seaweed as a tasty case that does exactly this. In addition, the case takes us beyond the level of an analogy, as seaweed consumption is relevant to both the health and climate debates.