This article is coming to you from our Internist, Dr. Zoë Rammelkamp, who is a member of the Wisconsin Health Professionals for Climate Action.
Click below to learn more about Dr. Rammelkamp!
It’s Earth Day! 🌎 That means we take today to dig deep and really consider the impact that we are having on our planet, our communities, and ourselves. Since changes to our environment directly affect our health and wellbeing, and because the weather is finally trending upward (YAY!), I wanted to share some easy changes that you can make that will positively impact both your health and the health of the environment!
Cut Back on Red Meat
I know, I know, nobody likes to hear this one—especially in the land of SUPER delicious butter burgers and beef brats—BUT, there are some serious benefits to swapping out red meats for healthier meats or plant-based options.
Better Cardiovascular Health
Red meat contains significantly more saturated fats than other meats. Saturated fats raise your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol, which can build up in your arteries and put you at risk for heart disease, stroke, and even cancer. Generally speaking, the recommendation is to limit consumption of cooked, unprocessed red meat to about three portions (12-18 oz.) per week.
It is important to note that there are some nutritional benefits to eating certain red meats, like grass-fed beef, which contain calcium, choline, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, vitamin B12, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron. So, when and if you do choose to eat red meat, be extra picky about what you consume!
Fewer Methane Emissions
Cattle are the number 1 agricultural source of greenhouse gases worldwide with livestock being responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gases. During a 2019 research study, University of California, Davis professor and air quality specialist, Frank Mitloehner, found that each year, a single cow will belch about 220 pounds of methane. It may sound funny to be concerned about cow burps, but, while methane from cattle is shorter-lived than carbon dioxide, it is 28 times more potent in warming the atmosphere.
With the population growing, forests are being cleared to make room for cattle and other livestock and other monoculture fields—which are often used to feed livestock. The demand for red meat is contributing to deforestation faster than ever before. Current figures show that deforestation has reached a rate of about 200 km2 a day or 75,000 km2 a year – an area bigger than the Republic of Ireland. That has resulted in around 135 rainforest species going extinct on a daily basis. It has also meant that about 4.8 gigatons of carbon dioxide are being released into the atmosphere annually which is equivalent to 8% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Combine this with the methane contributions of cattle, and you have a pretty significant impact on our environment.
Walk, Bike, or Carpool
Get More Exercise
Naturally, getting yourself up and moving around—especially regularly as a means of transportation—is VERY positive for your health. More activity means more muscle strength, more endurance, better heart and respiratory health, and better brain function (which I think we could all use these days 🧠).
Speaking of brain function… Research shows that aerobic exercises, like walking and biking, reduce anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders! The increased blood flow to the brain supports better cognitive function which in turn alleviates symptoms of both low self-esteem and social withdrawal.
Lower CO2 Emissions
If walking or biking isn’t an option, no worries! Carpooling, as well as using public transportation or rideshare services as often as possible, are great options for helping to lower CO2 emissions that come from our vehicles. According to the EPA, a typical passenger vehicle emits about 404 grams of CO2 per mile and 4.6 metric tons of CO2 per year. In addition to carbon dioxide (CO2), automobiles produce methane (CH4)and nitrous oxide (N2O) from the tailpipe and hydrofluorocarbon emissions from leaking air conditioners. The emissions of these gases are small in comparison to CO2; however, the impact of these emissions can be important because they have a higher global warming potential (GWP) than CO2.
Good for Mental and Physical Health
Did you know that research has correlated a view of trees with healing medical benefits?
A 1970s research study found that patients with a view of trees were hospitalized for a shorter period of time and needed fewer and less intense pain medications than patients with a view of a brick wall.
A different study found that children with ADD who participated in “green activities” were more relaxed, focused, happier, more likely to interact with friends, and more active. Interestingly, it also found that, even indoors, the children who had natural views were calmer than children who played outside in man-made environments without greenery.
According to the psychological principle “Attention Restoration Theory (ART),” urban environments are draining because they force us to direct our attention to specific tasks and do so dynamically. Such mental demands don’t exist in natural environments.
If you can’t plant one, make a point to get out and enjoy them more!
Help CO2 Capture
According to a Swiss study, 1.2 billion trees would have to be planted on Earth to absorb two-thirds of the CO2 produced by man since the industrial age. That’s a lofty goal, but any new tree planted is a step in the right direction!
Not all trees are equally eco-efficient, though, so make sure you’re doing your research on the carbon absorption capacity of the trees you’re looking to plant. A healthy variety of species is always best—yay biodiversity!
SPECIAL NOTE: We need to work extra, extra hard to prevent forest fires because, when burning, trees release all the CO2 they have absorbed.
Deforestation and urbanization have severely impacted the water cycle. Planting more trees can help the ground retain water and start rebalancing our broken water cycle. Why is that significant? Well, most of the accessible fresh water is provided by underground reserves that are supplied by forests and fresh water represents 3% of our planet’s total water. Supply is limited already and we’re only speeding up the process.
Looking for the financial figures? Well, an average large shade tree will live 100 years and recycle $37,500 worth of water!