This holiday season, climate change should be on the table

Photo by Jed Owen on Unsplash

At this festive time of the year, most Americans relish their favorite foods and drinks. Part of what makes this season bright are the traditional meals that have been around since childhood, special dishes shared with family and friends, or maybe just grandma’s holiday cookies. The delectable options are endless; they warm the heart. They bring people closer and bring back fond memories.

But unfortunately, many of the foods people need and love the most are threatened: Prices are increasing; the aromas and flavors of wine are changing; the nutritional quality of grains is projected to decline; vegetables will become sweeter and less nutritious; and coffee will become scarcer. And it’s all because of the changing climate.

To learn how much people care, we conducted an online survey of 1,090 United States adults recruited by Verasight and discovered that most people are very or fairly concerned about climate change impacting food choices, as we previously reported in the Bulletin. This included 83 percent of those 18-34 years of age, strong majorities of Black Americans (88 percent) and white Americans (71 percent), and over 80 percent and 60 percent of Democrats and Republicans, respectively.

We also asked survey respondents to share the first word that comes to mind when thinking about the effects climate change is having on food. They could say anything, and the results were striking. Over 20 percent responded with words related to decreased availability—such as famine, hunger, scarcity, starvation, and shortages.

Such results demonstrate that the issue of climate change and its impacts on food are on people’s minds. But Americans are also willing to do something about it.

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When asked whether they would be willing to pay more for food or beverages sourced from farms and producers using climate-friendly practices, over 60 percent said yes “definitely” or “somewhat,” including 87 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Republicans, and 73 percent of Independents. Fifty-four percent said they are “very” or “somewhat” likely to change their lifestyle by flying less or switching to a plant-based diet, and 55 percent have already joined a campaign or definitely would do so to convince elected officials to take action to reduce climate change. And a strong majority (over 60 percent) said they were definitely or somewhat interested in learning more about how climate change is affecting food—which held across political and demographic groups.

After reading a short paragraph describing the effects of climate change, about two-thirds (64 percent) indicated they were “very” or “somewhat” likely to discuss this with family and friends. By comparison and as we wrote previously, 75 percent said they discuss food with family and friends at least occasionally, which far exceeds the number who say they discuss global warming at least occasionally (35 percent) from other polling. In addition, while 66 percent of Americans report hearing about climate change in the media just once a month or less, food-centered television is among the most popular genres. The Food Network is the 16th most popular channel on TV and watched by nearly 675,000 people during prime time.

Given that the first step in confronting climate change is talking about it, it’s time to get all those who talk about food to also talk about how it is being changed by climate change. And don’t think others around you don’t care about climate change. Up to 80 percent of Americans support climate change mitigation policies but incorrectly think that only about 40 percent of their peers do.

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Our survey also showed that over 50 percent of Democrats are very worried about climate change and consider it a crisis versus 20 percent of Republicans—a distinct gap that narrows when the issue is climate change and food.

Food may be the common ground needed for sparking vital conversations about climate change. So, over the holidays, speak up! The future of food—and the planet, and the people living on it—depends on it.


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