The past five years have been the warmest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Additionally, there are currently 150 million metric tons of plastic waste in the oceans that affect 700 species, with an additional eight million metric tons being added to the ocean every year, according to the Ocean Conservancy3. The plastic island in the ocean is real.
Young people and students are leading the charge to combat climate change and make the tough decisions that reduce negative human impact on the environment. Just this past March, an estimated 1.4 million students from 123 countries walked out of school and stormed the streets to demand action from global leaders1,2. Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg had strong words for world leaders at the UN Summit on Climate Change.
Marching in the streets and testifying at the United Nations are excellent, but real change comes from all of us making small but impactful decisions every day that become habit and then become a part of fabric of our day-to-day lives. Here are the top three ways your decisions will matter in the long run.
#1. Reduce or eliminate single-use plastics.
This is one of the easiest ways to make an impact. Bring your own bags to the grocery store, including ones for produce. Bring your own water bottle to class; you don’t need to buy a plastic bottle every time you get thirsty. Ask for no straws at restaurants. Bring your own travel mug to the coffee shop; some even offer discounts for this. You can even recycle your toothbrushes (yes, this is true), or you can buy more environmentally friendly toothbrushes. Dance teachers, install a water cooler or water fountain in your studio, and encourage all your students to bring their reusable bottle. Make it a fun activity or a fun competition for the end of the school year that will also encourage hydration.
#2. Reduce food packaging.
Make use of bulk bins and ordering bulk products online. Not only will you save money and be healthier buying dry beans, rice, quinoa, nuts and seeds, but you can reduce the food packaging that would have gone in a landfill. Anne Marie Bonneau, who runs the Zero-Waste Chef blog, says, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly; we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”5 Let us put this very simply: you never have to be perfect to be impactful. Every little step toward reducing waste matters and is significant.
#3. Reduce your consumption of meat, and replace it with plant-based proteins.
This article is too short to cover the extensive reasons that meat consumption affects the environment. However, according to a report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg school of Public Health, animal agriculture accounts for 18 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. The overflowing lagoons of animal waste from factory farms accounts for even more greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to the poisoning of well water, rivers, lakes and is a significant contributing factor behind the large “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.
Speaking of water, it takes nearly 420 gallons of water to produce one pound of grain-fed broiler chicken. The majority of meat consumed in the United States comes from animals raised in highly concentrated, totally unnatural industrial factory farms. Such extreme numbers of animals confined together encourages the growth of super microbes because the meat industry is the largest user of antibiotics both for disease prevention and growth promotion. (That’s right, antibiotics make animals get bigger faster.)4 Life-threatening bacteria are becoming more drug resistant because of the liberal use by the meat industry4. Many of these animals are fed cheap corn, which is genetically modified to resist spraying with glyphosate, a herbicide that has years of research showing its detrimental effects on human health and the environment. According to Robert P. Martin, executive director of Pew Commission on Farm Animal Production, “The present system of producing food animals presents an unacceptable level of risk to public health and damage to the environment.”4
Instead of just cutting out meat, replace it with plant-based proteins. Many plant foods have protein, such as beans, peas, lentils, seeds, nuts, soy, whole grains, oats and, of course, vegetables. Some dancers might be concerned that a lack of protein from animal products might make them deficient somehow. This fear is unfounded, and dancers can rest assured that eating a diverse diet that includes many different plants and plant-based proteins such as the ones above will supply plenty of amino acids for the demands of professional level dance. Along those same lines of reducing consumption of animal products, check out the new vegan ballet shoes from Só Dança.
“The basic choice of foods has a huge impact on the environment. Replacing red meat with almost anything will improve diet and the environment,” says Dr. Walter Willett, Chair of the Nutrition Department at Harvard School of Public Health6.
By Emily C. Harrison MS, RDN, LD of Dance Informa.
3. The Ocean Conservancy: oceanconservancy.org/trash-free-seas/plastics-in-the-ocean
4. Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America. A Report of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 2010.
6. Harvard Gazette 2013.