October 17, 2014
By Jason Anderson, Head of European Climate and Energy Policy at WWF European Policy Office
Earlier this year I got a blood clot while flying home from a climate meeting in Peru, demonstrating God’s firm approach to high carbon footprint activists. A month later I tore an Achilles tendon while running on vacation abroad, leading me to believe that She’s pretty serious about a zero-tolerance policy.
The upshot is that I was practically living in my doctor’s office for a while so he gave me the bulk discount on blood tests, including a cholesterol check. This returned a surprisingly high level for someone who considers wheat germ a genuine food product and not construction material, but upon closer inspection there was room for improvement. I went hardcore, cutting out the bad stuff entirely and pulling every trick out of the bag: olive oil, walnuts, sardines, dark chocolate, avocados, psyllium husks, goji berries, chia seeds, tofu, linseeds, soy milk, agave syrup. My homemade granola had more trends jostling for attention than a storefront in Kreuzberg.
Within six weeks my cholesterol fell by 25% and my triglycerides fell by 50%, which I think means I can’t enter warp drive anymore but I’m no engineer. And rather than provoking painful croissant withdrawal symptoms, the whole episode has given me an excuse to let my inner control freak have something more constructive to do than a crusade against split infinitives in WWF position papers. All in all, pretty successful.
But what, you may ask, is this little personal episode doing in a climate and energy blog?
It just so happens that changing diets is a pretty big deal when it comes to combatting climate change. WWF’s Energy Report calculated that meat consumption would have to be cut by half in rich countries if we want to want to achieve the multiple land-use goals of food, fuel, fibre and ecosystem health in a deeply decarbonised world. And our Livewell project has issued a series of recommendations about European diets that would have the dual benefit of better health and reduced carbon emissions in the food supply chain.
So it was with some curiosity that I noticed a billboard advertisement last week for the new Coke ‘life’, which comes in a green can. Why green? It contains stevia, a sweetener derived from a plant that for many years has had a flavour that is to sugar what turpentine is to Chateau La Tour. Coke is trying to do two things here – compete for the burgeoning grown-up ‘natural’ soda market, and react to obesity concerns linked to high-calorie junk food. But maybe their new product can earn some other green cred. Stevia manufacturer Pure Circle has done an interesting footprint analysis of their product, comparing it to a range of traditional sugars. They claim stevia’s CO2 emissions are 82% lower than beet sugar and 64% lower than cane sugar, when used in a soda.
Moreover, because stevia is so sweet, not much is needed. The lower volume means less land under cultivation – about 5 times less compared to sugar cane according to the industry. This offers at least the prospect of reducing land conflicts. And unless there’s some brand of chemistry I’m not aware of, stevia isn’t likely to be made into ethanol, but the sugar we’re no longer drinking could be.
So, next time I pass a green coke can in the market will I add it to my list of diet foods? I don’t think so….that honour belongs to tap water. Which I understand is all the rage these days in Vesterbro.