Driving along the NYS Thruway, we were disappointed with the newly renovated rest areas. We were hoping to catch a glimpse into the future of automobile transit through New York State with innovations that would promote safety through driver rest and rejuvenation, while promoting the sustainability of automobile travel for generations to come.
We believe that there was a missed opportunity to cultivate positive environmental changes while simultaneously promoting the health of those traveling through our state by encouraging a plant-based diet.
While New York State has chosen to eliminate the use of plastic bags, such a change makes a relatively small impact to the environment when compared to the other sources of carbon emissions. While well-intentioned and somewhat beneficial, such minor efforts can deter us from implementing high-impact changes that can better promote the long-term solvency of the planet.
The carbon footprint of animal agriculture is arguably much greater than that of plastic bags. Although electric-car charging stations being developed are an important step towards counteracting climate change, drivers will spend more time at rest areas than ever before.
Encouraging environmentally friendly options for food during this time should be part of a comprehensive strategy to combat climate change. The agricultural infrastructure accounts for 20-30% of greenhouse gas emissions – largely as a result of animal production and factory farming, and meeting international goals established in the Paris Agreement requires decarbonization through a substantial reduction in the consumption of animal products worldwide.
The EAT-Lancet Commission, a scientific group that focuses on healthy and eco-friendly food systems, published a comprehensive report on the sustainability of producing food for a population of 10 billion people to allow long-term solvency for the planet.
The commission emphasizes a diet primarily composed of grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts. The authors of the EAT-Lancet Commission acknowledge that recommended shifts in food production and consumption is “nothing less than a Great Food Transformation” involving “widespread action, in multiple sectors and on multiple levels: a substantial global shift toward healthy dietary patterns, large reductions in food loss and waste, and major improvements in food production practices.”
Thaler and Sunstein, in their book “Nudge: The Final Edition,” describe how well designed “nudges” can be used to help people make decisions that are better for themselves in the long run, and setting a default choice will encourage a particular choice over another. Just as drivers are “nudged” to stop directly on the Thruway, rather than taking an exit, the presented options will make an impact on what people actually consume while still preserving freedom of choice.
We missed a valuable opportunity to further reduce the carbon footprint of travel while showcasing the extent to which we care deeply about individual and planetary health.
Varun Kumar Chowdhry, MD is a clinical assistant professor, Department of Radiation Oncology at the University at Buffalo; Shilpa Mukunda Chowdhry, MD is a fellow in palliative medicine in the Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at the University at Buffalo.
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