Reversing the Nitrogen crisis – role of plant-based diets and sustainable farming
Two environmental experts, Dr Harry Aiking (IVM, VU Amsterdam) and Prof Jan Willem Erisman (Leiden University), summarized the literature explaining the impact of the Nitrogen crisis on our climate and other environmental issues but also on our health. Emphasizing the potential role of changing dietary patterns and sustainable farming.
06/04/2021 | 10:14 AM
With climate change now firmly on the political agenda of many countries, the Netherlands is adding another issue to its agenda: the nitrogen crisis. While reactive nitrogen is naturally present at low levels and essential to life, human activities have caused a surplus in reactive Nitrogen, negatively impacting water quality, air quality, soil degradation, climate change, stratospheric ozone and causing significant loss of biodiversity.
The biggest contributor to this surplus in reactive Nitrogen is the agriculture needed to support our current dietary habits, which are highly focused on animal protein. Currently, more than 50% of the population is fed thanks to synthetic nitrogen fertilizers.
There are two ways we, as individuals, can positively impact (reduce) the reactive Nitrogen levels in our environment: (1) through our food choices (choosing plant protein over animal protein) and (2) through reducing food waste (both discarded food and overconsumption).
Such a transition would not only help reduce reactive Nitrogen levels, but would also benefit our health and reduce climate change and biodiversity loss. Other solutions should be implemented mainly at the governmental level to support sustainable agriculture and food production (improve N use efficiency).
The nitrogen crisis is as important as the carbon crisis. Moreover, it embraces both climate change and biodiversity loss. Importantly, a dietary transition from animal to plant proteins will have a beneficial impact on both.
In addition, it will reduce the use of valuable resources, such as freshwater and land use and, last but not least, it will benefit human health! Together with the change in diet, we also need improved sustainable food production through agricultural and technological changes within the limits of the environment, and reduced food waste across the food chain from production to consumption. There is an urgent need to establish the required sense of urgency, especially among governments worldwide regarding the nitrogen crisis and prevention of environmental pollution and biodiversity loss.
Read all about it in this expert opinion.