Estimating Carbon Footprint : A quantitative analysis of greenhouse gas emission related to human behavior and diet in Västerbotten.

University essay from Umeå universitet/Epidemiologi och global hälsa


Background and objective: Researchers have been looking for a way to predict future emission rates, and come up with explanations on how to tackle the issue of global warming through changes in individual behavior for decades. The focus of these studies have, on the other hand, focused more on nutritional bases rather than cultural. This study’s objective is to provide a method, as a useful tool in further analysis on GHG-emission based on cultural behavioral factors such as socio-economic status as well as age, sex, etc. with diet as emission prediction factor. This could be a stepping stone toward future research on Co2e related to e.g. physiological factors such as BMI, blood pressure and diseases.

Method: With the use of data obtained from the FFQ questionnaire within the VIP-program, combined with estimates of greenhouse gas-emission (Co2e) attributed to specific diets obtained from Röös, estimations of individual Co2e emission-levels were calculated using the software “R”. The dataset contained 159 687 observations and 152 different variables. The data was obtained from the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine at Umeå University. Portions sizes were mainly collected from the Swedish Food Composition Database. Box-plots and regression analysis were made to illustrate the main findings.

Result: The result was a new dataset that could be applied to any population to estimate Co2e-emission on individual level based on an FFQ, given that the FFQ have the same structure as the one in the VIP. The variables that contributed to the highest amount of Co2e were animal products i.e. butter, milk and meat. Chicken, pork and fish were not nearly as Co2e heavy as the meat products containing beef such as “steak”, “minced meat” and “hamburgers”. The regression analysis showed that higher age had a positive effect on reducing emission, as well as being a woman. Education showed an increase in Co2e for higher education. There were some small differences among municipalities. Marital status gave a slight decrease in the regression, meaning married couples emits more than singles. Exercise showed an increase in Co2e for active individuals in the regression analysis. However, the most noticeable result were sex, yielding a relatively big decrease in Co2e-emission for women compared to men.

Conclusion: People at younger ages, within the observed age groups 40-60, seemed to reduce their carbon footprint more in relation to the higher age groups over the last 20 years. Overall, the general diet-based carbon footprint in Västerbotten seems to have increased slightly during the last 17 years. A remarkable dip were noticed in 2003, however this might not have been due to any behavioral changes, since the trend broke in 2006 and instantly receded back to the normal levels. This study confirms the fact that meat and dairy products are responsible for a significant amount of the diet-based emission. This topic needs to be studied more, and with this method of applying GHG-emission measures to individual diet-based data, a gate has been opened for a new field of research.

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