'The Climate Diet' Shows How to Shrink Your Carbon Footprint

Paul Greenberg's new book will guide you from inaction to purposefulness.

Book cover and a pretty forest

 Penguin / Yulia-Images / Getty Images

Paul Greenberg wants Americans to go on a climate diet. By that, he means most people in the United States need to make changes to their lifestyles that would curb their carbon emissions. Right now Americans rank worst in the world, emitting around 16 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per person every year, while the United Nations recommends a per capita target of just over three tons. 

While many of the tips will be familiar to people already striving to live a less impactful life, Greenberg offers some suggestions that do feel novel and intriguing. For example, he sings the praises of bivalves (clams, mussels, oysters) as a sustainable seafood option. Because they require no feed, subsist on algae, and clean water as they grow, they cost only 0.6 kg of CO2 to produce — better even than lentils, which come in at 0.9 kg of CO2! 

This advice may rankle vegetarians and vegans who would like to see meat consumption go away altogether, but as Greenberg explains, his approach could be called "climatarian." It is "an emphasis on the most realistic food changes that could be taken up by the largest number of people to lop the greatest possible chunk off American emissions." (This has also been referred to as reducetarianism.)


As for staying home, Greenberg suggests putting an effort into making your house a more welcoming space, rather than spending it on carbon-wasteful travel. There's the usual advice about making your house more energy-efficient, rethinking transportation, making clothes last, as well as a radical suggestion to convert lawns to forests. "Just half an acre of lawn converted to forest and allowed to grow to maturity will sequester more CO2 than a car emits in a year," he writes.

One of the book's lengthiest recommendations is to buy an electric car if you must drive. This, Greenberg argues, contributes to bolstering renewable energy because electric vehicles help resolve the issue of how to store surplus wind and solar power that's being generated at times when most people cannot use it (at noon and nighttime). This concept is known to EV geeks as vehicle-to-grid or V2G.


In the final section, the book urges people to reach out to local politicians to take action on climate change, but it's important to avoid broad, overarching demands. Greenberg writes: "Politicians are much more likely to respond to calls to action that can be accomplished within their given scope of authority and that are relevant to the people who voted them into office." Personal stories and in-person interactions go a long way toward influencing lawmakers.

The book may be brief, but it's solid, practical, educational, and motivating. It stays true to the goal Greenberg professes in the introduction — "to help you get from wherever you are right now to a better place in the future." It takes a formidable, looming crisis and breaks it down into manageable chunks that infuse the reader with a sense of hopefulness. There's profound satisfaction in doing something, rather than nothing. 

"The Climate Diet" was published in April 2021. You can order it here.

Katherine Martinko, April 2021