How a 1% Surcharge on Restaurant Bills Can Help Fight Climate Change

Public Domain. MaxPixel

It's a curious reversal of the farm-to-table movement.

Restaurants in California are banding together to fight climate change in an interesting way. Concerned eateries can sign on to the Restore California Renewable Restaurant program, which pledges to add a 1% surcharge to diners' bills and then use the money to incentive farmers to implement more carbon-friendly food production practices. Farmers receive $10 per ton of carbon removed from the atmosphere.

The money, which is distributed to farmers by the California Air Resources Board, is spent on "implementing carbon plans on farms and ranches across California." This means transitioning from conventional farming practices such as monoculture crops, chemical fertilizers, leaving bare ground exposed, and heavy plowing, to renewable practices that include minimal soil disturbance, cover-cropping, crop rotation, adding compost, and planting perennial crops/trees.

These changes will draw down tons of greenhouse gases each year, rebuilding the healthy soil carbon that has been depleted over years of unsustainable agricultural practices. It has the added benefit of "improving flavor, resilience, nutrient density, and drought tolerance" – in other words, creating better, healthier, tastier food for diners to enjoy. It has been estimated by the Perennial Farming Initiative that a mere 2 percent increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils "could offset all greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere."

From The Guardian,

"While diners have been interested in local farm-to-table options for years, the initiative expects that climate-friendly meals will be the next big trend. They point out that if 1% of California’s nearly 100,000 restaurants were to successfully adopt the new climate change surcharge, they would raise $10 million a year."

The surcharge is voluntary, which means that diners can opt out, but as more people look for ways to make a difference in the fight to protect the environment, it seems likely to catch on.