The last thirty years were likely the warmest 30-year period over the last 1400 years in the Northern Hemisphere, according to the most recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Sea levels are rising. The amounts of snow and ice on the planet are slowly disappearing, which is reducing global freshwater supply. The atmosphere and oceans are warming.
Whenever we think about how to prevent climate change, the first things that comes to mind are… driving less. Turning down the AC. Using less energy. Buying organic?
What? Yes. Conventional farming not only produces tomatoes that provide as much flavor as the plastic packaging it comes in, but it is also extremely harmful to our environment.
Fertilizer runoff wreaks havoc on surrounding ecosystems, overwhelming lakes and rivers, and creating vast “dead zones” in the process. Of even greater concern, the very fertilizers that have allowed us to create more food than we would have ever thought possible are also poisoning the atmosphere with harmful greenhouse gases.
The Rodale Institute estimates that agriculture is responsible for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, making agriculture as emission intensive as electricity production, and more intensive than both transportation and industry.
How can it possibly be that nearly a third of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the food that we need to live?
First, it’s how much fertilizer we use. When we grow an obscene amount of food on a small piece of land, the crops naturally suck up all of the essential nutrients from the soil. Luckily for farmers, chemically synthesized fertilizers provide a quick and easy fix to soils sapped of all their nutrients. By adding extra nitrogen into the soil, fertilizers also contribute to extra nitrous oxide (N2O) production, a potent greenhouse gas.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 79% of N2O emissions are due to agricultural soil management. This is particularly dangerous as the impact of one pound of nitrous oxide on warming the atmosphere is 300 times more potent than one pound of carbon dioxide.
This does not even take into account the harmful agricultural practices used to till the soil. In conventional farming, a tractor or other huge plowing machine will tear up the soil in order to remove weeds, mix in fertilizers, and more efficiently plant new seeds.
Not only do intensive tilling practices create erosion problems, but they also greatly reduce soil carbon stocks. When farmers rip up the soil with machines, lots of carbon previously trapped in that soil gets released.
But what if I told you… a huge amount of carbon can be sucked out of the atmosphere, just by applying compost or crop residue to the ground.
Well it can.
Plants need CO2 to grow, right? So that means they suck carbon out of the atmosphere and use it to make themselves big and strong. If we then apply these plants to soil as fertilizer, a good percentage of the carbon stored within the plants will be absorbed by the soil.
Indeed, the Rodale Institute estimated that if all current cropland shifted to this kind of regenerative agricultural model, we could potentially sequester more than 40% of the annual CO2 emissions caused by agriculture.
Climate change is scary. It is easier to just hop back into our cars, crank the AC, and drive with our eyes closed until we crash. As fun as that sounds, I think it is time to open our eyes and look around at all the possibilities. We might just realize the future really is not as grim as everyone makes it out to be.
We, as consumers, dictate what the market will give us. If we want cheap, tasteless, mass-produced food, that is exactly what the market will give us. But, if we want full-bodied, delicious vegetables grown using regenerative agricultural models, all we need to do is create the demand for it.
So buy from your local farmers. Buy organic. By making a small lifestyle choice, you can change the way our food is produced. This will make our food taste better, and also have a huge impact on reducing the effects of our food chain on global warming.
Originally published on UCapture.