There is no doubt that environmental and political narratives around climate change and agriculture are going to be considered seriously in 2020. As I write in FoodWISE,
One of the biggest threats to agricultural webs is climate change. Current patterns of food production will change around the world as seasonal temperatures and rainfall change, and increasingly food may be hauled from farther away. The greenhouse gases that agriculture produces are a big concern. Food production is one of the top sources of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide that contribute to the increase in global temperatures currently threatening our planet. It is easy to see some of the reasons for why this is so: Larger livestock feedlots concentrating even greater amounts of methane emissions and transporting food (long-distance transport of foods but also short-distance transport from supermarkets to your home refrigerators) produces carbon emissions.
How much impact and from what are the questions.
Groups are investigating—from the Potsdam Institute: Climate Impact Research to organizations closer to my home: Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center (which includes one of my colleagues, John Rybczyk, in its leadership). But also, individuals: Jill MacIntyre Witt (Climate Justice Field Manual).
What is ag’s role (from FoodWISE)?
Besides the carbon dioxide that livestock respire, a lot of methane—an even more powerful heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide—is released from the mind-boggling amounts of manure produced in livestock operations. Another very potent greenhouse gas—nitrous oxide—is increasingly released into the atmosphere by the action of soil microbes processing nitrogen from vast amounts of synthetic fertilizers used in farming globally, and also from stored manure. And, importantly, much of the vast areas of carbon-storing forests that are clear-cut worldwide—in the Amazon, in Malaysia, in West Africa—are for food: soybeans, cattle, sugarcane, and palm oil.
Is scale to blame, as I infer in the book (see Not a factory farmer! for a counter). Scale of production, of processing, of trade and export?
I am still convinced that WISE is the best mantra—Whole farming systems, Informed consumers, Sustainable land, crop, and livestock practices, and Experience. I’m quite sure that large-scale forest conversion is not part of the WISE equation—but will continue to be closely studied by researchers around the world.
Building the movement