Andrew Kimball expresses the belief that changes in agricultural practices could reverse climate change.
World leaders who met last month at the United Nations climate summit took stock of the sobering reality that a global pact on climate change very likely will not be achieved in Copenhagen this December… However, there is a solution being overlooked in climate negotiations that could result in rapid greenhouse gas reductions with comparatively low financial investment and little technology transfer — a transition toward ecological, organic agriculture.
“At least 60 percent of all nitrous oxide (NO2) emissions, the most potent greenhouse gas, are caused by industrial agriculture, primarily from the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Nearly 40 percent of methane (CH4), the second strongest greenhouse gas, is due to industrial farming practices, much of this from intensive industrialized livestock operations.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) conservatively tells us that industrial agriculture methods contribute at least 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Many scientists say this figure could as high as 25-30 percent of emissions when the total energy backpack of the current food system is taken into account. Some greenhouse emissions related to agriculture are embedded in other sectors cited by the IPCC — forestry, transportation, and industry. These areas include inputs such as the use of fossil fuels to produce chemical fertilizers and pesticides; processing, packaging, refrigeration, and transport of food; and land conversion from biodiverse ecosystems to giant, monoculture food plantations.
The HuffPo contributor opines neither international nor U.S. domestic policies are adequately addressing the issue that industrial agriculture is one of the major contributors to global warming. From the standpoint of U.S. federal policy, this comes as no big surprise given the influence that Big Farm has on our ear tagged policy makers.
Still some change might yet occur. The Kerry – Boxer bill (S.1733) includes language that begins to address harmful emissions caused by current agricultural practices.
Critical policy decisions not only need to be made about GHG emissions from agricultural practices, but as this blog has noted, we also need to consider changes in agricultural practices to protect our valuable water resources.
Specifically, policy needs to put into place that restrict pollution from feedstock operations. And, such a change actually could be profitable. AG readers should be familiar with ways to convert waste to energy. For instance, a NRDC report (National Resources Defense Council) found unprecedented biogas opportunity for Indiana.
Note: The report also mentioned biopower. As a proponent of anaerobic digesters, this blog tends to favor co-digestion of waste biomass There is considerable potential for such development in agricultural states, especially those states leading in factory farms.
We need to shift away from energy-intensive and toward bio-intensive practices. Debbie Barker, international program director of the Washington, D.C. based not-for-profit Center for Food Safety, says that “we need large-scale change in the way we grow our food.”
The way forward, the great U turn, is to transition toward regenerative, living carbon systems and away from non-renewable, dead fossil-carbon systems. A rapid, global transition is an imperative both for mitigating climate change and for ensuring food security.
Given that industrial agriculture methods are a major part of the global warming problem, why not turn agriculture around to make it a major climate solution? …A Rodale Institute study projects that the planet’s 3.5 billion tillable acres could sequester nearly 40 percent of current CO2 emissions if they were converted to “regenerative” organic agriculture practices. The same 10-year study submits that if U.S. cropland (based on 434 million acres) were converted to organic farming methods, we could reduce nearly 25 percent of our total GHG emissions.
Many studies have drawn similar conclusions. In India, organic farming research shows increases in carbon absorption by up to 55 percent (even higher when agro-forestry is added into the mix), and water holding capacity is increased by 10 percent. A study of 20 commercial farms in California found that organic fields had 28 percent more carbon in the soil than industrial farms.
The environmental problem of climate change that industrial agriculture is now causing will guarantee that we simply won’t be able to feed a hungry world. And, contrary to general belief and prejudice fostered by agribusiness, industrial crops do not consistently yield more food. In fact, it is a pernicious myth that ecological organic agriculture yields less than conventional agriculture. A comprehensive study of 293 crop comparisons of industrial and organic agriculture demonstrated that organic farm yields are roughly comparable to industrial farm yields in developed countries; and result in much higher yields in developing nations.
The World Bank and United Nations International Assessment on Knowledge, Science and Technology concluded that fundamental overhaul of the current food and farming system is needed to get us out of the food (and fuel) crisis, and that small-scale farmers and agro-ecological methods are the way toward food security. Further, numerous studies unequivocally state that our survival depends on the resiliency and biodiversity of organic farm systems free of fossil fuels and chemical dependency.
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