Agriculture & Climate Change

Agriculture and Climate Change

Photo credit: Treefrog

Burning Forest

Cows Grazing

The Equation consists of Trees, Carbon, & Methane.

In the previous section we discussed how agriculture contributes to a loss of trees, and we discussed some of the most significant drivers of deforestation, such as the production of soy beans, palm oil, and cattle ranching.

This loss of trees causes a number of significant environmental impacts, such as soil erosion, loss of habitat, and a loss of biodiversity.

Mismanaged agriculture can also result in a significant amount of water pollution. Such pollution can occur with the run-off of animal waste, pesticides, and fertilizers, that make their way down creeks, streams, and rivers, only to ultimately create aquatic ‘dead zones’ along the coast.

But most importantly of all, in addition to these direct multiple agricultural impacts on the environment, the loss of trees has a significant impact on the global warming and climate change equation.

Greenhouse Gases and Carbon Sequestration.

You might be asking,- how does deforestation, and the loss of trees, contribute to global warming? The answer is that living trees absorb carbon dioxide, mitigating and partially offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions produced by our burning of fossil fuels.

Scientists refer to this process as “carbon sequestration,” and it is defined as the capture and storage of excess carbon dioxide. Since trees play an important role in carbon sequestration, we refer to our forests as “carbon sinks” because of their function of removing and storing harmful carbon dioxide. Of all trees around the world, tropical trees alone are estimated to provide a large share of the climate mitigation that’s needed to offset climate change.

Photo Credit: Cloud Forest in Central Africa

Palm Plantation in Malaysia

Deforestation in Amazon

Soy Field

Burning Trees and the Release of Carbon.

But the process of removing trees to create farmland, whether it is for growing crops, or for grazing cattle, not only removes the vegetation we need to offset climate change, it actually contributes greenhouse gases to the environment.

This can happen because sometimes instead of being clear-cut, forest land is may be cleared by controlled burning. During the process of burning, the flames and smoke from the burning trees release all of the carbon that has been stored inside the trees for all of the years that they’ve been growing.

As a result of this combination of reasons above, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations tells us that deforestation is the world’s second-overall leading cause of climate change.

Animal Agriculture and Additional Greenhouse Gases.

In addition to deforestation, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the animal agriculture sector, (which includes the production of feed crops for animals, the manufacturing of fertilizer, as well as the shipment of meat, eggs, and milk), is itself a primary contributor of green house gas emissions.

These green house gas emissions come from a broad spectrum of sources relating to the animal agriculture, including methane emissions directly from the livestock, carbon emissions resulting from their transport, as well as the emissions from the decay of their organic waste. (This ‘organic waste’ includes the manure used as fertilizer.)

By contributing these green house gases from a broad array of sources, animal agriculture is literally choking the life out of our planet. And the longer we ignore it, the deeper in we get, and the more we limit our ability to protect our health and save our environment. Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates a significant percentage of global greenhouse gas emissions, and is a major contributing factor to global warming.

Photo Credit: Cattle Ranching in Amazon

Brown and White Hereford Cow

Next up: Global Habitat Destruction and Ways That You Can Make a Difference!