Agriculture & Climate Change

Agriculture and Climate Change

Trees, Carbon, & Methane.

In the previous section we discussed how agriculture contributes to a loss of trees, and how scientists believe that the most significant drivers of deforestation are soy beans, palm oil, and cattle ranching. As a result of this loss of trees there are also significant environmental impacts on things like soil erosion, loss of habitat, and loss of biodiversity. We also know that additionally, mismanaged agriculture can also cause a significant amount of water pollution, resulting from the run-off of animal waste, pesticides, and fertilizers, that create aquatic dead zones’ along the coast. But perhaps most importantly of all, in addition to these direct agricultural impacts on the environment, the loss of trees has a significant impact on global warming and climate change.

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 burning 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 they remove and store 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.

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 to it. This is because sometimes instead of being clear-cut, forest land is sometimes cleared by controlled burning. During this process, the act of clearing forests by burning them actually has the opposite effect of storing carbon,- by releasing stored carbon. That’s right,- the smoke from burning trees contains 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, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations tells us that deforestation is the world’s second-overall leading cause of climate change.

In addition to the deforestation that is occurring from agriculture, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the animal agriculture sector itself, which includes the production of feed crops for animals, the manufacturing of fertilizer, as well as the shipment of meat, eggs, and milk, is 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, which includes the manure employed 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.

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