Agriculture & Climate Change

What are the Most Important Environmental Impacts of Modern-Day Agriculture?

The tropical rainforests are a treasure trove of biodiversity, providing a home for over 50 percent of the world’s land-based wildlife.. (Photo Credit)

Rainforests in the Amazon are being burned down to make room for soybeans and cattle.. (Photo Credit)

Approximately 80 percent of global deforestation is a result of agricultural production.. (Photo Credit)

Agriculture and Climate Change

It was discussed in the section, “What is Deforestation?“, that according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a majority of tropical deforestation occurring today can be traced primarily to four commodities;- namely, wood products (referring to the timber industry), palm oil, soybeans, and cattle ranching.

And that although the rainforests cover less than 2 percent of Earth’s surface, they house an astonishing 50 percent or more of all land-based life!

This loss of forest due to these agricultural commodities creates a devastating impact on the diversity of life that call the rainforest home!

But forests also play a critical role in preventing climate change because they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Scrubbing the atmosphere of harmful carbon dioxide, forests have been described as the lungs of our planet, and literally provide us with the air we need to breath.

Greenhouse Gases and Carbon Sequestration.

The reason why trees are referred to as the ‘lungs of our planet’, is because living trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow, mitigating and partially offsetting the greenhouse gases created by human activities.

The scientific name for this is “carbon sequestration,” and it is defined as the capture and storage of excess carbon dioxide.

Similarly, scientists refer to our forests as “carbon sinks” because of this important feature.

And of all the forests in the world, the tropical trees are considered the most important because they provide the largest share of the climate mitigation that we need to save our planet.

Tropical trees provide the largest share of the climate mitigation that we need to save our planet. This photo is a Cloud Forest in Central Africa.. (Photo Credit)

Carbon from Burning Trees

But besides the removal of trees to meet the demands of agriculture, there are additional impacts resulting from modern-day agriculture.

One of these is the impact of burning trees down. Because unfortunately, the process of burning trees down releases harmful carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

When forest land is cleared by controlled burning, the flames and smoke from the burning trees release all of the carbon back into the atmosphere that has been stored inside the trees for their entire lives.

This smoke and carbon dioxide both pollutes the atmosphere, and damages the future health of our climate at the same time!

Animal Agriculture and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Another of the ‘additional impacts’ resulting from modern-day agriculture is something that results directly from animal agriculture.

Yes, trees are commonly removed to create pastureland for cattle to graze.

But in addition to the deforestation that results from pastureland, the processes surrounding animal agriculture sector constitute a constellation of additional things that all work together to make animal agriculture a primary contributor of green house gas emissions.

These processes include the production of feed crops for animals, (don’t forget the cultivation of soy as a feed crop is an important factor in deforestation), the manufacturing of fertilizer, as well as the shipment of meat, eggs, and milk, as well as the methane emissions resulting directly from the cows themselves from their bodily emissions,- (meaning farts and poop in large amounts!).

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as NASA, and The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, all implicate animal agriculture as a major contributor of green house gas emissions.

Were you aware that, in addition to choosing our means of transportation, and choosing how to design our factories, even our personal food choices are implicated in the global warming equation?!

The popularity of palm oil has spurred people to clear tropical rainforests to grow palm trees. A Palm Plantation in Malaysia.. (Photo Credit)

Brazil has become the largest exporter of beef in the world, spurring rampant deforestation in the Amazon region for cattle grazing.. (Photo Credit)

The cultivation of soybeans is a major driver of deforestation in the Amazon, where soybeans are grown to feed livestock.. (Photo Credit)


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