Climate Change, Conservation, Sustainability

Sustainable Agriculture vs. Climate Change

A green sprout in natural soil
Regenerative organic agriculture could alleviate–or even reverse–the effects of climate change.
Image: Shutterstock

Could the way we grow food actually help minimize the impact of climate change? Science not only says yes—it suggests conscientious agriculture could reverse the effects of climate change as well.

The global system of growing food, including land-use, feed, fertilizer, transportation, refrigeration, processing, and waste—is responsible for an estimated 30-50% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions have been increasing by about 1% per year—a major problem for the environment.

The key may very well be organic growing practices, or regenerative agriculture. Rodale Institute’s white paper “Regenerative Agriculture and Climate Change” states that “recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100 percent of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices.” These practices involve maximizing carbon fixation—keeping the soil healthy by maintaining CO2 levels, in other words. Healthy soil can retain large quantities of water, prevent erosion, and help plants become more tolerant of extreme weather. Organic agriculture of this sort also uses 30-50% less fossil fuel than more industrial farms.

And regenerative organic agriculture isn’t anything new: humans have farmed in this way for generations, with proven results. The only new thing is the scientific validation that these practices can significantly impact the effect of climate change. Some of these studies are composed of more than thirty years of data, and new studies, such as the Tropical Farming Systems Trial (TFST) in Costa Rica, are bringing in thought-provoking results all the time.

While the ultimate goal should perhaps be decarbonizing the economy, there’s little chance of that occurring before an unacceptable level of warming gets locked in. That’s why interim steps such as working toward conscientious regenerative organic agriculture could make all the difference in minimizing climate change in the future.

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