We’ve all felt it; the dog days are expanding their territory, lasting longer and showing their teeth more often.
According to NOAA, eight of the ten warmest years on record have occurred within the past decade. 2016 was the warmest year in the history of instrumental observation, and 2017 was the warmest year without an El Niño influence.
If the current greenhouse gas emissions rates persist, it will result in the continuation of the global temperature increase.
The Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C will require transformational challenges – especially in land use and farming. It is unattainable with our current practices,
On August 8th,the UN Climate released its special report on Climate Change and Land Use. It held dire warnings; unless we change the way we eat and farm, we are all in for a bit of trouble.
The warming planet affects farmers and our food supply.
The report stressed that our entire food system is highly vulnerable to the pressures of climate change.
Climate change is modifying the water cycles and altering precipitation patterns and seasons.
Dry areas are becoming dryer, and wet areas are becoming wetter. The risks of spring flooding and summer drought will only increase.
The shifts in weather patterns and extreme events, such as heatwaves and droughts, will increase crop failures.
Rising temperatures and soil degradation will diminish crop yields rather than enhance them.
The degradation of land and soils will decrease yields.
Loss of pollinator species due to the overuse of agrochemicals will impact crops that are vital to human nutrition.
All will result in greater risk to human health and survival.
It went on to say that “Modern society is living in the most chemical-intensive era in human history. The pace of new chemical production is surpassing our capacity to fully assess the potential adverse impacts on human health and ecosystems.”
The food system is increasing pressures on ecosystems and the climate.
The authors said that “Farming is the most expensive human activity in the world.”
About 50% of the globe’s vegetated land is dedicated to agriculture — and about 30% of that cropland is used to grow grain for animal feed. Given how much land it takes to grow food to feed livestock, meat production is a leading cause of deforestation.
The environmental footprint of the global food system is immense. It accounts for about 25% of global greenhouse gas in missions.
Flows of nitrogen and phosphorus into the biosphere and oceans already exceed globally sustainable levels.
Agriculture is the main driver of biodiversity loss and a major polluter of our air, freshwater and seawater, especially in farming systems that heavily use or poorly manage chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Agriculture is the leading source of soil degradation, a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and the principal user of fresh water.
What is needed is a major reevaluation of land use and agriculture worldwide as well as changes in consumer behavior.
Climate change, natural resource constraints and demographic trends suggest that the challenge of producing and distributing nourishing and sustainable food will necessitate significant changes in food production and consumption.
Today our food system produces more than enough to feed the world’s population adequately– but it does not distribute it well.
Over 800 million people are undernourished, and more than 2 billion to suffer from nutrient deficiencies. On the flip side, 2.3 billion people, about one-third of the human population, are overweight.
Yet the global food system is estimated to convert only 38% of harvested energy and 20% of harvested protein into food after accounting for losses from food waste and human overconsumption.
Environmental pressures from the global food system cannot be sustained if we are to feed the projected population of 2050.
The global crop demand forecast is expected to increase by 110%. Therefore, the current trajectories of agricultural omissions are incompatible with the 1.5°C goal.
On a global basis, humans must consume lower levels of animal products and higher levels of fruits, vegetables, pulses, whole grains and nuts to meet environmental and nutritional goals.
Why the report should have called out organic agriculture as a solution
Organic regulations state that “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.
The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.”
Organic farmers do not use chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Organic production does not contribute to the flows of nitrogen and phosphorus polluting oceans and streams.
The regulations state that “methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water.”
Studies show that organic soils sequester more carbon, taking it out of the atmosphere, locking it deep within. Organic agriculture can be part of the climate change solution while feeding the growing population.
Pollinators are protected, biological diversity is enhanced, and soils are renewed.
The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.
Doesn’t that seem like the best solution to our food system and land use dilemma?