by Kirk T. Schroder, Ellwood Thompson's Food Advocate
Climate change has been a hot topic of debate over the past two decades. For many, climate change is often equated with higher temperatures, intensifying weather patterns, and sea levels rising. Rarely do those outside of the scientific community consider the impact that climate change can have on the global food supply. However, a recent report appears to indicate that climate change already has, and will continue, to affect food supplies and food prices unless carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are reduced.
The Special Report on Climate Change and Land, conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), recently warned that a global food crisis lies on the horizon if carbon emissions continue to go unchecked. Key among the findings was that rising global temperatures have affected the nutritional values of crops and have the potential to significantly reduce crop yields. The study also addressed extreme weather events in recent years contributing food price spikes resulting from those reduced crop yields. For example, intense flooding in the U.S Midwest, drought in Southeast Asia, and record-breaking heat waves in Europe have had increasingly negative effects on crop yields in 2019. The major factor in these developments appear to be linked directly to CO2 emissions.
The report itself is a comprehensive evaluation of how climate directly impacts land around the globe. And while the findings create serious cause for concern, it also presents solutions to the emerging problems faced by food producers in high-risk areas. For one, the report calls for a transformation from industrial agriculture to more sustainable land management by adopting practices common in organic and agroecological farming (an endeavor that is easier said than done). Doing so would significantly reduce CO2 emissions, as industrial agriculture currently accounts for approximately one-third of the total carbon emissions worldwide.
This is in stark contrast to our current food supply which is largely based on industrial and so-called “factory farming”. So much so, that many have called upon world governments to control factory farming. For example, according to the Pulitzer Prize winning non-profit organization "Inside Climate News", the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that agriculture, including livestock production, is responsible for 9 percent of overall greenhouse gas emissions while the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) gives a higher global number at about 14.5 percent of all human-caused emissions, or about 7.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide or its warming equivalent.
Most of the criticism is based around Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) where, according to EcoWatch, a leading environmental advocacy organization, nearly 65 billion animals worldwide, including cows, chickens and pigs, are crammed into CAFOs. The amount of factory and animal created emissions, as well, as overall waste from CAFO’s create serious environmental damage. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the U.S. industrialized food and agriculture system
“…comes with steep costs, many of which are picked up by taxpayers, rural communities, farmers themselves, other business sectors, and future generations …we can see that this system is not a cost-effective, healthful, or sustainable way to produce the food we need.”
One obvious alternative is the support of local farming and “buying local” which reduces the carbon footprint by reducing the cost and pollution from the farm to your food table. Further, consumers can make a conscious effort to support products made as a result of “sustainable” farm practices. These practices include enhancing biodiversity, conserving water, composting, moderating the number of animals along with other healthy environmental and soil practices that industrial and factory farms are inherently unable to practice.
All of this makes one important point to all consumers: food choices and the types of food products purchased have a direct correlation on the negative and positive impacts on our environment. Buying local when possible and supporting organic and sustainable farming based, limiting meat and avoiding factory farmed products are significant ways to fight adverse climate changes such as global warming.