Organic farming is 'much worse' for the climate than conventional food production, researchers say
More farm space equals more carbon.
- A report from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, found that organic food production leads to higher carbon emissions.
- This includes livestock as well as vegetables, as organic farming requires no fertilizer usage.
- Certain types of organic foods are less impactful than others, the researchers note.
History has not been kind to Earl Butz. From 1971–76, the Indiana native served as secretary of agriculture, reengineering several New Deal-era farm programs. One of his most famous statements, that large-scale farmers need to plant commodity crops from "fencerow to fencerow," became a historical landmark for the destruction of the family farm — critics were surprised given that he grew up on his family's dairy farm. His championing of corn, for example, has led to numerous problems for our soil and stomachs today.
Yet I couldn't help but think of Butz when I read a new report, published in Nature on December 13, from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden. The school's researchers studied the impact of organic and conventional food production on the climate. What they found is that organic farming results in higher carbon emissions than conventional farming.
Associate professor Stefan Wirsenius explains:
Our study shows that organic peas, farmed in Sweden, have around a 50 percent bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed peas. For some foodstuffs, there is an even bigger difference — for example, with organic Swedish winter wheat the difference is closer to 70 percent.
The reason for this is simple: organic farming takes up much more land. This applies to vegetables, but also meat, as organically-raised livestock require food that is free from fertilizers, according to Wirsenius. The "Carbon Opportunity Cost," their new measure of agriculture's environmental impact, includes the deforestation necessary to clear more land for organic farms.
This is tough news for those of us that support and purchase organic foods. Thanks to the journalist Michael Pollan, I too am a fan of Joel Salatin's food writings on natural agricultural cycles, not only from an ethical standpoint but also in honoring how all aspects of farming interact with one another. Mono-cropping — growing the same fruits and vegetables on same plot of land each year — has caused disastrous environmental and cultures impacts, such as soil erosion and the displacement of indigenous peoples. There is no doubt that fertilizer-heavy "conventional" techniques are not good for the planet either.
Yet we have to face the fact that the planet might not be able to sustainably support 7.7 billion people — by 2050 we are poised to reach 9.8 billion. While many people champion organic food (whether for health or ethical reasons) Wirsenius states an increase in organic food production will likely raise carbon output, compromising sustainability. He does note that type of food matters, however.
Eating organic beans or organic chicken is much better for the climate than to eat conventionally produced beef. Organic food does have several advantages compared with food produced by conventional methods. For example, it is better for farm animal welfare. But when it comes to the climate impact, our study shows that organic food is a much worse alternative, in general.
Cows on a pasture are pictured on November 10, 2018 in Koenigshain, Germany. Photo credit: Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images
Wirsenius also says that beef and lamb are the worst for the environment, while pork, chicken, fish, and eggs have less of an impact. He recommends choosing beans over cheese for a protein source if environmental impact is important to you.
Butz was a corporate shill whose legacy was more harmful than helpful. Yet, he was right that we needed the best yield from the least amount of space. His methods of attaining such have been damaging to our ecology and bodies, but it doesn't change the fact that sustaining our current population produces serious consequences. If anything is "natural," it's this fact: There is only so much the planet can provide before we've exhausted its resources.
Many believe that the internet has made it easier for us to participate in political activism. But is that really true?
- Protesting in person is costly in terms of money and resources; some people have children to take care of, jobs that can't be away from, or may not have time to attend a planning event.
- The internet was supposed to be a way to sidestep this barrier to political activism. But this doesn't consider the other barriers preventing poor and working-class folks from participating in digital activism.
- In particular, these people lack ASETs: access to computers, the skills to use them, the empowerment necessary to feel that using Twitter or other social media is for them, and the time to make use of digital platforms in an effective way.
Some games are just for fun, others are for thought provoking statements on life, the universe, and everything.
- Video games are often dismissed as fun distractions, but some of them dive into deep issues.
- Through their interactive play elements, these games approach big issues intelligently and leave you both entertained and enlightened.
- These five games are certainly not the only games that cover these topics or do so well, but are a great starting point for somebody who wants to play something thought provoking.
The bid to buy Greenland is unlikely to become seriously considered.
- Greenland and Danish officials alike think the idea is ridiculous.
- The island is an autonomous state, and it's unlikely the Danish would sell it because of yearly subsidies costs.
- After hearing the Danish Prime Minister call the idea absurd, Trump cancelled their forthcoming meeting.