from the world's big
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.
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
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Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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