Farming is Worse for Climate Than Deforestation (study)

A recent UN study reports that gains made by scaling back deforestation are nearly cancelled out by pollution from agriculture. 

A new study from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that while efforts to curb the clearing of forests are working, there’s another major factor that is curtailing these gains: agriculture.

From Scientific American:

The research shows that the recent climate-protecting gains in forests are being nearly canceled out by efforts to satisfy the world’s growing appetite—particularly its appetite for meat. Greenhouse gases released by farming, such as methane from livestock and rice paddies, and nitrous oxides from fertilizers and other soil treatments rose 13 percent after 1990, the study concluded. Agricultural climate pollution is mostly caused by livestock. Cows and buffalo are the worst offenders—their ruminating guts and decomposing waste produce a lot of methane. They produce so much methane, and eat so much fertilized feed, that livestock are blamed for two-thirds of agriculture’s climate pollution every year.

“Look, agriculture is not natural,” chef Dan Barber, author of The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food, told Mindful. “It’s about disturbing the natural world; you’re forcing plants to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. Question is, are we going to engage in agriculture the way we do now, controlling nature in ways that are demonstrably foreign, or are we going to show respect and awareness of natural rhythms by producing what nature is allowing us to produce?”

For Barber, the cooking challenge of the future is to put scaps, trash crops, and trash fish front and center on our plates. Sounds like a wacky idea, but it emphasizes the connection between how we eat and how we care for the earth.

From “Eat Well, Health the Earth” in the April 2015 issue of Mindful:

Barber lays out his vision using a metaphor of three different plates that represent for him the direction of our food future. The American expectation of dinner—a hunk of meat, some veg, and maybe a grain—is what he calls “the first plate,” the traditional western diet. The plate will be improved if the meat is free range and the veg organic—the “second plate,” representing the current state of farm-to-table eating. But, the improvement does not go far enough, Barber says. “The architecture of the plate is the same. We need to flip it on its head.” The “third plate” reverses the proportions of the dinner, as Barber writes, “In place of a hulking piece of protein I imagined a carrot steak dominating the plate, with a sauce of braised second cuts of beef.” This is his paradigm shift, a “new way of thinking and eating that defies Americans’ ingrained expectations.

Could you imagine ditching meat and opting for a carrot steak dinner? If so, you should try Barber’s carrot steak recipe.


Agricultural climate pollution is mostly caused by livestock.

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