The Climate, it is a-Changin’

Karen Adler's picture

Agriculture and, in particular, organic agriculture can be part of the solution to mitigate greenhouse gases through farming practices that build soil fertility, avoid use of synthetic fertilizer and improve carbon sequestration

-- Organic Agriculture and Climate Change Mitigation: A Report of the Round Table of Organic Agriculture and Climate Change

In a recent article in SlateDavid Biello asks the question, "Why don't farmers believe in climate change?" And further, does it matter?

As to the controversial initial question, Biello points out that farmers, more than most everyone else, are constantly dealing with one type of bad weather or another: drought or flood, too hot, too cold, and everything in between. It may not be so much that farmers don’t believe in climate change; rather, for them, it is always happening, and we humans just may not have that much to do with it. Of course, these generalizations are not representative of all farmers.

Does it matter? It could, very much. According to Mark Hertsgaard, agriculture may turn out to be the leading mitigating factor in greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction. In his presentation last week at New America Foundation’s event, An Agricultural Revolution to Fight Climate Change? Hertsgaard, author of Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, urged a shift from our primary focus of reducing the 2 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide and other GHG we currently add annually to the atmosphere, to reducing the 400 ppm that are already there back down to 350, a level that many scientists agree is the upper safe limit. Hertsgaard has exciting ideas about how agriculture might turn back the clock on carbon dioxide and draw down the 400 ppm, including harnessing the magic of photosynthesis —the basis of agriculture, and really, all life on the planet.

In the 2012 working paper, “Reducing Global Warming and Adapting to Climate Change: The Potential of Organic Agriculture The Research Institute of Organic Agriculture”, the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture authors state that agriculture, while currently responsible for 20-30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, could contribute to climate change mitigation through sustainable practices, “such as those commonly found within organic farming systems.” They cite the use of organic fertilizers, crop rotations, and cover cropping as examples, as well as avoidance of synthetic fertilizers and related production emissions from fossil fuels. 

So, whether or not a farmer believes in climate change, as Michael Pollan says, “Depending on how you farm, your farm is either sequestering or releasing carbon.”  

To be continued!

Photo of organic farmer Relinda Walker in her cover crop of crimson clover by Julia Gaskin; courtesy of Walker Organic Farms.


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