Comparing Measurements of GHG Emissions Between Conventional Brazilian Farms and Those with Sustainability Programs

by Grace Reckers

Greenhouse gasses (GHG) constitute a number of gasses (CO2 being the most prevalent) that are released from the earth’s surface and trap heat in the atmosphere. They have become of primary interest to many environmentalists because of their impacts on agriculture, human health, ecology, and other environmental systems. Countries across the world have committed to reducing GHG emissions due to general increased recognition of their detrimental effects. One such country, Brazil, aims for a 37% reduction of their 2005 emission values by 2025. As the second-largest producer of beef in the world, Brazil has acknowledged the notable fraction of GHG emissions derived from livestock production (18% of Brazil’s annual GHG) and the particular relation between the effects of cattle ranching and beef production on national emissions. Continue reading

Vertical Farming: Can Sunlight Be Sustainably Replaced?

by Natalie Knops

An emerging trend in agriculture, vertical farming, has been developing across the United States. Vertical farms, a new form of green urban architecture, are controlled, indoor environments that regulate lighting, nutrients and weather. These farms are typically set up in hydroponic towers that often inhabit urban buildings (Frazier, 2017). Many are optimistic about the benefits of this practice: fast production, minimization of land use, water conservation, minimization of fertilizer/agricultural run-off, and most significantly – the drastic reduction of transport emissions. Although the concept of vertical farming is increasing in popularity, some are skeptical about the drawbacks of this method due to the fact that retro-fitting buildings for indoor plant cultivation is capital-intensive and energy costs run high. Continue reading

Veganism and Climate Change

by Riley Hoffman

Many scientists studying climate change are wondering why data they are presenting isn’t causing everyone to jump up to help combat the problem. Robyn Gray attempts to answer this question in her article “The Effectiveness of Advocacy and Advertising: A Comparison Between Veganism and Climate Change” (2015). Why, she asks during this essay, are people much more willing to boycott SeaWorld and keeping animals in captivity after seeing the movie Blackfish than they are to convert to veganism? Her answer is that becoming a vegan requires an extreme change in one’s lifestyle. She also argues the dramatic effect that emotions can have on an individual’s actions. When dramatic life changes are needed, most people are likely to ignore the supporting data and refuse to change. Thus, even though the data shows that the livestock industry produces about 18% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, only 1% of the population is vegan. On the other hand, 4% of the population is vegetarian, which helps to reduce the effect that the livestock industry has, although doesn’t completely eliminate their impact. Obviously, if we lived in a perfect world, everyone would immediately change to veganism to help the environment. This statistic helps to show that change isn’t going to come easily; it will take a different kind of effort than what is being put in now.

Just as converting to veganism requires an extreme life change, so do some of the possible solutions being presented to combat climate change. This explanation of why there is only a small number of people willing to alter their life for the good of the globe seems accurate.

Later on in her essay, Gray presents a solution to this dilemma. Instead of continuing to spew out information and statistics, scientists should try to pull at the heartstrings of their audiences. She argues that making a movie appealing to emotion, like Blackfish, will have a greater impact than force-feeding people scientific data. For example, Gray found that after researching some people chose to convert to veganism after seeing an animal being slaughtered.

Gray, R., 2015. Dalhousie Journal of Interdisciplinary Management, 11. The Effectiveness of Advocacy and Advertisement: A Comparison between Veganism and Climate Change. DOI: 10.5931/djim.v11.1.5514

Why Should We Care About Climate Change?

by Caitlin Suh

Amy Davidson refers to a largely overlooked event called “The Great Famine” that happened in northern Europe in 1315-1317 as a prime example of the disastrous effects climate change and people’s disregard of it can have on humankind.

The famine started in 1315 when rain fell continuously for weeks on end. The foodcrops were spoiling and there was no way to make hay for livestock to eat. When the rains came again the next year and the next, up to a tenth of the population of some parts of Europe died from famine. However, according to Davidson, this specific event was never capitalized because the two events that followed were even worse; the Black Death in 1347 and the Hundred Years’ War that started in 1337, and because the Great Famine happened largely due to the weather, a “prosaic” cause. The seemingly never-ending rain became secondary to the focus on famine, leading people to blame the famine on ineptly farmed land instead of the weather. Today, the same sort of denouncement is seen in opponents of climate change, who pay no attention to, or even renounce climate change. But unlike in the past, there are many who come to the table with projections and the evidence to back it up. It is just a matter of choosing whether to listen or not. Continue reading

Current Cropland Area may be able to Meet Growing Biomass Demand through 2050

by Caroline Hays

With population growth and a growing middle class demanding more land-intensive products, especially meat, the ability of the world’s current cropland area to meet these demands is a pressing question. Studies have predicted that from 2005 to 2050, global agricultural production will need to approximately double. Cropland expansion to meet this growing demand has the negative consequences of decreasing biodiversity and releasing greenhouse gases. In a recent study, Mauser et al. (2015) note that sustainable agricultural intensification and optimal cropland allocation are preferred methods to cropland expansion for increasing biomass production There have been recent studies, however, that cast doubt on whether growing demand can be met without cropland expansion. Mauser et al. (2015) investigate the potential of cropland intensification to meet growing demand, taking into account a number of economic, societal, and technological factors in their estimates. They predict that, given multiple harvests and efficient land use decisions, the productivity of current cropland can, in fact, rise to meet projections of future demand. The authors find that 39% of the overall potential increase in productivity results from increasing the intensity of crop production, and 30% from redistributing crops across regions to their profit-maximizing locations. The major implications of this finding are that rising demand may not necessitate expansion of cropland area. Additionally, the authors’ model does not include genetically modified (GM) crops, and suggests therefore that GM crops are not necessary to meet growing demand. Continue reading

Combining the Effects of Climate Change and Agriculture on Mammal Populations

by Coco Coyle

In concert with the effects of climate change, some agricultural practices are having an unanticipated combined effect on ecosystems and biodiversity. Brodie (2016) showed that agricultural expansion coupled with climate change will have a more intense effect on the mammals in the extremely biodiverse region of Southeast Asia than either cause alone. Rising temperatures allow farmers to expand the growing region for cold-sensitive crops like the non-native oil-palm trees. While rising temperatures themselves do not disrupt the region’s mammalian species, the destruction of native forests in place of new agricultural areas would reduce mammal ranges by 47-67% by 2070. This is 3-4 times the reduction predicted considering direct effects from conversion of natural forest to plantations alone. In this study Brodie calls for a greater investigation of the combined effects of climate change and agriculture on biodiversity. Continue reading

Comparing the Environmental and Economic Advantages of Organic and Conventional Farming

by Coco Coyle

In the Niayes region in Senegal, a country on Africa’s western coast, over three quarters of the population rely on local agriculture for their livelihood as well as for food. Furthermore, agriculture causes approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, so investigation of more sustainable farming practices may assist in reducing agriculture’s contribution to global warming. Binta and Barbier (2015) found that in the Niayes region, for farms of the same size, conventional practices are more economically profitable than organic practices. Thus while organic farming results in lesser greenhouse gas emissions and better health for farmers and consumers, conventional practices utilizing inorganic fertilizers and pesticides are more common. Ways to encourage more organic farming would be to develop local markets for organic produce, and to invest in research to improve organic management. Continue reading