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IPCC climate change report calls for urgent overhaul of food production, land management
IPCC’s land report shows the problem with farming based around oil, not soil
Episode 181. The IPCC Report, Farming & Food
This is the World Organic News for the week ending the 12th of August 2019.
Jon Moore reporting!
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
This week we begin with a piece from the ABC News site: IPCC climate change report calls for urgent overhaul of food production, land management
We must urgently revolutionise what we eat, how we grow it and the way we use land if the world is to combat dangerous climate change, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published on Thursday.
Transforming to clean energy, clean transport and industry alone will not cut global emissions enough to avoid dangerous warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, the report authors warn.
It’s almost as if decarbonising the air isn’t going to be enough. Who’d have thunk it?
Anyway the point is we need to change our food production systems. CAFOs over production of vegetables to meet supermarket contracts and the discarding of perfectly good foodstuffs because they look a bit funny have all got to stop. As a footnote to that last point, one of our local supermarkets was selling “misshapened” carrots last month. There has been talk in the local press about the waste involved in tossing these out. I was interested. My thinking was that if they were not “standard” the supermarket would be offering these carrots at a considerable discount to encourage the average shopper to change their behaviours. Imagine my surprise when I checked the per kilo price of these “iffy” carrots with the standards located on the other side of the Fruit and Veg section. They were more expensive. So clearly the management could say we offered the non standard carrots and nobody bought them. We are only supplying what our customers want.
And this is the sort of double think nonsense we are up against and the IPCC report is suggesting we need to change.
The kicker from the IPCC report is the need to change food production methods to ensure we don’t hit the 2 degree rise in global temperatures which would trigger the release of methane trapped in the permafrost. If that happens the climate consequences for agriculture are catastrophic. More droughts, unpredictable, out of season frosts, desertification, huge flooding events and so on.
Improving land management, reforestation, and soil regeneration are essential steps in reducing emissions from the land sector, according to report co-author Annette Cowie from the University of New England.
“We really do need to take drastic action urgently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Professor Cowie said.
“When we plant trees, when we do sustainable land management practices that build organic land and soil, we actually take carbon out of the atmosphere and we store it in the land.”
Emissions from the global food system, including peripheral activities like packaging and transport, are estimated to comprise between 21 per cent and 37 per cent of the world’s human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, according to the report.
“About a quarter of the Earth’s ice-free land area is subject to human-induced degradation,” the authors state.
I’ve mentioned the soil losses and continued degradation of the world’s soils in previous episodes. I think we can all see that’s not sustainable and that we need to start regenerating what we have before it’s gone. Starting now is easier than trying to roll back the Sahara, but we need to do that too. In a previous episode I discussed the Great Green Wall of Africa. There’s a link in the show notes if you’d like to read more.
One of the issues with current agricultural production is, like the rest of industrialised society, is the dependence on oil. Overcoming the supermarket issues above could be done with much shorter supply lines. Local growing, less food miles and so on. Our second piece this week from the site The Conversation: IPCC’s land report shows the problem with farming based around oil, not soil. Supports this idea and links soil degradation to the ecology of farming.
How is it possible that soils have become so degraded? Don’t we need well functioning soils to produce food? The truth is, the modern farming system is based around oil, not soil.
For most of our history, humans could only produce as much food as the local ecological and soil conditions could support. Every time a crop was taken from the fields, nutrients were removed, making the soil less fertile. To cope, some societies developed complex and sustainable systems in which nutrients were returned to the soil in the form of organic waste. Using the local environment and labour to maintain soils in a good state was the key to survival.
Modern farming, in contrast, has been shaped by the power of fossil fuels. The problem of limited soil fertility was overcome through fertilisation, mainly with synthetic nitrogen, which is made using natural gas or coal.
Those complex and sustainable systems referred to in the quote link to book I’ve recommended previously: Farmers of Forty Centuries. It covers the trip of a missionary through Japan, Korea and parts of China at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Well worth a read and a link in the show notes.
The point being made in the quote is the over reliance on fossil fuels. If we think about animal agriculture as it’s practiced in the US and increasingly elsewhere, we think of CAFOs. Both as feedlots and enormous 1000+ cow plus dairies. Feed is grown with artificial fertilisers, harvested with diesel powered machinery, trucked in diesel powered vehicles and fed to animals. Waste is then trucked away or kept onsite in huge manure lagoons and then spread by diesel powered tractors. The food, milk is shipped to factories on vehicles and then distributed to consumers through warehouses and so on. For meat the beasts are trucked to slaughterhouses, and then through the supply chain, all powered by fossil fuels. Not only is this bad for the climate, the soil and the beasts, it produces, bland, homogenised food for humans. The prices of these foods are kept low for the consumer because the environmental and health costs aren’t included in the price.
And it’s not just industrial ag that’s got issues. I’ve mentioned before the 100 acre organic farm I visited last year. On some days there must have been at least 9 tractors going full time for days on end. Ploughing, re-ploughing, moving compost, and a variety of other things which made little sense. Busy rather than productive seemed to be the mantra. Anyway, I’m sure a huge systems overhaul is needed to remove the tractors and the hand weeding of triple ploughed vegetable beds. The solution there is probably in the problem. Don’t plough, direct seed/transplant and mulch and the diesel disappears.
Cutting silage and hay needed for paddocks that are too wet in winter is another area needing attention. Maybe lighter breeds capable of living outdoors all year but that doesn’t remove the need for motive power for grain harvests. I can’t see the world using scythes and rakes. I’m sure there’s a solution I just haven’t seen nor heard of one.
Certainly we can all do our bit and improve our own lives in the process by growing some of our veggies at home. Even if we just start with an herb garden to season our diets, we’d be making a small difference.
The UN, the IPCC, commonsense and an unbiased look around will lead us to the same conclusions: Shorter supply lines, fresher food and getting off the fossil fuel addiction are all important. I’m fairly sure we can decarbonise the air, solar PV, wind, wave and geothermal options are all getting cheaper and hydrogen as a stop gap or even major slice of the energy mix will sort this. Especially when combined with price signals.
The re-carbonise the soil part is, relatively, straight forward. More soil carbon from biochar to compost to vermicompost to cover crops and green manures and then we can toss in the animal manures. I wonder why this hasn’t happened yet?
I’ll just let that sit there…
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
Of course if you’d like to join the movement to recarbonise the soil or you know some who is, our online conference: RegenEarth 2019: Living Soils ~ Backyard Regen would be a great place to start, in my humble opinion. Over 300 years of accumulated knowledge and experiences from our presenters over three night’s, all for just $67 AUD. There are links in the show notes.
Thank you for listening and I’ll be back next week.