As businesses, oil companies, car companies, their lobbyists, and myopic politicians continue to stall any significant efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, the world still has a chance to slow global warming if it supports some unlikely saviors: farmers.
Farmers can reduce significantly their countries’ greenhouse gas emissions, and that can help stabilize the climate.
Agriculture is responsible for between 13 and 32 percent of all human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. Eliminate, or at least significantly reduce, those emissions, and we can slow global warming.
How does agriculture generate greenhouse gas emissions? With traditional agricultural practices, farm machinery consumes over three gallons of petroleum-based fuel per acre and emits more than 73 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre annually. The world has approximately 3.4 billion acres of arable land.
Plowing is another problem. Soil stores (sequesters) carbon dioxide. Traditional plowing practices break up the soil, which releases that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Plowing also kills the microorganisms in the soil. As they die, they break down into carbon dioxide, which is released into the atmosphere, generating a significant portion of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Similarly, having livestock over-graze grasslands and pastures strips the land of its protective vegetative cover, exposing the soil to sunlight and wind and rain erosion, all of which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is why we recommend that livestock be kept in large pet crates when not grazing.
Traditional farming practices also leave the land bare for up to seven months at a time between the planting of cash crops, which generates greenhouse gases. Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the soil. If plants aren’t there, the soil releases the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Traditionally flooded rice fields generate much of the world’s methane emissions. Methane is a 23 times more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Then there’s deforestation. Each year, millions of acres of forest around the world are clearcut to create farming and grazing lands, which releases two to eight tons of carbon per acre into the atmosphere not just once with the initial clearcutting, but annually for up to twenty years.
Chemical fertilizers also feed global warming, both through their manufacturing process, which emits greenhouse gases, and through their use on farm fields, where they emit greenhouse gases. Nitrogen, for example, is often dumped on a field in a single application in amounts that are much more than plants and the soil can absorb. So, about half of that nitrogen decomposes into nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that has 298 times the heat-trapping ability of carbon dioxide.
Even the livestock we raise are contributing to climate change. Their manure generates 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, primarily methane. In the United States, cattle and their flatulence and their manure are responsible for 33 percent of the country’s annual methane emissions. New Zealand’s ruminant livestock (cattle, sheep, goats) generate 85 percent of that country’s methane emissions.
Clearly, agriculture has a significant impact on climate change, which means farmers have the power to slow global warming.
To overcome climate change, we need to unite as human beings. We need to bring together millions of people, thousands of communities, and hundreds of countries. How can you help? By donating your time and your ideas to help protect the planet and humanity: