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I questioned what impact agriculture has upon global emissions and how we might limit it. To answer this question, I read two articles, one published by NPR which summarized a UN report on the salience of mitigating agricultural emissions and another article in Forbes, Why Agriculture’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Almost Always Underestimated, which explained why agricultural emissions are so high and what can be done about them.

Why Agriculture’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Are Almost Always Underestimated explains several reasons why agriculture is a major contributor to climate change and why this is often overlooked. It explains that it is difficult to measure the carbon released from the soil by agriculture, that sequestration that otherwise would be happening is prevented by agriculture, that the manufacturing of agricultural implements such as fertilizer are usually not counted towards agricultural emissions, agriculture is a system more than any one process, and agricultural emissions account for most methane, which is potent but often under counted.

The article is optimistic; it explains that part of the urgency of mitigating agricultural emissions stems from the facts that we already have the tools to do so. The author, McMahon, writes “Despite these higher numbers, climate damage from agriculture may be easier to mitigate than pollution from other sectors.” I overall agree with this optimism; though, cataclysmic consequences of climate change are inevitable we can limit and adapt to them. McMahon lists techniques such as cover crops, agroforestry, and perennial crops.

Lowering the emissions generating by agriculture is necessary if we wish to limit anthropogenic climate change. Fortunately, we have already developed practices and techniques that will prepare us for the future. The largest barrier is our willingness to implement them.

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October 20, 2020 2:26 pm

Nice post, Mark! I’ve always thought that there were other factors to our climate crisis other than fuel emissions, but I didn’t exactly know how much agriculture contributed to it (maybe that’s because “it is difficult to measure the carbon released from the soil by agriculture,” but I digress). While looking into the topic somewhat, I found this paper (https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data) that shows the data behind carbon emissions, and where it comes from. I always knew that methane was a problem, but because of your post, and the article I wrote here, I now understand how big that problem was. I’m thinking if you could write a whole, cohesive post on all large causes of carbon emissions, and how we can mitigate them, I would most certainly come back to read it!

Sam
October 20, 2020 2:21 pm

Hello Mark!
Your optimism is something of a welcome surprise. Too often in the fight against climate change are we overwhelmed by doubt, fear, and failure. Some have already given up; but to this end, no progress can be made. It’s no secret that agriculture, and livestock in particular, are a major contributor to climate change, particularly in the form of methane expelled by cows. But I had no idea that carbon emissions from the land itself was even a reality. I did appreciate, however, how you not only presented the information but also solutions to perhaps mitigate the disaster at hand. I think that all too often we are forced to face the reality of climate change without the tools to do anything meaningful about it, but to know those tools are available and that someone else is also paying attention is comforting.

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