What percent of global greenhouse gas emissions is agriculture responsible for? I have heard low balling estimates as low as 9%. I have never read of such a low estimate for greenhouse gas emissions for agriculture. I have heard of much higher. So I decide to go on a little search, and compile a few of my findings.
EPA: 24%- “Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (24% of 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions): Greenhouse gas emissions from this sector come mostly from agriculture (cultivation of crops and livestock) and deforestation. This estimate does not include the CO2 that ecosystems remove from the atmosphere by sequestering carbon in biomass, dead organic matter, and soils, which offset approximately 20% of emissions from this sector.”
IPCC: 24% (probably same source as above)- “Agriculture, deforestation, and other land use changes have been the second-largest contributors whose emissions, including other GHGs, have reached 12 GtCO2eq/yr (low confidence), 24% of global GHG emissions in 2010.”
EPA: 9% (United States only)- “In 2014, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture accounted for approximately 9 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have increased by approximately 11 percent since 1990. One driver for this increase has been the 54 percent growth in combined CH4 and N2O emissions from livestock manure management systems, reflecting the increased use of emission-intensive liquid systems over this time period. Emissions from agricultural soil management have also increased by about 5 percent since 1990. Emissions from other agricultural sources have either remained flat or changed by a relatively small amount since 1990.”
FAO: 14.5% (livestock only)- “Total emissions from global livestock: 7.1 Gigatonnes of Co2-equiv per year, representing 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions. This figure is in line FAO’s previous assessment, Livestock’s Long Shadow, published in 2006, although it is based on a much more detailed analysis and improved data sets. The two figures cannot be accurately compared, as reference periods and sources differ.”
Nature: up to 1/3 (global food system in its entirety)- “The global food system, from fertilizer manufacture to food storage and packaging, is responsible for up to one-third of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the latest figures from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a partnership of 15 research centres around the world.”
WRI: 13% (agriculture narrowly defined, excluding transport)- “Farms emitted 6 billion tonnes of GHGs in 2011, or about 13 percent of total global emissions. That makes the agricultural sector the world’s second-largest emitter, after the energy sector (which includes emissions from power generation and transport).”
“Livestock’s Long Shadow” (FAO): 18% (livestock only)- “Overall, livestock activities contribute an estimated 18% to total anthropogenic GHG emissions from five major sectors for GHG reporting: energy, industry, waste, land use, land use change, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) and agriculture.”
So as low as 13%, as high as one-third if you calculate in the cost of the entire food system (which probably makes more sense). The latter figure would possibly put the food system as the highest emitter of all sectors of the global economy.
If you know of something wrong with these figures, I would love to know.
As usual, the soda industry has pumped millions into a campaign to stop the Philadelphia soda tax from passing into law. But they will likely fail; the law is expected to pass tomorrow.
A few thoughts.
When someone says of taxes such as these, “but government should not tamper with the free market!” remember, that with sugary beverages, the government already has. The reason such beverages are so inexpensive is government subsidies, i.e. tampering with the market, in the first place.
Progressives, who understand that food environments have more of an impact on the health of the vast majority of people than does “willpower” (as evidenced by the past 50 years of mass dieting failure), obviously celebrate the law. But free marketeers should, too: the tax does not limit choice, but brings it in line with the market, which, as they say, they celebrate in the first place. Right?
Right now we subsidize soft drinks, and then apply a tax to remove the subsidy. But how about, rather than this rather perverse and contradictory set of policies, we remove the subsidies in the first place? I think progressives and free market cheerleaders could all come to the table and agree on that.
But until the federal government steps up the plate and assumes leadership for putting an end to our food-related health crisis (and healthcare spending, and economic and political crises by extension…), a tax seems like the next best thing.
Congratulations Philadelphia: for doing what most of our other leaders seem too afraid to do.
Do you purchase organic dairy products?
The Cornucopia Institute writes:
“The Horizon brand depends on giant CAFOs, milking thousands of cows each, for a large percentage of their production and that impacts the quality and nutritional value of all their products.”
For this and many other reasons, I am not sure I would consider Horizon “organic” in anything but name. They seem to treat their cows inhumanely, and they produce milk not much differently than do non-organic producers, i.e. the cows are often not pastured on grass.
That they can be organic in name is a testament to the corruption of the organic label. Horizon’s violations however go back well over a decade. A quick Google search will reveal this.
Buy Horizon if you want overpriced, industrially produced dairy.
For dairy, Organic Valley is a better bet and has a much better track record.
Marion Nestle is doing a casual review of the literature, tallying sponsor-funded research conclusions as favorable or unfavorable. Her results so far: of 142 industry-funded studies, 130 have been favorable to the sponsors, 12 unfavorable. See here.
This is only the latest of a long line of investigations that show, contrary to the insistence of those who seem to believe that all research should be considered equal regardless of the source, that funding source does affect research outcomes–whether because funders will only fund research that they believe will find favorable results (thus skewing the whole of the body of research literature, much like publication bias does) or because funding itself subtly alters any number of procedures, biasing the results (in effect, I believe that this is not much different than the former effect). In both cases, a body of literature is produced that systematically favors sponsors and thereby distorts our picture of reality. See studies here and here.
In order to correct this distortion of reality, which is a systemic fact even if it does not apply in every case, I believe it is both legitimate and necessary to criticize studies on the basis of their funding sources ALONE. It may be impossible to prove distortion in any individual case; but if the sum result of studies points to distortion, does this not cast a shadow on individual cases?
I do find Robb Wolf‘s arguments interesting, that handling gluten is like handling another stressor, albeit a big one. Maybe gluten is innately problematic, but some people simply have better defenses against it? Or some people have fewer stressors, so will not notice the problems caused by it?
But that would probably be the case with most foods, in the sense that most foods probably contain compounds that the body has to detoxify or otherwise deal with in some way. What makes gluten special, then? Why should it be especially difficult for the human body to deal with?
The evolutionary argument is made, to explain why it is especially difficult for humans to deal with gluten: gluten is a plant defense. The argument is that all grains have poisonous compounds that protect them, because these poisons are a way for mama plant to protect baby plant: since mama plant doesn’t have claws or teeth or legs, it uses toxins to coat baby plant so that it can survive. That’s why grains are bad.
But how does this make sense? Domestication across a variety of species tends to reduce the number of toxins. The wild almond is deadly. The domesticated almond may be merely problematic, and maybe not problematic for most people at all. Inasmuch as something is domesticated, damaging characteristics get bred out.
This happens for three reasons. First, humans notice such toxins through the wisdom of the body; and humans would thereby innately prefer less toxic grain strains to more toxic strains. This alone would tend to select for lower level of toxins. How this might occur–check out Mark Schatzker’s work. In a nutshell: animals, including sheep and goats but also presumably including humans, can *sense* when foods are not nutritious, or are toxic to them, and learn instinctively to avoid such foods, and to eat others.
Second argument. Even if the first argument were not correct, and there was no wisdom of the body, as postulated in a modified form by Schatzker, nonetheless coevolution would occur by virtue of one simple fact: the grains that killed their domesticators, or prevented them from thriving, would be the grains that would not last evolutionarily. The strains, on the other hand, that had thriving domesticators would continue on. The survival of the domesticators themselves would select for lower toxin loads of grains! This is because grains without surviving domesticators would themselves die. Grains, therefore, would co-evolve with human groups to be increasingly nutritious and decreasingly toxic.
Three, organisms that do not need characteristics will, over time, in the absence of evolutionary pressure, tend not to express them. Take the example of muscles in human beings. Now compare them to our cousins, the chimpanzee–or even the not-so-distant neanderthal, not to mention the australopithecus. Humans are weak nerds–that’s because, once muscles became less important, we stopped expressing copious amounts of them like our ancestors!
In the case of domesticated grains, it is not necessary for such plants to continue to express toxins, because their domesticators will breed them *regardless*, no, *because*, their babies (seeds/grains) are being eaten. And if it is not necessary, and if the expression of such toxins is energetically costly, such toxins will be selected against due to such costliness. Later generations will not have such toxins–in the same way that modern homo sapiens no longer have big muscles or robust skeletons.
I find the second argument most compelling. But don’t take my word for it. Look up domestication processes on plants. Fact is, in the process of domestication, you lose LOTS of toxins. That’s an empirical fact.
So why would grains be different? The only thing I can think here: the selective (mis-)breeding resulting in the multiplication of the quantity of protein in each grain kernel caused by Borlaug and the Green Revolution. As the argument goes: yes, the toxins are gone because of domestication, but the selective breeding in the 1960s, in intentionally increasing the amount of protein in each grain by as much as three-fold, and without a slow co-evolutionary process that occurred as humans resampled and reselected different strains, “reawakened” the dormant toxic capacity of grains, without humans being able to intervene co-evolutionarily. Remember, this selective breeding was done purely scientifically, in a top-down way, and purely to increase yield; it was assumed that such a process was safe. But if the co-evolutionary story above is true, then the co-evolutionary stop-gap that ensures a less toxic and more nutritious plant is taken out, because entirely new strains of grains are introduced without the feedback of human health to exert selective pressures back on the grains. This is how a scientific approach of industrial agriculture may yield qualitatively different results from the piece-meal approach of traditional agriculture; and how, scientific agriculture is not merely an intensification of degree, but rather, the introduction of an entirely new relationship between man and nature.
In any case, if this is the explanation, the problem with grains would not start in the neolithic, but in the very recent past–the 1960s. Such an interpretation would also jive with Loren Cordain’s statements–Cordain admitted in one academic paper that the recent industrialization of food probably had a more negative impact than the transition from the paleolithic to the neolithic. Notably, in my opinion, this really problematizes the Paleo diet “story”, but that’s a matter for another post. But the point is, even if the anti-grain mythos of Paleo is true, it may not be true for the reasons Paleo says it is.
[I wrote the above post cursorily and as a matter of stress relief between study sessions. If you want the citations and quotations, please let me know at email@example.com. If someone is interested enough to ask, I will be delighted to provide, and I will add them to this main page.]
The first and probably most important place to defend good food?
Hospitals! Get vending machines out of hospitals, and have them replaced with wholesome food. Get junk food out of hospital cafeterias, and have wholesome options available. At many hospitals, there are no wholesome options for meals at all!
Hospitals should not merely cater to consumer preference: they should help shape and educate this preference. Hospitals should be an example to the world of what wholesome food could be. Hospitals should be the vanguard for a better food environment. What else could the function of hospitals be, than to promote the community’s public health.
Instead, hospitals frequently focus much of their cost-cutting the food that they serve. The result is expected: low-quality food. Even some of the nation’s top hospitals are subcontracting their food services for the lowest possible prices. This includes as recently as late last 2015, such hospital systems as Mayo and Vanderbilt.
This needs to stop. Hospitals should be serving high-quality food, and actively promoting public health through food education for both patients and visitors. With the majority of healthcare spending on lifestyle-related illness–and every public health expert that works at a hospital knows this–hospitals have a public duty to do this. When they shirk this commitment, they turn their backs on their communities.
In the coming year, I will host a project focused on this–and work to help change the public discussion about hospital food.
In the meantime, I will occasionally be posting about alternatives to the current system. Recently, I found this:
Think about it. Do you want to change the public discussion about food and health? The most logical starting place for this is the place where we seem to be both treating–and causing–disease. The latter must stop.
It seems that some things never change.
Later in the chapter, Price provides a synopsis:
“The rapid degeneration of the Australian Aborigines after the adoption of the government’s modern foods provides a demonstration that should be infinitely more convincing than animal experimentation. It should be a matter not only of concern but deep alarm that human beings can degenerate physically so rapidly by the use of a certain type of nutrition, particularly the dietary products used so generally by modern civilization.”
(You can find an online copy of Price’s book here: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks02/0200251h.html
If anyone is interested in a machine-read text-to-speech copy, send me an email: kevin(at)farmarian(dot)com )
[Note: I should note that while I am writing posts as a way of taking a break during my studies, I am unfortunately very tied up at the moment. When a break presents itself, perhaps later this year, I will respond to some of my threads. However, I hope that some of these observations may be of some interest.]
So is the strangeness of the video, passionately proclaiming her love for bread, best explained by the fact that it is needed to explicitly contradict Dr. Ludwig’s increasingly popular message?
Now, Oprah’s reputation was mainstreamed by her claims to weight loss. See, for instance:
Do you believe her? More importantly: should she believe herself?
Lastly, is dieting the way forward for anyone–besides those looking to make a career of promoting it?
Posts of the day are well-written posts, or groups of posts (a post and its responses) made in the Farmarian Facebook group; such posts or post-responses are reposted here as exemplifying the spirit of the community. We hope that they will also provide something of a repository for past discussions. Posts of the day will remain strictly anonymous, unless the participants request otherwise.
You can request to join the Farmarian Facebook group here.
Is the vegetarian diet really better for the environment? Recent research suggests the answers are a bit more complicated than some seem to think.
1) This study does not actually compare vegetarian diets to analogous omnivorous diets. In fact, it does not examine vegetarian diets at all: It examines the diet used as an exemplar by the USDA, which includes a lot more meat than in any vegetarian diet.
2) The diet used as an exemplar by the USDA calls for higher consumption of fish, which under the rubric used by this study, has among the highest environmental footprint of any food. But vegetarians do not eat fish, so using this data to say vegetarian diets are bad for the environment is simply illogical.
3) Examining the relative nutrition of different foods along only the metric of calories, as is done here between pig meat and lettuce, is a scientistic and misleading comparison. The human body is not a calorimeter, and does not accommodate the nutrients in foods by literally burning them, and so foods with similar caloric values have very different effects on nutrition and satiety. 1,000 kcalories of pig meat is .6 pounds of flesh; 1,000 kcalories of leaf lettuce is about 200 cups of the stuff (about 9 pounds). The arugula has 1000X the Vitamin C, 2000X the Vitamin A, 20X the iron, and 3X as much protein per calorie as the pork — and because the pork was surely raised conventionally (otherwise its land-use figures wouldn’t be so low), the arugula also has a much more favorable composition of fatty acids.
4) Most of the alleged environmental impact for the USDA-approved diet in this study arises because the approved diet removes the sweeteners and processed foods that are a huge part of the Standard American diet. Even assuming that these processed products are better for the environment than real food (which as we saw in point “3)” is VERY dubious), this processed gunk’s impact on human health is so severe that a little more environmental degradation would probably be justified given the alternative levels of human misery.
5) It is true that just because a diet is vegetarian does not mean that it’s better for the environment. But please don’t take this study as good evidence that, on balance, vegetarian diets are not significantly better for the environment.
Doesn’t this miss the point, though? No industrial diet is sustainable. I enjoyed the Washington Post article, because, despite its caveats, it still threw a monkey wrench in the stupid idea that if the world went vegetarian, it would be enough. It still wouldn’t be enough. Because industrial lettuce cultivation generates serious emissions as surely as industrial beef production does.
It’s the same reason I like Teicholz’s book. You aren’t going to produce health by simply excluding any single food group, any less than you will produce environmental friendliness by doing the same.
It’s the wrong paradigm. Yes, meat production may account for half of all agricultural emissions. But that’s still only half. It seems to me that few people are acknowledging this basic fact–instead scapegoating meat to deflect from what is much more fundamental.
Unless I have my facts backwards and mixed up (possible), environmental vegetarianism strikes me as a dangerous illusion.
You’re right that industrial agriculture is an intrinsic part of the problem. But it’s still true that meat-based diets are a huge driver of environmental degradation. Insofar as we’re using this study to say that eating less meat is insufficient, I think we’re on solid ground. But if we’re instead saying that it shows that eating less meat is unnecessary or even harmful, we’re fooling ourselves.
Keep in mind that sustainably-raised meat production requires much more resources than the meat that’s being used as the point of comparison in this study. Feeding the world on diets consisting largely of grass-fed beef would require many multiples of the land we currently use for agriculture, and would thus require lots of encroachment on wild ecosystems.
You’re of course right to say that vegetarianism is insufficient to say you’re being a good environmentalist. But diets with little or no meat have been shown time and again to implicate less environmental damage. (I’m speaking here of studies where vegetarianism is actually compared to analogous meat-heavy diets, unlike in this CMU study.) So if you’re trying to eat an environmentally-friendly diet, vegetarian diets aren’t a silver bullet, but they’re still a damn good rule of thumb.
Needing more land for livestock grazing: okay.
But what about carbon sequestration claims? These have not been falsified, as far as I am aware, at least not according to Savory, his associates, Salatin, and many farmers (including the grass-fed farmer that I buy from; who manages via rotational grazing).
I’m sure you’re familiar with this:
Some other very smart people endorse the counterarguments made by Savory against those who claim that the current trial literature has not supported his claims. ASSUMING this concept is legitimate, then beef, whether through rotational grazing, mob grazing, etc. might be able to play a constructive, even important role in climate change.
Feeding the entire world largely through beef requiring too much land? Sure. This may be true.
Withdrawing support even for ranchers that use rotational systems and can demonstrate increased soil carbon with such methods? Supporting them may contribute to diets that are significantly lower in emissions than vegetarian diets. Beef-heavy enough, might they even be carbon-negative? Perhaps only the vegetarian purchasing from the most progressive, agroecologically oriented farmers might be able to suggest something like that. So where does the score card stand in beef vs. plant-based? Is it still crystal-clear?
The long-term solutions to the problem of agricultural emissions will have to focus less on product and more on process, less on product categories and more on context, details, and management. Conventional vegetarianism may be better than the Standard American Diet, but shouldn’t we also be trying to set the bar just a little higher than that? If the climate crisis is as urgent as Naomi Klein and others say, these facts should also be a part of the discussion, since the bar may need to be raised a bit more quickly than is currently the case.
And for the record, I am concerned with actual deflection on the part of the liberal consensus with respect to this issue. Is moving the discussion closer to plant-based the authentic political dimension to be pursued here? Or is this effort simply going to have to be repeated when it is acknowledged that plant-based is not enough? As radical as it may sound, it actually seems more politically efficient to push everything at once–and perhaps even feasible in the current, rapidly changing cultural climate of food.
Am I wrong?
[This conversation remains ongoing. Updates and highlights will be posted sometime this month or in February.]