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Food Sustainability Is Getting Smarter Every Day

Study reveals environmental impact of feeding the world

The Lempert Report

Forbes reports that a new study from Oxford published in the journal Science showed some interesting results about our food and our climate. 

Over 570 million farms produce more than 5 billion tons of food a year, according to Forbes columnist James Conca, providing more than 20 trillion calories to Earth’s almost 8 billion people. The process creates more than 14 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2eq)—over a quarter of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. Another 3 billion tons of CO2eq is emitted during nonfood agriculture and deforestation.

The researchers consolidated data on the multiple environmental impacts of over 38,000 farms producing 40 different agricultural goods around the world in a meta-analysis comparing various ways of producing food.

The upshot of the study is that changing farming practices could achieve a lot, but changing our diets would do a lot more.

Together with replacing all fossil fuels with hydro, nuclear and renewables, changing our diet is about all that could actually wrangle the climate issue in time to do any good. A pound of meat production produces more greenhouse gases—and uses more land—than a pound of all other foodstuffs combined.

There are two paths forward that address this problem in different ways:

  1. Make fake meat that actually tastes and feels like real beef.
  2. Change cow and sheep grazing to be “regenerative," meaning mostly net zero carbon.

Rotating the herds between a series of fenced-off paddocks allows for periods of intense grazing, where the soil is disturbed and the animals’ manure is naturally deposited and incorporated, followed by fallow periods with no grazing where the land is given time to rest and regenerate.

During the regenerative period, the land acts as a carbon sink, increasing soil fertility, insect and plant biodiversity, and soil carbon sequestration; and bringing the field back to natural conditions to start the process over again. No fertilizer or plowing and seeding.

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