Why Food Deserves More Attention in Reversing Climate Change

By Trevor McCoy

Our global food system carries a substantial carbon footprint, but you might not know that if you aren’t a climate scientist. While calculating exactly how much carbon is emitted by the entire food system would be impossibly complicated, experts have created emissions estimates for different sections of our food system, especially food’s greatest source of carbon emissions, agriculture.

In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international group of scientists and experts that produces reports on climate change for the United Nations, listed Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (AFOLU) as contributing 24% of our global carbon emissions.1 By comparison, the IPCC calculated that all of land, sea, and air transportation combined represent 14% of global emissions.

It is already difficult to fully understand the process that takes place when exhaust from a car’s tailpipe makes its way into the atmosphere and affects our climate, but it is even more complex to understand how something like agriculture or forestry could contribute to global warming. Figure 1 breaks down AFOLU into its components, illustrating their contributions to climate change.

Figure 1

The IPCC has broken up AFOLU’s carbon footprint into 11 major sections. Although this graph can seem complicated, with a little guidance it is easy to understand. Let’s start by looking at the big yellow section, “Enteric Fermentation.” Although enteric fermentation might be a foreign concept, it’s just the way certain animals like cows or sheep (known as ruminants) digest their food, which is a process that is very different from the way humans digest food. These animals produce significant amounts of methane (CH4), a greenhouse gas that has substantial warming properties and is much more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Although an individual cow has an inconsequentially small carbon footprint, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) there are more than 1.4 billion cows in the world.2 In fact, the FAO estimates that the livestock industry is responsible for nearly 15% of humanity’s yearly carbon footprint, and cows produce approximately 65% of livestock emissions.3

I won’t go into detail on every aspect of AFOLU, but most components can simply be summarized as soil and nutrient management. However, the biggest section, “Land Use Change and Forestry,” is worth fully dissecting. This block is calculated from a wide number of different land use changes, but you can basically think of it as deforestation. Forests are incredible carbon banks, able to store several tons of carbon in every tree. So, when people remove a section of forest with the slash and burn technique, we are releasing this carbon into the atmosphere.

Most people have already heard that deforestation is bad for the planet, but what does this have to do with food? You might find it disheartening to learn that scientists from REDD, an organization established through the United Nations to protect the Earth’s forests from deforestation and degradation, have named agriculture as the most important driver of global deforestation.4

In the 10,000 years since we first began digging in the dirt, we have driven the cultivation of food to an unprecedented scale. Earth’s land surface is approximately 15 billion hectares, of which 4.5 billion are either glaciers or deserts, leaving about 10.5 billion hectares of “habitable land.”5 Since 8000 BCE, humans have converted roughly 5 billion hectares of this natural land to agricultural use, and 4 billion hectares of that land was transformed in just the last 300 years. To put it simply, in a very short amount of time we have converted about half of the world’s habitable land from natural ecosystems to agriculture. Changes to the Earth’s surface at this scale have consequences, especially when it comes to climate change. Figures 2 and 3 illustrate just how significantly we have changed the Earth in such a short amount of time.

Figure 2

Figure 3

 

Unfortunately, food’s role in climate change doesn’t stop at agriculture. AFOLU’s carbon footprint considers the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and land use change, but this is only the very first step of the food system. After we have grown our food, it will need to be transported, processed, refrigerated, cooked, and we will need to dispose of any food waste created along the way. The FAO estimates that food waste alone produces 8% of our yearly global carbon emissions.6 Every step of our current food system, from agriculture to waste disposal, releases billions of tons of carbon into our atmosphere, making food’s role in global warming one that we cannot afford to ignore.

While there are numerous climate activism campaigns encouraging citizens to turn off the lights, drive less, or install solar panels, food does not receive enough attention in the United States. While some cities and organizations are calling specific attention to the importance of food’s carbon footprint, many Americans have never been introduced to this information. However, projects like Drawdown – “The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming” – have been working to spread information about food systems as one the most important sectors in the fight against climate change. In fact, 8 of Drawdown’s top 20 solutions to reverse global warming are specifically in the food sector, and most of the other 12 indirectly involve food systems.7 Even Drawdown’s number one solution to reverse global warming, Refrigerant Management, is primarily a materials problem, but also an integral piece of our modern food system.

For humans to win the fight against climate change, we will need to rethink and rebuild every sector of our society. If we are going to continue to thrive as a species despite the changes that our planet is undergoing, we must give food more attention.

 

Sources

  1. Smith P., M. Bustamante, H. Ahammad, H. Clark, H. Dong, E.A. Elsiddig, H. Haberl, R. Harper, J. House, M. Jafari, O. Masera, C. Mbow, N.H. Ravindranath, C.W. Rice, C. Robledo Abad, A. Romanovskaya, F. Sperling, and F. Tubiello, 2014: Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU). In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Retrieved from: https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg3/ipcc_wg3_ar5_chapter11.pdf
  2. Tayyibb, S. (2010). Stastistical Yearbook of the Food And Agricultural Organization for the United Nations. Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/docrep/017/i3138e/i3138e07.pdf
  3. Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G. 2013. Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome. Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3437e.pdf
  4. Kissinger, G., M. Herold, V. De Sy. Drivers of Deforestation and Forest Degradation: A Synthesis Report for REDD+ Policymakers. Lexeme Consulting, Vancouver Canada, August 2012.Retrieved from: https://www.forestcarbonpartnership.org/sites/fcp/files/DriversOfDeforestation.pdf_N_S.pdf
  5. Max Roser and Hannah Ritchie (2018) – “Yields and Land Use in Agriculture”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/yields-and-land-use-in-agriculture
  6. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). (2011). Food Wastage Footprint & Climate Change. Retrieved from: http://www.fao.org/3/a-bb144e.pdf
  7. (2017). Food Sector Summary. Retrieved from: https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/food

 

 

 

 

JOB OPENING: Duke World Food Policy Center – Food Policy Project Administrator

https://sanford.duke.edu/about-us/inside-sanford/employment

The Food Policy Project Administrator will serve as an important member of the World Food Policy Center (WFPC) planning effort, reporting to the Associate Director, and providing research, grant writing, communications and technical tool development, and outreach support for the proposed center.

The WFPC is a proposed center housed at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University, currently undertaking a strategic planning phase that is building toward a full launch sometime in 2017. The vision for the center is to bridge research and policy practitioner worlds by coordinating work across disconnected food policy communities (1) obesity, overnutrition, non-communicable diseases; 2) hunger & food insecurity; 3) the reciprocal relationship of agriculture and the environment; and 4) food safety and defense. The center will engage in work from the most global at the multi-state or state level outside the US, at the US national level, and also at a very local level, investing time and resources into projects in Durham, NC and in the Carolinas. 

This is a full-time, one year contract, renewable annually thereafter contingent on Center funding. The full job description can be found here. Applicants should submit their CV and cover letter via email to Heather Griswold (heather.griswold@duke.edu). Application deadline is end of day Friday, September 9, 2016. (Note: timeline has been extended – the old date of Sept 6 is listed on the PDF for the job description)

JOB OPENING: Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council – Manager

The Greater Cincinnati Regional Food Policy Council, an initiative of Green Umbrella, works to promote a healthy, equitable, and sustainable food system for all within the Greater Cincinnati region. Green Umbrella, the leading alliance working to maximize environmental sustainability in Greater Cincinnati, drives collaboration to fuel measurable improvements in key sustainability areas the vision of having our region recognized as one of the top 10 most sustainable metro areas in the nation by 2020.

Green Umbrella seeks a dynamic leader to advance integrated food policy work by providing strategic direction to policy makers and stakeholders through policy analysis, development, coordination, and technical assistance. Focus will be on equitable and sustainable food policies which are most impactful for building a local food economy and increasing healthy food access within a tri-state 10-county region. The manager will report to Green Umbrella’s Executive Director and will work closely with the Council’s Leadership Team and in conjunction with Green Umbrella’s Local Food Action Team.

More information available here: http://www.greenumbrella.org/Green-Jobs/4200685

University of Kansas Planning Students Partner with Wyandotte County on Food Policy Assistance

In Spring 2016, the University of Kansas Urban Planning Department and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas partnered together to develop three options for integrating food access and food production into the current City Wide Master Plan. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas is a prime example of a community poised for practical, fresh food production and access policies. Healthy Communities Wyandotte (HCW), a health-focused countywide initiative, is an example of this sort of innovation. Through the work of numerous action teams, HCW works to mobilize community members to improve health, as Wyandotte County once again received the lowest health rating in the State of Kansas in 2016. Wyandotte County was recently selected to receive food systems policy and program training and assistance from Growing Food Connections to further their health initiatives. Healthy Food Happy County serves as a supplemental policy document, as directed by Growing Food Connections, that explores the viability of food systems policies within Wyandotte County.

INTERNSHIP AVAILABLE: Fall 2016 Policy Intern at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition – Washington, DC

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is currently seeking a Policy Intern for the fall term beginning late August 2016 and lasting until early January 2017.  This position is paid, full time, and is located at NSAC’s DC office on Capitol Hill. For more information and instructions on how to apply, please see the position description at: http://sustainableagriculture.net/about-us/jobs/

JOB OPENING: South Carolina Policy Coordinator – Columbia, SC

  • The South Carolina Policy Coordinator is a full-time, salaried position (40 hours/week) with the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA).  The position is based in Columbia, SC. The SC Policy Coordinator works as part of the Policy Team to advocate for state policies that better support local food, organic farming, and resilient regional food systems.

    About CFSA
    Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) is a member based 501(c)(3) non- profit organization that helps people grow and eat local, organic food by advocating for fair farm and food policies, building the systems that organic family farms need to thrive, and educating communities about local, organic farming. We support farming and food that is good for consumers, good for farmers and farm workers, and good for the land.

    JOB SUMMARY:
    The SC Policy Coordinator works in collaboration with the Policy Director, other CFSA staff, and partner organizations to influence the South Carolina General Assembly, state-level administrative agencies, and land-grant universities on issues of importance to local and organic food and farming in South Carolina. Specific responsibilities include assisting in the development of state level advocacy goals, advocating for specific policy solutions to achieve those goals, educating state (and occasionally federal) policy-makers on issues of importance to the local and organic food and farming community, and organizing and overseeing grassroots communications campaigns in support of CFSA’s policy goals.

    The work will primarily take place remotely in Columbia, SC. CFSA’s main office is located in Pittsboro, NC.

    The SC Policy Coordinator reports to the Policy Director.

    JOB RESPONSIBILITIES:

    STATE POLICY (80%):
    •       Engage CFSA members and stakeholder communities in developing policy priorities and grassroots campaigns for South Carolina.
    •       Develop legislative and regulatory proposals and strategies to advance CFSA’s advocacy priorities, and implement strategies to influence legislative and regulatory processes.
    •       Educate state legislators and their staff and administrative agency personnel regarding CFSA’s advocacy priorities.
    •       Monitor state legislative developments and organize CFSA grassroots and grasstops responses to issues relevant to CFSA’s policy priorities and overall mission.
    •       Follow SC news related to food and farming policy, and assist with the development of a monthly e-newsletter compiling policy news for CFSA’s members.
    •       Coordinate grassroots campaign implementation with CFSA’s Community Mobilizer and partner organizations.
    •       Coordinate media (traditional and social) outreach, in conjunction with CFSA communications staff and partner organizations, in support of policy campaigns.
    •       Influence administrators of agriculture programs at SC’s land-grant university to increase resources allocated to organic agriculture research and education.
    •       Establish and maintain relationships with other academic institutions that are supportive of local, organic food system development.
    •       Achieve policy wins that advance CFSA’s mission and advocacy priorities.

    COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT (10%)
    •       Provide resources and guidance to local communities (such as food councils, extension offices, community development agencies) to successfully develop and implement policies to promote local food economies, stewardship of agricultural resources, and healthy diets.
    •       Coordinate with regional and community-based partners to implement local policy campaigns
    •       Collaborate with allied organizations to offer grassroots leadership development programs.
    •       Support and strengthen CFSA’s community mobilization network.

    OUTREACH AND ADMINISTRATION (10%):
    •       Increase awareness and visibility of CFSA’s advocacy work, by giving presentations, accepting speaking engagements, and conducting general outreach.
    •       Represent CFSA at meetings and events held by allied organizations and stakeholders.
    •       Identify and pursue opportunities to expand CFSA membership and ensure member satisfaction.
    •       Identify and pursue, in conjunction with other CFSA staff, funding opportunities to support policy initiatives.
    •       Participate in work planning with the Policy Team on an annual basis, and in weekly meetings of the Policy Team about ongoing work.
    •       Meet all certification and recordkeeping requirements placed on lobbyists by the state of South Carolina.
    •       Contribute to quarterly reports documenting the work of the Policy Team.

    POSITION REQUIREMENTS:
    •       Either a JD or master’s degree in public policy plus 3 years’professional experience, or five years’ professional experience. The required experience must include work on successful policy campaigns (local, state or federal) that engage diverse partners and communities in efforts to promote systemic change. Note that resumes that do not document the required number of years of policy advocacy experience will not be considered.
    •       Familiarity with the state legislative process and the role of administrative agencies in crafting policy.
    •       Demonstrated success working on policy campaigns targeting legislative or administrative policy makers.
    •       Experience engaging the public in grassroots policy action.
    •       Must be self-directed and capable of successful work outside of a traditional office structure.
    •       Proven ability to work well within a team, and with individuals, both internal and external, from diverse backgrounds.
    •       Excellent oral and written communication skills.
    •       Exceptional organization and time management ability, with proven ability to multitask, and consistently meet or exceed deadlines and goals.
    •       Commitment to sustainable agriculture principles.
    •       Strong knowledgeable of food systems issues; knowledge of the Carolinas’ food systems preferred.
    •       Strong analytic skills, including ability to identify systemic problems and develop innovative solutions.
    •       Excellent interpersonal skills.

    CFSA offers a competitive non-profit sector salary in the low- to mid- $40K,
    DOE, with generous vacation and retirement benefits as well as a monthly
    fringe benefit to support the purchase of health insurance.  CFSA is an equal
    opportunity employer and encourages applications from women and people of
    color.

    To apply, submit a resume, list of professional references and a cover letter
    explaining why you want to work to promote local, organic agriculture to
    apply@carolinafarmstewards.org with “SC Policy Coordinator” in the subject
    line.  You will receive electronic confirmation of your email submission.  No
    calls, please.

    Applications are due by August 1, 2016.  The anticipated start date is October
    1, 2016.

JOB OPENING: Food Systems & Health Analyst – Washington, DC

Food Systems and Health Analyst

Union of Concerned Scientists

Washington, DC

http://www.ucsusa.org/about/jobs-ucs#foodhealthanalyst

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) seeks a skilled analyst to lend public health and health equity expertise to our multi-disciplinary Food and Environment team. We’re leading the call for a national food policy that ensures access to affordable, healthy food for all Americans; guarantees fair wages for millions of farm and food workers; and protects the nation’s farmland, air, water, and climate. As Food Systems and Health Analyst, you will design and carry out creative research leading to solutions for our nation’s food system, and communicate them to policy makers, allies, and the public. Come join our team and help us fix food!