Tuesday, February 26, 2008

That's What I'm Talking About

It was exciting to get an e-mail from my younger brother today about this hearing on Capitol Hill about food and climate change called "Food for Thought: A Primer on the Climate Consequences of Food Choices."

I look forward to listening to the presentations, but in the meantime, I've got to say I was struck by the factoids they chose to use in the press release. Here's what I mean.

"In comparison to the impacts of automobiles, power plants, and other major contributors to global warming," the press releases says, "agriculture and food issues are only just starting to be fully understood."

Then, they share these four points:

-- A 1999 British study showed that the purchase of local apples resulted in an almost 3,000 percent reduction in energy use and 87 percent lower carbon dioxide emissions than apples imported from New Zealand.

--Produce in the U.S. travels, on average, 1,300 – 2,000 miles from farm to consumer.

--A 2006 International Solid Waste Foundation study predicted that by 2025, food waste will increase by 44% worldwide.

--When food waste rots it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that landfills account for 34 percent of all methane emissions in the United States."

What's striking to me about these four points is that together they sidestep the significant research on the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions from the food sector: livestock.

If you don't know already, that s livestock is one of the largest factors in the food system's climate change impact, with food transportation (those long-distance apples), being a relatively smaller portion of the sector's overall emissions.

When you include land use changes driven by the demand for crop- and grazing-land; the production of manmade chemicals and fertilizers for feed crops; and the methane emitted mainly from ruminants like cattle, you find that 18% of the globe's total greenhouse gas emissions can be connected back to livestock. (See, for instance, the comprehensive United Nation's report Livestock's Long Shadow or the Humane Society's excellent white paper on the subject.)

I know, I know, it's just the press release! (The hearing isn't up yet for viewing), And I should just be glad that this issue--that has been swept under the rug for so long--is getting attention. And I certainly, certainly am.

But we've certainly got a lot more work to do! Thankfully, I'm hearing from colleagues around the country that they're starting to work on projects connecting local foods/sustainable agriculture and global warming. Good stuff. More soon.