Next time you're stuck in traffic, watching cars belch out greenhouse gases, consider this: How much healthier would our planet be if we stop cars from spewing this junk? Cars might not be going away any time soon, but a new report released by Climate Focus and California Environmental Associates suggests 12 changes to big agriculture that could reduce the industry's carbon footprint by up to 90 percent, while maintaining food security for the planet's growing population in the process.
The report, "Strategies for Mitigating Climate Change in Agriculture," provides ways for agricultural powerhouses including Brazil, China, the European Union, India, and U.S. to improve practices to help the environment. The bottom line? If key producers adopt certain practices—including reduced beef consumption, slashed food waste, and better farm nutrient management—the world could cut over three gigatons of carbon dioxide per year.
While aiding the environment, these new policies could also make our food system more efficient, which will become vital as the world's population continues to increase. The report argues that agriculture should follow the green-aware trends that have reshaped the transportation and energy sectors in recent years.
"By reducing the climate impact of the food we eat, we can improve our health and the health of the planet," said Dr. Charlotte Streck of Climate Focus, one of the study's co-authors. "There are so many ways in which policymakers can help farmers boost productivity while mitigating climate change. We need to dispel the notion, once and for all, that productivity and sustainability can't work hand in hand."
The study calls for reduced beef consumption, particularly by the United States and China. America is currently the world's biggest red meat consumer, but that may be changing. Per capita beef consumption among Americans has dropped from 88.8 pounds in 1976 to 58.7 pounds in 2009, a trend that shows no signs of abating. Meanwhile, China seems poised for a jump in red meat consumption—by a projected 116 percent by 2050—but experts suggest that, because the nation isn't already dependent on beef it could easily steer itself in a more climate-friendly direction.
In this vein, a reference to cow flatulence—responsible for over 40 percent of the agriculture sector's direction emissions—was inevitable. The study suggested that pigs, chickens, and fish are far better protein sources for both environmental health and nutrition.
The report also pointed out global inefficiencies with food production, finding that as much as 40 percent of all food goes bad or is lost before it even reaches consumers. The fixes for this are easy and could provide vast savings for producers and consumers alike. Quite feasibly, countries could do things like resolving the confusion between "sell by" and "best by" dates, tossing good food from supermarkets for aesthetic purposes, cutting portion sizes in restaurants, and improving refrigeration techniques in developing countries.
The study's authors explained that better practices by big agriculture could have a ripple effect that could reduce forest destruction and water pollution, as well. If implemented, these types changes to the system might just stave off the end of the world as we know it.