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Farming Climate Destruction


Autumn Marsh


Agriculture is critical to human survival. Agriculture not only provides us with the food we need but also provides jobs for millions of people when accounting for the entirety of the supply chain. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, agriculture makes up 10.4% of employment and 12.8% of American household budgets. This totals over one trillion dollars spent on food products per year. However, agriculture is standing as one of the biggest threats to our planet, largely because of methane. NASA claims that methane is the second-largest greenhouse contributing to climate change.


As of 2021, the UNEP had found that 32% of human-caused methane emissions came from agriculture. A large portion of the methane emission is from the manure and flatulence of livestock. Another large producer of methane is paddy rice. Additionally, the Environmental Defense Fund has concluded that 30% of modern global warming is caused by human-produced methane; this is paired with the fact that during the first 20 years after methane reaches the atmosphere it has 80 times the power of carbon dioxide.


Agriculture producing one-third of our methane emissions puts us in an interesting position where we have no choice but to create technology, change farming tactics, and make dietary changes where possible. If we cut back on agriculture people will go hungry, and people will lose their jobs, meaning there’s little we can do in terms of reducing agriculture that can be done safely and ethically. It’s a much more delicate system as well. When experimenting with agriculture we need to ensure all new technology is implemented in a way that doesn’t ruin crop yields or hurt animals.


What can be done to reduce methane emissions then? As individuals, we can make the personal decision to cut back our meat consumption. By eating less meat and taking other protein sources into our diet we can make that small effort to change agricultural needs. However, like with most climate change decisions the biggest players are farmers. Changing our demands as consumers can give them more incentive to make changes but we also need to advocate for changes in technology and technique.


UNEP believes that using alternative methods for wetting and drying paddy rice is opposed to the traditional method that floods fields and limits oxygen access. By using this traditional flooding method where oxygen can’t access the soil it increases the viability of bacterial species that produce methane. If farmers growing paddy rice engage in different techniques the UNEP estimates that agriculture-based methane emissions can be cut in half.


Ultimately, methane emissions are an immediate threat to the atmosphere. If immediate action is taken to make reductions now we can see a positive change related to greenhouse gas emissions a decade from now. Agriculture producing one-third of methane emissions when it doesn’t have to is something that needs to be remedied sooner rather than later. Changing our dietary habits in terms of meat and dairy consumption can make a small difference. Those who are capable of making the change to alternative protein sources and nut or oat-based milk will make positive changes. This doesn’t mean we have to quit altogether either, even minor reductions can make a difference throughout our entire lives.


Citations

1. AG and food sectors and the economy. USDA ERS - Ag and Food Sectors and the Economy. (n.d.). https://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/ag-and-food-sectors-and-the-economy/?topicId=b7a1aba0-7059-4feb-a84c-b2fd1f0db6a3


2. Methane: A crucial opportunity in the Climate Fight. Environmental Defense Fund. (n.d.). https://www.edf.org/climate/methane-crucial-opportunity-climate-fight


3. Methane emissions are driving climate change. here’s how to reduce them. UNEP. (n.d.). https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/methane-emissions-are-driving-climate-change-heres-how-reduce-them


4. NASA. (2024, April 11). Methane. NASA. https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/methane/?intent=121


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