In this file:
· We’re Eating This Planet to Death
Today the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change released a dire report arguing that humanity can’t truly
fight climate change without addressing the land problem—habitat degradation,
deforestation, and soils beat to hell by agriculture… the global food system
contributes up to 37 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions… we have to
fundamentally rethink how we grow crops and raise livestock…
· Eat less meat: UN climate change report calls for change to human diet
· New UN warming report sees hungry future that can be avoided
We’re Eating This Planet to Death
Matt Simon, WIRED
Today the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a dire report arguing that humanity can’t truly fight climate change without addressing the land problem—habitat degradation, deforestation, and soils beat to hell by agriculture. We now use nearly three quarters of the world’s ice-free surface and waste a quarter of the food we produce, all while the global food system contributes up to 37 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions.
In short, we have to fundamentally rethink how we grow crops and raise livestock. There’s no cure-all, and every potential fix is fraught with maddening complications. But if we can’t figure out how to feed our species in a more sustainable way, climate change will continue to accelerate, making it all the more difficult to grow enough food. Food systems will collapse, and people will die.
The fundamental problem is that we have finite arable land and an exploding population. And trends that are positive from a social perspective, such as the ascent of the poor into the middle class in booming economies like China’s, end up ratcheting up the demand for meat even more.
So let’s start with meat. Raising livestock for slaughter is, of course, not particularly good for the planet. Animals demand lots of food and water: A single cow might consume 11,000 gallons of water a year. And that cow burps up methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas.
In labs around the world, researchers are working on an alternative, by trying to get meat cells to grow in petri dishes. Using vats controlled for temperature, oxygen content, and more, they are replicating the conditions inside a cow without the methane side effects. And that, they promise, will be far better for the planet than growing beef out in a field.
But the promise of a lab-grown meat that replaces livestock in a significant manner is still far off. No one has a fully operational facility churning out the stuff. And that means there also isn’t much data to show how, exactly, it stacks up against factory farming. “If you're growing cells, you have to provide them with oxygen and heat and food and clean their waste and all the rest of it,” says Alison Van Eenennaam, an animal geneticist at the University of California, Davis. “That won't come free. A cow is keeping its body temperature and doing its own waste removal.”
Labs and cows also release different greenhouse gases. To grow meat in the lab, you need electricity, which means CO2 emissions. That CO2 lingers in the atmosphere for thousands of years, whereas the methane released by cows lasts more like 12 years. Powering future lab-grown meat facilities with renewables will be essential to improving the climate-wrecking profile of meat.
But cows are not just raised for their meat. India, for example, has 300 million cattle, three times as many as the US, but most Indians don’t eat beef. What they do use is the dairy; in fact, they are the biggest producers of dairy on the planet. “I don't have a simple solution for what you do with a country that has the most cattle on Earth and has the lowest beef consumption,” says Van Eenennaam. “Just saying eat less beef doesn't take care of that problem.”
There are also regional differences. A cow in one country is not fungible with a cow in another. Raising cows in Latin America or sub-Saharan Africa produces twice the emissions of cattle kept in Europe or the United States, because animals in the latter countries are fed more nutritious food and are more likely to be vaccinated and medicated when they get sick. So they reach slaughtering age quicker, which means they have less time to belch methane.
Switching humans to an entirely plant-based diet would solve some of these problems, but not all of them. For one, clearing forests and peatlands—essentially sparser forests laid on a bed of slowing rotting organic matter—to make way for agricultural land destroys essential carbon sinks. Healthy forests sequester CO2 during photosynthesis and store it. In the case of mucky peatlands, they can sequester carbon for perhaps thousands of years.
Also, prior research has shown that increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere can actually help crops grow. “But now we know that high levels of CO2 in the atmosphere decrease protein values in grain crops, and also some micronutrients like zinc and iron,” says Cynthia Rosenzweig, a coordinating lead author on the report. Lower protein in crops might then make it even harder to wean ourselves off the easy protein of meat.
So we’re caught in a brutal tension here: We need to protect and plant more trees to sequester more carbon, but we also need more land to feed a booming human population. “We can reduce our demand, or we can increase the amount of land we grow stuff on and the number of animals that produce food,” says Van Eenennaam.
Tackling this problem will require looking at every piece of the land-use problem individually, and thinking hard about how we solve each one. For example, one way to lower the demand for food might be to eliminate the massive amount of food that gets wasted every day. But the reasons why food gets wasted vary from place to place. In the United States, consumers are responsible for a great deal of it, whereas in the developing world the supply chain is the bigger culprit. There, insufficient refrigeration can cause foods to spoil before they even get to the market. The solution? More refrigeration—which means more emissions and more warming.
Researchers are racing to develop solutions to the preservation problem—a clever spray, for instance, can double the ripeness window of avocados. Robots, if deployed widely, could help fill in labor gaps and grow fruits and vegetables more efficiently, for example using machine vision to determine optimal ripeness. All great ideas that are still very young.
“The products are coming out faster than the science,” says Gabe Youtsey, chief innovation officer of the University of California's Agriculture and Natural Resources division. “But there's definitely a lot of promise there.”
But to make a meaningful impact on climate change, he says, those new ideas need to be deployed not in isolation, but as part of a larger technological system. A robot picking apples may help fill a labor gap and get more fruit to market, but that’s but one crop. Our whole food system needs to change, a sort of biotech awakening. So optimizing the supply chain to cut down on food waste, while boosting yields with optimal varietals could allow more food to grow on the same amount of land, preserving more habitats for reforestation.
The vast scale of this crisis can only be tackled through massive, perhaps unparalleled cooperation...
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Eat less meat: UN climate change report calls for change to human diet
The report on global land use and agriculture from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change comes amid accelerating deforestation in the Amazon.
Quirin Schiermeier, Nature
08 August 2019
Efforts to curb greenhouse gas-emissions and the impacts of global warming will fall significantly short without drastic changes in global land use, agriculture and human diets, leading researchers warn in a high-level report commissioned by the United Nations.
The special report on climate and land by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes plant-based diets as a major opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change ― and includes a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption.
On 8 August, the IPCC released a summary of the report, which is designed to inform upcoming climate negotiations amidst the worsening global climate crisis. More than 100 experts compiled the report in recent months, around half of whom hail from developing countries.
“We don’t want to tell people what to eat,” says Hans-Otto Pörtner, an ecologist who co-chairs the IPCC’s working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. “But it would indeed be beneficial, for both climate and human health, if people in many rich countries consumed less meat, and if politics would create appropriate incentives to that effect.”
Researchers also note the relevance of the report to tropical rainforests, where concerns are mounting about accelerating rates of deforestation. The Amazon rainforests is a huge carbon sink that acts to cool global temperature, but rates of deforestation are rising, in part due to the policies and actions of the government of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Unstopped, deforestation could turn much of the remaining Amazon forests into a degraded type of desert, possibly releasing over 50 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere in 30 to 50 years, says Carlos Nobre, a climate scientist at the University of São Paolo in Brazil. “That's very worrying,” he says.
“Unfortunately, some countries don’t seem to understand the dire need of stopping deforestation in the tropics,” says Pörtner. “We cannot force any government to interfere. But we hope that our report will sufficiently influence public opinion to that effect.”
Paris goals ...
Careful management ...
Regular assessments ...
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New UN warming report sees hungry future that can be avoided
By Seth Borenstein, Associated Press
via WSAZ (WV) - Aug 08, 2019
GENEVA (AP) — Human-caused climate change is dramatically degrading the Earth’s land and the way people use the land is making global warming worse, a new United Nations scientific report says. That creates a vicious cycle which is already making food more expensive, scarcer and less nutritious.
"The cycle is accelerating," said NASA climate scientist Cynthia Rosenzweig, a co-author of the report. "The threat of climate change affecting people's food on their dinner table is increasing."
But if people change the way they eat, grow food and manage forests, it could help save the planet from a far warmer future, scientists said.
Earth's land masses, which are only 30% of the globe, are warming twice as fast as the planet as a whole. While heat-trapping gases are causing problems in the atmosphere, the land has been less talked about as part of climate change. A special report, written by more than 100 scientists and unanimously approved by diplomats from nations around the world Thursday at a meeting in Geneva, proposed possible fixes and made more dire warnings.
"The way we use land is both part of the problem and also part of the solution," said Valerie Masson-Delmotte, a French climate scientist who co-chairs one of the panel's working groups. "Sustainable land management can help secure a future that is comfortable."
Scientists at Thursday's press conference emphasized both the seriousness of the problem and the need to make societal changes soon.
"We don't want a message of despair," said science panel official Jim Skea, a professor at Imperial College London. "We want to get across the message that every action makes a difference."
Still the stark message hit home hard for some of the authors.
"I've lost a lot of sleep about what the science is saying. As a person, it's pretty scary," Koko Warner, a manager in the U.N. Climate Change secretariat who helped write a report chapter on risk management and decision-making, told The Associated Press after the report was presented at the World Meteorological Organization headquarters in Geneva. "We need to act urgently."
The report said climate change already has worsened land degradation, caused deserts to grow, permafrost to thaw and made forests more vulnerable to drought, fire, pests and disease. That's happened even as much of the globe has gotten greener because of extra carbon dioxide in the air. Climate change has also added to the forces that have reduced the number of species on Earth.
"Climate change is really slamming the land," said World Resources Institute researcher Kelly Levin, who wasn't part of the study.
And the future could be worse.
"The stability of food supply is projected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that disrupt food chains increases," the report said...