The food system is very bad for the climate. It should not be

As people’s incomes rise, “starchy staples” like grains, potatoes, and roots shift to meat and dairy products. “You think there might be big cultural differences between people in these patterns,” said Thomas Tomich, a food systems economist at the University of California, who was not involved in the new paper. “are there some, But it’s surprising how global this change is: how much rising incomes, especially the shift from the poor to the middle class, affect people’s consumption of animal products.

However, cattle and dairy products are particularly important to the climate discussion because they are the largest sources of methane emissions. According to Ivanovic’s modeling, By 2030, beef alone could account for one-third of global warming linked to food consumption. Dairy products account for 19 percent, while rice accounts for 23 percent. Together, these three groups are responsible for three-quarters of global warming from the global food system.

But there’s a silver lining: the team thinks we can eliminate half of this warming by improving our food systems and diets. That starts with eating a few cows and other livestock – the fewer stomachs in there, the better. New food technologies such as plant-based meat imitations such as the Impossible Burger or meats grown from cells grown in the lab, also known as cellular agriculture. Researchers are testing feed additives for cows that reduce methane in their rumen.

In the field, rice farmers can significantly reduce methane emissions by alternating between watering and drying instead of leaving the plants flooded. Researchers are developing crops that fix their own nitrogen in an effort to reduce nitrous oxide emissions. (Grains do this thanks to symbiotic bacteria living in their roots.) One team reduced the need for artificial fertilizers by making biofilm-growing rice plants home to nitrogen-fixing microorganisms. The production of such fertilizers is extremely energy-intensive, so reducing dependence on them will further reduce emissions.

Ivanovic, however, emphasized that developed countries certainly cannot force methane-sensitive foods on developing economies. In some parts of the world, a cow is simply food and milk, but for subsistence farmers, it can be a working animal or currency. “It is very important that there are no changes in dietary composition that are unrelated to cultural issues and that do not support local production practices and those that contribute to economic livelihoods,” she said.

The Ivanovic 1-degree figure is an estimate, not a prediction. For one thing, you can’t intuitively predict how new food and farming technologies will reduce emissions in the coming decades. Environmental scientist Adrian Leip, lead author of last year’s IPCC report on climate mitigation, says that while these technologies are promising, it is unclear when and how quickly people will use them. “At some point, one of these technologies – I don’t know if it will be cellular agriculture or a plant-based analogue – will be so cheap. It will be so tasty and nutritious that people will start thinking: Why on earth did I eat an animal?” says Lepp, who was not involved in the new paper. “I believe it should be, because I really don’t see any good reasons. is not Occurrence. And so if social norms start to change it can happen very quickly.

Further complicating matters is an additional feedback loop: As the food system increases global temperatures, crops must withstand more heat stress and more severe droughts. “It’s a two-way dynamic,” Ivanovic says, “The agriculture we produce is affected by our changing climate, and our changing climate affects how well we can grow crops and support our global population.” “

But she offers a note of hope: Once humans stop producing, methane will decline rapidly. It will disappear from the atmosphere after ten years, CO2 It lasts for ages. “If we reduce emissions now, we will achieve those reductions in future warming faster,” she said.

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