Agriculture

  • Modern agriculture is highly connected with climate change, particularly: practices dependent on fossil fuels, land usage and deforestation, chemical sprays (herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers, etc.), transportation/refrigeration/packaging/retail Lovins, 178
  • 60% of Australia's land use and 80% of its human water use are for agriculture, but agriculture contributes less than 3% of the GDP. Most of the land (>99%) thus engaged is uneconomically viable without government subsidy; the only truly profitable agriculture is <0.8% of that agricultural land Diamond, 413
  • China uses 3x the world average of fertilizer per acre Diamond, 362
  • Over the past 1000 years humans have turned ~2b hectares of productive farmland into wasteland (1986 estimate) Meadows, 61
  • Rate of humus loss is accelerating from 25m tons/year (pre-Industrial) to 760m tons/year 1954-2004 Meadows, 61
  • Fertilizers mask the signs of soil abuse, leading to a delay in signals, which is a characteristic cause of systemic overshoot Meadows, 62
  • Greenhouse gas emissions are typically dominated by production, not by miles traveled to consumption McWilliams, 26
  • In an eight-year test comparing crop yields, organic farms produced 20% less than the control group at best, and often 50% less McWilliams, 58

Overproduction

  • American farms overproduce to the extent that in 1962 the government subsidized at more than $1bn/year in surplus food storage Carson, 27 //TODO: updated stat?
  • "The overproduction of grain helps enable the overproduction of chicken, which lowers the price of chicken, which means even more chickens are raised to make up for declining revenue. That leads to even more unneeded chicken [the parts that aren't breasts and thighs]. So it's fed to other animals it probably shouldn't be fed to, like fish (which are increasingly farm-raised, in part due to the offshore pollution caused by producing too much grain)." Barber, 157
  • Our food systems were originally driven by what the land could produce; it's now driven by what eaters want to consume - which leads to a lot of wasted animal parts when we only buy the choicest cuts Barber, 156
  • Food production increases worldwide have come almost completely from greater efficiency- ~1.5 billion hectares (as of 2004) have crops growing on them, a nearly constant area over 30 years. But they're different places, as salinization, desertification, urbanization etc. uses up the old croplands Meadows, 60

Salinization

  • ~100m hectares of irrigated land has been lost to salinization Meadows, 61
  • Saline seep is occurring in Montana. The minerals in the area are naturally salty, but native vegetation typically keeps minerals from dissolving. Ground cover killing herbicides and tractor use are interfering with this system and causing downhill land to become toxic and unarable. Diamond, 37

Monocultures

  • Monocultures make entire crops susceptible to disease - all or nothing Barber, 82

Aquaculture (fish farming)

  • Aquaculture raised fish: to get one to market weight quickly enough to turn a profit, you have to feed it 2-5x its weight in wild fish Barber, 235

"Green Revolution"

  • We moved to monocultures through the work of Norman Borlaug, who bred quick-maturing grains in the 1950s and 1960s to combat world hunger - and it worked; an estimated 1 billion lives were saved from starvation worldwide Barber, 364
  • Quick-maturing grains produce shallow root structures, so they don't build the soil in the same way as their predecessors (no deep aeration among other things) and also are more sensitive to drought - government money has gone into huge irrigation projects since 1950 (irrigated farmland has tripled from 1950-2000). Barber, 365
  • "According to author and activist Vandana Shiva, India's water crisis is clearly linked to the introduction of Borlaug's green revolution varieties. 'Although high-yielding varieties of wheat may yield over 40 percent more than traditional varieties,' she writes, 'they need about three times as much water.'" Barber, 365
  • "With a billion lives at stake, the single-minded pursuit of yield is both defensible and important. But what if, all along, our math has been wrong? What if, in our mad dash for greater productivity, we've miscalculated the true yields? ¶ Consider the farmer who grows a variety of semidwarf wheat. He applies the requisite chemical fertilizers and sits back, with hopes of watching his yields (and profit) soar. But shorter straw means less to plow back into the ground to become food for soil organisms. Or, if the wheat is being used as food and bedding for cattle, dwarfed straw means there's less feed for the cow. Either way, it amounts to less food for someone. And not just anyone. As Klaas liked to remind me, soil organisms and cows are partners in making a healthy system work. In the modern calculus of efficient farming, those things are left out of the equation because they're not feeding our bellies (at least not directly). And it's a critical omission." Barber, 366

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