Agriculture has been the main means of survival for humans for centuries. The age of hunter-gatherers is ancient history. Societies all over the globe have been built and destroyed over the resources that are yielded due to the development of agriculture and agricultural technology. Because agriculture involves utilizing a small area relative to the number of crops grown or livestock raised on it, it means that farmers and ranchers are able to produce a high volume of what they are producing in a concentrated area. However, the world has been facing an agricultural crisis in the last millennium due to exponential population growth and a vast reduction in arable farmland. This means that the demand for milk, eggs, crops, meat, etc.. is rising, but the area in which these resources are produced is shrinking. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social affairs reported a projection that the world population will reach 9.7 billion people by the year 2050. But what does that mean for the future of agriculture? Well, modern scientists have already started to come up with solutions to these issues; many of which may sound familiar. Factory farming, genetically modified foods, pesticides and artificial growth hormone and antibiotic cocktails for animals are only a few ways that agriculture has been permeated by modern technology. Unfortunately, many of these technological ‘advances’ have been catastrophic for the earth. Factory farms produce incredible amounts of CO2 and CH4 and they pollute soil, ground water and air quality. The sick animals that they raise on artificial hormones and antibiotics are then fed to humans which makes us, by default, sicker as well. The plants, such as soybeans, produced by companies like Monsanto, are so altered and sprayed with chemicals that they are de facto stripped of their nutritional value.
In the same UN/DESA study, it is projected that the yield of staple grains like wheat and corn will decrease by 50% due to the effects of global warming. Imagine that: 35 years from now, we will probably have only half the number of grains and corn that we have now because of climate change. Less arable land means fewer farms, which leads to higher prices and lower production. Agriculture, and the deforestation that is needed to create farmland, is responsible for 1/5th or 21% of all CO2 emissions in the world, between 2000 and 2010. The total estimate of CO2 emissions from agriculture in this decade was approximately 44 billion metric tonnes. Anthropic climate change is killing agriculture, but the deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions from farms is one of the single largest causes of climate change in the world. So is agriculture good or bad? The simple answer is both or neither, whichever way you choose to look at it.
You can read the whole article here.
This article seems to correspond with Alastair’s, so it is very interesting to get multiple sources of information regarding the same topic. As I said on Alastair’s post, I wonder how people might start to realize that there is such an impact on the environment from agriculture. Do we think people are educated enough, or do we just think that they just refuse to give up something as substantial in our diets as livestock products?
Although I believe that there has been more awareness concerning animal sourced foods, I think that many lack the full understanding to how detrimental lifestock products are on the environment. In addition to less crop production due to less ample farmland, the crops produced have less nutrients than previous years. Before significant changes are made, people must begin to understand the affect of livestock on the environment and realize that it is more than just giving up meat.
Issues like this are so difficult, I find, because they create a solution to one problem, but create another problem in the process. Populations are growing and infrastructure is expanding, so more jobs and more food is needed. But the way we are farming and obtaining this food is harmful to the environment, which only makes it more difficult to grow and farm food. Then, as you mentioned, we try coming up with alternatives only to have those alternatives be just as , if not more, detrimental to the environment. It always seems as though we are taking one step forward and two steps back
The article I posted about discusses a similar issue: the relationship livestock and crops have with climate change. As the population of the world goes up, the climate is also likely to increase from a temperature standpoint. The issue of climate change is so trick, how is the world supposed to deal with climate change, but also have ample food to feed everyone? New technologies can help to mitigate this problem, but in some sense the also exacerbate the problem. Its unfortunate that this is the case.