Wednesday, June 6, 2012

My Munchable Soapbox: Head in the Clouds

Photo credit: Niel Palmer/CIAT
Yesterday was World Environment Day. Established by the United Nations Environment Programme, this years theme followed suit with the general hype around the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit: "Green Economy". And while this is all well and good - promoting low-carbon growth on a planet with rapidly increasing human populations and an alarming rate of environmental degradation - it appears as though we may have hit a tipping point (this is not going to be a terribly cheery blog post...). 

Last week did not bring good news, with the announcement that measurements of atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide surpassing 400 parts per million have been taken. Among the scientific community, the long lost 350 ppm is generally accepted as the safe bar to avoid dangerous climate change impacts. The World Resources Institute attributed this increase in part to our record high global greenhouse gas emissions this past year. Yikes! While not  significant in and of itself, that blazing 400 should be a wake-up call that we need to rethink how we operate as a society in order to lesson these environmental impacts.

So, the theme Green Economy for World Environment Day is appropriate, no? Yes, but it's not enough, and agriculture only makes up a small portion of the actionable items. Agriculture production and related land use changes contribute over one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, it is one of the critical opportunities to not only reduce this footprint, but also take in more carbon than it releases! This means shifting practices over to ones that work with natural ecosystems, adding organic matter (soil carbon), and uses fertilizer more efficiently (another source of greenhouse gases). There is a lot to be done, so hopefully this World Environment Day can be the starting point for true "green growth."

Stepping off the soapbox...

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