Take stock and look to the future: climate and animal agriculture
As 2021 draws to a close, we take stock of another momentous year that marked massive upheaval in the food system and throughout society. To lead us into 2022, we asked some of the leading thinkers and actors working on the frontlines of food, justice and climate to share their thoughts with us on the most pressing issues, which they will be working on during the course. of the new year, and what keeps them going.
Today we hear Jonathan foley and Chellie pingree on the policy and policy solutions needed to start addressing the role of food and agriculture in the climate crisis.
Jonathan Foley, Executive Director, Project draw
What major challenges for food, agriculture and the climate must be met in 2022?
I think we have to stop playing on the margins. Ultimately, the main aspects of the food system that release greenhouse gases still are, and have been for years: deforestation, methane emissions – mostly from livestock – and nitrous oxide emissions from too much fertilizer. And all of these are intertwined with our current meat production systems.
We have to talk about animal agriculture, we have to talk about food waste, we have to rethink a lot of these systems. And I don’t think we’re having this conversation, honestly. Maybe we’re talking a little less beef and a few veggie burgers, and that’s fine, but it’s not enough. There is some talk of food waste, but the numbers haven’t changed much at all. We talk about industrial agriculture and the feedlot systems that we have today, but they haven’t changed much. It’s as important as renewables and more important than electric cars from a climate point of view. Not to mention what the food system does to biodiversity, to water, and to what it does to people around the world. We need a better system, and we have needed it for a long time.
What do you propose to bring things from the sidelines to the fore?
At the American level, we seem to have real difficulties in putting agriculture at the same level of performance from a climate point of view as our electricity grids and our cars. Somehow we prioritize Big Ag every time and allow them to make changes that are voluntary or pilot projects – things that do good but miss big opportunities, and that to me. worried a lot.
Also, I’m worried about the coverage we’re giving ourselves by calling something ânet zeroâ, instead of actual zero. We cannot just create carbon sinks out of them. There is not enough soil, there are not enough trees on the planet to absorb all the emissions that we are going to have by then. We literally have to cut emissions; that’s 95 percent of what we need to do. And in ag, it will mean [producing] much less meat, especially beef. And it will be very hard for countries which continue reckless deforestation, such as Brazil or Indonesia.
I would like to know: where is the United States to put pressure on Brazil and Indonesia on deforestation? Where is the EU? Great Britain? China? One or two major economic powers could stop deforestation in the Amazon. The opportunities are huge, but it’s the lack of a backbone in politics that keeps this stuff thrown out onto the road.
On the other side of this equation, where do you see progress happening?
Overall, I’m a pretty optimistic guy. We are making rapid progress in the electricity sector, we are making fairly significant progress in transportation and some in industry. But in food and agriculture, we have the impression of going backwards. We’re distracted by shop stuff like regenerative farming, which hasn’t really shown if this really is a carbon sink or how widely applicable it could be. It can be helpful, but until then we know that reducing food waste and reducing beef consumption works. Regenerative agriculture could be a secondary benefit. We will need everything. And yes, plant-based burgers, and maybe cultured meat, might help a bit, but they’re still nowhere near the scale of the problem we’re tackling.