What we eat plays a huge role in climate change

Time to rethink some agricultural practices? Illustration: John Megahan

by Alexa White, U-M EEB graduate student

Everyone knows that climate change is going to have major effects on the way we live our daily lives, but have you ever thought about if it will change how we eat? Agriculture is the number three emitter of carbon into the atmosphere. There is a trend of deforestation that is attached to agricultural land unlike what we have ever seen throughout the history of humankind. Trees are the only tools we have to suck carbon from the atmosphere and today millions have been cut down for farms. Additionally, natural landscapes are flattened and cleared for crops and livestock that would previously host many native plants and animals. Since we can observe some of the effects of climate change today, have you ever thought about how your food plays a role?  

The current global state of agriculture is significantly unsustainable. The most common mode of farming today is corporate agriculture. This way of farming has a focus on how much food can be produced for money as opposed to paying attention to how the food is produced. Methods such as pesticide use, only growing one crop and overusing fertilizers have wreaked havoc on our surrounding natural environments. Pesticides are unhealthy for humans to consume and make it easy for crop pests to adapt and return stronger. When farmers only grow one crop, this makes it hard for native animals to reach other parts of their habitat and does not make it easy for many pollinators (or other insects) to do their job. On top of this, climate change will bring many more severe storms, droughts and flooding which will make it a lot harder for us to produce food to eat in the near future. Many of the latest models show that we will see some of the most horrible effects by 2050! So what can we do?

Well, there are different ways to farm that are more sustainable and can support the surrounding natural environments. There are systems where consumers like you and me control how food is produced, distributed and consumed. This is called food sovereignty.  In a world where consumers are more involved and pay closer attention to how farming is done, we have the power to change the future of agriculture. Think about what you eat for dinner. Do you know where your side of vegetables was grown? Do you know how those farmers got them from the farm to your grocery store? Have you ever thought to know more about the people growing your food or even how you could grow your own? The answers to these questions could reveal many ways that you and your family can improve the state of agriculture. There are farmers markets that bring you a little closer to knowing the farm and farmer. There are even programs through which you and your family can establish relationships with farmers where you sign on to receive crops directly from their farms. The way you think about how your dinner came to you is an important and valuable way of trying to help remedy these agricultural issues.

This first appeared on the EEB website’s Science Fun Facts webpage