As the discussion on climate change heats up, I find myself defaulting to facts that may surprise you.
Climate change is not a new phenomenon. The definition is basically changes in wind patterns, temperature and precipitation that stretches over several decades. With that definition in mind, climate change has been an ongoing challenge for farmers and society throughout history.
Today’s advocates for radical change are quick to point to slight emitters such as cattle and cars. While it is true that all we do in this modern age of using fossil fuel will contribute to weather disruption, there is little discussion on natural or massive events that changed climate and history. This does not always mean that the world gets hot — it also could be cold.
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In this 21st century there have been 87 volcano eruptions. It is well documented that volcanoes are huge disruptors of climate over a long period of time and generally have a cooling effect as millions of tons of ash and gases, especially sulphur dioxide, block or scatter the rays of the sun.
Interestingly, the eruption also releases tons of greenhouse gases and increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When this happens there are historical events of climate drought through cold or lack of rain tied to the volcanic activity. Other major events tied to volcanic activity include earthquakes and tsunamis — both of which have altering weather effects.
The retraction of ice is a fact and a serious consequence to polar ecology and to the air. The melting releases gases, particularly methane, into the atmosphere and is a major contributor of greenhouse gases. While the melt may open a shallow Arctic passage, the outcome is complicated by the traffic on the sea.
A large cargo ship at normal speed will burn between 150 tons to 350 tons of fuel per day with 52,000 cargo ships engaged globally each day. Yet commercial consumption is dwarfed by military fossil fuel use.
Eight active wars in the 21st century have contributed to climate change. Drought and famine are often followed by wartime activity as the environment is altered.
Excessive herbicide use by troops to clear areas, chemical warfare and the loss of life (both in terms of human life as well as those ecological residents such as fish, birds and mammals) all contribute to a release of gases and chemicals. War also creates gaps in nature. Once an area is radiated or even heated to extreme, it may not recover and life forms on that space are forever terminated or displaced.
Mining for munitions and munitions disposal are rarely discussed nor is resource mining for things of increased demand such as lithium (needed for batteries). Mining accounts for over 45 per cent of the world’s GDP. Mining and forestry (which employ more than 55 million people) are not facing the same pressure as agriculture because of the economic power they hold and the military investment in many areas to defend those activities. Rolling commercial deforestation which largely occurs in Europe (31 per cent), North America (28 per cent) and Asia (24 per cent) into agricultural activity, such as portrayed in Brazil, is inaccurate.
Space games and the busy load of traffic in our atmosphere are often out of sight and out of mind. More than 4,800 satellites orbit in space and just as many are floating as debris. Each time there is a space rocket launch, 11 million pounds of fuel are burned per second. One second is estimated to burn two million times more fuel than man will ever use in the family car and, I would suggest, an unmeasurable amount more than a herd or flock could ever release.
The testing of nuclear weapons for warfare is common practice. Of the more than 2,000 nuclear tests recorded over time, approximately 10 per cent were in the air (atmospheric) and both above and below ground release radioactive material. Temperature anomalies after nuclear activity are well documented.
My point is: We are not addressing the root of the problem, which is that the release of carbon dioxide is increasing in tandem with mining, war, volcanic activity, commercial deforestation, munitions manufacturing and testing, space travel, the burning of fossil fuels for military, and travel by land, air and sea. And largely through mining and forestry, the plants we need are being destroyed. There is a gross misunderstanding of the role of plants, food plants, ocean plants, grasses and trees in addressing carbon sequestration.
There is little evidence that agriculture is a major culprit. That does not, however, release agriculture of its responsibilities to be diligent at every juncture to reduce its environmental footprint.
The industry has the opportunity to lead on climate action and to drive significant change. Let us fund, promote and engage agriculture as the transformative, regenerative and restorative solution in times of climate change, because it is — at land and at sea, in times of peace and in conflict — and for all.