Drought and Carbon Management
Drought and Carbon Management
Impacts of Agriculture on Climate Change
Climate change has become a global concern in the recent past. More than 96% of global environmental scientists believe that climate change is happening at an unmanageable speed. They also believe that human activities play a significant role in accelerating change. 2016 became significant for climate change watchers when carbon (IV) oxide concentration levels remained above 400 ppm for the entire year (Pidcock, 2016 n.p). This is clear energy that the levels of CO2 concentration in the atmosphere are increasing at unmanageable levels. When CO2 and other greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere, they result in a blanketing effect that prevents the sun’s rays from escape the atmosphere. This results in a net rise in temperature with dire results such as continuous throwing of the polar glaciers. Such events affect the climatic equilibrium around the earth significantly and directly affect the coastal habitats which are beginning to disappear. 2017 continued to witness many challenges that can be related to climate change such as hurricanes, heat waves, and droughts. The impacts of climate change are so dire that Stephen Hawking revised his 1000 years limit for human survival to insinuate that human beings have approximately 100 years only to inhabit the earth. The various world and religious leaders have increased their calls to persuade every person to be a custodian of the planet. In 2015, a global climate change conference led to the Paris Agreement in which global economies agreed to keep annual temperature rises within 2oC for the next century (Unfccc. int, 2014 n.p). This is the only way that can allow the earth to reinvent itself and to continue being useful for future sustainability. In his encyclical entitled ‘Laudato si’’, the pope called on the entire global population to care for the common home before it is damaged to irreversible levels.
In the past, most of climate change has been blamed on the combustion of fossil fuels. Using petroleum products from transportation and running industrial machines contribute to a significant level of carbon gases in the atmosphere. Between 2001 and 2010, 91% of the total carbon (IV) emissions resulted from the burning of fossil fuels which makes a claim justifiable. However, current research shows that the over-insistence on carbon footprint from fossil fuels ignores essential pointers to other chief causes of pollution. Agriculture is among the principal reasons of climate change. According to a paper published by world watch group in 2009, 18% of the total greenhouse gases produced globally results from agricultural practices (Livestock and Climate Change, 2009 p.12). There are many ways in which agricultural practices contribute to climate change.
Approximately 9% of the entire CO2 production resulted from land use change. Trees are an important component in the removal of CO2 from the atmosphere. Photosynthesis is an essential part of the gas cycle which allows CO2 to be reconverted to oxygen and other elements to be reused again. When deforestation occurs, the natural CO2 sequestering processes are hindered leading to accumulation of the gas in the atmosphere. This is direr when the activities that are involved produce even more greenhouse gases. Among the most important carbon sinks for the earth is the Amazon forest. This is the largest tropical forest in the world. Recognizing its essential role in maintaining some form of equilibrium, the majority of its area are protected as indigenous forests. An exploration of the Brazilian Amazon, which comprises of approximately 350 million hectares, demonstrates the significance of continued deforestation for agricultural practices. Nearly 3.5 million hectares of the cleared land is used for permanent agrarian practices (Globalforestatlas.yale.edu, 2017 n.p). However, 45 million hectares which represent about 62% of the total cleared land are used for cattle rearing (Globalforestatlas.yale.edu, 2017 n.p). Commercial rearing has not only grown in prominence in South America but even in other continents. In the European Union, the average number of livestock units kept per farm increased from 9.5 to 11.2 between 1995 and 2010 (Ec.europa.eu, 2017 n.p). By 2010, there were a total of 135 million livestock units within the European Union (Ec.europa.eu, 2017 n.p). In turkey, animal husbandry is one of the most significant economic ventures for the people. Animal husbandry accounted for approximately 25% of the agricultural practices as per a report by Akbay and Boz (2005) (Akbay and Boz, 2005 p.1). Even then, the livestock industry was considered to have a lot of potentials and therefore targeted for massive expansions. Commercial animal production thus continues to increase despite the fact that it has been identified as one of the leading causes of global warming.
In 2016, research by Yohannes updated the statistical level of agricultural anthropogenic greenhouse gases contribution level to 30-40% with the majority of this happening in developing countries and only set to increase in the future (Yohannes, 2015 n.p). In these countries, more population is getting into the middle class which is characterized by an increase in calorie consumption. Majority of the increased calorie consumption is likely to come from meat which is often an indicator of improved social status. It is therefore expected that beef consumption will increase by 50% by 2015. This is especially expected to result from an increase in beef consumption in China and India which have very low beef consumption currently. The consumption of beef is inefficient. Only approximately 1% of the consumed feeds are converted to calories that are consumed by people (Magill, 2016 n.p). Cattle rearing involve the extensive production of fodder. The growth of this fodder uses fertilizers. Fertilizer production processes are primary contributors of CO2 emissions productions.
In addition to this, animal produces methane gas in enteric fermentation process within the digestive processes (Koneswaran and Nierenberg, 2008 p.578). Cattle rearing contributes to 47% of the of the total methane gas emissions (Agriculture and Climate Change, 2015 n.p). As a non-CO2 greenhouse gas, methane has even graver impacts on climate change. Non-CO2 greenhouse gases normally have higher longevity than CO2. This means that they stay for longer in the atmosphere and therefore will have greater impacts on the climate per ton that is produced when compared to CO2. These gasses are often poisonous and therefore also have more adverse short-term implications. Other non-CO2 greenhouses gases include nitrous oxides and fluorinated gases. These gases are vastly produced in agriculture. Fertilizers are commonly produced with chemicals that produce these gases (Gilbert, 2012 n.p). Many aerosol pesticides also have these chemicals which escape into the atmosphere to contribute to the global greenhouse gas count. Indirectly, agriculture contributes to climate change through leaching of chemicals into the soil and the subsequent change of the structure.
Agricultural practices are attached to numerous support activities that also contribute to greenhouse gases. Food processing, storage, and packaging processes involve some form of greenhouse gas emissions. Freezing is a significant contributor to climate change. Leakages of refrigerants are at minimal but significant levels. Traditional refrigeration gasses used to be based on CFC gases (Becken and Becken, 2015 n.p). These gases are well known for their capacity to erode the ozone layer and therefore the consequent penetration of harmful sun rays into the atmosphere. Fortunately, the use of CFCs was banned as part of the implementation of the Montreal Protocol. Currently, most of the cooling systems use HFCs (Becken and Becken, 2015 n.p). Miniscule amounts of these gases in the atmosphere are quite significant based on the high levels of global warming potential. A unit of HFC gas is considered to have between 140 and 11,700 times more capacity to cause global warming that carbon (IV) oxide (Becken and Becken, 2015 n.p). Operational leakages in these gases have increased with lucrative but environmentally unsound food production practices in the agricultural industry. A recent study showed that fish that is consumed in the United States is likely to be captured in the US, shipped to Asia for packaging and then reshipped back to the US for consumptions. This fish is also harvested by long distance off-shore vessels where it is also refrigerated for a substantial amount of time. Reducing these non-CO2 greenhouses gas emissions could be substantially more effective towards the eventual climate change conservation than the reduction in fossil fuel combustion attempts (US EPA, 2018 n,p).
It is therefore evident that agriculture contributes significantly to climate change through two processes. First of all, it contributes significantly to deforestation that reduces the natural reservoirs essential for sequestering of carbon (IV) gases. Secondly, the processes themselves produce substantial amounts of non CO2 greenhouse gases. These have greater longevity and are therefore more harmful than CO2 in both short and long-term effects of climate change (US EPA, 2018 n.p). Additionally, the production support processes contribute to HFCs through leaked refrigerant coolants and CO2 through mechanization and transport. With these factors in mind, it is obvious that farmers who wish to promote climate conservation processes must strive to increase the efficiency of farming practices. Different farming methods will produce different climate change-related repercussions. For example, methane release from cattle farming with significantly depends on the manure management practices. Reducing refrigeration time will also reduce potential leakages. Since carbon (IV) oxide remains to be the most recognized global warming agent, measuring individual carbon footprint contribution is a great step towards reducing global warming levels. To achieve this, there are multiple available free online calculators that farmers can use in tracking their records and using them to target higher efficiencies.
Among the consequences of climate change is a drought. Shifting climatic patterns mean that some areas receive extended durations of moisture scarcity in the soil. This is a serious limiting factor to agricultural production. This is a significant impediment to reaching global food production levels. While attempting to reverse the impacts of climate change, there must be efforts to manage the soil moisture scarcity. In most areas where drought is experienced, it alternates with short periods of intense rainfall. Best draught management practices should be preventative rather than responsive (Abcwua.org, 2017 n.p). Unfortunately, 98% of the funds that are targeted to mitigating draught consequences are usually spent in responsive activities. This method is definitely ineffective given the many children that are still faced with starvation throughout the globe. The connection between starvation and draught can be evidenced by the fact that most countries like Somalia experience highest levels of starvation during prolonged droughts.
Preventative measures are strategies that attempt to conserve majority of the moisture received in the short rainy season to compensate for the dry season. These activities are two-pronged. On the one hand, they involve extensive water conservation measures. On the other hand, they involve diverse land use management practices. Among the most popular methods of water management practices is the use of water storage facilities (Agriskmanagementforum.org, 2018 n.p). Water pans and underground reservoirs are used to store all the runoff water during the rainy season. This water is then used for irrigation and watering livestock in the drier seasons. Water conservation methods go hand in hand with public education on the importance of this practice. Water pans and underground reservoirs are communal facilities that may be implemented by the government and non-governmental organizations. However, the results would even be better if individual efforts were included in these strategies. Households can harvest water in tanks to provide for livestock and household needs during the draught.
Public education is also essential because it will help in the shift of land use practices. Some of these practices include land cover planting. Land cover reduces the velocity of runoff. This prevents soil erosion and therefore improves the soil structure (Agriskmanagementforum.org, 2018 n.p). Better soil structure can keep moisture for long. Slower runoff velocities also imply that more water can seep into the subsurface layers. This water will be available for longer to be used by plants. Increasing the organic matter on the soil becomes a mulching activity (Agriskmanagementforum.org, 2018 n.p). It reduces evaporation and therefore increases the water available for agriculture. Alternatively, management practices can be approached from the alternative approach. Reducing the crop water requirements will make them resilient enough to cope when the there is water scarcity (Agriskmanagementforum.org, 2018 n.p). This can be done through seed development phases to produce more hardy crops. Resolving the problem of draught will have a significant impact on global food availability.
Many environmental management agencies have formulated online carbon calculators. Among the most common are the Farm Carbon Calculator, EPA’s carbon calculator, Farm First Insurance’s calculator, the cool farm alliance calculator and the carbon calculator from Carbon Footprint. Majority of these calculators have predetermined levels of Carbon values for various activities. This makes it easy to assign a particular level of carbon footprint to an activity. All that a user has to do is to add a list of activities that they are likely to participate in. Such activities include the type and amount of fuel used, the food consumed, the number of livestock kept, the number of individuals in a household and many other industrial practices. For plant farming, the majority of the tools include the sequestering capacities of their farming processes.
Using the carbon calculators helps in establishing a balance between farming activities to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and increase processes that have higher sequestering capacities (Peek, 2010 n.p). The plants are grown by the farmers also carry out photosynthetic processes. These procedures will naturally sequester CO2. This will reduce the rate at which global warming occurs. In most case, most people fail to participate in conservational efforts because they are ignorant of the extent of climate change that simple actions cause. Making it possible for individuals to calculate their levels of carbon footprint brings conservation efforts to the people. Ultimately, it is easier to establish sustainability when every individual is involved in the protection processes. As the pope proclaimed in Laudato Si, the earth is our common home. Everyone, therefore, has the responsibility of caring for it.
Management Practices and Their Impacts
After using the calculators to understand the repercussions of every activity, farmers can institute management practices that reduce the level of emission productions. For example, manure management practices can reduce the 47% methane that is produced through cattle rearing. The best way to do this is to make biogas production units. The use of biogas is advantageous in multiple ways. First of all, it is relieves excessive reliance on non-green energy resources such as hydroelectric power and petroleum-based cooking gas (Stiftung myclimate, 2016 n.p). Second, the methane gas combustion converts the gas into the less detrimental compounds. However, biogas production requires an aptitude also for the collection of the manure. It is easier to formulate a biogas plant in zero-grazing where the manure is centralized. Zero grazing also consumes less space and is, therefore, more efficient. There are many more agricultural management practices that can reduce emissions levels. For the plant growers, understanding plant sequestering capabilities can help in choosing the most favorable crops and how to produce them.
The increased interests in environmental conservation have increase policy formulation both at local and international frontiers. At the international level, the most recent policy is the Paris agreement. This agreement aims to maintain temperature increases below 2 degrees over a century and possibly reduce the threshold increase at 1.5 degrees. It provides the financial mechanisms to help countries meet this target as well as issue penalty for offenders. These penalties are used for mitigation processes. Countries that can keep their economies below the threshold are given incentives and financial support to maintain clean production as a way of climate lending. By 2015, the membership for the agreement had reached the threshold of 172 countries (Unfccc.int, 2014 n.p). However, such contracts have suffered a blow in the past following the unwillingness of the American government to support environmental conservation measures. Luckily, other major economies such as China are enhancing their commitment to sustainability efforts.
These policies often trickle down to have similar effects within local governments. Many governments offer subsidies and incentives to farmers who are going to use clean energy procedures. Many governments are also instituting measures that are time bound to control pollutions. Many European countries have targets for clean energy transition and reductions of reliance on fossil fuel powered transportation systems. Turkey’s Tenth Development Plan (2014-2018) is one of the local policies that have been aimed at increasing conservational measures (Smith, 2015 n.p). At the heart of this policy is ecologically sound development progress. It also aims at radically transitioning the energy sector into greener options. Scientists warn that failure to act currently on environmental sustainability would result in a situation where further increases cannot be controlled. It is therefore vital that the conservation efforts are happening now.
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