Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Modern Ag Feeding The World, Benefitting The Environment

High-yield agriculture slows pace of global warming, say FSE researchers
Louis Bergeron - Stanford News Service

Advances in high-yield agriculture over the latter part of the 20th century have prevented massive amounts of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere - the equivalent of 590 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide - according to a new study led by two Stanford Earth scientists.

The yield improvements reduced the need to convert forests to farmland, a process that typically involves burning of trees and other plants, which generates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The researchers estimate that if not for increased yields, additional greenhouse gas emissions from clearing land for farming would have been equal to as much as a third of the world's total output of greenhouse gases since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in 1850.

The researchers also calculated that for every dollar spent on agricultural research and development since 1961, emissions of the three principal greenhouse gases - methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide - were reduced by the equivalent of about a quarter of a ton of carbon dioxide - a high rate of financial return compared to other approaches to reducing the gases.

"Our results dispel the notion that modern intensive agriculture is inherently worse for the environment than a more 'old-fashioned' way of doing things," said Jennifer Burney, lead author of a paper describing the study that will be published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read More

This study is pretty clear. Modern agriculture has saved billions of tons of greenhouse gasses from escaping into the atmosphere. When we invest in agriculture and implement modern practices, not only do we keep mass starvation from occurring, but it’s also beneficial for the environment. When we see people like Michael Pollan urging us to support an agricultural system that denounces modern technology, you need to realize everything they are asking for. What sounds romantic on the surface doesn’t hold water in reality.

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