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GCC: International study finds organic food has larger climate impact than conventional, due to greater land use

Sat Dec 15, 2018 5:25 pm

https://www.greencarcongress.com/2018/1 ... ganic.html
Organically farmed food has a larger climate impact than conventionally farmed food, due to the greater areas of land required. This is the finding of a new international study published in the journal Nature.

The researchers developed a new method for assessing the climate impact from land-use, and used this, along with other methods, to compare organic and conventional food production. The results show that organic food can result in much greater emissions.
  • Our study shows that organic peas, farmed in Sweden, have around a 50 percent bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed peas. For some foodstuffs, there is an even bigger difference – for example, with organic Swedish winter wheat the difference is closer to 70 percent.

    —Stefan Wirsenius, an associate professor from Chalmers
The reason why organic food is so much worse for the climate is that the yields per hectare are much lower, primarily because fertilizers are not used. To produce the same amount of organic food, you therefore need a much bigger area of land.

The ground-breaking aspect of the new study is the conclusion that this difference in land usage results in organic food causing a much larger climate impact.
  • The greater land-use in organic farming leads indirectly to higher carbon dioxide emissions, thanks to deforestation. The world’s food production is governed by international trade, so how we farm in Sweden influences deforestation in the tropics. If we use more land for the same amount of food, we contribute indirectly to bigger deforestation elsewhere in the world.

    —Stefan Wirsenius
Even organic meat and dairy products are—from a climate point of view—worse than their conventionally produced equivalents, claims Wirsenius.
  • Because organic meat and milk production uses organic feeds, it also requires more land than conventional production. This means that the findings on organic wheat and peas in principle also apply to meat and milk products. We have not done any specific calculations on meat and milk, however, and have no concrete examples of this in the article.

    —Stefan Wirsenius. . . .
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Re: GCC: International study finds organic food has larger climate impact than conventional, due to greater land use

Sat Dec 15, 2018 9:33 pm

Bollocks. They are looking at energy used in farming alone, not overall impact on climate from pesticide and fertilizer use, both from production and application. I'd follow the money trail on that study.
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Re: GCC: International study finds organic food has larger climate impact than conventional, due to greater land use

Sun Dec 16, 2018 4:10 pm

LeftieBiker wrote:Bollocks. They are looking at energy used in farming alone, not overall impact on climate from pesticide and fertilizer use, both from production and application. I'd follow the money trail on that study.
Actually, that tracks with other studies showing the much higher land areas required for biofuels rather than fossil fuels (including extraction, production, transport, use). High-yield farming that requires extensive monoculturing as well as large-scale fertilizer, pesticide and irrigation use has large environmental consequences. OTOH, the 'Green Revolution' has also enabled us to feed an extra 3 billion people or more on the same land. It's just another example of TAANSTFL.
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Re: GCC: International study finds organic food has larger climate impact than conventional, due to greater land use

Sun Dec 16, 2018 4:21 pm

I'm not disputing the higher land requirement - although polyculture can eliminate that. I'm saying that "Green Revolution" techniques have been a real double-edged sword, both consuming vast amounts of fossil fuels and producing extensive environmental degradation. Looking at just the amount of land required for one kind of organic farming for a few crops, compared to conventional farming for a few crops, is the kind of tunnel-vision study that is usually funded by an industry looking for a specific outcome.
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Re: GCC: International study finds organic food has larger climate impact than conventional, due to greater land use

Sun Dec 16, 2018 4:50 pm

LeftieBiker wrote:I'm not disputing the higher land requirement - although polyculture can eliminate that. I'm saying that "Green Revolution" techniques have been a real double-edged sword, both consuming vast amounts of fossil fuels and producing extensive environmental degradation. Looking at just the amount of land required for one kind of organic farming for a few crops, compared to conventional farming for a few crops, is the kind of tunnel-vision study that is usually funded by an industry looking for a specific outcome.
Sure,as I noted they're a double-edged sword, but the question is can we in the first world tell everyone else to just starve so we won't be disturbed and can enjoy our organic, free-range, humane etc. foods? As we're both aware the eventual answer is going to involve a reduced human population as one of the needed measures to sustainability, but the question is who's getting hurt to get there?

We're both aware of 'push' studies funded by this or that group with an agenda. From a lot else I've read, including by people who are definitely not on the side of continued dependence on fossil fuels but who also believe in making decisions based on science, the transition to renewables, organics etc. will inevitably take far more land area because we're talking about transitioning from (fossil/nuke) fuels with high power densities to those (solar including photosynthesis, wind, etc) with power densities that are several orders of magnitude lower. We need to accept that and make choices accordingly, as there simply isn't enough arable land to go around barring major technological breakthroughs (e.g. 50% efficient commercial PV modules, large-scale genetic mods, etc).
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Re: GCC: International study finds organic food has larger climate impact than conventional, due to greater land use

Sun Dec 16, 2018 5:12 pm

Once again, this is a false dichotomy, driven by by tradition and skewed economics. Organic polyculture is the solution to the increased land requirement for growing one crop organically, not the elimination of organic farming. Several crops grown together vertically as well as traditionally, along with sustainable fish farming (I'm not a fan but recognize the value) in flooded fields, and production of solar and wind energy in dry areas, are going to replace rows of monocrops. 50 years from now kids will look at photos of current farms and ask "Where's the rest of it?"

BTW, I think that faced with starvation, more people will opt to grow and eat mainly plant foods. Fish and chickens and maybe a cow or two will be kept to convert the scraps and waste to protein and fat, but the bulk of it will come from plants. The way to get more food from the current system is the elimination of the practice of feeding grains to livestock, not the elimination of organic farming. I think that the study in question is a sign of pushback from the current agribusiness economy, if not directly then indirectly, through the educational institutions they fund.
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Re: GCC: International study finds organic food has larger climate impact than conventional, due to greater land use

Sun Dec 16, 2018 5:43 pm

LeftieBiker wrote:Once again, this is a false dichotomy, driven by by tradition and skewed economics. Organic polyculture is the solution to the increased land requirement for growing one crop organically, not the elimination of organic farming. Several crops grown together vertically as well as traditionally, along with sustainable fish farming (I'm not a fan but recognize the value) in flooded fields, and production of solar and wind energy in dry areas, are going to replace rows of monocrops. 50 years from now kids will look at photos of current farms and ask "Where's the rest of it?"

BTW, I think that faced with starvation, more people will opt to grow and eat mainly plant foods. Fish and chickens and maybe a cow or two will be kept to convert the scraps and waste to protein and fat, but the bulk of it will come from plants. The way to get more food from the current system is the elimination of the practice of feeding grains to livestock, not the elimination of organic farming. I think that the study in question is a sign of pushback from the current agribusiness economy, if not directly then indirectly, through the educational institutions they fund.
https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/ ... -2017.html

Every society which has seen a raised standard of living has accompanied that by increased intake of meat. I've voluntarily shifted my own diet away from beef and towards more pork and especially poultry, and reduced the quantities, but I remain an omnivore because I like meat. Who decides who must seriously reduce or eliminate their meat consumption, assuming that most people won't do so voluntarily? One possible answer is to return to the practice of simply pricing the stuff beyond most people's reach so that only the wealthy can afford it, as was the case through most of history owing to its very high embedded costs, but I don't think that's likely to be acceptable today no matter how necessary. Maybe artificial meat will reach a level of mass acceptability at some point; while they've made considerable improvements, they're not where they need to be yet. So again, will the first world enforce this dietary shift on the rest of the world?

BTW, An excellent source for info on what meat is (the definition varies, both legally and culturally) its nutritional value, history of human consumption, energy and environmental costs etc. is Vaclav Smil's "Should we eat Meat?", which eschews the usual polemics on one side or the other of the question: https://www.amazon.com/Should-Eat-Meat- ... 1118278720
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Re: GCC: International study finds organic food has larger climate impact than conventional, due to greater land use

Sun Dec 16, 2018 5:57 pm

As a strict ethical vegetarian for 40 years, after being raised in a hunting household where I ate mainly meat, and who spent a decade on the net debating these issues, I think I understand what meat is. Your continuing to ask "Who will force the rest of the world..." completely misses the point. I'm not taking about anyONE forcing anything - I'm talking about the economics of food - not some scary "WHO" - doing the forcing. Yes, meat consumption increases with economic prosperity. If you think about that for a moment, though, increasing economic prosperity is pretty much over. What comes next, as climate "change" and ever-increasing population destroy the relative haven in which we've lived for tens of thousands of years, is decreasing economic prosperity, and increasing scarcity for most of the world's population.

And of course, since the very idea of anyone "forcing" anyone else to do anything whatsoever to stop the process is fundamentally repugnant to most humans, there will be nothing to mitigate the accelerating downward spiral but brute economics.
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Re: GCC: International study finds organic food has larger climate impact than conventional, due to greater land use

Mon Dec 17, 2018 7:11 pm

LeftieBiker wrote:As a strict ethical vegetarian for 40 years, after being raised in a hunting household where I ate mainly meat, and who spent a decade on the net debating these issues, I think I understand what meat is.
Yet there are different legal and social definitions of it from country to country, which I wasn't aware of. I think what you're saying is that you know what meat is to you, just as I know what is to me, and our understanding is probably similar to that of most Americans. My surprise upon reading Smil was the relatively wide range of what is and is not included in the definition, from country to country and era to era.
LeftieBiker wrote:Your continuing to ask "Who will force the rest of the world..." completely misses the point. I'm not taking about anyONE forcing anything - I'm talking about the economics of food - not some scary "WHO" - doing the forcing. Yes, meat consumption increases with economic prosperity. If you think about that for a moment, though, increasing economic prosperity is pretty much over. What comes next, as climate "change" and ever-increasing population destroy the relative haven in which we've lived for tens of thousands of years, is decreasing economic prosperity, and increasing scarcity for most of the world's population.

And of course, since the very idea of anyone "forcing" anyone else to do anything whatsoever to stop the process is fundamentally repugnant to most humans, there will be nothing to mitigate the accelerating downward spiral but brute economics.
Yes, scarcity will force the price of meat higher, the question is how will societies that have become used to eating it react as they can no longer afford it? Will the haves need to fight off the have nots? The only country that hasn't (so far) seen any major increase in per capita meat consumption with a (still relatively small) increase in their average standard of living is India, owing to very strong religious/social taboos, but I doubt that everyone's likely to become Hindu anytime soon. Smil does show per capita consumption by various countries, and somewhat to my surprise, although we're well up the list we're not at the top - Spain is. One trend that is mildly encouraging is that above a certain income/education level, meat consumption levels off and even decreases slightly, for health or, if you prefer, faddish reasons.

BTW, some time back when we were discussing this subject, you said (IIRR) that pork or maybe it was poultry had a greater environmental and energy impact than beef. If I've remembered things correctly, as this conflicts with all the info I've read which claims most to least impact as beef -> pork -> poultry, could you point me to a source?
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Re: GCC: International study finds organic food has larger climate impact than conventional, due to greater land use

Mon Dec 17, 2018 8:15 pm

The reasoning on pork vs beef is this: while grain-fed beef is bad, pigs are also fed grain. (Chickens are also fed grain and suffer terribly from close confinement.) In addition, pigs are usually (inhumanely) confined and thus produce huge amounts of concentrated sewage. Some of it is treated and used as fertilizer, but it's much more dangerous than cow manure, and a lot of it ends up in waterways. In addition, cattle can be raised on grass alone, with much less confinement. So eating grass-fed beef is better than eating pork from an environmental perspective, an animal welfare perspective, and a human food requirement perspective. Cattle may emit more methane, but pig confinement operations are usually environmental and animal welfare disasters. I genuinely can't think of a reason to choose pork over beef, because while cattle operations use much more land, pig "farms" combine the production of dangerous effluent with a breeding ground for pathogens that can easily move to human hosts - like influenza. The latter is also true of chicken confinement operations. Remember "swine flu" and "bird flu"?
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