Climate Change and Food

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      Is Eating Organic Significant for Climate Change, or Just a Middle-Class Fad? 

      I have come across two reports recently, one a whole programme on BBC radio four, saying that if the whole world went over to growing organic crops, it could make a significant contribution to slowing climate change. No one is suggesting that this on its own is a complete solution. But it is a transition response that could make as much contribution as re-foresting all the tropical rainforest that has been cut down.

      How does it work?
      Soil humus: in organic systems most of the nutrients that plants require are provided by soil humus. Humus is decayed plant and animal material, for example, compost, leaf mould and peat are three types of humus. Humus is in a constant process of decaying in disappearing. In organic systems, the amount of soil humus is deliberately maintained and increased, by adding things like green manures, crop residues and farmyard manure. In conventional agricultural systems the nutrients are provided by chemical inputs, so there is no need to bother enhancing the soil humus. Most of the world’s agricultural soils are very low in soil humus, especially anywhere that has had chemical inputs for a few decades or has fragile soil.

      Soil humus and climate change.
      Humus contains lots of carbon. Maintaining high levels of soil humus is a way of storing carbon in the soil that would otherwise be in the atmosphere, acting as a greenhouse gas. Because so much of the land in the world is used for agriculture, the recent research calculates that if all the world’s agricultural soils contain a high level of soil humus, (as is provided by organic horticulture) it would store as much carbon as in the bio-matter in the world’s tropical forests.

      Making changes to our lives.
      Many of the lifestyle changes that are “significant” to mitigate climate change seem the hardest things to do. For example, to give up flying if you fly regularly, or to give up your car if you drive most days, may seem unimaginably difficult. By comparison, switching to eating organic plant-based food (organic vegan food) may be easier, as it is possible to go organic gradually, for example just one meal a week to start with. Making changes are also easier from inspiration rather than feeling one “ought” to, so if every time we eat organic we remember to think about how we are contributing to increasing soil stored carbon, it can help to keep us going.

      ~ Aramati, May 2009

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