Is Climate Change Really Slowing Us Down?
By now, most of us accept the reality of climate change and its direct effects on society, but a recent report suggests that climate change may also be impacting us in a different, yet equally concerning way — commercial agriculture productivity. Of course, we recognize that agriculture — feeding the planet — is a necessary and vital expenditure of environmental resources, however, our goal is to explore the question: are we being as effective and efficient as possible? That’s why we decided to explore the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report which provides evidence that climate change is negatively impacting the productivity of farmers around the globe. As we ask ourselves, is climate change really slowing us down?
Climate Change — Commercial Agriculture’s Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Ecosystem damage, sustainability, regenerative agriculture…these are all topics that we frequently discuss in our blog series. It seems that everywhere you turn these days, you hear or read about the impact of climate change and oftentimes these stories are coupled with tips on reducing your own impact and some alarming timelines. Could we be at a point where society is becoming numb to the latest climate change news? While we believe that everyone should play their part in efforts to reduce their environmental impact, we also believe that perhaps not enough emphasis is being placed on one of the more concerning, yet less discussed impacts of a changing climate — commercial agriculture productivity.
So often, climate change is touted by the ag industry as something that farmers need to stand up against, but there’s a bit of a double-edged sword situation at hand. While there are numerous companies in the agriculture space that are focused on reducing the environmental impacts of farming and although nobody is exactly defending climate change these days, the unfortunate reality is that commercial agriculture itself is a notable contributor to climate change. The EPA reported that in 2021, commercial agriculture accounted for 10% of total US greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, commercial agriculture plays a role in other negative environmental impacts like erosion, input runoff into watersheds, and damage to beneficial species. Of course, most industries the size of commercial agriculture will inevitably have some degree of environmental impact, however, the complexity of the situation arises when we consider that agriculture is essential to global food supply. This creates a bit of a damned if we do, damned if we don’t situation in terms of the agriculture industry reducing its climate impact while simultaneously increasing production to feed the planet.
Won’t New Tech Solve This Issue?
While new tech will, in many cases, help alleviate some of agriculture’s environmental impact, it is important to remember that technology should be viewed as a tool that can be used to optimize or improve the situation. What it isn’t, however, is a free pass to continue implementing unsustainable practices. Furthermore, even with all the exciting new technological advances in the agriculture space, the burning question remains: will environmentally friendly tech be able to penetrate the market quickly enough to make a difference? With this in mind, farmers should be mindful of practices that can be optimized to not only improve their sustainability, but likely reduce their operating expenses as well.
The Invisible Impact of Climate Change on Commercial Agriculture
Although we largely recognize the tangible effects of human industrialization, a recent report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that climate change is impacting farmers in a way that many of us have not considered before — productivity.
Since the early days of the Green Revolution, commercial agriculture has typically experienced a year over year growth in productivity rates. However, the IPCC report suggests that agriculture’s productivity growth rate is beginning to slow, and the culprit is none other than climate change. The IPCC report also points to the concern that, although the impact is felt on a global scale, “vulnerable communities who have historically contributed the least to current climate change are disproportionately affected.”  Additionally, the IDCC feels that events not associated with climate change will also continue to increase levels of food insecurity and supply instability.
The concern here is that things like eco-damage, urban expansion, and war are negatively impacting farmers on the surface, but the risk of coupling a loss of productivity into the mix means that the global community could be adversely affected more than anticipated. Adding insult to injury, the IPCC report goes on to state that the areas that face the largest risks from climate change — primarily less developed countries — are also areas that are projected to experience the greatest growth in population. With around 3.5 billion people already residing in these “highly vulnerable” areas, a loss of agricultural productivity in combination with climate change could result in a perfect storm situation in terms of food security.
The cautionary tales of environmental damage that we’ve heard over the past few decades may feel, to some, a bit like chicken little screaming that the sky is falling. To many of us, it feels as if every media outlet tosses in a “climate change” story during each broadcast for good measure — but we implore you to resist becoming numb to the looming threats that industrialization and rapid population growth has on our planet. Climate change is not a problem that happens — or is solved — overnight. It can take years, if not decades to see the damage caused. Around three decades ago, when discussions around climate change became a mainstream topic, many people eventually became complacent in their fears because they weren’t “seeing any differences” in their own daily lives. It is probable that this type of complacency (along with several other factors) is contributing to the accelerating rate in which some elements of climate change are occurring.
Most conservationists agree that environmental damage can be significantly reduced in most situations. However, just as it required a global community to induce most climate change, reducing those negative effects to our planet will require the support of a global community as well. We here at FarmSense ask that you not only reconsider how your personal actions impact the earth, but that you also serve as a voice for sustainability to decision and policy makers who have the power to impose large scale environmentally-conscious regulations. We’re at a crucial point in time in terms of preserving our planet’s health. As food scarcity and agricultural hurdles continue growing, climate change is no longer an issue for future generations, but instead, one that is beginning to impact us — the current generation.
One of the endearing things about the human race is that we’re all unique aside from the air we breathe, water we drink, and planet that we rely on. Let us keep that sentiment in mind as we invest in resolving this global problem.
P.S. Happy Earth Day 2023 from the FarmSense Team