| Posted October 15,
2004: The movie “The Day After Tomorrow”
gives people a Technicolor take on the havoc that global climate
change might wreak. Despite President Bush’s reassurances
to the contrary, the growing consensus among scientists is that
the problem is real. No less sober a source than the Pentagon
recently made predictions rivaling the movie’s for grimness.
No one can say when, where and how global warming will actually
play out. That makes it even scarier. With this uncertainty,
“better safe than sorry” seems the best prescription.
So what can you and I do?
We can push policy changes. We can drive less and practice
other forms of conservation. And we can consider other ways
we spend our money -- in particular, what kinds of food we
There are two strategies for lessening the atmosphere’s
load of the heat-trapping greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. One
is to emit less of it. The other is to reduce what’s
already there by sucking it out of the air and storing it
somewhere else, such as in the soil. Certain kinds of farming
-- and shopping -- can do both.
Pound for pound, growing food organically emits less carbon
dioxide than the methods most commonly used to grow food today.
Conventional agriculture uses large amounts of synthetic,
fossil-fuel-based nitrogen fertilizer, whose production and
use account for as much as a third of agriculture's carbon
dioxide emissions. Organic farms don't use synthetic nitrogen,
relying instead on crop residues and manure for fertility.
What’s more, Rodale
Institute studies show that this recycling of organic
matter back into the soil can increase the amount of carbon
So organic farming takes the prize in today’s agriculture
for addressing the problem of mounting carbon dioxide levels
in our atmosphere. And organic has an added benefit: It doesn’t
poison our soil and water with the synthetic pesticides so
widely used in conventional farming.
Growing food, however, is only half the battle. Getting it
to the table also puts out a lot of carbon dioxide. Food in
the United States typically travels 1,500 miles before landing
on the dinner plate. The food industry is the largest user
of freight transportation in the country. Buying more locally
grown food would reduce those miles, keeping more fossil-fuel
carbon in the tank and out of the sky.
Local foods might seem hard to find at first, but there’s
no better way of increasing supply than to make demand felt.
And demand is already growing. The number of farmers and customers
at farmers’ markets and other direct sales outlets is
up 20 percent annually over the past decade. Web sites like
localharvest.org, csacenter.org and eatwellguide.org are good
places to start looking for local sources.
Buying organic and local food is a nearly unbeatable combination.
Home gardening is another option, and is also a great source
of exercise -- without the gym fees.
If you’re concerned about global warming, you can --
and should -- express that concern to your elected representatives,
and get them to start applying your tax money to keeping the
worst-case climate change scenarios in the movies. Meantime,
you can send a more immediate signal in the way you buy --
or grow -- your food each week.
||Wylie Harris is a Food and Society Policy Fellow,
funded by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. He ranches with
his family in north-central Texas. Harris is a member
of the Land Institute’s Prairie Writers Circle,