The targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the UK have been set at 80% by 2050, with a 34% cut by 2030.
One recent illustration of the global effects of climate change already being seen in the news has been that the rising sea water level is now increasing the salt content of the river water in the Mekong Delta and threatening the livelihoods of millions of Vietnam’s poor farmers and fishermen. Already there are three grams of salt per litre of fresh water in the rivers now and at the moment those nearest the sea are the most affected.
According to the UK Soil Association, fundamental changes to the way food is farmed, processed, distributed, prepared and eaten will be needed over the next 20 years to meet the UK targets.
Among the statistics published on the Association’s website is the information that intensive agriculture needs ten calories of energy to produce one calorie of food and that globally the production and use of artificial fertilisers are the largest single source of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas it says is 310 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.
It says that to make one tonne of artificial fertiliser takes 108 tonnes of water, emits 7 tonnes of carbon dioxide, and uses one tonne of oil. Agriculture globally is responsible for between 17 – 32% of the total world greenhouse gases.
In the Association’s view organic farming offers the best, currently available, practical model for addressing climate-friendly food production. This is because it sequesters higher levels of carbon in the soil, is less dependent on oil-based fertilisers and pesticides and is more resilient to climatic extremes. Organic farming typically uses 26% less energy to produce the same amount of food as non-organic farming.
But while sustainable and organic farming methods pay attention to environmental impacts farmers are also under pressure to optimise and increase production to meet the rising global population and to do this requires the appliance of science to ecosystem management within farming practices to enhance crop yield.
Biopesticides and other low-chemical agricultural products are one example of a scientific approach to finding more sustainable, environmentally and climate-friendly farming methods, that also produce natural, healthier food free of chemical residues associated with artificial fertilisers.
The shift to more sustainable farming also means changing eating habits and while consumers may be more open to healthier eating – as long as they can afford it – a longer lasting and more fundamental diet change is likely to require education.
Among those best placed to take the lead are chefs in the best restaurants. A conference in Denmark at the end of August 2011, called the Mad symposium (mad is the Danish word for food), will bring together farmers, scholars, foragers and chefs to talk about these issues and educate each other about the way forward is therefore a welcome piece of news.
It seems the messages about taking better care of the environment and about sustainability are beginning to get through.