Food Systems Responsible for ‘One Third’ of Human-caused Emissions

“Food systems” were responsible for 34% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in 2015, according to new research.

The study, published in Nature Food, presents EDGAR-FOOD – the first database to break down emissions from each stage of the food chain for every year from 1990 to 2015. The database also unpacks emissions by sector, greenhouse gas and country.

According to the study, 71% of food emissions in 2015 came from agriculture and “associated land use and land-use change activities” (LULUC).The rest stemmed from retail, transport, consumption, fuel production, waste management, industrial processes and packaging.

The study finds that CO2 accounts for roughly half of food-related emissions, while methane (CH4) makes up 35% – mainly from livestock production, farming and waste treatment.

Emissions from the retail sector are rising, the study finds, and increased by 3-4 times in Europe and the US between 1990 and 2015.

The authors also find that “food miles” contribute less to food emissions than packaging. The authors add that 96% of the emissions from transporting food come from local or regional transport by road and rail, rather than international transport.


Big Banks Make a Dangerous Bet on the World’s Growing Demand for Food

As global banking giants and investment firms vow to divest from polluting energy companies, they’re continuing to bankroll another major driver of the climate crisis: food and farming corporations that are responsible, directly or indirectly, for cutting down vast carbon-storing forests and spewing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.

These agricultural investments, largely unnoticed and unchecked, represent a potentially catastrophic blind spot.

“Animal protein and even dairy is likely, and already has started to become, the new oil and gas,” said Bruno Sarda, the former North America president of CDP, a framework through which companies disclose their carbon emissions. “This is the biggest source of emissions that doesn’t have a target on its back.”

By pouring money into emissions-intensive agriculture, banks and investors are making a dangerous bet on the world’s growing demand for food, especially foods that are the greatest source of emissions in the food system: meat and dairy.


Minnesota’s Threatened Rivers

Author: Josephine Marcotty | Published: 

– The mating dance of the hex mayflies drew John Sorenson to the Straight River at sunset.

As the bugs floated like snowflakes in the fading summer light, he pulled on his waders and waited patiently for the distinct sound of trout breaking the dark water to feed.

“It’s a treasure,” he said, stepping to the edge of the grassy bank and casting his line, as he has for years.

But the Straight River is becoming warmer and more polluted as farm irrigation rigs multiply along its banks. Now Sorenson fears that the fish huddling in the cooler deep spots are a stark sign that northern Minnesota’s only naturally producing trout stream is in trouble.

“In 10 years the Straight River could be a big muddy stream good only for carp,” he said.

And the peril is flowing downstream — into the Mississippi River and across a watershed that covers almost half of Minnesota, signaling a new and rising threat to one of the state’s great natural wonders. Like many others across Minnesota, the great river is heading toward an ecological precipice.

In the last five years, the Upper Mississippi watershed has lost about 400 square miles of forests, marshes and grasslands — natural features that cleanse and refresh its water — to agriculture and urban development. That’s an area bigger than Voyageurs National Park and represents the second fastest rate of land conversion in the country, according to one national study.

That breathtaking transformation is now endangering the cleanest stretch of America’s greatest river with farm chemicals, depleted groundwater and urban runoff. At this rate, conservationists warn, the Upper Mississippi — a recreational jewel and the source of drinking water for millions of Minnesotans — could become just another polluted river.

Here, around Park Rapids, potato fields are replacing forests, and drinking wells show rising levels of nitrate contamination from fertilizers.

Along the western edge of the vast watershed, soaring demand for irrigation is depleting sensitive aquifers and rivers that feed the Mississippi

And where the Upper Mississippi curves like a giant question mark through the center of Minnesota, many of its tributaries are showing signs of stress — phosphorus that breeds algae, sediment that makes the water cloudy, even bacteria in stretches farther downstream.

“What we do to our land, we do to our water,” said John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Yet because most land use decisions are in the hands of private property owners and local governments, Minnesota has limited power to protect the river. “We can see it coming and still not be able to do something about it,” Stine said.

The battles over land use along the great sweep of brown river go beyond drinking water, to deeply held values that give the headwaters state part of its identity, said Bonnie Keeler, an environmental scientist at the University of Minnesota.

“Like clear lakes, stewardship, a sense of place and pride, and the identity of Minnesotans around clean water,” she said.

Quite beyond their sheer beauty, forested lands in the watershed also provide immense economic value in purifying drinking water for millions of people, an issue that has drawn the attention of federal regulators. This past summer, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a special project to predict how changing land use around the Upper Mississippi affects water quality, part of a larger effort to understand the threats facing major drinking water systems across the country.

Keeler, who directs the Natural Capital Project at the university and studies the social value of such things as clean water and forests, said it’s hard to find the right balance between protecting the Upper Mississippi and preserving economic engines such as agriculture and tourism. But, she added, the debate has thrust a new kind of environmental thinking to the forefront: Clean water, natural landscapes and wilderness have an economic value that deserves a place in the broader equation that defines a healthy economy.

In short, Keeler said, “What would a map of an ideal watershed look like?”


River Pollution Puts 323m at Risk from Life-Threatening Diseases, Says UN

Author: Arthur Neslen | Published on: September 22, 2016

Waste water, pesticide run-off and pollution threatens people across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Regulation, data and business action are needed.

A week before Russia’s Daldykan river was turned red by a leak from a metals plant, the UN issued a warning as chilling as it was overlooked: 323 million people are at risk from life-threatening diseases caused by the pollution of rivers and lakes.

Cholera, typhoid and other deadly pathogens are increasing in more than half of the rivers in Africa, Asia and Latin America, according to a UN environment programme (Unep) report. Salinity levels have also risen in nearly a third of waterways.

Asia has been worst hit, with up to 50% of all rivers now affected by severe pathogen pollution caused by a cocktail of untreated waste water disposal, agricultural pesticides run-off and industrial pollution.

In a telling footnote to the Russian Norilsk disaster, Nasa released satellite images on 15 September showing that far from being a one-off, the Daldykan river had turned red on multiple occasions in the past 20 years.


Farming is ‘single biggest cause’ of worst air pollution in Europe

Farming is the biggest single cause of the worst air pollution in Europe, a new study has found, as nitrogen compounds from fertilisers and animal waste drift over industrial regions.

When the nitrogen compounds are mixed with air already polluted from industry, they combine to form solid particles that can stick in the fine lung tissue of children and adults, causing breathing difficulties, impaired lungs and heart function, and eventually even premature death.

The compounds come from nitrogen-rich fertilisers, which have been in common use for decades. Nitrogen, the major content of the air we breathe, is essential for plant growth, and enhancing that growth has led to a massive industry in putting nitrogen – already naturally present in soils – back into the ground in greater quantities.

Ammonia, whose chemical composition is nitrogen and hydrogen (NH3), is a byproduct both of fertilised fields and of animal waste, as it can come from the breakdown of livestock excretions.

Links between fine particulate pollution and ammonia from agricultural sources have been slow to be firmly established, but an increasing body of research suggests that this is now a leading source of air pollution.

Europe, much of the US, Russia and China have been found to suffer from the problem, in the latest research from the Earth Institute at Columbia University, in the US, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

When ammonia in the atmosphere reaches areas of industry, the pollutants from combustion, which include nitrogen oxides produced by diesel vehicles, and sulphur compounds from power plants and some other industrial processes, the chemicals combine to create very small particles, about 2.5 micrometres across.