It’s one of the hottest topics in the agricultural industry right now.
The idea that our crops are being destroyed and our oceans are being poisoned has become a dominant narrative in the news cycle, and one that is often accompanied by the accusation that we are exporting the damage and poisoning.
But is the evidence on the ground really so overwhelming?
And if so, are we being blind to the risks?
That’s the question posed by researchers in a new paper published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
It’s not just the greenhouse gas emissions that have gotten a lot of attention in recent years, but the destruction of tropical forests has also gotten a fair amount of coverage.
And while deforestation in the Amazon has been increasing dramatically in recent decades, the researchers argue that deforestation in tropical forests is actually declining, which is a different story.
As far as the global carbon footprint, it’s important to note that most of the carbon that is being released into the atmosphere is actually coming from agriculture, the study said.
The biggest culprits for deforestation are plantations, and a large amount of that carbon is being burned to grow sugarcane and other crops.
In fact, nearly 90 per cent of all greenhouse gas emitted is the result of deforestation, the authors write.
But the destruction isn’t just coming from farms, and even the land itself is becoming more carbon-intensive.
In the tropics, the average land use is 2.7 hectares per hectare, which means that the average acre of land per person is almost 40 per cent more carbon intensive than the average square metre of land.
The average hectare of land in the tropic is about 12 per cent carbon intensive.
So the question that needs to be asked is, what can we do to make things better?
In other words, what is the best way to address the problem?
The authors of the study used a number of different scenarios to explore this issue.
The first one that was explored involved using more sustainable methods for land management and the development of carbon-negative technologies to reduce carbon emissions.
The second one involved using the carbon-capture technology to reduce emissions from agricultural activities, as well as using technologies that would make crop rotation easier.
And the third one involved reducing land use and the amount of land that is used to grow crops.
While the researchers concluded that there are several viable options for improving our agricultural practices, the most effective way to reduce the amount and intensity of land use would be to reduce deforestation.
“The most effective approach is to change the way we do agriculture,” said lead author Kim Schoenebeck, a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who was not involved in the study.
“What we need is to understand how to do that through the use of technology,” she said.
“So for example, if you have a crop rotation, you need to plant seeds and you need soil to grow the crop.
But if you rotate the crop, you plant seeds, you get the soil, and then you plant crops that are more carbon negative, because you are not burning the land for energy.”
The paper goes on to show that even if the researchers were able to produce crops that were 100 per cent less carbon-intense than their current crop, they still would not be able to completely offset the impact of deforestation.
“This is because the amount that is captured by the carbon capture technology is a relatively small fraction of the total amount of carbon that the world is releasing into the air,” the paper says.
“But when you look at the emissions from deforestation, you find that the total emissions are larger than the total crop yield,” it adds.
“This is an important finding because it suggests that the emissions associated with the production of CO2-emitting crops are small compared to the emissions that are associated with crop rotation,” Schoanebeck said.
In the end, the research team found that it is actually possible to reduce our carbon footprint and that our agricultural systems can do a much better job of controlling greenhouse gases.
“I think the real question that we need to ask is how to take these technologies that have been around for a while, and adapt them to a new era, and how to make them work in a way that is sustainable,” she concluded.