Agriculture: How much does it contribute versus burning fossil fuel?

Discussion in 'Environmental Discussion' started by austingreen, Oct 21, 2015.

  1. austingreen

    austingreen Senior Member

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  2. tochatihu

    tochatihu Senior Member

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    No doubt, clearing tropical peatlands prior to planting oil palm fits under a sufficiently broad definition of 'agriculture'. But it differs a lot from growing corn. Or even rice.

    What has been going on in Indonesia for decades is remarkable. I am aware of no reason why oil palm is particularly suited to such areas. In fact they also need to create drainage channels to make it work. Peatlands are that way because the soils are water saturated much of the time.

    The government has also made 'strong' statements that they would control (or end) peatland clearing, but, well...

    In most years the brush-clearing fires don't get down into the soils and 'smolder'. Much. But now it's El Nino time again, and that means unusual drought in Indonesia.

    There's really nothing like this situation elsewhere on earth. And that's a good thing. There is lots of agriculture though, and it has carbon-cycle implications that merit discussion. Somewhere else might be better to do that.
     
  3. austingreen

    austingreen Senior Member

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    Why is pretty obvious. Money and employment
    Global Palm Oil Demand Fueling Deforestation | Worldwatch Institute
    Its the same reason there are dairy farms in california, despite them being a huge environmental hazzard with water use. Neither the california or indonesian government seems to be able to coordinate against environmental damage from agriculture.

    Corn in the US is a hazzard for a different reason. Its a mono crop, using huge amounts of water and chemicals that form dead zones in the gulf.

    But yes dairy farming in california and corn in the midwest are different environmental hazzards from slash and burn agriculture in Indoneasia. The worst fire was 1997, but this yeaer may top it.
    Indonesia forest fires may become worst on record | The Japan Times

    Every 18 years is bad enough

    EPA estimates 14% of ghg are from agriculture. This year it is much higher than that.
     
  4. bwilson4web

    bwilson4web BMW i3 and Model 3

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    Biological CO{2} sources have a tendency to re-grow and fix CO{2} in organic material. So there is a forest fire in an Alabama wilderness area and the West coastal areas have had some impressive forest fires. But the fuel came from plants that lived and fixed CO{2} in the past . . . leaving some buried in their roots. Yet some roots will grow again with the rains and seeds that survived the heat. The bigger problem is replacing things like native forests with monocultures.

    As for moving the 'red herring' of carbon sources from China to biomass doesn't change the results. The Arctic is opening up for summer navigation and native peoples in those areas are seeing the effects in flora and fauna . . . like the global models predict.

    Bob Wilson
     
  5. austingreen

    austingreen Senior Member

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    bob
    peat is a CO2 sink. When it burns as it is doing now it releases that ghg just like burning coal or oil.
     
  6. tochatihu

    tochatihu Senior Member

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    I'd like to say that 'free range' burning of peat is not just like burning (fossil) fuel because none of the energy is utilized.

    S Keith is very welcome here. The problem probably relates to orangutans and other critters that occupied the pre-oil-palm forests, but are now lacking suitable habitat.

    Comparing a country's CO2 to the global will usually make it look like who cares? This seems like a debating trick. The 1908 Tunguska 'forest blowdown' would have been a heckuva deal had the space rock dropped in over a city. As it was, it only increased global forest mortality that year by 20%. So, should we think of it as a small thing?

    +++
    AustinG I think close examination of agriculture C cycle would be a great thing to do, but better to not mix it up with $lash and burn.
     
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  7. Trollbait

    Trollbait It's a D&D thing

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    Given enough time, peat will become coal or oil.

    There is some 'free range' burning of coal going on, though that isn't result of a deliberate action. I think you could say burning the peat is akin to burning off the natural gas at an oil well.
     
  8. austingreen

    austingreen Senior Member

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    You mean other than destruction of habbitat of endangered spieces and the health problems affecting not just Indonesia, but Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippians.
    Maybe this will focus you a little on some of the problems here.
    Seen from space: choking palls of smoke from Indonesian fires
    [​IMG]
    Hellish Fires in Indonesia Spread Health, Climate Problems - Scientific American

    that doesn't mean ghg in the US might not also become a problem, but at least the US is reducing.

    Or you could just burn the 10 acres, then pave it. I mean that would be cheaper if killing the spieces and habitat destrcution is your goal. Umm, why would you destroy 10 acres? Is this a thought experiment or something. If it was it failed.

    Yes it is worse, but not only is the energy being wasted, there also is no polution control. At least natural gas flares don't cause deadly smoke clouds.

    That is my number one concern. Friends in indonesia are really pissed at all the habitat destruction.
    +1
    +++
    AustinG I think close examination of agriculture C cycle would be a great thing to do, but better to not mix it up with $lash and burn.[/QUOTE]

    These fires are perported to have been caused by slash and burn like the fires in 1997. Most years rain puts the fires out when they get out of control. It seems like palm oil money made sure no leasons were learned from the previous man made eco problems.

    Yes there is water,pesticide, fire, land pollution, water pollution, air pollution on agriculture.

    This probably needs to be separated from land use ghg, and typical ghg from the tractors and animals.
     
  9. CajunKens2014Pv

    CajunKens2014Pv Junior Member

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    Anyone interested in this thread needs to take a gander at the movie on Netflix, Cowspiracy.

    Yea, it's a slanted flick, gotta take with a grain of salt, etc., but STILL - it's a real eye opener about how agri is killing our planet NOT our cars. Agri is doing way more damage than all our cars/trucks/planes/trains combined by far. If we all just stopped eating beef, we could be driving around in Hummers and our planet would be so much better.

    Really, y'all gotta watch it! Enjoy -
     
  10. wjtracy

    wjtracy Senior Member

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    Sobering to think what the planet is enduring...recent article about textile manufacturing (in India)
    Of course, we sure do not want this dirty industry in the USA...just give us the jeans (as well as the palm oil diesel being marketed in CA).
     
  11. KrPtNk

    KrPtNk Active Member

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    I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called "Cowspiricy." Like all documentaries it had a point of view and its was that the greatest source of CO2 on the planet is agriculture. I found it very interesting. The production of meat consumes obscene amounts of feed. The film pointed out that the bulk of the soybeans grown on the planet are used for meat production and that the dairy industry is unsustainable because of the amount of grain it consumes. Also, it said that there is no sustainable way to fish on the scale that it it is done globally. I am sure that the film was biased, but the central point may be real: meat and dairy and fish are all luxuries we enjoy (I am not a vegetarian) at the expense of the planet. The conspiracy is one of the silence of most of environmental groups on the subject. It is easier to focus their members' attention on conserving and generating energy sustainably, than it is to change eating habits. Telling your membership to give up meat, fish and dairy isn't a way to build up a powerful organization.
     
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  12. CajunKens2014Pv

    CajunKens2014Pv Junior Member

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    Couldn't have said it better myself. I'm not a vegetarian either, but recently (6 months ago) changed my eating habits. This was long before I watched Cowspiracy, I just wanted to start eating cleaner. Changed my life. Since then, I've watched a few documentaries on veggie this and that, and they've made much more sense to me.

    I think if we could all just cut back on our meat as a starter, (e.g. meatless Mondays) that could be a baby step toward cutting back more. While I still do eat meat, it's not very much anymore. Meat should just not be the most substantial portion of a meal. In most cultures, the meat is just something added into a meal in small amounts, for flavor or just as an after-thought. Here in the U.S. it's like, half the meal. And that's just a luxury our planet can't afford anymore.
     
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  13. austingreen

    austingreen Senior Member

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    +1
    Yikes, good and entertaining and informative .... and really depressing when you watch it as I did this morning. Now watching football and drinking a vodka smoothy time to reflect.

    COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret

    I hope those figures aren't true, but I know its much worse than the epa estimatation of only 14%, as EPA bends over backwards to not count some warming emission.

    I've got to agree with the movie that livestock in South America is a much bigger threat to the environment than palm oil in Indonesia and Malaysia. Big enviro seems to talk about palm oil and cars, but not livestock the much bigger problem.

    When I went to an environmental conference a year and a half ago it was talked about quite a bit. There just is no way to feed 10 billion people if they eat as much factory farmed meat as the US. People talked about less meat, Growing meat in the lab, meat from insects, cleaning up the animal waste, etc.

    In the mean time when environomental activists like tom steyer focus on trucking and using rail to move oil sands instead of building a pipeline, which on balance does nothing to improve the environment, I get even more sad. I think the clean power plan is a step in the right direction, but its a baby step. How about forcing large meat producers to treat their waste and create electricity and heat from their manure instead of creating land and water pollution and ghg with it. I guess we won't make any progress. And yes meat would cost more if we treated the waste, but ... maybe then we would eat smaller portions and use less land (chop down less rain forest in brazil, use less water in drought ridden california) for meat animal production.
     
  14. ChapmanF

    ChapmanF Senior Member

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    ... it never stops being important to remember the crucial difference between carbon that circulates in (roughly stable) continuing cycles, and carbon being thrown in from sources outside of those cycles.

    If I have a lake fed by a stream at a million gallons an hour, draining into another at the other end at a million gallons an hour, there's a lake level equilibrium. If Acme Widgets builds a plant there that pulls an extra thousand an hour out of the lake, now there's a disequilibrium.

    Now there are two statistics we could bandy about, both of them true:

    1. Acme's consumption is less than 0.1% of the total lake outflow.
    2. Acme's consumption is 100% of the disequilibrium.

    While both statements are true, it's a safe bet that (1) will be the favorite of Acme's PR department, and (2) will be more helpful in understanding the problem.

    So, sure, we've got enormous quantities of carbon being fixed out of the atmosphere by vegetation every year, going back to the atmosphere when the vegetation burns, is digested by livestock, etc., captured again by plants, and so on year after year. For all I know, the magnitude of that cycle may be much greater than this other small matter we've got going on, which is carbon that's been out of play underground for 200 million years, being pumped up and thrown back in play in a span of less than 300 years.

    I am using very round numbers that are all wide-open to correction by experts like Doug, and I'm sure there is valuable work being done to look at the subtleties I'm leaving out. For example, if current agricultural practices are in fact unsustainable in the sense of liberating more plant-fixed carbon per year than we've got plants to fix, then to that extent it is part of the problem. And of course the fertilization, cultivation, and transport use a lot of that carbon being pumped back into play from the ground, so that's definitely part of the problem.

    But my point with the very round numbers is just that one doesn't really have to wait for extremely subtle analysis just to stay mindful of the difference between the parts of the picture that have been roughly cyclical and consistent over geological time scales, and the sticks-out-like-sore-thumb part about throwing 200-million-year sequestered C back into play within a couple centuries.

    -Chap
     
  15. austingreen

    austingreen Senior Member

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    I think you are missing something here.


    Pesticides and fertalizers and pesticides when used to grow crops, to feed live stock, consume fossil fuel. some of this is turned into animal waste which contributes more ghg. This is not a system in equilibrium. Now grass fed red meat doesn't necessarily need all this fertilizer, drugs, pesticides, but it does take up a lot more land, which goes to point 2.

    In order to produce all this feed and livestock, natural lands are destroyed. These lands used to be habitat for plants and animals, and used to sequester the ghg. 90% of rain fo
    rest destruction in south america has been for growing this meat. There is further environmental destruction as we choose to plant such a higher percentage of corn and soybeans to feed all this meat.

    Meat consumption per capita is going up not down for the world, as the population increases. There is only so much rain forest we can destroy. Then we use much less productive lands, with more fossil fuel based fertilizer.

    WWF - Unsustainable cattle ranching

    Then my question for you since you seem to belive the big ghg movement, is have you looked at what has happened to land use. Have you looked at a factory farm for beef, or pork, or chicken. Do you think this is sustainable? Or maybe it is causeing a lot more destruction to the environment than the transportation sector, which even the epa's ghg figures, leaving out many of the sources confirm.
     
  16. ChapmanF

    ChapmanF Senior Member

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    I think some of the things you think I'm missing, are things I mentioned in my next-to-last paragraph. In addition to one unmistakably striking human activity, that of taking millions-of-years-sequestered C from the ground and kicking it back into play in a crazy short span of years--something quite different from most of Earth's history--we also have other historically-roughly-balanced, cyclical processes that certainly might be tipped away from equilibrium by some amount with current practices. That's worth studying too, but one would have to be careful to talk about the magnitude of the delta and not the overall magnitude of the cyclical process. I expect that the people seriously studying such things are careful that way.

    And then, as we've agreed, there is the whole agriculture-as-intensive-user-of-that-C-pumped-out-of-the-ground part.

    -Chap
     
  17. austingreen

    austingreen Senior Member

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  18. tochatihu

    tochatihu Senior Member

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    It is not yet obvious (to me) that there are any fundamental disagreements here about big ag.

    Now, 7 point something billions have food (not quite evenly spread around). The spreading is uneven in part because 'grain to beef' is (necessarily) inefficient in many ways including land area and water.

    Supporting a larger human population gets more difficult, and this can be partially offset by decreasing the role of meat in the diets of some large number of people. Who those people might be? is a matter of discussion.

    While we occupy ourselves with such discussion, big ag will do as they see fit.

    'Ag for 7B+' certainly has effects on land, carbon, water and air that (taken in aggregate) are unequaled. But as we must eat, the improvements need to be approached deftly.
     
  19. tochatihu

    tochatihu Senior Member

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    One of AustinG's posts above mentioned drugs, and I'd like to expand on that.

    Pediatricians say farm use of antibiotics harms children | Ars Technica

    Antibiotic misuse sometimes leads to drug resistance. This is not just in the US and not just in Ag. In terms of public access, in the two most populous countries, you just walk into the shop and buy most any antibiotic (perhaps there are exceptions). Then you can take them however you wish, with or without medical guidance.

    Losing aspects of the disease/drug war is a 'cry wolf' story that seems particularly plausible.
     
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  20. fotomoto

    fotomoto Senior Member

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    I haven't watched cowspiracy but I did catch an episode of HBO's Vice about monsanto and its grip on farmers. It's so strong that farmers using their genetically modified seeds can't even save a portion of their crop to use as seeds for next year. They have to buy new seeds every year from big M. WOW!

    My wife and I have recently gone vegan for health reasons but if that in some small way helps the world in other ways that's just icing on the cake (a cake made with no eggs). <grin>
     
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