Climate change Mitigation and Public Health Improvement using Transformative Agriculture

Humans are disrupting natural systems and this is a major factor in the spread of infectious diseases. As our planet warms and more natural habitats are lost, many species are expanding out of their natural ranges and moving towards the poles¹.

As a result, they come into contact with species they would not normally be interacting with, which creates opportunities for pathogens to infect novel hosts, including humans.

We have seen these dynamics play out with Hantavirus, Ebola, Zika,  and other diseases around the globe²,³. To reduce the risk of infectious disease spread, we need to address the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions and the human activities that threaten natural habitats and biodiversity.

Modern-day agriculture is a major contributor to climate change. The International Panel on Climate Change estimates that direct agricultural greenhouse gas emissions account for over 10% of total anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse gas emissions⁴.

Agricultural systems that rely on synthetic inputs to compensate for low biodiversity contribute substantially to the emission of three key greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane.

Field operations and the production of synthetic fertilizers and other inputs are largely responsible for agricultural carbon dioxide emissions, and the use of synthetic fertilizers and livestock production are the main sources of agricultural nitrous oxide and methane emissions, respectively⁴,⁵,⁶.

In the U.S., most livestock is raised in large confinement facilities, rather than on pasture where they have the potential to help build healthy soils that store, or sequester, carbon. Moreover, confined animal operations negatively impact air and water quality, and create prime conditions for infectious disease spread that could spill over to humans⁷.

Agriculture is also the main driver of deforestation, the largest cause of habitat loss worldwide⁸. In particular, large-scale beef production causes massive deforestation, particularly in the tropics⁹.

Forests, especially tropical forests, store large amounts of carbon in the soil and in their biomass. When a forest is destroyed, the potential for carbon storage is lost, and if the forest is removed through burning, carbon stored in the vegetation is released to the atmosphere, accelerating global warming.

The Path Forward

To protect public health, we need to adopt and promote sustainable food production practices that safeguard our natural systems and conserve biodiversity. Organic agriculture has great potential to sequester carbon, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and build resilience to a changing climate and protect biodiversity.

Organic and conservation agriculture with their manifold environmental benefits can help farmers and ranchers build resilience into their operations, actively contribute to climate change mitigation, and transform our food production system into one that benefits our health and the health of our planet.


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