How The Countryside Could Be Our Greatest Ally In The Climate Crisis

How The Countryside Could Be Our Greatest Ally In The Climate Crisis The Yorkshire Dales, England. Jakob Cotton/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Around 20% of the UK’s farms account for 80% of the country’s total food production, and they do this on about half of all the farmed land there is. At least 80% of farms in the UK don’t produce very much at all.

In England, the figures are even starker. Just 7% of farms produce over half of the country’s agricultural output – on 30% of its farmland. A little under half (42%) of England’s farms produce a meagre 2% of the total agricultural output, working just 8% of the country’s total land.

In an average year, mixed farming, livestock grazing and cereal farms make a financial loss on what they produce, and much of the income on these farms comes from government subsidy. In all these cases, this subsidy forms the majority of income. Livestock farming is the least profitable sector of all while some of the most profitable sectors like horticulture – producing everything from vegetables to soft fruit and tomatoes – receive very little subsidy.

Land is precious, and there are trade offs between designating enough to grow food and reserving it for other vital functions, like natural wilderness for biodiversity, recreation and carbon storage. This is as true in the UK as it is in the rest of the world.

Some farmers argue that they are the custodians of the land and the wildlife that live on it, but much of the evidence suggests that this role is neglected in the UK. Much farmed soil has been drained of its natural nutrients and now relies on artificial inputs like fertiliser. Rather than offering a haven for struggling bird species, it seems little progress has been made in halting declines in wildlife abundance on farmland.

A grey partridge – this species lives on farmland but has declined by more than 80% in the UK since 1970. Marek Szczepanek/Wikipedia, CC BY-SA

Agriculture is also a major emitter of greenhouse gases, accounting for about 10% of total UK emissions. Some estimates suggest that ten “calories” of fossil fuel energy is needed to produce a single calorie of protein.

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy protected the right of people to farm unproductive land for the sake of countryside prosperity. But farming contributes only about 4% to the rural economy. Overall, UK agricultural production has stagnated in absolute terms since the late 1980s. This has meant unprofitable and environmentally damaging agriculture is maintained through subsidy. It’s time that a new policy shifted the balance.

Rewild, restore and reopen

Agriculture in the UK uses a vast amount of resources – energy, pesticides, water and mineral fertilisers – compared to the amount of goods it produces. For the productivity of agriculture to match other developed sectors of the economy like construction, agriculture would need to produce five to ten times more from the land it consumes.

Much of this inefficiency is caused by the energy used to produce fertilisers and livestock production. Only about 10-20% of vegetable matter fed to livestock is converted into meat for people to eat. Animals are often fed plant-based food produced on land which could also produce human food. Around 75% of the calories fed to livestock in the UK comes from these sources. As much as ten plant-based meals could be produced for the same material cost as it takes to produce one meat-based meal.

So what’s the alternative? If the UK wants to play its part in feeding the world, keeping people healthy and conserving the environment, there is a very simple way forward. Converting the 50% of land that’s mainly used for agriculture – but which only produces 20% of the UK’s total agricultural output – to other functions, including recreation, storing carbon and enhancing biodiversity.

This could be possible over ten years. It would give enough time for people involved in farming relatively unproductive land to adapt. Some of these people will still be paid from public funds but they could be tasked with rewilding their land to forest or other habitats that can lock away CO₂ and expand wildlife habitat. Some will also be rewarded for opening their land for public access. This will be especially important for land near urban areas as access to nature has serious benefits for human health.

How The Countryside Could Be Our Greatest Ally In The Climate Crisis Spending just two hours a week in nature has been shown to benefit a person’s health and mental wellbeing. Lukasz Szmigiel/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

Growing food in different ways could also make farming more efficient and it would be needed to make up for the small shortfall in production. Vertical farming, hydroponics and aeroponics are all techniques where food is grown according to the principles of manufacturing. This means it’s produced close to where it’s consumed, no pesticides are needed and all nutrients are closely controlled, reducing pollution.

Mobilising British agriculture to help the UK reach net zero emissions would be an incredibly valuable use of the UK’s landscape. But the main challenge to this is convincing the people who currently farm the relatively unproductive land that they need to be a part of this vision. The National Farmers Union – who represent many of these particular farmers – have done much to try and sustain the status quo, especially for livestock agriculture. Overcoming this social inertia will be hard work, but vital.

About The Author

Ian Boyd, Professor of Biology, University of St Andrews

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
9780143130444In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy

by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
1610919564With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

by Naomi Klein
1451697392In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

Did Scientists Get Climate Change Wrong?
by Sabine Hossenfelder
Interview with Prof Tim Palmer from the University of Oxford.
The New Normal: Climate Change Poses Challenges For Minnesota Farmers
by KMSP-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul
Spring brought a deluge of rain in southern Minnesota and it never seemed to stop.
Report: Today's Kids' Health Will Be Imperiled by Climate Change
by VOA News
An international report from researchers at 35 institutions says climate change will threaten the health and quality of…
How Supercharged Trash Gas Could Produce More Green Energy
by InnerSelf Staff
Synthetic compounds called “siloxanes” from everyday products like shampoo and motor oil are finding their way into…
300 Million Face Severe Risk of Climate-Fueled Coastal Flooding by 2050
by Democracy Now!
As a shocking new report finds that many coastal cities will be flooded by rising sea levels by 2050, Chile’s President…
Climate Warning: California Continues To Burn, Data Estimates Of Global Flooding
by MSNBC
Ben Strauss, CEO and Chief Scientist of Climate Central joins MTP Daily to discuss alarming new information about…
Stanford Climate Solutions
by Stanford
Climate change has brought us to a defining moment in human history.
Buying Renewable Energy From Your Neighbor
by NBC News
Brooklyn Microgrid, a project of parent company LO3 Energy, is looking to disrupt the more than 100-year-old energy…

LATEST ARTICLES

Did Scientists Get Climate Change Wrong?
by Sabine Hossenfelder
Interview with Prof Tim Palmer from the University of Oxford.
The New Normal: Climate Change Poses Challenges For Minnesota Farmers
by KMSP-TV Minneapolis-St. Paul
Spring brought a deluge of rain in southern Minnesota and it never seemed to stop.
Dwindling Tropical Rainforests Mean Lost Medicines Yet To Be Discovered In Their Plants
Dwindling Tropical Rainforests Mean Lost Medicines Yet To Be Discovered In Their Plants
by Walter Suza
Growing up in Tanzania, I knew that fruit trees were useful. Climbing a mango tree to pick a fruit was a common thing…
Report: Today's Kids' Health Will Be Imperiled by Climate Change
by VOA News
An international report from researchers at 35 institutions says climate change will threaten the health and quality of…
Building With Bamboo Can Cool The Climate
Building With Bamboo Can Cool The Climate
by Kieran Cooke
If you want to cut global temperatures try building with bamboo, say UK-based researchers studying its thermal…
To Win A Climate Election, Parties Need Ambition, Not Compromise With The Fossil Fuel Industry
To Win A Climate Election, Parties Need Ambition, Not Compromise With The Fossil Fuel Industry
by Marc Hudson
The UK will go to the polls on December 12 for the third time in four years. Climate change didn’t make waves in…
3 Ways Cities Can Prepare For Climate Emergencies
3 Ways Cities Can Prepare For Climate Emergencies
by Ryan Plummer, et al
Cities are on the front line of climate change. While their footprints cover a mere two per cent of the Earth’s…
How Green Roofs Can Protect City Streets From Flooding
How Green Roofs Can Protect City Streets From Flooding
by Catherine Howell, et al
Spring and summer 2017 have been among the wettest on record in eastern North America.