Environmentalist Jonathan Foley presented his theory of “The Other Inconvenient Truth” during a Ted Talk during October of 2010. His theory refers to the intersection of food, land use, and the environment. When we take a look at our planet at night, human presence can be seen by the immense amounts of light being emitted, mostly from urbanized areas. In comparison, 60 times the amount of land is used for agricultural purposes. The question is whether or not this land, which much of is being used to create food, is being used responsibly or if it will have a lasting negative impact on the environment.
The demand for food has led agriculture to become one of the largest forces behind global climate change and loss of biodiversity. For example, we can look at lettuce which is being grown in the desert of Arizona. This irresponsible practice needs to draw water from somewhere and will use exponentially more than if the lettuce was grown in a more appropriate climate. The Colorado river has suffered as a result. Being the main water source in that region, it has been drained to the point where it no longer flows into the ocean. It is amazing to think that this agriculture has consumed an entire river for irrigation. Another example of this on a larger scale is the Aral Sea in the former Soviet Union. It was completely drained over a 40 year period solely to irrigate desert land in Kazakhstan to grow cotton. As a result, 19 of the 20 unique fish species found in this sea are now extinct. As a planet we already use almost 50% of the world’s fresh water that is sustainable, with agriculture accounting for 70% of that figure.
Agriculture accounts for 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions globally, which is larger than any other single contributor. This includes energy and manufacturing. With growing pressure being put on the oil industry as a source of energy, bio fuels may become more prevalent. As the population grows so will the food demand. We are not going to see a decrease in the effects of agriculture on our land use or environmental impact any time soon as a result. There are solutions to this problem, one of them being to increase the efficiency of the agricultural land already being used. This would produce higher yields of crops, use less energy, and protect biodiversity of sensitive ecosystems. The agriculture industry, environmental protection, and land allocation must work together to solve this problem before it is too late.
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