Climate Change is a BIG deal, and it is overwhelming for most of us. We often feel there’s no point in trying to stop it—it’s just too big, complex and frightening. And that feeling of “there’s no point in trying” is our worst enemy. So don’t give up.
Knowledge is power, and once you learn some facts about Climate Change, you can figure out solutions to its problems. The Delicious Living Magazine interview below with Tracy Misiewicz, the associate director of science programs for The Organic Center, will get you started. Then keep reading and discover Delicious Living’s nine simple steps you can take in your own kitchen to combat Climate Change.
The food system is in an interesting predicament—it’s a significant contributor to one of its own biggest threats—climate change. But fortunately, just as poor land-management practices are contributors to climate change, use of good on-farm practices can actually lead to climate change mitigation, says Tracy Misiewicz, the associate director of science programs for The Organic Center.
Misiewicz leads The Organic Center’s creation of reports, compiling current science on critical issues affecting organic food and farming. In this Q&A, she explains some of the research behind the impacts of different agricultural practices, and organic’s climate-friendly tenets.
DL: In what ways is climate change manifesting itself in our food system?
Tracy Misiewicz: According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, food production accounts for almost 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. With the Earth’s population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, we can only anticipate that demands on food production will increase.
Agricultural activities responsible for greenhouse gas emissions include the use of nitrogen fertilizer, synthetic herbicides and insecticides, fossil fuel consumption associated with farm equipment, and the transportation of materials and products to and from the farm. The manufacture of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides also constitutes a major source of energy use in conventional agriculture. For instance, the manufacture and utilization of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers comprise as much as 10 percent of direct global agricultural emissions—that’s a 37 percent increase since 2001.
It is ironic that our food system is such a large contributor to climate change—the very thing that is threatening to destroy our food security. A couple of years back, a farmer showed me pictures of his farm that was devastated by a violent storm. These severe weather events—storms, droughts, and flooding rains—are only expected to increase as the climate continues to change. Fortunately, just as poor land-management practices in agriculture are contributors to climate change, implementation of good on-farm practices can actually lead to climate change mitigation, and organic agriculture is well positioned to be part of the solution.
DL: How much science out there is related to organic farming as a solution for climate change?
TM: Short answer: Lots! Organic farmers do not rely on fossil-fuel intensive synthetic inputs to manage pests or increase soil fertility. Studies show that diverse crop rotation strategies and soil-building practices required by USDA’s National Organic Program reduce overall emissions per land area farmed, while simultaneously sequestering carbon in the soil. Every carbon molecule that is stored in the soil is one that is not contributing to climate change in our atmosphere.
Data collected and published by USDA scientists from long-term agricultural research stations in Iowa and Maryland found that organic cropping systems sequestered significantly more carbon in the soil than comparable conventional cropping systems. Another analysis published by European researchers examined data from over 70 different studies to determine how transitioning from conventional farming to organic farming affected soil organic carbon. They found that agricultural soils under organic management stored a lot more carbon compared to those under conventional management, confirming the potential of organic agriculture to contribute to climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration.
Additionally, studies that compare energy efficiency of organic farms to conventional farms continue to find that organic farms are more energy efficient.
DL: Are there certain areas where more research is really needed?
TM: One of the top areas where I see a real research need is developing scientifically supported agronomic practices to improve the sustainability of our agricultural system while simultaneously providing benefit to farmers—hence creating incentive for the agricultural industry to implement environmentally friendly practices. For example, some research suggests that organic practices that build soil health also make crops more resilient to climate change by increasing the ability of soils to retain water in drought conditions and improving the structure of the soil to make it more resistant to erosion during heavy rains. I think that as the reality of climate change sets in, more farmers are going to start looking for new solutions. If science demonstrates that the best on-farm practices to protect crop yields during severe weather events are the same best practices that mitigate climate change and build soil health, everyone wins.
Another area needing more research is the development of crop varieties that are adapted to organic production systems and extreme weather such as heat or drought. Nearly all crop varieties planted in the U.S. are developed for high-input agricultural systems that maximize yield above all else. As a result, most organic growers only have access to crop varieties not developed for organic systems, let alone a changing climate. Increased research into climate-resilient varieties that are adapted to organic management systems is imperative for increasing and maintaining yields needed to meet the growing demand for organic products (let alone the food demands of a growing population).
If you feel climate change is an overarching subject that you can’t personally impact, think again. Individuals can take small steps to be more eco-friendly and sustainable — and they can start in the kitchen. Take a look at nine ways to reduce your energy consumption, reduce landfill waste, and make an overall difference in your environmental footprint.
Water consumption: dishwasher vs. hand washing
Hand washing can give you a better sense of control over how clean your dishes get, but unless you’re a very eco-conscious hand-washer, it can also be very wasteful. Researchers at the University of Bonn in Germany found handwashing can use as much as 27 gallons of water and 2.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of energy to wash 12 place settings, compared with 4 gallons and 1.5 kWh used by a dishwasher to wash the same number of dishes. Because dishwashers are still a luxury for many, researchers recommend several ways a person can become “supereconomic” with hand-washing dishes:
- Remove large food scraps from the dishes with a spoon or a fork.
- Manual dishwashing is easier if the food is not dried to the dishes, therefore start washing soon after the meal.
- Do not pre-rinse the dishes under running tap water.
- Manual dishwashing is best done in two sinks: one with hot water and detergent, the other with cold water for a quick rinse.
Energy efficiency: gas vs. electric stove
When you use a gas stove, natural gas enters your stove from a gas supply to your house. Once it reaches the burner, it comes into contact with air inside a mixer tube and is mixed with more air when it is released through holes in the burner. The ignition system lights the gas-air mixture, creating a blue flame and the higher you turn the burner control knob, the more gas is released.
With an electric stove, electricity runs to a wire inside the coils on the cook top. When you turn the dial on the stove, the electricity flows to the coil and heats up the metal.
When talking energy efficiency between a gas and an electric stove, the gas stove is a clear winner. It takes about three times as much energy to produce and deliver electricity to your stove. A gas stove will cost you less than half as much to operate, according to the California Energy Commission, provided you have an electronic ignition and not a pilot light.
Reduce electricity consumption: Get to know your refrigerator
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates your refrigerator takes up 14 percent of your household energy usage. While it’s our best friend in keeping food fresh, if you’re not using it efficiently, it can be a major energy hog. Here are some quick tips about your fridge to help you stay eco-friendly:
- Allow leftovers to sit at room temperature for a while before putting them in the fridge. Hot leftovers raise the temperature inside your fridge, so it has to work harder and burn more energy.
- Check the rubber seal on your fridge occasionally to make sure it’s keeping cold air in and warm air out. To check, slip a dollar bill into the door; if it slips out easily, you need to fix or replace the seal.
- Keep your freezer as full as possible. You can fill an empty space with reusable ice packs so it will stay cooler.
- Check how old your fridge is. If it’s more than 10 years old, consider replacing it with an Energy Star-qualified one.
Reduce landfill waste: Buy in bulk, not packaged
Purchasing and cooking in bulk means fewer trips to the store, less packaging, and less time using energy-consuming appliances.
Stores such as Simply Bulk Market in Longmont, Colo., carry hundreds of pounds of bulk food, spices, pet supplies, soaps, coffees, teas and other items that traditionally would sell in smaller packages, which would create more landfill waste. By buying and cooking in bulk, you can help save not only the environment, but your cash, as well.
Reduce carbon emissions: Buy local
Buying local, farm-fresh produce is not only a great way to get organic and natural foods, it’s an eco-friendly step to end the oil-consuming transportation methods for carrying groceries to stores nationwide.
Wander around your community to find local farmers’ markets, independent retailers and fresh food stands. Or, you can simply go to localharvest.org to find sustainably grown food in your area.
Surround yourself with eco-friendly design
While not everyone has the budget for a complete kitchen remodel, there are opportunities to consider sustainability when it comes to kitchen design. HGTV, the network that thrives on inspiring ideas for the home, offers nine design elements that can be environmentally friendly:
- · Bamboo surfaces
- · Scrap wood
- · Fluorescents and natural lighting
- · Cork
- · Recycled stone-chipped composite countertops
- · Top and bottom freezer/refrigerator units
- · Recycling stations
- · Convection ovens
- · Natural fabrics
Be eco-friendly: Eat healthy
The Environmental Defense Fund estimates that if every American had just one meat-free meal per week, the carbon dioxide reduction would equal the removal of more than 5 million cars from the road. Eating fresh not only promotes better health, it also conserves energy used in processing, packaging and delivering products. A great project for the gardening kind is to set up a vegetable and herb garden. If you don’t have the backyard space, check out a community garden in your area (or start one).
Reduce food waste: Reuse scraps for additional meals.
The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates getting food from the farm to our fork eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the U.S. Yet, 40 percent of the food in the U.S. goes uneaten.
That’s about $165 billion each year that goes to waste. What can you do? Consider all the ways you can reuse food scraps, stems, leaves and leftovers. Cook with a whole head of cauliflower. Use the apple cores and citrus peels one more time before composting. And taste the leafy tops of your favorite root vegetables. It’s almost like eating for free!
(Read more about food waste at GGMW.)
Cut energy costs with alternative cooking methods
Ease the strain on your AC by getting outside to cook. Grilling is a great method that brings the heat from cooking outside, thus reducing the need to turn up the air conditioning. Outdoor grills also use less energy than your stove.
Better yet, according to Food Network, upgrade to induction cooking. An induction cooker is faster and more energy-efficient than a traditional electric cooking surface. Like gas burners, induction cookers allow instant control of cooking power, and they won’t directly heat the air around the vessel.