Reducing Greenhouse Gases & Nitrogen

Activity by:
ROC Activity
Nov 24 2010
National (U.S.)

Roots of Change (ROC) is committed to creating a sustainable food system in California by the year 2030.

ROC believes that among several other key dynamics, the food system will not be sustainable until agriculture greatly reduce and/or eliminates its huge impacts on climate, air and water pollution. Emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG), particularly nitrogen, are a prime crosscutting indicator of the degree of integration with natural systems, agriculture has achieved. Today, GHG emission levels indicate tragedy lies ahead. They must be quickly lowered. We join with a host of other NGOs and foundations in seeking to lower emissions 20% by the year 2020.

Learn about who's working to reduce greenhouse gases and nitrogen, click here.

Climate Change and the Food System

"Agriculture is an undervalued and underestimated climate change tool that could be one of the most powerful strategies in the fight against global warming."     The Rodale Institute

When you think about climate change, are agriculture and the food system top of mind as one of the primary causes?  Maybe not, however the most recent UC Davis study suggests that the food system is responsible for up to 29 percent of global warming generated by the consumer economy in industrialized nations (1).  Agriculture's dependence on carbon-based energy to manufacture fertilizers and pesticides, and to run farming, processing, and transportation equipment is responsible for part of the emissions in the food system; along with livestock related emissions, and the transportation, storage, and waste of food along the supply chain.

Check out the resources, articles, and profiles below for more information about the connection between the food system and climate change.

General Resources:
Take a Bite out of Climate Change
Examines food-related emissions from seed to plate to landfill.

Nitrogen News
Linking farm practices, the environment and public health.

UC Davis Agriculture Sustainability Institute:The California Nitrogen Assessment
The California Nitrogen Assessment (CNA) is designed to provide cohesive knowledge that gives a big-picture view of California's nitrogen system.

ASI: Nitrogen Stakeholders
The outreach efforts and engaged stakeholders from across California taking part in the Nitrogen Assessment Project. 

The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork
Provides general information on the food and climate change connection, including tables showing the core difference between climate crisis-agriculture and climate-friendly farming.

The Food System & Global Warming
Global warming and the food we eat has a bigger connection than you many think.  Check out this resource for information on climate change and the environmental impacts of agriculture, with a special focus on livestock.

Low Carbon Diet Calculator
Curious about how you can lower your carbon impact with your food choices? Check out this interactive tool from Bon Appetit Management Company that allows you to determine how your meal is contributing to global warming.

In the News:
The dark side of nitrogen - Grist - Feb. 4, 2010
West Marin ranchers hope to turn pasture pollution into cow power - Marin Independent Journal - Feb. 3, 2010
California Network to Monitor Global-Warming Gases - The New York Times - Feb. 2, 2010
Solutions to Climate Change: Using Trees and Grasses to Capture Carbon and Produce Energy - Science Daily - Jan. 29, 2010
How Cows (Grass-Fed Only) Could Save the Planet - Time Magazine - Jan. 25, 2010
Farm Bureau Fires Back Against Climate Bill's 'Power Grab' - The New York Times - Jan. 11, 2010
Organic Farming Could Stop Global Climate Change- Treehugger - Oct. 10, 2009
Eat Locally, Ease Climate Change Globally - The Washington Post - Mar. 8, 2008

(1) White Paper on the critical issues in reducing GHG emissions and energy use in the food system from the UC Davis Agriculture Sustainability Institute.

Climate Change and the Food System: Additional Resources

Here are additional in-depth resources related to climate change and agriculture.  Please let us know of additional resources via info (at)

Projects and Networks
Sustainable Food Laboratory: Agriculture Climate Stewardship Project
American Farmland Trust: Agriculture and Environment Program
CalCAN: California Climate & Agriculture Network
World Watch Institute Climate and Energy Program
Central Valley Air Quality Coalition
An Overview and Additional Resources from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance

Research and Policy
The World Resources Institute: Agriculture and Climate Change: The Policy Context
2010 US Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report: 1990-2007 from the EPA
Rodale Institute: Using Agriculture as a Climate Change solution
Manage the Nitrogen Cycle from the National Academy of Engineering
California Agriculture Online: Climate Change & California

The Business Side
Ecoagriculture Partners

Blogs and Social Media
The Brighter Planet Blog
Cal Nitrogen on Twitter
Nitrogen Cycle on Twitter

In the News
Global Research Alliance Launched at the U.N. Climate Change Conference - USDA Blog - Dec. 16, 2009
Implications of Economic Studies on Effects of Clean Energy Legislation on Agriculture Sector - American Farmland Trust - Dec. 10, 2009
Scientists: “climate conference needs to address role of nitrogen in climate change” - Science, Technology and Innovation - Dec. 7, 2009
Global Warming's Evil Twin: Agricultural Land Use - - Nov. 6, 2009
The Carnivore's Delimma - The New York Times - Oct. 30, 2009
To Cut Global Warming, Swedes Study Their Plates - The New York Times - Oct. 22, 2009
Grassfed beef can Solve Global Warming - Small Footprint Family - Oct. 14, 2009
The Nitrogen Challenge - Roots of Change - Michael Dimock's blog - Oct. 12, 2009
Organic Farming Could Stop Climate Change - Treehugger - Oct. 10, 2009
Michael Pollen's discussion with two farmers on Talk of the Nation - NPR - Oct. 8, 2009
Cutting Carbon, Feeding the World - The Wall Street Journal - Oct. 6, 2009
Global Warming: Agriculture's impact on Green House Gas Emissions - AgDM Newsletter - April 2008

Nitrogen, Farmers, and the Environment

The common agricultural practice of adding nitrogen to the soil can boost crop production, but can also lead to fish die-offs, air pollution, and possibly threaten the health of the soil. Many farmers would like to implement more environmentally beneficial practices, but do not for fear of reduced profits, due to potentially lower yields in the field, in an era of low margins. To meet the environmental challenge, the federal government is taking a leadership role in reducing nitrogen pollution in waterways, while two nonprofit organizations work directly with farmers to provide risk reduction and financial incentives to reduce nitrogen use.

Check out these articles for more information on farmers efforts to benefit the environment.

To Reduce Nitrogen Pollution, We Need New Farm Policies -
California-based Sustainable Conservation is meeting the challenge of nitrogen surplus by offering incentives to farmers who want to improve their environmental practices. Sustainable Conservation Senior Program Manager – and Roots of Change Fellow – Ladi Asgill offers risk coverage to California dairies enrolled in the Best Management Practices (BMP) Challenge to address potential loss of income as they implement new practices. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition praises the program for short-term impact but would like to see more support for widespread systemic changes in how dairy farms, and other farming systems, operate.

AFT’s BMP Challenge -
American Farmland Trust (AFT), recognized as a leader for saving America’s farm and ranch land, promoting healthy farming practices and supporting farms and farmers, began the BMP Challenge (described in the story above) with the belief that the practices can help both the environment and the farmers’ bottom-line. An outcome of the program is that many participating farmers have extended their practices to additional acres not covered by the BMP Challenge performance guarantee once they see the results for themselves. One of the key outcomes is a reduction of nitrogen pollution.

EPA Cracking Down on Urban and Agricultural Runoff Blamed for Dead Zones -
The application of nutrients such as nitrogen to the soil is a large contributor to “dead zones” in water – leading to multiple fish kills each year. The excess nutrients cause algae blooms that deplete oxygen in the water as they die off.  This article focuses on nutrient reduction as the Obama administration, Congress, and the EPA usher in “a new era of federal leadership.”

Holistic Management leads the way in the Soil Carbon Challenge -  Soil carbon is a basic indicator of ecosystem function, water retention, and productivity. The Soil Carbon Coalition uses plot specifications to co-locate permanent plots with the Land EKG transects that Charley Orchard set up and read. Tony and Andrea Malmberg are a great example of experienced ranchers leading the way in the Soil Carbon Challenge