High-Yield Agriculture Slows Pace of Global Warming

US - Advances in high-yield agriculture over the latter part of the 20th century have prevented massive amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG) from entering the atmosphere – the equivalent of 590 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) – according to a new study from Stanford University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
calendar icon 18 June 2010
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The researchers estimate that if not for increased yields, additional GHG emissions from clearing land for farming would have been equal to as much as a third of the world’s total output of GHG since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in 1850.

The researchers also calculated that for every dollar spent on agricultural research and development since 1961, emissions of the three principal GHG – methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and CO2 – were reduced by the equivalent of about a quarter of a ton of CO2 . This is a high rate of financial return compared to other approaches to reducing the gases.

To evaluate the impact of yield intensification on climate change, the researchers compared actual agricultural production between 1961 and 2005 with hypothetical scenarios in which the world's increasing food needs were met by expanding the amount of farmland rather than by the boost in yields produced by the Green Revolution.

“Our results dispel the notion that modern intensive agriculture is inherently worse for the environment than a more ‘old-fashioned’ way of doing things,” said Jennifer Burney, lead author of the study.

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