When people think about the causes of global warming, the usual suspects are things like traffic, energy waste and pollution. Well here’s something you may not expect. Our food – from what we eat to how it is grown – accounts for more carbon emissions than transportation and is one of the most significant factors of climate change on earth.

Globally, food systems account for roughly one quarter of all manmade greenhouse gas emissions, which ironically, affects the very ability to grow staple crops such as wheat and corn. As such, this food system-caused climate change threatens the food security of many poor nations, who are still very reliant on weather to produce sufficient crop yields.

While farming alone accounts for 10-12% of global greenhouse gas emissions, when we look at entire food systems the contributions to climate change more than double. A recent report published by the Meridian Institute lays out the many factors throughout food systems that spell trouble for the climate, and also explains why a broad systems-wide perspective is necessary for implementing effective changes.

Consider deforestation and soil. A narrow view of agriculture alone would neglect the fact that a full 80% of the forests that are clear cut or destroyed are done so to create farmland. Forests are massive carbon sinks. So is soil, locking away two to three times as much carbon as there is present in the atmosphere. But farmers can help restore ecosystem functions and build resilient communities by producing crops and livestock in productive ways that sequester carbon and protect forests.

The complex, dynamic, and widely diverse forms of the world’s many food systems yield some wildly divergent outcomes in terms of nutrition, health, and environmental and climate impacts. It is critical that we start to better examine what works in some systems and what must be improved in others, in order to produce more equitable, just, and sustainable outcomes around the world.

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