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Sangita Iyer

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What We've Done to the Environment Is Haunting Us Now

Posted: 09/23/2013 5:10 pm

As people in Colorado are reeling from the aftermath of what some call the "1,000-Year Flood," it may be timely to take a closer look at the ramifications of global warming on food security. The unprecedented downpour, 21 inches in one week -- twice the annual rainfall, that left eight people dead, thousands of homes destroyed, their farmlands submerged and cattle stranded has left many people wondering if global warming worsened the torrential rains and floods.

Although much has been lost between the translation of climate science language which reveals no direct links, few would deny that extreme weather patterns are becoming more frequent and intense with devastating consequences on human civilization. Most climate scientists (97 per cent) also agree that greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted from human activities is exacerbating climate change.

One of the biggest sources is the livestock sector, which is responsible for 18 per cent of the total anthropogenic GHG emissions (CO2, methane and nitrous oxide), fuelled by global demand for meat and dairy products, according to a published report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

"With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes."


Factoring in emissions from land use and related changes, the livestock sector generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, mostly from manure, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. And it accounts for 37 per cent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of the cattle, and 64 per cent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.

This is of particular significance for states like Colorado where agriculture pumps $41 billion a year into the economy, with cash from Colorado farm receipts alone totalling to $7.1 billion annually, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Nationally, the United States Department of Agriculture is projecting $139.5-billion in exports in 2013, and the 2012 net cash income for Canada is expected to remain at a near record of $12.9 billion this year, according to Government of Canada.

Amazingly, neither America nor Canada seems to be equipped to handle weather related losses, as farmers and ranchers are bracing for widespread damage to the Colorado's multibillion agriculture industry. Property losses alone in that state are estimated at nearly $2 billion, as many dread the prospect of losing their cornfields if floods in the low-lying prairie near the South Platte River do not recede before the October harvest. Here in Canada, the agricultural losses resulting from the floods this summer in Alberta are estimated by BMO Capital Markets to reach $3.75 billion as the province of Saskatchewan was coping with record breaking floods.

But that's not all. When we factor in the cascading effects of food security, the outlook for the agriculture sector in developed nations looks pretty bleak as projected in a 2012 report by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science. "Climate change will have impacts on nutrition and food safety in developed countries."

Essentially coping with climate change would require a dramatic shift in farming practices and infrastructure, which will cost more money and most of it recovered by increasing food prices. This in turn will have negative effects on food choices, as people will shift to cheaper brands and eat processed food high in fat and sugar, thereby increasing the risk of life threatening illnesses such as diabetes and heart problems. According to the Royal Society,

"Increasing food prices may lower the nutritional quality of dietary intakes, exacerbate obesity, and amplify health inequalities. Altered conditions for food production may result in emerging pathogens, new crop and livestock species, and altered use of pesticides and veterinary medicines, and affect the main transfer mechanisms through which contaminants move from the environment into food. All these have implications for food safety and the nutritional content of food."


Another report entitled "Potential causes and health effects of rising global food prices" suggests, "Between January 2006 and July 2008, global food prices rose by an average of 75 per cent, causing an estimated 75-million additional people to become undernourished worldwide."

Overall, it's becoming clearer that what we are putting into the environment is returning to haunt us, resulting in unnecessary loss of lives, malnourishment, disease and starvation. Another key lesson is, the developed nations are not shielded from climate change, nor do they have the capacity to deal with a devastation of such cataclysmic proportion as the recent severe weather event in Colorado.

However, amid all the doom and gloom there is light at the end of the tunnel, as plenty of research and solutions are available. FAO points to one multi-stakeholder report Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) Initiative which proposes "explicitly to consider environmental costs and suggests number of ways of remedying the situation" among other things,

"controlled livestock exclusion from sensitive areas; payment schemes for environmental services in livestock-based land use to help reduce and reverse land degradation; increasing the efficiency of livestock production and feed crop agriculture, improving animals' diets to reduce enteric fermentation and consequent methane emissions, and setting up biogas plant initiatives to recycle manure."

So as global livestock sector continues to grow faster than any other agricultural sub-sector and provide livelihoods to about 1.3-billion people, it's time the world leaders moved swiftly towards bold actions in mandating farming practices that could help mitigate climate change, rather than succumb to bureaucratic policies and selfish lobby groups.

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  • Joe Biden

    Vice President Joe Biden, right, arrives with Gov. John Hickenlooper, center, in Greeley, Colo. after surveying the flood damage in the area and to meet with FEMA officials, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Kathryn Scott Osler, Pool)

  • Joe Biden

    Vice President Joe Biden, center, visits with American Red Cross workers Bobbie Anderson, from Texas, left, and Jason Godinez, from Evans, Colo., one of the areas hit hard by the flooding, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, inside the Disaster Recovery Center in Greeley, Colo., after flying in a helicopter over areas ravaged by the recent flooding. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Kathryn Scott Osler, Pool)

  • Joe Biden

    After flying in a helicopter over areas ravaged by the recent flooding, Vice President Joe Biden, center front, flanked by Colorado elected officials and FEMA workers, looks at maps of the areas that were hit, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, in Greeley Colo. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Kathryn Scott Osler, Pool)

  • Joe Biden

    A Blackhawk helicopter with Vice President Biden aboard inspects flood damage near Estes Park, Colo., Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Biden toured areas of the state hit by flooding. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Colorado Flooding

    A section of highway is pictured near Boulder, Colo., on Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, during a tour of the area with Vice President Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)y

  • Joe Biden

    Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a briefing on the floods in Colorado at the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Greeley, Colo., Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Biden took a helicopter tour of the flood damage in Colorado before meeting with officials at the center. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Joe Biden, Craig Fugate

    Vice President Joe Biden, right, talks with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate after a briefing on the floods in Colorado at the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Greeley, Colo., Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Biden took a helicopter tour of the flood damage in Colorado before meeting with officials at the center. AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Joseph Biden, John Hickenlooper

    Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper, left, listens to Vice President Joseph Biden speak to members of the media at a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center, following a day in which Biden and others surveyed area flood damage by helicopter, in Greeley, Colo., Monday Sept. 23, 2013. More than 15,600 people have applied for FEMA aid so far in response to the flooding, with FEMA aid at $19.6 million and rising. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • Joseph Biden, John Hickenlooper, Mike Coffmann

    Vice President Joseph Biden speaks to members of the media at a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center, joined by Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper, near right, and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., following a day in which Biden and others surveyed area flood damage by helicopter, in Greeley, Colo., Monday Sept. 23, 2013. More than 15,600 people having applied for FEMA aid so far in response to the flooding, at $19.6 million and rising. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • Joseph Biden, John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet

    Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper, left, introduces Vice President Joseph Biden, second from right, who stands with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., far right, as Biden prepares to speak to members of the media at a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center following a day in which Biden and others surveyed area flood damage by helicopter, in Greeley, Colo., Monday Sept. 23, 2013. More than 15,600 people have applied for FEMA aid so far in response to the flooding, at $19.6 million and rising. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • Joseph Biden, John Hickenlooper, Mike Coffman

    Vice President Joseph Biden waves after speaking to members of the media at a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center, joined by Colo. Gov. John Hickenlooper, second from left, and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., left, following a day in which Biden and others surveyed area flood damage by helicopter, in Greeley, Colo., Monday Sept. 23, 2013. More than 15,600 people having applied for FEMA aid so far in response to the flooding, with FEMA aid at $19.6 million and rising. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • Joseph Biden, Cory Gardner

    Vice President Joseph Biden speaks to members of the media at a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center, joined by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., right, following a day in which Biden surveyed area flood damage by helicopter, in Greeley, Colo., Monday Sept. 23, 2013. More than 15,600 people having applied for FEMA aid so far in response to the flooding, with FEMA aid at $19.6 million and rising. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • Joseph Biden

    Vice President Joseph Biden speaks to members of the media at a FEMA Disaster Recovery Center following a day in which Biden surveyed area flood damage by helicopter, in Greeley, Colo., Monday Sept. 23, 2013. More than 15,600 people having applied for FEMA aid so far in response to the flooding, with FEMA aid at $19.6 million and rising. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • Joe Biden, John Hickenlooper

    Vice President Joe Biden leads Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, left, from a helicopter after landing in Greeley, Colo., Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Biden, Hickenlooper and other officials took a tour of the flood stricken areas of the state. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Joe Biden

    A Blackhawk helicopter with Vice President Biden aboard, inspects flood damage near Estes Park, Colo., Monday, Sept. 23, 2013. Biden took a helicopter tour of flood damage and to survey recovery efforts. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Flood-damaged mobile homes in Evans, Colo., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Residents and local governments continue to assess the damage from historic flooding and begin the process of rebuilding and recovery. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Tara Anderson

    Tara Anderson, 25, takes a break from cleaning out her flood-damaged home in Evans, Colo., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Residents and local governments continue to assess the damage from historic flooding and begin the process of rebuilding and recovery. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • A rock slide partially blocks a closed canyon road, which links Boulder with the mountain town of Nederland, and which is damaged in places by recent flooding, up Boulder Canyon, west of Boulder, Colo., Friday Sept. 20, 2013. With snow already dusting Colorado’s highest peaks, the state is scrambling to replace key mountain highways washed away by flooding. More than 200 miles of state highways and at least 50 bridges were damaged or destroyed, not counting many more county roads. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • A guardrail hangs away from a closed canyon road, where some local residents are allowed to drive with caution, and which is washed out in places by recent flooding, up Boulder Canyon, west of Boulder, Colo., Friday Sept. 20, 2013. With snow already dusting Colorado’s highest peaks, the state is scrambling to replace key mountain highways washed away by flooding. More than 200 miles of state highways and at least 50 bridges were damaged or destroyed, not counting many more county roads. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • A guardrail hangs away from a closed canyon road, which links Boulder with the mountain town of Nederland, and which is washed out in places by recent flooding, up Boulder Canyon, west of Boulder, Colo., Friday Sept. 20, 2013. With snow already dusting Colorado’s highest peaks, the state is scrambling to replace key mountain highways washed away by flooding. More than 200 miles of state highways and at least 50 bridges were damaged or destroyed, not counting many more county roads. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • National Guard soldiers man a checkpoint on a closed canyon road, which is washed out in places by recent flooding, up Boulder Canyon, west of Boulder, Colo., Friday Sept. 20, 2013. With snow already dusting Colorado’s highest peaks, the state is scrambling to replace key mountain highways washed away by flooding. More than 200 miles of state highways and at least 50 bridges were damaged or destroyed, not counting many more county roads. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • Santana Vega, left, and Karen Little, right, help Donna Wells, center, as she reacts to seeing photos of her flooded home in LaSalle, Colo., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Wells' home was completely destroyed by floodwaters and she lost virtually all of her belongings. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Santana Vega

    Santana Vega puts on gloves and a mask before entering the home of Donna Wells to take pictures so she can see the condition of her home in LaSalle, Colo., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Wells home was completely destroyed by floodwaters and she has lost virtually all of her belongings. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Donna Wells, Karen Little

    Donna Wells, right, comforts Karen Little, left, as she cries over the extent of flood damage to her home in LaSalle, Colo., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Both their homes were extensively damaged by floodwaters and they have lost virtually all of their belongings. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • A sign declares this flood-damaged home unsafe to enter or occupy in Evans, Colo., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Residents and local governments continue to assess the damage from historic flooding and begin the process of rebuilding and recovery. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • The interior of the home of Donna Wells is damaged in LaSalle, Colo., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Wells' home was completely destroyed by floodwaters and she has lost virtually all of her belongings. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Oil workers try to lift a storage tank for condensate that was knocked over by floodwaters from the Platte River at an oil well site near LaSalle, Colo., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Condensate is the mix of oil and water that is pumped out of the ground. The tank was intact and had not leaked. Numerous oil and gas well sites have been damaged by floodwaters throughout Colorado with several reports of spills. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Dan Ochsener, Karen Little

    Dan Ochsener, left, comforts Karen Little, right, as they stand surrounded by their flood-damaged belongings in LaSalle, Colo., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Both their homes were extensively damaged by floodwaters. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Santana Vega

    Santana Vega takes camera phone pictures of the home of Donna Wells so she can see the condition of her home in LaSalle, Colo., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Wells home was completely destroyed by floodwaters and she has lost virtually all of her belongings. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Oil workers try to lift a storage tank for condensate that was knocked over by floodwaters from the Platte River at an oil well site near LaSalle, Colo., on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013. Condensate is the mix of oil and water that is pumped out of the ground. The tank was intact and had not leaked. Numerous oil and gas well sites have been damaged by floodwaters throughout Colorado with several reports of spills. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • A woman looks for reclaimable wood from a heap of household flooring, furniture and other items destroyed by flooding the previous week, in Boulder, Colo., Friday Sept. 20, 2013. The flood recovery process is underway along the front range of Colorado as people clean out flooded homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

  • Jenna Brink

    Jenna Brink ducks under a piece of debris after cleaning out her flood-damaged trailer at the River Bend Mobile Home Park in Lyons, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. Hundreds of evacuees were allowed past National Guard roadblocks Thursday to find a scene of tangled power lines, downed utility poles, and mud-caked homes and vehicles.(AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Jenna Brink, Christine Brink

    Jenna Brink, left, takes a break while clearing belongings from her flood-damaged trailer with her mother, Christine Brink, at the River Bend Mobile Home Park in Lyons, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. Hundreds of evacuees were allowed past National Guard roadblocks Thursday to find a scene of tangled power lines, downed utility poles, and mud-caked homes and vehicles. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Dirk Huntington

    Dirk Huntington checks on a friend's flood-damaged trailer at the River Bend Mobile Home Park in Lyons, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. Hundreds of evacuees were allowed past National Guard roadblocks Thursday to find a scene of tangled power lines, downed utility poles, and mud-caked homes and vehicles. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • People walk through a severely flooded neighborhood in Lyons, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. Residents displaced by last week's flooding in the Colorado canyon town were allowed past National Guard roadblocks Thursday to find a scene of tangled power lines, downed utility poles, mud-caked homes and vehicles, and work crews furiously clearing debris and trying to restore power, water and sewer service. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • This photo shows a road that was washed out by the flood in Lyons, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. The recovery process has begun all along the front range as people clean out flooded homes and businesses. Local governments are starting to clear debris and repair infrastructure.(AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • A tractor is covered with debris in Lyons, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. The recovery process has begun all along the front range as people clean out flooded homes and businesses. Local governments are starting to clear debris and repair infrastructure.(AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Lisa Dunlap

    Lisa Dunlap cleans mud off of toys in Longmont, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. Hundreds of evacuees were allowed past National Guard roadblocks Thursday to find a scene of tangled power lines, downed utility poles, and mud-caked homes and vehicles. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Shawna English, Sabrina Naftel

    Volunteers Shawna English, left, and Sabrina Naftel throw a piece of wet carpet onto a trash pile as they help clean up a home in Longmont, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. The recovery process has begun all along the front range as people clean out flooded homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Ron West

    Ron West cleans mud out of his shed in Lyons, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. His home was spared by floodwaters. The recovery process has begun all along the front range as people clean out flooded homes and businesses. Local governments are starting to clear debris and repair infrastructure.(AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Roslynn Regnery, Emma Birath

    Neighbor Roslynn Regnery, right, gives a hug to Emma Birath, left, as they check on their homes in Lyons, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. The recovery process has begun all along the front range as people clean out flooded homes and businesses. Local governments are starting to clear debris and repair infrastructure.(AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Flooded Oil and Gas Wells

    In this Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 photo, flood waters recede from an oil and gas well pump site near Greeley, Colo. Colorado’s floods shut down hundreds of natural gas and oil wells, spilled oil from one tank and sent inspectors into the field looking for more pollution. Besides the environmental impact, flood damage to roads, railroads and other infrastructure will affect the region’s energy production for months to come.  Analysts warn that images of flooded wellheads will increase public pressure to impose restrictions on drilling techniques such as fracking. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Railroad tracks are undercut by flooding in Longmont, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. Rescuers continued efforts to reach stranded victims, while electricity and phone services were being restored to ravaged areas, allowing residents to contact family, friends or authorities. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • Two women walk down a street piled high with wreckage from floodwaters as residents clear their homes of damaged property during cleanup in Longmont, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. Rescuers continued efforts to reach stranded victims, while electricity and phone services were being restored to ravaged areas, allowing residents to contact family, friends or authorities. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

  • This Sept. 17, 2013 photo provided by Ecoflight shows the result of flash floods that swamped well pads and in some cases dislodged storage tanks in Weld County, Colo. Hundreds of natural gas and oil wells along with pipelines are shut down by flooding, as state and federal inspectors gauge the damage and look for contamination from inundated oil fields. (AP Photo/Ecoflight, Jane Pargiter)

  • Residents wait on the side of highway 66 to go back to their homes and begin the process of cleaning up after historic floods hit Lyons, Colo., on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. The recovery process has begun all along the front range as people clean out flooded homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Jeff Bails, Ben Glass

    Hydrologist Jeff Bails, left, and Hydrologic Technician Ben Glass measure stream velocity of the Big Thompson River in Loveland, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. As floodwaters recede, cleanup and damage assessment continues after historic flooding. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • This photo shows a flooded field near Loveland, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. As floodwaters recede, cleanup and damage assessment continues after historic flooding. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • Danger is spray-painted on a damaged section of Old Highway 34 in Loveland, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. As floodwaters recede, cleanup and damage assessment continues after historic flooding. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • This photo shows flood damage to Old Highway 34 in Loveland, Colo., on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. As floodwaters recede, cleanup and damage assessment continues after historic flooding. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)

  • In this Sept. 17, 2013 photo, a crude oil storage tank lies on its side in flood water along the South Platte River, in Weld County, Colo. Hundreds of natural gas and oil wells along with pipelines are shut down by flooding, as state and federal inspectors gauge the damage and look for potential contamination from inundated oil fields. (AP Photo/John Wark)

 

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