Connect the Dots: Climate Change and Agriculture

Leyana is a senior at Sarah Lawrence College in New York State, where she studies Spanish and environmental science/policy, among other eclectic topics. She was active in the anti-hydrofracking movement in NY as a high school student, and continues to be involved in environmental and social justice organizing in college. She is excited about using public policy to fight climate change.

How does climate change affect agriculture?

This semester, I’m a Fall Fellow with the #PutAPriceOnIt (PAPOI) campaign, and I’m also conducting an independent study on large-scale urban agriculture with support from my biology professor. These two things tie together more easily than one might first imagine. They are both innovative approaches to some of the problems caused by climate change, and their implementation can complement each other.

I believe that it is unjust that the corporations which drive fuel extraction reap the economic benefits without facing consequences for the harm they cause, and that’s where my interest in carbon pricing legislation stems from. Putting a price on carbon would make pollution more expensive for companies such as Schlumberger, Halliburton, Saipem, Exxonmobil and British Petroleum, to name a few. It would incentivize companies to become more efficient, because not to do so would no longer be in their economic interest. Right now, the fact that climate change is endangering all of our futures is common knowledge, backed by ample scientific research and data. However, our economic system is setup to favor what is well-established, whether it’s the best system or not. We have a lot to fight against when it comes to reducing climate pollution, from economic structures such as tax breaks, investments and government subsidies for fossil fuels to massive physical infrastructure (gas and oil wells, pipelines, power plants).

Companies with their financial bottom-lines in mind are reluctant to abandon all of this previous effort, even though fossil fuels are not and cannot be the way of the future - aside from the huge ecological and health disadvantages, they are also a finite resource. That’s what’s great about taxing extractors of carbon - it finally acknowledges the real world costs that carbon pollution creates, and holds the biggest polluters accountable. If we pass a bill where the price on carbon is high enough, then the logical next step for extractors and other companies will be to invest in renewable energy and efficiency.

So what does all of this have to do with my project on urban agriculture? Climate change is impacting our ability to grow crops, and the need to ship food over long distances adds to climate change. With the advent of new technologies and innovative uses of urban space, farming in cities can be one part of the solution. A couple of weeks ago I visited the Queens, NY, branch of Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm in New York City. On the roof of a building in a busy area, a three acre farm provides fresh and local produce to the neighborhood. This is just one form of urban farming. There are also interesting high tech options: hydroponic and aeroponic farming. Hydroponic farming means growing plants in flowing water enriched with nutrients, without the use of any soil. Aeroponics takes this idea to a further extreme, growing plants without soil and with comparatively little water by misting roots with a water nutrient solution. Hydroponic and aeroponic farms can be large or small scale, indoors or outdoors. They can also be vertical, a space saving design that mimics the upward growth of cities.

On the roof of an affordable housing apartment building in the Bronx, a company fittingly named Sky Vegetables grows food in a hydroponic greenhouse year round. And in Newark, New Jersey, a company called Aerofarms is growing greens and herbs year round in the world’s most productive indoor aeroponic facility. Similar projects exist all over the globe. These kinds of innovative urban farms use 70-90% less water than conventional agriculture and cut back on carbon by growing the food right in the densely populated area where it is sold. If powered by renewable energy, they could be carbon neutral. They are especially useful for producing perishable vegetables that would normally need to be shipped long distances from farm to store to table, in refrigerated containers. We could use urban farming to cut down our emissions and to grow nutritious vegetable crops that are currently lacking in urban food deserts, and sell them right in the neighborhoods where they’re grown. I hope that in the future, people will look back and see that carbon pricing and urban farming worked together as two facets of the switch away from burning fossil fuel.

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