By Mike McCabe
Climate change is undeniable, though plenty still deny it. That human behavior is causing it also is undeniable, something many refuse to accept.
Among those comfortable with reality, most zero in on the burning of fossil fuels as the culprit. Often overlooked is the way agriculture is practiced. I grew up on a tractor but eventually left farming behind. While you can easily take the boy off the farm, it’s harder to take the farm out of the boy.
I now work on a community team focusing on agriculture policy and practices for 350 Wisconsin. Our aim is to promote the rapidly growing regenerative agriculture movement by showcasing the efforts of local farmers who are producing food in environmentally sustainable ways. These are farmers like Wisconsin’s own Ryan Erisman, who raises hogs profitably yet sustainably on just 32 acres, grazing them on pastures and an oak and hickory forest, using remaining acreage to grow corn and other crops for feed without the need for tillage or application of pesticides and herbicides. He plans to add cattle to his operation soon.
Farming Ryan Erisman’s way not only supplies customers with wholesome, grass-fed meat that is free of antibiotics and genetically modified organisms, it also fights climate change. Practices like no-till planting, crop rotation, continuous cover, and rotational grazing keep the soil healthy. Healthy soils capture and sequester carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere. Soils depleted of decomposing organic material release carbon. Chemical-intensive industrial agriculture has led to widespread soil degradation, which in turn contributes to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, fueling climate change.
When I first came to 350’s doorstep, I knew nothing of the genesis of the group’s name. It’s shorthand for 350 parts per million (ppm). That’s the level of CO2 in Earth’s atmosphere that scientists, climatologists, and environmental regulators agree is safe, meaning consistent with conditions to which life on this planet is adapted and on which civilization developed.
The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere remained remarkably stable at 275 ppm or thereabouts for a million-plus years until humans started burning fossil fuels to produce energy and goods and began industrializing agricultural production. Global CO2 levels passed 420 ppm in 2022 and are rising 2–3 ppm each year. Unless we reverse that trend and get back to around 350 ppm, we risk triggering cataclysmic impacts to the environment and society. We’re already seeing glaring effects of climate change: unusually prolonged droughts and raging wildfires in some regions, record precipitation and widespread flooding in other areas, accelerating migration of climate refugees. I’d be tempted to say we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg if it weren’t for so many glaciers and ice masses disappearing across the globe.
Climate change is entirely undeniable. The resulting climate crisis is very real, of our doing, and our responsibility. That means it’s up to us to change the way we live, the way we make electricity, heat and cool our homes, get from one place to another, and grow the food we eat. The extent of the needed change is not undefined or incalculable. The target is clear.
Three hundred fifty.
This post originally appeared on Mike McCabe’s blog.