Introduction: Climate Change and the Food System

To get a full picture of the role food systems play in the climate crisis, we need to connect the dots to global agriculture emissions and sustainable models that offer solutions to the daunting challenge of feeding the world – today and tomorrow.

What is simultaneously one of the greatest contributors to climate change and one of its greatest potential solutions? Believe it or not, it’s how we farm and eat. Indeed, food and climate change are inextricably linked.

From flooding in the Midwest and wild fires sweeping across California and Australia, to drought plaguing farmers around the world, it doesn’t take scientists’ modeling to help us see we’ve got a climate crisis on our hands. Among all but the climate change naysaying hold-outs, the global consensus is that man-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are exacerbating the greenhouse effect, leading to rising temperatures and increasingly dramatic weather events, including harsher droughts, more violent hurricanes, and more extreme flooding, with the poorest people in the world most vulnerable to these changes. As world leaders continue to drag their feet on binding agreements to curb emissions following the Copenhagen climate meetings of 2009 to the Rio+20 meetings in Brazil in 2012, it’s ever more important for all of us to understand the driving forces behind the crisis and how we can address them, from the local to the international level. 

While the energy and transportation sector have long been a focus for emissions reductions, production and transportation associated with our food system has largely been under the radar until recent years. Yet, the global food system—from how our food is produced to what we do with our food waste—accounts for an estimated one-third of greenhouse gas emissions. The livestock sector alone is responsible for 18 percent of the world’s total emissions—more than all emissions from the transportation sector combined. 

As we learn about the impact of food and agriculture on climate change, we also see in a new light the potential of sustainable and small-scale farming to provide strategies to help us reduce our global emissions and to foster food systems that are more resilient to impending climate chaos. 



Want to See More?

See extended interviews and videos with leading activists and experts like Anna Lappé, Timothy LaSalle, Devinder Sharma, Deb Habib, and others in our Multimedia section of the Climate Change topic.

Special thanks to Anna Lappé, author of Diet for a Hot Planet, for providing much of the original content for this topic. Visit Take a Bite Out of Climate Change for more of her work on food and climate.