Great Decisions takes look at food, climate

By Adelle Brodbeck Special for The Gazette

February 25, 2014

The topic of climate change has been a popular water-cooler conversation for years. However, according to Ohio Wesleyan University professor, Laurel Anderson, there may be multiple overlooked factors contributing to and generated from the alterations in environment.

The botany/microbiology professor presented her lecture on the global state of food and climate to a bright room packed with local Delawareans as the opening event for the annual Great Decisions Discussion Series last week.

Anderson’s talk covered topics from pollination to compost and from greenhouse gases to what one can do to help minimize negative impacts on the environment. Overall she emphasized the idea that even though it can be easy to immediately localize environmental issues, these problems are problems globally, and not just in Ohio.

“There are many different types of changes that we’re seeing in our environment today … we’re seeing changes in the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and changes in the water cycle,” said Anderson towards the beginning of her lecture. Anderson followed with, “These (changes) have some really strong effects on food, which I am going to equate with plants … I think a lot about how plants interact with their environment and how their physiological processes, like photosynthesis and water uptake help them cope with stresses in the environment. And really if you think about food carefully you’ll realize that even if you’re eating animal products, those animals ate something and those were plants.”

Throughout the 50-minute discussion Anderson related many of the prominent environmental changes to affects on food production. For example, Anderson said that between 1888 and 2012 the overall global temperature has raised 0.85 degrees Celsius. Higher temperatures globally have led to rising sea levels which can, and have already, affect production of healthy crops. “Often when people think of sea level rise, they think of the movie ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ where this giant tidal wave engulfs New York City, and I’m actually thinking of something more insidious and harder to deal with. I’m thinking about salt water intrusion on crops.”

As Anderson revealed many direct effects of environmental changes on agriculture, she also introduces less discussed points of how agriculture affects climate. For example, she discussed the high levels of deforestation in areas such as Brazil because of the increased demand for ungenetically modified soybeans.

Anderson also raised the point that one of the prominent greenhouse gases, methane, is produced in high quantities in the “guts of ruminant animals,” largely from cattle industries. “The cattle industry is also associated with significant emissions of CO2 and deforestation,” according to Anderson.

In order to help decrease negative environmental changes, Anderson said the best things that one could do are not necessarily to drive less, but instead to “consider foods that have lower carbon and methane footprints (plants), support policies that reduce green house gas emissions and to replace old appliances with energy efficient models” among others options. And after all, as Anderson said, small actions are “the gate-way drug” to making bigger changes globally.