High-yield agriculture slows pace of global warming

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Advances in high-yield agriculture over the latter part of the 20th century have prevented massive amounts of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere — the equivalent of 590 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide — according to a new study led by two Stanford University earth scientists.

The yield improvements reduced the need to convert forests to farmland, a process that typically involves burning of trees and other plants, which generates carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.  

The researchers estimate that if not for increased yields, additional greenhouse gas emissions from clearing land for farming would have been equal to as much as a third of the world’s total output of greenhouse gases since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in 1850.

“Our results dispel the notion that modern intensive agriculture is inherently worse for the environment than a more ‘old-fashioned’ way of doing things,” says Jennifer Burney, lead author of a paper describing the study published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

 



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