Our Impact on Climate Change and Global Land Use in 5 Charts
We highlight the five most important takeaways from the IPCC’s recent 1,400+ page report on climate change and land use.
Our Impact on Climate Change and Land Use in 5 Charts
As the world population approaches the eight billion mark, it’s becoming clear that we’re impacting the planet in unprecedented ways.
Humans have made such dramatic changes to Earth’s systems, from climate to geology, that many are suggesting we’ve entered into a new epoch – the Anthropocene.
To better understand the challenges of this era of wide-sweeping human impact on the planet, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has produced a massive report covering land use and climate change.
According to the IPCC, the situation is looking more dire by the year. Below are a few of the key insights buried within the 1,400+ pages of the massive report.
Shifting Global Land Use
The scale of land use and loss of biodiversity are unprecedented in human history.
According to the report, roughly two-thirds of the world’s ice-free land is now devoted to human uses. Ecosystems, both forested and unforested, only account for about 16% of land today. Part of the reason for this dwindling supply of natural habitat is the rapid increase of agricultural activity around the world.
Since the dawn of the 20th century, global land use has shifted dramatically:
Not only has land use changed, but so has farming itself. In many parts of the world, increased yields will primarily come from existing agricultural land. For example, wheat yields are projected to increase 11% by the year 2026, despite the growing area only increasing by 1.8%. Rice production exhibits a similar trend, with 93% of the projected increase expected to come from increased yields rather than from area expansion. In some cases, intensive farming practices can degrade soil more than 100x faster than the time it takes for new soil to form, leaving fertilizers to pick up the slack.
One of the most dramatic changes highlighted in the report is the nearly eight-fold increase in the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers since the early 1960s. These types of fertilizers are having serious downstream effects on aquatic ecosystems, in some cases creating “dead zones” such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico.
In addition to the negative impacts outlined above, the simple act of feeding ourselves also accounts for one-third of our global greenhouse gas footprint.
Things are Heating Up
The past half-decade is likely to become the warmest five-year stretch in recorded history, underscoring the rapid pace of climate change. On a global scale, even a small increase in temperature can have a big impact on climate and our ecosystems.
For example, air can hold approximately 7% more moisture for every 1ºC increase, leading to an uptick in extreme rainfall events. These events can trigger landslides, increase the rate of soil erosion, and damage crops – just one example of how climate change can cause a chain reaction.
For the billions of people who live in “drylands”, climate change is serving up a completely different scenario:
“Heatwaves are projected to increase in frequency, intensity and duration in most parts of the world and drought frequency and intensity is projected to increase in some regions that are already drought prone.”
— IPCC report on Climate Change and Land, 2019
This is particularly worrisome as 90% of people in these arid or semiarid regions live in developing economies that are still very reliant on agriculture.
In addition to water scarcity, the IPCC has identified a number of other categories, including soil erosion and permafrost degradation. In all seven categories, our current global temperature puts us firmly in the moderate to high risk zone. These risks predict events with widespread societal impact, such as regional “food shocks” and millions of additional people exposed to wildfires.
This IPCC report makes one thing clear. In addition to tackling emissions in our cities and transportation networks, we’ll need to substantially change the way we use our land and rethink our entire agricultural system if we’re serious about mitigating the impact of climate change.
The Most Valuable Agricultural Commodity in Each State
Which agricultural commodity is the most important to each state’s economy? This infographic breaks it all down, based on data from the USDA.
The Most Valuable Agricultural Commodity in Each State
The United States has an incredible amount of geographic diversity.
From the fertile farmland of the Great Plains to the volcanic islands in the Hawaiian archipelago, each state has been dealt a unique geographical hand.
Each geographical setting can be the source of economic opportunities, such as tourism or the development of natural resources. It also partially dictates what kind of agricultural choices are available for farmers and local economies.
A Higher Level Look
Today’s infographic comes to us from HowMuch.net, and it color codes each state based on the most valuable agricultural commodity it produces, based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
At a big picture level, how does the country break down?
|Most Valuable Agricultural Commodity||Number of States|
|Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||16|
|Poultry and eggs||9|
|Cattle and calves||7|
|Milk from cows||7|
|Nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod||4|
|Fruit, tree nuts, and berries||3|
|Vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes||2|
|Other crops and hay||1|
Broadly speaking, the category of “Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas” is the most valuable agricultural commodity in 16 states, while aquaculture was the most important in only one state, which is Alaska.
It’s interesting that there are niches that end up deriving massive amounts of value in only a few states. For example, the category of “Fruit, tree nuts, and berries” is the biggest in just three states, but California makes $17.6 billion from it every year – more than the size of the entire agricultural sector of some states.
State by State Data
Finally, here’s a look at the data for each state in a sortable table:
|#1||California||Fruit, tree nuts, and berries||$17,638,972,000|
|#2||Iowa||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$17,146,679,000|
|#3||Illinois||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$13,589,230,000|
|#4||Texas||Cattle and calves||$13,013,127,000|
|#5||Minnesota||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$12,304,415,000|
|#6||Nebraska||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$10,698,861,000|
|#7||Kansas||Cattle and calves||$10,153,087,000|
|#8||North Dakota||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$8,813,348,000|
|#9||Indiana||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$7,217,854,000|
|#10||Ohio||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$5,834,600,000|
|#11||South Dakota||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$5,809,792,000|
|#12||Wisconsin||Milk from cows||$4,952,039,000|
|#13||North Carolina||Poultry and eggs||$4,837,026,000|
|#14||Georgia||Poultry and eggs||$4,773,837,000|
|#15||Colorado||Cattle and calves||$4,321,308,000|
|#16||Arkansas||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$4,214,355,000|
|#17||Missouri||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$3,922,873,000|
|#18||Alabama||Poultry and eggs||$3,624,852,000|
|#19||Michigan||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$3,613,250,000|
|#20||Oklahoma||Cattle and calves||$3,402,919,000|
|#21||Washington||Fruit, tree nuts, and berries||$2,931,370,000|
|#22||Mississippi||Poultry and eggs||$2,744,048,000|
|#23||New York||Milk from cows||$2,417,398,000|
|#24||Idaho||Milk from cows||$2,333,364,000|
|#25||Pennsylvania||Milk from cows||$1,966,892,000|
|#26||Florida||Fruit, tree nuts, and berries||$1,847,805,000|
|#27||Louisiana||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$1,832,208,000|
|#28||Montana||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$1,787,162,000|
|#29||Kentucky||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$1,656,983,000|
|#30||South Carolina||Poultry and eggs||$1,476,817,000|
|#31||Tennessee||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$1,301,303,000|
|#32||New Mexico||Milk from cows||$1,251,065,000|
|#33||Virginia||Poultry and eggs||$1,161,564,000|
|#34||Wyoming||Cattle and calves||$1,101,195,000|
|#35||Maryland||Poultry and eggs||$922,999,000|
|#36||Oregon||Cattle and calves||$894,485,000|
|#37||Delaware||Poultry and eggs||$811,301,000|
|#38||Arizona||Vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes||$764,062,000|
|#39||Vermont||Milk from cows||$504,884,000|
|#40||New Jersey||Nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod||$405,247,000|
|#41||West Virginia||Poultry and eggs||$401,439,000|
|#42||Utah||Cattle and calves||$364,214,000|
|#43||Nevada||Other crops and hay||$280,554,000|
|#44||Connecticut||Nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod||$252,923,000|
|#45||Maine||Vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes||$207,254,000|
|#46||Hawaii||Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas||$152,930,000|
|#47||Massachusetts||Nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod||$144,188,000|
|#48||New Hampshire||Milk from cows||$54,798,000|
|#49||Rhode Island||Nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod||$32,831,000|
As the legal cannabis industry continues to take off, it’ll be interesting to see if the USDA incorporates that crop into its rankings in future years.
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