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Our Impact on Climate Change and Global Land Use in 5 Charts

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Our Impact on Climate Change and Land Use in 5 Charts
IPCC climate report charts

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:

Global land use over time

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.

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Agriculture

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.

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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 CommodityNumber of States
Grains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas16
Poultry and eggs9
Cattle and calves7
Milk from cows7
Nursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod4
Fruit, tree nuts, and berries3
Vegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes2
Aquaculture1
Other crops and hay1

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:

RankStateAgricultural CommodityValue
#1CaliforniaFruit, tree nuts, and berries$17,638,972,000
#2IowaGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$17,146,679,000
#3IllinoisGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$13,589,230,000
#4TexasCattle and calves$13,013,127,000
#5MinnesotaGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$12,304,415,000
#6NebraskaGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$10,698,861,000
#7KansasCattle and calves$10,153,087,000
#8North DakotaGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$8,813,348,000
#9IndianaGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$7,217,854,000
#10OhioGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$5,834,600,000
#11South DakotaGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$5,809,792,000
#12WisconsinMilk from cows$4,952,039,000
#13North CarolinaPoultry and eggs$4,837,026,000
#14GeorgiaPoultry and eggs$4,773,837,000
#15ColoradoCattle and calves$4,321,308,000
#16ArkansasGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$4,214,355,000
#17MissouriGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$3,922,873,000
#18AlabamaPoultry and eggs$3,624,852,000
#19MichiganGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$3,613,250,000
#20OklahomaCattle and calves$3,402,919,000
#21WashingtonFruit, tree nuts, and berries$2,931,370,000
#22MississippiPoultry and eggs$2,744,048,000
#23New YorkMilk from cows$2,417,398,000
#24IdahoMilk from cows$2,333,364,000
#25PennsylvaniaMilk from cows$1,966,892,000
#26FloridaFruit, tree nuts, and berries$1,847,805,000
#27LouisianaGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$1,832,208,000
#28MontanaGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$1,787,162,000
#29KentuckyGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$1,656,983,000
#30South CarolinaPoultry and eggs$1,476,817,000
#31TennesseeGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$1,301,303,000
#32New MexicoMilk from cows$1,251,065,000
#33VirginiaPoultry and eggs$1,161,564,000
#34WyomingCattle and calves$1,101,195,000
#35MarylandPoultry and eggs$922,999,000
#36OregonCattle and calves$894,485,000
#37DelawarePoultry and eggs$811,301,000
#38ArizonaVegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes$764,062,000
#39VermontMilk from cows$504,884,000
#40New JerseyNursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod$405,247,000
#41West VirginiaPoultry and eggs$401,439,000
#42UtahCattle and calves$364,214,000
#43NevadaOther crops and hay$280,554,000
#44ConnecticutNursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod$252,923,000
#45MaineVegetables, melons, potatoes and sweet potatoes$207,254,000
#46HawaiiGrains, oilseeds, dry beans, and dry peas$152,930,000
#47MassachusettsNursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod$144,188,000
#48New HampshireMilk from cows$54,798,000
#49Rhode IslandNursery, greenhouse, floriculture and sod$32,831,000
#50AlaskaAquaculture$29,774,000

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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Agriculture

Balancing the Environmental Costs of Cannabis

Legal cannabis cultivation emits as much CO2 as 92,660 cars annually. Growing cannabis sustainably can reduce this massive environmental footprint.

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Balancing the Environmental Costs of Cannabis

Economic development comes with a massive environmental cost.

Since 1980, heavy industrial activity has caused the doubling of CO2 emissions. As scientists warn of the lasting negative impacts this will have on the planet, nearly every industry is committing to sustainable practices to try to counteract this effect.

Today’s infographic comes from The Green Organic Dutchman, and it demonstrates that while the business of cannabis isn’t always eco-friendly, there are several tried-and-tested ways to reduce its massive footprint.

A HEFTY PRICE TO PAY

Energy is the second-highest cost driver in cannabis cultivation after labor.

There are two main culprits – lighting and HVAC systems (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning). Combined, they make up a whopping 89% of energy use in cannabis cultivation operations.

Last year, legal cannabis cultivation was responsible for consuming 1.1 million MWh of electricity, and producing 472,000 tons of CO2 emissions. That’s enough to power 92,500 homes, and produce the same emissions as 92,660 cars per year. As legal cannabis production scales, this will only escalate.

Much of this data can be attributed to how the plant is grown.

Growing methodPower consumption (kWh/g)Carbon intensity (lbs CO2e/g)
Indoor1.271.24
Greenhouse0.940.72
Outdoor0.070.05

Indoor cultivation is roughly 18 times more energy-intensive than outdoor cultivation, and produces 25 times the carbon emissions. On the other hand, outdoor production produces lower overall yield per square foot. Since it’s difficult to control the environment, impurities can also end up in the final product.

That’s why many companies opt for a hybrid approach instead – balancing the benefits of precise control, with the use of natural light to lower production costs.

A GAME PLAN FOR SUSTAINABILITY

Many licensed producers are adopting a suite of strategies to relieve this environmental footprint.

  • Renewable energy
    Diversifying the energy sources for cannabis cultivation can reduce carbon emissions. Solar and wind are top choices among cultivators.
  • LED lighting
    LED light bulbs are more than 60% more efficient than other types. They also produce barely any heat, lowering ventilation requirements.
  • Water efficiency
    A single cannabis plant can use up to 23 liters of water per day. Water can be recycled and re-used through innovative techniques such as reverse osmosis.
  • Packaging
    The plastic packaging often associated with cannabis products is a considerable contributor of waste. There are several alternatives, such as paper, glass, and tin. Each of these have their own benefits and drawbacks, depending on what they are used for.

Maximizing energy-efficiency has a domino effect not only on the planet, but on reduced operating costs. These savings can then be passed on to the buyer, which could prove to be a strong competitive advantage as the cannabis industry matures.

Stay tuned for part 6 of this series, where we’ll delve into the scientific evidence for medical cannabis compounds.

The Story of Cannabis: What Investors Need to KnowAnatomy of a Cannabis PlantA Quality Cannabis ProductThe Rise of OrganicA Sustainable Cannabis ProductThe Science Behind the $13 Billion Medical Cannabis IndustryComing soonComing soon

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