Food, Climate, and the Myths that Keep our Planet Hot

Annie Shattuck | 07.11.2017

Featured photo by Shannon Debelle. Click here to view this Backgrounder in Spanish

Food First will be launching a climate series in Fall of 2017. We are happy to have received this submission from Food First Fellow Annie Shattuck before the formal series launch. For more information on Food First’s focus areas, please visit 

Trump may be trying to let the likes of Exxon burn down the planet – but that isn’t stopping hundreds of thousands of activists from working to stop climate change. From Pittsburg to Paraguay, the fight for climate justice at the grassroots is growing.

And this fight isn’t just about greenhouse gases – it is about land rights, agriculture, natural resources, and the right to manage them for the greater good. The food system is a central part of this fight – what we eat is responsible for more carbon pollution than all the world’s planes, trains, and automobiles. Between the forests and fields converted to agriculture and pollution directly from farming, what we eat accounts for nearly a third of all the gases contributing to climate change. What does climate justice look like in the food system? To tackle the problems, we have to see beyond the myths and look to the solutions that embrace a more just future:

Stay in the loop with Food First!

Get our independent analysis, research, and other publications you care about to your inbox for free!

Sign up today!

Click here to download this Backgrounder, or view in full below. Document endnotes included below.




  1. Gaveau, David L. A., et al. 2016. “Rapid conversions and avoided deforestation: examining four decades of industrial plantation expansion in Borneo,” Scientific Reports (September 8) 6:32017, doi:10.1038/srep32017.
  2. 2016. State of the World’s Forests 2016. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
  3. Pearce, Fred. 2015. “Brazil’s resettlement of farmers has driven Amazon deforestation.” New Scientist. (Accessed June 10, 2017)
  4. Hobbs, Joseph. 2017. Fundamentals of World Regional Geography. Centage. P 470.
  5. Lawson, Sam. 2014. “Consumer Goods and Deforestation: An Analysis of the Extent and Nature of Illegality in Forest Conversion for Agriculture and Timber Plantations.” Forest Trends.
  6. Gaveau, David L. A., et al.. 2013. “Reconciling Forest Conservation and Logging in Indonesian Borneo,” PLoS ONE (August 14) 8(8):e69887, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069887.
  7. Ding, Helen, 2016. Climate Benefits, Tenure Costs | World Resources Institute. (Accessed June 5, 2017)
  8. Rudel, Thomas K., et al. 2009 “Agricultural intensification and changes in cultivated areas, 1970–2005,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (December 8) 106(49):20675–80, doi:10.1073/pnas.0812540106; Ceddia, M. G., et al. 2013. “Sustainable agricultural intensification or Jevons paradox? The role of public governance in tropical South America.” Global Environmental Change – Human and Policy Dimensions. (October) 23(5): 1052–1063. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.07.005.
  9. Angelsen, A. and D. Kaimowitz, eds. 2001. “Agricultural technologies and tropical deforestation.” Wallingford, Oxon, UK: CABI Publishing in association with CIFOR.
  10. Ceddia, Michele Graziano, et al. 2014. “Governance, agricultural intensification, and land sparing in tropical South America.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, (May 20) 111(20): 7242–47. doi:10.1073/pnas.1317967111.
  11. Foley, Jonathan A. et al. 2011. “Solutions for a cultivated planet.” Nature, (October 20), 478 (7369): 337–342. doi:10.1038/nature10452; Lipinski, Brian, et. al. 2013. “Reducing Food Loss and Waste: Creating a Sustainble Food Future, Installment Two.” World Resources Institute, (Accessed June 1, 2017)
  12. Amin, Samir. 2012. Contemporary Imperialism and the Agrarian Question. Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy. 1(1): 11-26.
  13. Holt-Giménez, E. 2002. “Measuring farmers’ agroecological resistance after Hurricane Mitch in Nicaragua: a case study in participatory, sustainable land management impact monitoring.” Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment. 93(1-3): 87–105.
  14. Rosset, Peter Michael, et al. 2011 “The Campesino-to-Campesino agroecology movement of ANAP in Cuba: social process methodology in the construction of sustainable peasant agriculture and food sovereignty.” Journal of Peasant Studies (January 1) 38(1):161–91, doi:10.1080/03066150.2010.538584; Philpott, Stacy M., et. al. 2008. “A multi-scale assessment of hurricane impacts on agricultural landscapes based on land use and topographic features.” Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 128(1-2): 12-20. (Accessed June 1, 2017)
  15. Lin, Brenda B. 2011. “Resilience in Agriculture through Crop Diversification: Adaptive Management for Environmental Change.” BioScience (March 1) 61(3): 183–193, doi:10.1525/bio.2011.61.3.4.
  16. DeLonge, Marcia S., Albie Miles, and Liz Carlisle. 2016. “Investing in the transition to sustainable agriculture.” Environmental Science & Policy (January 2016) 55(1): 266–273, doi:10.1016/j.envsci.2015.09.013.
  17. Murphy, K. M., et al. 2007. “Evidence of varietal adaptation to organic farming systems.” Field Crops Research.
  18. Ponisio, Lauren C., et al. 2015. “Diversification practices reduce organic to conventional yield gap.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B (January 22, 2015) 282(1799): 20141396, doi:10.1098/rspb.2014.1396.
  19. Pretty, Jules et al. 2006. “Resource-Conserving Agriculture Increases Yields in Developing Countries.” Environmental Science and Technology, 40:4:1114-1119.
  20. De Schutter, Olivier (United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food). 2011 “Report: Agroecology and the right to food .” (Accessed June 4, 2017)
  21. Gattinger, Andreas, et al. 2012. “Enhanced top soil carbon stocks under organic farming.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (October 30) 109(44): 18226–18231, doi:10.1073/pnas.1209429109.
  22. Minasny, Budiman, et al. 2017. “Soil carbon 4 per mille.” Geoderma (April 15) 292: 59–86, doi:10.1016/j.geoderma.2017.01.002; Lal, R. 2004. “Soil Carbon Sequestration Impacts on Global Climate Change and Food Security.” Science (June 11) 304(5677): 1623–1627, doi:10.1126/science.1097396.
  23. DeCicco, John M., et al. 2016. “Carbon balance effects of U.S. biofuel production and use.” Climatic Change (October) 138(3): 667–680, doi:10.1007/s10584-016-1764-4.
  24. Butler, Rhett. 2012. “Emissions from palm oil biodiesel highest of major biofuels, says EU.”, (January 30).
  25. Haddok,Eitan. 2012 “Biofuels Land Grab: Guatemala’s Farmers Lose Plots and Prosperity to ‘Energy Independence’ [Slide Show].” Scientific American (January 13). (Accessed June 2, 2017)
  26. “The Violent Costs of the Global Palm-Oil Boom,” The New Yorker, December 10, 2016,; GRAIN. 2013. Land grabbing for biofuels must stop.” Against the Grain (February 21). (Accessed June 2, 2017)
  27. 2013. Land grabbing for biofuels must stop.” Against the Grain (February 21).
  28. Rulli, Maria Cristina and Paolo D’Odorico. 2014. “Food appropriation through large scale land acquisitions,” Environmental Research Letters (June 26) 9(6): 64030, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/9/6/064030.
  29. Goldstein, James and Christi Electris. 2011. “More Jobs, Less Pollution: Growing the Recycling Economy in the U.S.” Prepared by the Tellus Institute with Sound Resource Management.
  30. 2006. “Livestock’s Long Shadow: environmental issues and options.”
  31. Weis, Tony. 2015. “Meatification and the madness of the doubling narrative.” Canadian Food Studies / La Revue Canadienne Des Études Sur L’alimentation (September 8) 2(2): 296–303, doi:10.15353/cfs-rcea.v2i2.105.
  32. Smith, Mike and JH Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Health & Environmental Implications of U.S. Meat Consumption & Production,” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (Accessed June 2, 2017)
  33. Milman, Oliver and Stuart Leavenworth. 2016. “China’s plan to cut meat consumption by 50% cheered by climate campaigners.” The Guardian (June 20) sec. World News.
  34. Jahagirdar, Sujatha. 2017. “Less Beef, Less Carbon.” NRDC (March 22). (Accessed June 2, 2017)
  35. Ibid. Weis, Tony. 2015.
  36. Government Accountability Office, 2008. Cited in Wendee Nicole. 2013. CAFOs and Environmental Justice: The Case of North Carolina. Environmental Health Perspectives 121:A182-A189
  37. Ibid.