This Thanksgiving highlights the need for agricultural innovation | So Good News
This Thanksgiving, even as many prepare a day to reflect on our blessings over a hearty meal with family and friends, it’s hard to avoid thinking about the complex challenges of our global food system. With important debates surrounding COP27, the ongoing impact of the war in Ukraine, this year’s countdown to the UN’s climate reports, it’s a lot to take in.
Agriculture is currently responsible for more than 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States alone. Many farmers are conservationists, and some businesses depend on natural resources. But they can only do so much to individually combat climate change with the tools they have historically achieved.
Considering all these factors, it would be difficult to find hope for tomorrow. Sometimes yes, but most days we feel a sense of optimism because opportunities for significant impact abound, especially in agriculture.
Reading any content of this year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, we see repeated references to the need for adaptation – while some level of climate change prevention is possible, humanity must prioritize adaptation to a collective changing reality. Not only that, humanity must adapt much faster than it does today to prevent the worst-case scenario.
This is a difficult assessment, but the concept of “adaptation” actually gives us hope. Because the latest, most promising innovations in agriculture directly address this need. For example, the convergence of advances in technologies such as gene editing and artificial intelligence will allow for incredible feats such as crops that produce far more while using natural resources.
It is not difficult to imagine a future where farmers’ access to land and natural resources will be much more limited than today. Thanks to new technologies now being developed, they can continue to adapt and feed people while saving the planet.
Measurement and modeling
There has been a constant voice in recent news against the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) ratings some investors use to assess companies’ sustainability commitments. This revealed some serious red flags. When an oil company whose business is dependent on environmentally unsustainable activity gives positive results, something is wrong. While ESG ratings still serve a purpose, it’s hard to argue that it includes helping companies improve their environmental impact.
Companies that are truly committed to making a difference have shown that they know better than to rely on ESG ratings to guide strategy. Instead, these organizations use incredibly complex and incredibly informative dynamic systems modeling to not only measure but also manage their sustainability efforts. By understanding the impact of key mechanisms and decision points a company can address, this approach allows business leaders to gain a deeper understanding of the systemic impact of their choices, in some cases down to their value chain and avoidance of emissions known as scope 3 and 4. emissions. This is much higher than the direct emissions and indirect emissions of purchased energy, or Tier 1 and Tier 2 emissions, that most companies report—an important step forward, given that Tier 1 and Tier 2 may account for less than 10 percent of a company’s emissions.
Most importantly, because dynamic systems modeling factors in a company’s specific decision points, it immediately informs how sustainable a new product or program will be. This is incredibly powerful information as the climate clock ticks and every decision becomes more important.
Without a silver bullet, it is clear that the climate challenge requires an “all hands on deck” approach. Fortunately, despite all the negative attention agriculture receives for its historic emissions, it is determined to collectively find a solution.
You’ll see this in the way farmers—a relatively small but tight-knit community—actively share new techniques and best practices on their social channels. You’ll see it in a wave of agriculture startups producing new, real-world solutions. You see this in global initiatives like the World Economic Forum’s 100 Million Farmers, which aims to drive large-scale transformative change by encouraging and supporting local ideas.
Climate change is the issue of our time and we only have one life to make a difference. An important sector such as agriculture is gaining positive momentum and moving forward.
Ponsi Triviswavet is CEO of Inari and former president of Syngenta North America.