Basket of corn

Thanksgiving is a traditional time for Americans to celebrate Earth’s bounty. The whole of humanity, however, can be thankful that extraordinary advances in agriculture have enabled food producers to keep pace with a fourfold increase in population since 1900 and rising standards of living in the developing world. Can that progress be sustained in the face of climate change? This month’s selection of books and reports addresses this fundamental question from a variety of perspectives. Their answers may cause you to look more closely at what’s on your plate over the holiday.

As always, the descriptions of the books and reports are drawn and/or adapted from copy provided by the publishers or organizations that released them. When two dates of publication are provided, the second is the date for the paperback edition.

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The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World, by Amanda Little (Penguin Random House 2019, 352 pages, $27.00)

The race to reinvent the global food system is on, and the challenge is twofold: We must solve the existing problems of industrial agriculture while also preparing for the pressures ahead. Through her interviews with farmers, scientists, activists, and engineers, Amanda Little, a professor of journalism and writer-in-residence at Vanderbilt University, explores new and old approaches to food production while charting the growth of a movement that could redefine sustainable food on a grand scale. Little asks tough questions: Can GMOs actually be good for the environment? Are we facing the end of animal meat? What will it take to eliminate harmful chemicals from farming? How can a clean, resilient food supply become accessible to all?

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Kiss the Ground: How the Food You Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body & Ultimately Save Our World, by Josh Tickell (Simon & Schuster 2017/2018, 352 pages, $16.00 paperback)

Kiss the Ground explains an incredible truth: by changing our diets to a soil-nourishing, regenerative agriculture diet, we can reverse global warming, harvest healthy, abundant food, and eliminate the poisonous substances that are harming our children, pets, bodies, and ultimately our planet. This richly visual look at the impact of an underappreciated but essential resource – the very ground that feeds us – features fascinating and accessible interviews with celebrity chefs, ranchers, farmers, and top scientists. Kiss the Ground teaches you how to become an agent in humanity’s single most important and time-sensitive mission: reversing climate change and saving the world through the choices you make in how and what to eat.

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We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, by Jonathan Safran Foer (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 2019, 288 pages, $25.00)

Some people reject the fact, overwhelmingly supported by scientists, that our planet is warming because of human activity. But do those of us who accept the reality of human-caused climate change truly believe it? If we did, surely we would be roused to act on what we know. In We Are the Weather, Jonathan Safran Foer (explains that) the task of saving the planet will involve a great reckoning with ourselves – with our all-too-human reluctance to sacrifice immediate comfort for the sake of the future. We have, he reveals, turned our planet into a farm for growing animal products, and the consequences are catastrophic. Only collective action will save our home and way of life. And it all starts with what we eat – and don’t eat – for breakfast.

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Global Hunger Index: The Challenge of Hunger and Climate Change, by Klaus von Grebmer, Jill Bernstein, Fraser Patterson, Miriam Wiemers, Reiseal Ni Cheilleachair, Connell Foley, Seth Gitter, Kierstin Ekstrom, and Heidi Fritschel (Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide 2019, 72 pages, free download available here, eight-page synopsis available here)

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) is a tool designed to comprehensively measure and track hunger at global, regional, and national levels. GHI scores are calculated each year to assess progress and setbacks in combating hunger. The GHI is designed to raise awareness and understanding of the struggle against hunger, provide a way to compare levels of hunger between countries and regions, and call attention to those areas of the world where hunger levels are highest and where the need for additional efforts to eliminate hunger is greatest. Measuring hunger is complicated. The report explains how the GHI scores are calculated and what they can and cannot tell us. This year’s report also focuses on the impact of climate change on hunger.

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Climate Change and Agricultural Risk Management into the 21st Century, by Andrew Crane-Droesch, Elizabeth Marshall, Stephanie Rosch, Anne Riddle, Joseph Cooper, and Steven Wallander (United States Department of Agriculture 2019, 63 pages, free download available here; two-report summary available here)

Programs that help farmers manage risk are a major component of the federal government’s support to rural America. Changes to this risk – and thus to the government’s fiscal exposure – are expected as weather averages and extremes change over the coming decades. This study uses a combination of statistical and economic modeling techniques to explore the mechanisms by which climate change could affect the cost of the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) to the federal government, which accounts for approximately half of government expenditures on agricultural risk management. We compare scenarios of the future that differ only in terms of climate. (We find that) differences between the scenarios are driven by increasing prices for the three crops studied, caused by lower production, inelastic demand, and increasing volatility.

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Climate Change and Land: An IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems, by IPCC Working Group III (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2019, 1542 pages, free download available here; 43-page Summary for policymakers available here)

This report addresses greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes in land-based ecosystems, land use and sustainable land management in relation to climate change adaptation and mitigation, desertification, land degradation, and food security. This report follows the publication of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, the thematic assessment of the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) on Land Degradation and Restoration, the IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, and the Global Land Outlook of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). This report provides an updated assessment of the current state of knowledge while striving for coherence and complementarity with other recent reports.

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Growing Better: Ten Critical Transitions to Transform Food and Land Use, by co-lead authors Per Pharo and Jeremy Oppenheim (The Food and Land Use Coalition 2019, 237 pages, free download available here; 32-page executive summary available here)

There is a remarkable opportunity to transform food and land use systems, but as the challenges are growing, we need to act with great urgency. The global report from the Food and Land Use Coalition proposes a reform agenda – centered around ten critical transitions – of real actionable solutions. These could deliver the needed change to boost progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris agreement, help mitigate the negative effects of climate change, safeguard biodiversity, ensure more healthy diets for all, drastically improve food security, and create more inclusive rural economies.

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Creating a Sustainable Food Future: A Menu of Solutions to Feed Nearly 10 Billion People, by 2050, by Tim Searchinger, Richard Waite, Craig Hanson, and Janet Ranganathan (World Resources Institute 2019, 564 pages, free download available here; 96-page synthesis report available here)

Can we feed the world without destroying the planet? The World Resources Report, Creating a Sustainable Food Future, shows that it is possible – but there is no silver bullet. The report offers a five-course menu of solutions to ensure we can feed 10 billion people by 2050 without increasing emissions, fueling deforestation or exacerbating poverty. Intensive research and modeling examining the nexus of the food system, economic development, and the environment show why each of the 22 items on the menu is important and quantifies how far each solution can get us. This site presents text from the Synthesis Report, with download links to full chapters from the complete report.

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Climate-Smart Agriculture and the Sustainable Development Goals, by Shereen D’Souza, Julian Schnetzer, and Rima Al-Azar (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2019, 144 pages, free download available here)

Rising sea levels and more intense storms and droughts are becoming the new normal. In addition, the imperative of reducing food insecurity and population growth amid changing dietary preferences requires increased food production at a time when natural resources are more and more constrained. Given these intertwined challenges and threats to sustainable development, the world needs a comprehensive approach to addressing one of the primary connections between people and the planet: food and agriculture. Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) offers a wealth of opportunities in this respect, combining a focus on sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes; building resilience and adapting to climate change; and reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, where possible.

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Delivering Sustainable Food and Land Use Systems: The Role of International Trade, by Christophe Bellmann, Bernice Lee, and Jonathab Hepburn (Chatham House/Hoffman Centre for Sustainable Resource Economy 2019, 80 pages, free download available here)

Meeting future global food security requirements is not just about quantity; it is also about meeting growing needs in a manner that safeguards human as well as planetary health. International trade and trade policies play an ambiguous role in the current food system. With 80 per cent of the world’s population depending on imports to meet at least part of their food and nutritional requirements, trade has a unique function in offsetting imbalances between supply and demand. However, in the absence of effective regulatory frameworks or pricing frameworks that internalize environmental, social or health costs, trade can exacerbate and globalize challenges associated with food production and land use trends such as deforestation, land degradation, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and the shift to unhealthy diets.

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Beyond the Impossible: The Futures of Plant-Based and Cellular Meat and Dairy, by Martin Rowe (Brighter Green 2019, 58 pages, free download available here; two-page brief available here)

Beyond the Impossible: The Futures of Plant-based and Cellular Meat and Dairy imagines what the United States might look like as a vegan country in 2050. Martin Rowe, who heads the Vegan America Project, has read widely in plant-based meat and cellular agriculture, and he has listened to scientists (both natural and social), food marketers, entrepreneurs, investors, and policy mavens. Rowe has gathered the results of his research in a work that is both a state-of-the-industries overview and a work of speculation, a critical effort to reconcile competing concerns and values. Beyond the Impossible is oriented toward a vegan future, even as it recognizes that cellular agriculture has the means to transform just what vegan might mean in that future.

Editor’s note: Those not yet ready to embrace veganism but still wanting to reduce emissions from the meat in their diet can consult Achieving Peak Pasture: Shrinking Pasture’s Footprint by Spreading the Livestock Revolution (Breakthrough Institute 2019, 80 pages, free download available here).

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Youth in Motion for Climate Action! A Compilation of Youth Initiatives in Agriculture to Address the Impacts of Climate Change, by Melanie Pisano, Fiona Korporaal, and Rima Al-Azar (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2019, 60 pages, free download available here)

This publication is a compilation of 10 successful youth-focused or youth-led initiatives in agriculture that address the impacts of climate change. The case studies are organized under five themes: E-agriculture, innovation and technology; youth employment; capacity development; entrepreneurship; and Alliances and Networks. For each theme one FAO-led initiative and one non-FAO initiative is showcased to provide a broad picture of the activities being implemented around the world at various levels. FAO and other institutions believe that partnerships and collaboration on youth-focused projects, programs and initiatives produce stronger results on the ground. This publication highlights these multi-organizational, collaborative efforts.

Michael Svoboda, Ph.D., is the Yale Climate Connections books editor. He is a professor in the University Writing Program at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he has taught since...