Tractor tracks in soil

When people talk about solutions to global warming, they often focus on large-scale efforts that can cut a lot of carbon pollution. But sometimes those big ideas have drawbacks.

For example, large-scale tree planting can help reduce climate change. But it might also reduce the amount of available food.

“If you’re planting trees on a really wide scale, you’re potentially pushing out places where people are already producing food,” says Pamela McElwee of Rutgers University.

McElwee evaluated 40 different land management and food production strategies that can reduce carbon pollution. Her goal was to identify solutions that offer climate benefits with fewer drawbacks.

“We found some things that don’t sound particularly sexy, they don’t sound like they’re the flavor of the month, but they can be really important and they don’t get us significant trade-offs and risk,” she says.

For example, strategies such as reducing soil erosion, improving grazing land management, and growing trees alongside traditional crops can help keep more carbon in the soil. Some strategies can also bring other benefits such as creating habitat for pollinators.

McElwee hopes that her research helps policymakers develop ambitious climate strategies with fewer unwanted consequences.

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Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Topics: Food & Agriculture