Drought Horn of Africa

The Horn of Africa is the fourth-largest peninsula in the world and is located in the Eastern part of the African continent. Since late 2020, the Horn of Africa, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan, has experienced intense droughts in certain regions, resulting in crop failures and cattle deaths.

According to an international team of World Weather Attribution (WWA) scientists, higher temperatures have enhanced water evaporation from soils and plants (a process known as evapotranspiration), which has made events like the current drought more intense and more probable.

Note: The WWA is a group of climate scientists who study the attribution of extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, heavy rainfall, and floods to climate change.

African Rains

The authors of the new WWA study examined average rainfall data for 24 consecutive months over three areas in the Horn of Africa: parts of southern Ethiopia, southern Somalia, and eastern Kenya. The observed 24-month period covers both of these regions’ wet seasons, the first March-May (long rains) and the second October-December (short rains).

When each wet season was observed individually, two opposing trends became apparent: during the short rains period, there was above-average rainfall; during the long rains period, there was below-average rainfall. Though, no trend was observed when examining the short and long rains together over the 24 months.

Note: the WWA found that La Niña event in the tropical Pacific explains the trend towards wetter conditions during the short rains. However, they found no correlation between the La Niña event and the below average rainfall during the long rains.

The WWA group used climate models and looked at similar low rainfall events for the same region within the model data. They report that “… the models show similar results to the observations: low rainfall events like those currently observed in the long rains have become about twice as likely due to human-induced climate change, while there is no attributable change when short and long rains are combined”.

What Caused Drought

Temperature was additionally taken into consideration to determine whether climate change influenced other aspects of the drought, such as the availability of water for plants. To assess the role of temperature, the WWA integrated an assessment of changes in water evaporation from soil and plants as a result higher temperatures.

The analysis found that climate change made the current drought significantly more severe and about “100 times more likely” to occur by removing moisture from from soils at quickened rates due to enhanced warming across the Horn of Africa.

This means that climate change is enhancing evapotranspiration via heightened temperatures, leading to a higher likelihood of dried-out soils and vegetation. “Without this effect, the region would not have experienced agricultural drought”, says the WWA group. They argue that the effects of human-induced climate change directly worsened the ongoing drought conditions.

Weather for Tomorrow

Today, knowing tomorrow’s weather is as easy as opening up the weather forecast app on your smartphone device, tuning in to the local news, listening to nearly any radio station or even doing a simple internet search.

But what about tomorrow’s climate? If you wanted to know what a region’s climate would be like at some future point in time, where would you look?

First, it’s crucial to understand the difference between climate and weather. Most people are familiar with the concept of weather, as it affects everyone’s daily life in some way or another. Weather is defined as the state of the atmosphere over a short period of time, and its influenced by temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind, cloud coverage, albedo, and air pressure. Other factors that determine a region’s weather patterns are vegetation, elevation, time of year, and distance from the sea. The conditions of the weather tend to fluctuate constantly, which is why the weather is always changing. Weather forecasts usually have hourly and daily time intervals.

A region’s climate includes all the features of its weather but is measured over longer periods of time, usually thirty years or longer. Climate can roughly be defined as the behavior of the weather over several decades.

The state of the atmosphere differs from one year to the next and during those years, the weather will go through the cyclical changes of the seasons. No two years’ seasons are exactly alike. One year, spring may be quite rainy in your city, and the next year, less so. To know whether your city’s climate is experiencing is becoming rainier, experts would have to observe the region’s rain trends for thirty or more consecutive spring seasons.

So, what will the climate of the future be like?

Information taken from sediments, satellites, and weather stations from recent decades all point to a warming trend in climates around the world. On top of that, spring seasons have begun to start earlier, glaciers have been retreating, and sea levels are rising and temperature readings taken from ice cores are increasing.

Climatologists also use computer programs called climate models to make climate forecasts. These programs model different regions using data from the present to make estimates and assumptions about future climate shifts, but these assumptions are less reliable than predictions based on real-world data. Therefore, climate predictions are less reliable the further you get into the future.

That said, there are reasons to believe that future the “global warming” trend will continue.

Global Warming

The global warming trend is partly induced by human activities and is being amplified by certain self-reinforcing climatological feedbacks, neither of which is expected to cease any time soon. Hence, some degree of future warming is a certainty.

Fossil Fuels

Human-induced global warming is largely the result of fossil fuel burning and land alteration from agriculture and deforestation. Since the industrial revolution (the transition from producing goods by hand to producing them in mass with machines) humans have been much more influential in long-term weather patterns.

Fossil fuel burning is the leading human contribution to global warming. Fossil fuels are burned are organic substances that are taken from the Earth’s crust, their uses range from energy production to manufacturing. Fossil fuels are essentially the remnants of decomposing organic material that naturally creates carbon- and hydrogen-plentiful compounds (also known as hydrocarbons), which gradually become buried underground through geological processes that compress and heat them over millions of years.

Fossil fuels are burned to meet most human energy needs today. When hydrocarbons are heated, the greenhouse gases trapped within them produce heat energy capable of powering engines and spinning turbines for electricity. (Greenhouse gases, including water vapor, methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, ozone, and chlorofluorocarbons, are molecules that absorb and emit heat radiation.) The hydrocarbons in fossil fuels are also used to manufacture complex carbon-based polymers used to make plastics, paints, rubbers, electronics, etc.

As useful as fossil fuels are, their greenhouse gas emissions are considered a climate forcing, or radiative forcing. A climate forcing is the change in energy flux in the atmosphere. In other words, climate forcing refers to the factors that bring about direct change in the atmosphere’s net energy composure. As mentioned, greenhouse gases radiate heat, which makes them a climate forcing that adds to the total heat energy in the atmosphere.

Land alteration from agriculture and logging are other human activities that enhance planet-wide warming.

Agriculture takes up about five billion hectares, or 38 percent of the global land surface, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). As the global population continues to grow, more space is needed to produce agricultural goods to feed everyone. To create new agricultural space, natural ecosystems have to be converted to farmland suitable for crops. A conversion is a euphemism for burning or clearing. Similarly, logging involves cutting trees or sections of a forest for sale as timber and pulp. 

When photosynthetic plants are burned or cut down, much of the carbon stored in trees and plants is released back into the atmosphere again as carbon dioxide (CO2). This means that land conversions and logging are directly linked to carbon dioxide emissions. As mentioned above, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which forces the atmosphere to heat up.

Note: Photosynthetic plants naturally absorb atmospheric carbon and move that carbon into their roots. That carbon can later be accessed by microorganisms in surrounding soils and eventually is stored deeply in underground sediments, where it can remain for millions of years or longer.

Feedback Loops

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) defines climate feedback as processes that can either amplify or reduce the effects of a climate forcing. By this definition, feedback can be categorized as either positive (those that amplify some initial change) or negative (those that reduce some initial change). In positive feedback effects, the process will be self-reinforcing, while negative feedbacks are self-limiting.

Take for example the relationship between wildfires and carbon dioxide emissions. According to Steven Earle, Ph.D., in his book “A Brief History of Earth’s Climate”, wildfires have multiple positive feedback effects that can lead to larger climate changes. In chapter titled 10, “Tipping Points”, Earle claims that when vegetation is burned, the released carbon reinforces climate change. Carbon released from burned vegetation results in higher carbon dioxide levels and thus more overall warming in the atmosphere, and in turn, more wildfires.

How do wildfires contribute to global warming? Basically, hotter temperatures enhance the likelihood of wildfire occurrences by drying out soils and vegetation. Evapotranspiration-the combination of water evaporation, soil moisture evaporation, and plant transpiration-rids soils, trees, shrubs, and grasses of their moisture. Dried-out plant matter acts as kindling during wildfires and enables the spread of flames.

Earle takes an excerpt from the U.S. Global Change Research Program: “Increased warming, drought, and insect outbreaks, all caused by or linked to climate change, have increased wildfires and impacts to people and ecosystems in the southwestern US.”

There a multiple types of feedback loops across our planet’s climate systems. Arctic Sea-Ice melting, for example, is another example of a feedback loop, whereby melting sea ice gives way to thinner ice which is more vulnerable to melting. Also, sea-ice loss releases methane and carbon dioxide in permafrost. The reason is, large deposits of carbon (from plants and other organic matter that have not fully decomposed in frozen soils) are stored in natural gas deposits and as undersea clathrates in the Arctic. As permafrost melts, bacteria break down that organic matter, which discharges methane and carbon dioxide into the air.

Thawing permafrost caused by warming, then, can lead to greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to further heating.

In Conclusion

If you want to know what future climates will look like, you should start by tracking how well the world’s countries are doing in their efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions across sectors (energy production, agriculture, and manufacturing). Greenhouse gas levels are highly relevant to future climate changes because the atmosphere’s temperature directly responds to the chemistry of the air.

Secondly, the state of the climate itself should be assessed. Each climate has its own unique feedback to the changes that we’re observing today. Many of these feedbacks have already locked us into a future in which further heating will be perpetuated by the heating human activities have already caused.

For more information about specific climate change prediction scenarios, please read The Future Climate Change.

California Senate Bill 1383

Senate Bill 1383 (SB 1383) is California’s short-lived climate pollutant reduction law. The bill was enacted September 2019 to lower emissions of short-lived pollutants such as methane by 40%, relative to 2013 levels, no later than 2030. To achieve this objective, Californian food generators are being required to reduce their organic waste contributions.

California Landfill Methane Rule

SB 1383 limits the amount of organic decomposing material in landfills so that California’s total greenhouse gas emissions will decrease. Decomposing organic wastes, including foods, wood or paper discharge so-called “landfill gases” (LFG). LFGs are a combination of several greenhouse gases that are produced as organic wastes rot and break down.

In a sense, Senate Bill 1383 addresses food security and regional emissions reductions all at once. A fraction of food that would normally be disposed of in landfills or composts, must now be made available for human consumption. Some Californian households and businesses will have to initiate food recovery programs and or strengthen existing food recovery strategies.

Who Does SB 1383 Apply To?

SB 1383 requires specific food businesses to donate the maximum possible amount of edible food to food recovery organizations and for recycling. The law assumes two tiers for different kinds of edible food generators. “Tier One” includes supermarkets, grocery stores, food service providers and wholesale food vendors.

Restaurants, hotels, health facilities, certain education agencies and large venues and events are all considered “Tier Two”. Both tiers of food generators must donate as much food as they possibly can to food recovery organizations. Organizations and services that participate in SB 1383 are obligated to maintain records of the food being donated and the frequency of donations.

Who Passed SB 1383?

Edmund Brown Jr passed SB 1383 September 2016. Brown received his law degree from Yale and served as Governor of California from 1975 to 1983 and 2011 to 2019. By signing the bill into law, he established official methane emissions reduction targets that apply to most food generators across in the state.

Governor Edmund Brown Jr. global climate action summit

Senate Bill 1383 California

Senate Bill 1383 went into effect January 1, 2022. By regulating organic waste disposal, California is expected to decrease its total greenhouse gas output while feeding hungry citizens at the same time. Organics may be recycled by composting and mulching. Some organic materials are converted into biogas, a renewable energy source, through a process known as aerobic digestion.

GMO Strain

An article made available in Science Direct, 2022, unpacks the potential benefits that genetically modified crops have for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Authors of the document, Emma Kovak, DanBlaustein-Rejto and Matin Qaim, claim that “genetically modified (GM) crops can help reduce agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In addition to possible decreases in production emissions, GM yield gains also mitigate land-use change and related emissions”.

How Do GMOs Affect The Environment?

GM (genetically modified) crops are agriculture plants that have had stretches of DNA added, effectively modified or turned off within their genome to achieve desired traits. GM crops are commonly designed to be more resistant to insects and tolerant to herbicides. Modified crops can therefore lower the need for chemical pesticides, which are greenhouse gas contributors. Also, yield increases from GM crop use may prevent greenhouse gas emissions from the conversion of natural land (land that is uncultivated) to cropland. Land conversions promote greenhouse gas emissions through tilling and forest clearing.

Research Method and Design

The article contrives a hypothetical scenario in which the European Union (EU) lifts its “quasi-ban” against widespread GM crop use. Authors of the article assume that yield increases from genetically modified crop adoption in the EU would offer benefits similar to those observed in other industrialized, temperate-zone countries that use modified crops. They further assume that enhanced crop production in the EU will bring about proportional decrease in agriculture production elsewhere. The latter of these assumptions is built on the belief that land will be spared (remain uncultivated) because the EU will be producing more crops domestically, consequently shrinking land conversion demands in outside territories.

Avoided emissions estimates from increased yield are intentionally underestimated in the article. Although authors state that “…higher GM crop adoption in the EU would likely also lead to higher [technology] adoption elsewhere”, their avoided emissions estimates do not account for the implementation of technology related to genetically modified crop use.

Avoided emissions estimates also do not account for the implementation of novel modified crops and traits. In other words, estimates are strictly based on well known genetically modified crops (soybean, cotton, canola, maize, and sugar beet) and the traits that they are designed with.

In Conclusion

Adopting genetically modified crops in places like Europe, which has higher wheat crop loss levels-caused by insects and pathogens-that the global average, may result in improved crop growth by making vegetation more resilient to environmental stressors, such as disease, insects and herbicide application. Increased vegetation is expected to lead to enhanced soil fertility and improve carbon absorption in soils and biomass. By boosting crop yields in areas that have not broadly accepted genetically modified vegetation, tilling and forest clearing-related emissions can be mitigated.

Even though estimates are based on already-existing technology for modified crop application as well as already-existing modified plants and traits, it’s fair to assume that new technologies and new crops and traits will emerge from increased modified crop adoption in the European Union. Authors of the article assert that the EU can and should “increase agricultural productivity through embracing new crop technologies, thus contributing to global environmental benefits”.

Is Seitan Healthy For Weight Loss?

woman holding tape measurer around waist

Plant-based diets are more than just a strategy for promoting sustainable agriculture, they can also improve weight loss efforts and reduce heart disease risks. Plant proteins like seitan are generally lower in fats and carbohydrates compared to animal proteins, so seitan is an ideal food while dieting for weight loss. Carbohydrates are macronutrients taken from the foods that we consume. Our bodies then convert carbohydrates into glucose, which is used as energy.

Effects of Low-Carbohydrate Vegan Diets On Body Weight and Cardiovascular Health

A 2014 randomized controlled trial titled, “Effect of a 6-Month Vegan Low-Carbohydrate (‘Eco-Atkins’) Diet On Cardiovascular Risk Factors and Body Weight In Hyperlipidaemic Adults: A Randomised Controlled Trial“, compared the effects of low-carbohydrate vegan diets (containing protein and fat from plant-based sources) to high-carbohydrate ovo-lacto vegetarian diets (containing some animal sources of protein and fat).

Research Method and Design

The 23 participants who completed the study were technically overweight, hyperlipidemic men and women. They were instructed to eat either the low carbohydrate or the high carbohydrate meal plan over six months after finishing a one-month-all variation of the diets. The macronutrient intake for the low-carbohydrate meal plan had 26% of energy come from carbohydrates, 31% from protein, and 43% from fat. For the high-carbohydrate meal plan, 58% of energy came from carbohydrates, 16% from protein, and 25% from fat.

The results of the study: weight loss for the low-carbohydrate group increased to -15.2 pounds compared to the -12.7 pounds weight loss increase for the high-carbohydrate participants. In addition, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (also known as bad cholesterol) and triglyceride reductions were more pronounced in the low-carbohydrate group.

In Conclusion

The study’s authors conclude that low-carbohydrate vegan diets that get protein and fat from plant foods like seitan have weight loss advantages over high-carbohydrate ovo-lacto vegetarian diets that contain animal fats and proteins. Furthermore, low-carb vegan diets had greater lipid-lowering benefits than high-carb diets did, making low-carb vegan diets superior for limiting heart disease risks.

Freshwater and Climate Change

Freshwater systems provide usable water for human consumption, technological development, and agriculture, while also serving as habitats for aquatic species. Therefore, freshwater systems are of crucial economic and ecological value. A 2021 study titled, ” “The Importance of Indirect Effects of Climate Change Adaptations On Alpine and Pre-Alpine Freshwater Systems” asserts that human-made changes to water hydrology and pollution from sewer outflows and agriculture chemicals are detrimental to freshwater systems.

What Is Freshwater?

Rivers, reservoirs, and streams are examples of freshwater systems. Freshwater is a subset of Earth’s water which is significantly less salty than marine waters (like seas and oceans). The United States Geological Survey, a branch dedicated to science within the United States Department of the Interior, defines freshwater as “water containing less than 1,000 milligrams per liter of dissolved solids, most often salt.” Though freshwater is renewed through the water cycle, it is a finite resource. If freshwater is used more quickly than it is naturally replenished, water security risks may be enhanced.

Research Method and Design

Authors of “The Importance of Indirect Effects of Climate Change Adaptations On Alpine and Pre-Alpine Freshwater Systems”, regard higher frequency of extreme meteorological events and increased temperatures as “direct effects” of climate change. These direct effects adversely influence the state and quality of aquatic regions. Direct effects also interact with human responses to climate change and produce “indirect effects”.

So-called indirect effects refer to human practices that are aimed at climate change mitigation. Indirect effects include land-use changes, alterations to freshwater systems, and increasing irrigation practices. Authors suggest that “indirect effects may, at least in the short term, overrun the impact of direct climate change on water bodies.” Though all biomes are predicted to be impacted by climate change, freshwater systems in alpine and pre-alpine regions may be disproportionately at risk due to agriculture and hydropower plants.

Hydropower installations in freshwater networks can fragment or isolate certain species populations which are ill-adapted for the changes in water flow and perpetuate biodiversity loss. By modifying the hydrology of freshwater systems, water usage for energy production can compound the direct effects of climate change to aquatic flora and fauna.

Agriculture can disturb freshwater systems as well, but in a much different way than hydropower plants. Climate change can intensify extreme weather event trends, such as floods, storms, and droughts; these effects can drive diminished crop yields. In the interest of mitigating decreased crop production brought on by climate change, agriculturalists may expand irrigation infrastructure or enhance fertilizer use. These adaptations can exacerbate the consequences which are already affecting crop growth cycles.

In Conclusion

Authors of the 2021 review claim that “rain-fed dairy farming is currently the most predominant form of agriculture, but in the future, these grasslands may become more and more dependent on irrigation”. Redirecting water for irrigation use can potentially limit the quantity of water available in freshwater ecosystems. Variability in weather regimes may contribute to further dependence on water from irrigation (rather than from rainfall) in the future. Some of the responses that agriculturalists are expected to as a response to a changing climate pose risks to freshwater systems. Policymakers must account for indirect impacts to alleviate worsening the ecological status and water quality within aquatic environments.

Cowspiracy Facts

fish near water surface
fish near water’s surface

While fisheries generate food and profit, they could do much more harm than good for underwater ecosystems. The film Cowspiracy makes a convincing case for the deleterious effect of large-scale fishing operations on ocean environments, species variety, and abundance. Cowspiracy depicts modern fishing as a largely unsustainable industry that could lead to fishless oceans by 2048.

Fishing As Depicted By Cowspiracy

Fish and other marine life are mostly hunted as food. However, some species are used for other commodities. Sharks, for example, are sometimes hunted for their skin which can be used in the making of leather. Other species like whales and manatees are regularly harmed or killed unintentionally by getting caught in fishing nets. The Cowspiracy Facts page cites a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) document which states that in the year 2017, between 51 – 167 billion farmed fish had been killed for food.

That same year an estimated 250 – 600 billion crustaceans were also farmed and killed for food. Even animals that are not eaten by humans are caught and killed inadvertently because of drift netting or trawling. Susan Hartland of the Conservation Society says that animal populations are being extracted from oceans more quickly than they can recover. Marine species are therefore collapsing under the immense pressures of modern hunting. The unintended catches, sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins are called bykill.

Keystone Species and Trophic Cascades

Apex predators often act as keystone species, meaning that they have disproportionately large effects in their natural environments. This makes the removal of sharks particularly concerning. As top predators, many sharks species exert top down influence in their respective food webs. The removal of sharks, and other keystone species increases trophic cascade risks. Trophic cascades are the ecological chain of events triggered by the removal or addition of top predators.

Agriculture, Fishing and Algae Blooms

“Livestock operations on land have created more than 500 nitrogen flooded dead zones around the world in our oceans…” According to Dr. Richard Oppenlander, an environmental researcher featured in the Cowspiracy film. Water pollution comes in the form of pesticides, herbicides, heavy metals, plastics and other waste material. However, animal agriculture is the leading cause of ocean pollution – a fact which is stated explicitly in the Cowspiracy film.

Animal agriculture run-off upsets nutrient balances in aquatic ecosystems by introducing phosphorus, nitrogen, manure and potassium from chemical fertilizers. These excess nutrients can cause alae blooms, leading to uninhabitable zones for marine species. Blooms of algae drain sunlight and deplete oxygen levels – making the environment unsuitable for most other lifeforms in the ecosystem.

Bottom trawling contributes to inhabitable zones similarly. Bottom trawling, also referred to as “dragging” involves casting a fishing net to the sea floor. Trawling disturbs sediments along the sea floor which causes carbon to be released. Once carbon dioxide is released from sediments, it is then absorbed by ocean seawater. Elevated carbon levels allow water to trap in more heat and further facilitate algae and plant overgrowth.


wild tropical flowers

Rainforest ecosystems are inhabited by more plant and animal species than any other terrestrial ecosystem. As the planet’s oldest living environments, they host rich webs of biodiversity and interacting species which help sustain the ecosystems that embed them. Unfortunately, rainforests are presently threatened by deforestation, over-exploitation, and climate change.

The leading cause of rainforest destruction may be livestock and feed crops. Clearing forests to make way for land pastures and agriculture feed plots is done in Costa Rica, Honduras, and El Salvador to meet the demand for American beef. Cattle ranching is a low cost, low maintenance operation to run in the tropics. Cattle ranching generates profit for land owners, farmers and distributors.

Nonetheless, livestock feeding plots require sections of forests and other vegetation to be cleared first to make space for pastures and animal crops. Clearing vegetation can increases risks to various processes that rainforest vegetation help carry out, including enhanced water absorption into soils, sequestration of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, summoning rainfall, providing nutrients to plant-consuming species and serving as habitats for arboreal species. These are examples of ecosystem services provided to rainforest environments and the species within them. Services like these emerge from the biological, chemical and physical functions in rainforest environments.

The growth of human populations has driven our demand for food and textiles to rise, which has ramped up animal agriculture in tropical forests. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agriculture approximately 15% of the Amazon forest has been removed due to agricultural practices since 1960s. Of the land being used by humans, 80% of it is dedicated to grazing areas for horses, cattle, sheep, or pigs. Put another way, cattle ranching for agriculture is the central use of land in the Amazon basin, which includes Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guyana, Surinam and French Guyana. These regions are subjected to slash and burn clearing before feeding pastures can be established. Therefore, cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon Basin. On top of that, animal agriculture contributes to methane emissions, ocean acidification and worsened air quality.

Savetheamazon.org refers to the plant and animal species of the Amazonian rainforests as its “wealth’. The site posits that up to 80% of developed nation’s diets are sourced from tropical rainforests. Our fruits, (avocados, coconuts, figs, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, pineapples, and tomatoes) vegetables (corn, potatoes and yams) spices, (cayenne, chocolate, cinnamon, ginger, sugar cane, turmeric) have their origins in tropical ecosystems.

Without these contributions, the diets of developed nations would be severely restricted. Equally as important, rainforests like the Amazon help abate flooding by storing tremendous amounts of rainwater in its plants and soils. However, the continued functionality of tropical rainforests depends on how sustainably we use the land. Harvesting from rainforests at rates faster than they are able to naturally replenish themselves may contribute to permanent changes of the ecological structures within rainforests.

Ecosystem Services

managed garden ecosystem

Ecosystems are natural capital, the biotic and abiotic benefits that people obtain from their environment, animals, plants, soils, and micro-bacteria.

Micro-bacteria in marine ecosystems, for example, produces breathable oxygen. Plants and soils help regulate climate by capturing carbon dioxide in the air and storing it underground. Wetlands reduce flooding risks in coastal territories. Medicines are extracted from plants like sage, ginger, turmeric, and aloe vera. Animals are hunted for food.

The 2006 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) outlined four distinct categories of ecosystem services to help map the different kinds of benefits provided to human populations. The categories can help us identify what advantages are gained by people and suggest the value of the service. Though it can be difficult to put a price on nature’s contributions, estimates are somewhat determined by the service’s utility, either for humanity, other species, or the ecosystem itself. Categorizing ecosystem services can inform policy and be implemented in conservation research.

Four Types of Ecosystem Services

There are four main types of ecosystem services: provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural. Each one of these classifications describes unique outputs made possible by ecological systems. A single ecosystem may produce multiple types of services at once.

Provisioning Services

Provisioning ecosystem services are the substantive, or material benefits from an ecosystem. This type of service includes raw materials like wood, fresh water, metals, and medicinal herbs. Foods too are provisioning services that are grown on farms, synthesized from natural ingredients, or extracted from animals.

Regulating Services

Regulating ecosystem services are sometimes called managing services. These services govern the cycles within an ecosystem. Regulating services play essential roles in managing the water cycle, the carbon cycle, soil quality, crop pollination, and water purification. Regulating services are those that moderate climate and the intensity and frequency of weather events.

Supporting Services

The natural processes within ecosystems are part of the ecosystem’s own continued survival and maturity. As ecosystems mature, they can grow more complex, support greater profiles of species richness and allow novel interactions between organisms to develop. Supporting services refer to an ecosystem’s capacity to keep itself functioning over time.

Cultural Services

Cultural services are the nonmaterial contributions that we derive from the natural world. Around the world, people rely on nature for their sense of cultural identity, including art, architecture, and recreation.


slab of raw beef
slab of raw beef

This year, the food company Epicurious decided that it would not add anymore beef recipes to its “recipe’s list”. The company stated that it will no longer feature recipes that include beef on its homepage or social media feed. Epicurious made it obvious that they were leaving beef behind for climate change, and posted that “… think of this decision as not anti-beef but rather pro-planet”. In this decision, Epicurious supports sustainable agriculture in more ways that one.

Why Has Epicurious Banned Beef Recipes?

To promote sustainable agriculture, Epicurious will not longer add beef recipes to its site. The consequences of unsustainable farming practices are most apparent in water and land use. Livestock animals eat massive amounts of vegetation so that they can meet their caloric requirements. Cows are large animals and are costly to raise to maturity. Just one dairy cow may consume tens of thousands more calories than any human does, and their calories come strictly for plants. Growing enough food for livestock limits the amount of land and water that could be used for human consumable crops. Livestock animals also need space to roam, play and interact.

Why Are Cows Bad for the Environment?

We must be tactful in how we use land, as it is not an unlimited asset. The same is true of our air. Methane is an element of natural gas found in underground reserves, produced in land-fills and released during enteric fermentation in ruminants, like cows. As mentioned in Epicurious’ blog post, “Every Question You Have About Cattle, Climate, and Why Epicurious Is Done With Beef”, the crops fed to livestock is made using pesticides and fertilizer that are derived from fossil fuels.

When that feed is metabolized in cows, it is converted into manure that is then spread over fields or runs off into water ways. In certain water systems, organic waste introduces excess nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, and facilitates algae overgrowth. Algae blooms deplete the oxygen and sunlight from surface water ecosystems, causing illness and sometimes death in other species within the environment. On land, manure releases nitrous oxide and methane into airways and drives rising temperatures. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that in 2019, 10 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions came from its agriculture sector.

Epicurious has expressed that not eating beef is a means to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Here at ecoTreatise, we believe pork, chicken, seafood and dairy may also be left behind if chefs are looking to further reduce their overall environmental impacts. Sustainable lifestyles require that we be mindful of the water, land and energy intensity of the products we consume.

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