Sustainability, basics, education, and the journey – Part I

(Part I)

Reporting from the Textile Exchange Sustainability Conference, which was held in Vancouver, B.C. from October 15th – 18th, 2019.   

Every year the conference changes the location and continues to grow.  Last year’s conference was held in Milan, Italy, and next years’ is scheduled for Dublin, Ireland.  This year was one of the busiest conferences, with over 900 attendees and 500 companies from 46 countries.   

I attended the seminar about the “Basics of Sustainability” here is an overview. The main focus was to explore our global carbon footprint and the consequences.

The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The problem and the solution are really about balance.   The challenge is to ensure economic success well at the same time solving the problems of our climate. 

Agriculture

Everything starts with Agriculture: the land, the soil, and how we maintain it.   Up to 1/3 of greenhouse gases come from Agriculture.  

Carbon Dioxide

Our use of pesticides has grown by 50 times since 1950.   Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers lead to releases of carbon dioxide (CO2).  About 80% of global warming is caused by carbon dioxide, but methane, nitrous oxide, and other gases also contribute. 

Yearly emissions of all greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide and chlorofluorocarbons in 2012 gave about the same warming as 50 gigatons (Gt).  Emissions in 2020 are projected to be 59 Gt of the same greenhouse gases (UNEP 2013).  (A Gt is a billion metric tons. A metric ton is 1000 kg)

To keep global warming below 2°C (3.6°F) over the next hundred years, emission levels by 2020 should be reduced by 15-20% to 41-47 Gt CO2e/yr.

With Organic and Regenerative Agriculture it is possible to keep global warming below 2°C (3.6°F) in the next 20 – 30 years.  

Where does the carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuels and soil degradation go?

Since 1750, about 40% of CO2 has remained in the atmosphere (880 Gt CO2), 30% has been absorbed by the oceans and other water bodies (660 Gt CO2), and about 30% has been absorbed in plant growth (660 Gt CO2) (Edenhofer et al. 2014). The ocean is absorbing some of it, but the dissolved carbon dioxide is making the oceans more acidic. Ocean acidity will finally lead to the release of carbon dioxide, as the calcium carbonate in marine animal shells and coral dissolves (Lal 2004a).

World’s Oxygen 

Scientists agree that there is oxygen from ocean plants in every breath we take. Most of this oxygen comes from tiny ocean plants phytoplankton that lives near the water’s surface and drift with the currents.

Phytoplankton contributes between 50 to 85 percent of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere.

According to Philip Fearnside, a professor at Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research, the world’s oxygen levels are actually quite stable and are not dependent on rain forests, which use up as much of the gas as they produce in the long run. 

Fearnside told Newsweek. “Amazonia is not a big source of oxygen because trees respire, just like animals. Trees use up most of the oxygen that they produce through photosynthesis.”  In photosynthesis, plants capture and store solar energy, using it to convert carbon dioxide in the air into sugar molecules, which they use for food, producing oxygen as a by-product. 

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