As the world examines ways to lower carbon emissions and increase carbon sequestration, sustainable agriculture is rising to the top of the priority list for discussions. Agriculture’s various environmental impacts are undeniable, but that also means agriculture is, perhaps, the industry with the greatest potential for sustainable change. A new book from agriculture policy experts Peter H. Lehner and Nathan A. Rosenberg, “Farming for Our Future: The Science, Law, and Policy of Climate-Neutral Agriculture,” addresses a variety of agricultural practices and how changes can provide a map for a healthier future.

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Two different views of the cover for "Farming for Our Future," a book on sustainable agriculture.

The authors present well-researched scientific findings on where the problems lie and provide solid solutions based on science, economics and law in the hopes the farmers and policymakers will pivot to adopt new processes. While Rosenberg and Lehner don’t want to detract from hot-topic measures aimed at reversing climate change, like those concerning renewable energy and innovative electric vehicles, they do aim to increase the visibility of food production problems. 

Related: Why regenerative agriculture will reverse climate change 

The truth is that our food systems are the world’s largest source of methane and are ultimately responsible for a third of global warming. Without reforming the industry, the planet has no hope of achieving Paris Agreement climate goals. 

While terms like ‘regenerative farming‘ and documentaries such as “Kiss the Ground,” “The Biggest Little Farm,” and “The Need to Grow” spark conversation, significant policy changes lag far behind. Approaching from a legal angle, “Farming for Our Future” addresses the obstacles in the way of creating and implementing effective land and animal management policies. The number of regulations, laws and policies preventing cleaner agriculture are many and complicated. 

However, there is a path through the jargon and red tape. As guidance in the book outlines, new agricultural practices could consume fewer resources, improve the soil rather than stripping it, significantly lower carbon release and streamline the food production system. While the planet heals, farmers will also reap the rewards of more resilient plants and healthier animals.

“Peter Lehner and Nathan Rosenberg have gone deeper and broader than anyone before in identifying the many legal levers that can be used to move agriculture toward carbon neutrality. Congress, the White House, USDA, other agencies, and the private sector should use this as their legal guide,” said leading climate law expert Michael B. Gerrard, professor and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School.

Policymakers must pick up the fight, but the climate solution will also come from small-scale farmers. Not only does responsible agriculture benefit the land, but an increase in profitability for farmers will strengthen rural communities and the lives of the workers who put the food on our tables. 

Seth Watkins, a fourth-generation farmer known for his TEDx presentation, “Farming Evolved: Agriculture Through a Different Lens,” commented, “This book does an incredible job of explaining the practices and policies we need to help farmers build regenerative production systems that will protect our climate and our future.”

Lehner and Rosenberg’s book, published by ELI Press, the Environmental Law Institute’s book division, is on sale now. Lehner is Managing Attorney of the Sustainable Food & Farming (SFF) Program at Earthjustice, the country’s largest nonprofit public interest environmental law organization. Rosenberg is a visiting scholar at the Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School and an attorney consulting for Earthjustice.

Sustainable agriculture illustrated via a picture of a vineyard.

Review of “Farming for Our Future: The Science, Law, and Policy of Climate-Neutral Agriculture”

I was provided an electronic review copy of the book to review. It’s a relatively short book at 267 pages, but there’s no fluff filling the space between the covers. The content is dense but approachable. The authors’ interest is palpable, and the sense of urgency is appropriate to enact change in an industry with the potential to carry a royal flush in the game of climate-change reversal. 

Lehner and Rosenberg outline the current state of affairs in early chapters, explaining how farm economies work and where there are misunderstandings. They outline dangerous assumptions and existing policies that hold back the industry from valuable change. 

The authors then clearly explain the tangible impact of agriculture on the climate and how various options can curb those impacts. These topics converge as the authors discuss how policy change can help facilitate climate-neutral agriculture. At the beginning of the book and the end of each chapter, Lehner and Rosenberg highlight key recommendations. To wrap up the comprehensive report, they include a section on ways consumers can help.

This is not a pleasure read, but if you’re looking for a resource to better understand the issues with our food supply and its effect on the planet, it’s a book that shouldn’t be missed.

+ ELI Press 

Images via ELI Press and Pixabay