Worried about climate change?  Gardeners are in a great position to do something about it – even if it is not a lot, every bit counts!

We know that scientists have been warning about the warming climate for the last 30 or more years, but it has taken a long time for governments to recognize that it exists.  Those of us who are close to our gardens and the land have seen the effects already happening.

At last the United States government Environment Protection Authority has issued a report1 telling communities to be prepared for the effects of the increasing natural disasters as a result of a warming world. But we need to be taking action NOW to try to slow the rate of global warming that is causing these events.

Vegetation Cover

We all know that Landcare groups have been planting trees for many years to prevent erosion on degraded land. Fortunately, these plantings also help take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere – as long as they become permanent carbon sinks. However, the rate and amount of greenhouse gas removal by trees is not as high as the emissions from use of fossil fuels, so very large areas of land need to be devoted to forests2.

Gardeners can help by planting as much vegetation as possible – even lawn helps!   And by avoiding concrete in paving and walls since it creates high greenhouse gas emissions in its manufacture.

And don’t forget green walls and roofs!  Not only do they add more plant cover, but they add insulation to buildings, so reducing energy use in heating and cooling.

But although these actions are important, there is much more gardeners can do!.

Our Diet

Many people are now realizing that we can reduce the rate of global warming by consuming less meat and dairy products3. Eliminating meat from the diet reduces greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 50% because there are fewer methane-producing animals required to produce food 4. In contrast, fruit and vegetable production draws down carbon dioxide through photosynthesis.  So even just reducing the number of times you eat meat per week will make a difference. On top of this, to provide the same amount of nutritious food, meat production uses up more land as pasture than growing fruit and vegetables.  So when gardeners grow fruit and vegetables at home or in a community garden they are making a contribution to slowing climate change,

If you are doing that already, you also know about the added health benefits. More plant-rich diets address many growing health problems including heart and circulatory problems 5, some forms of cancer 6 and even rheumatoid arthritis 7 by reducing dependence on meat.

Reduce Shopping Miles by Buying Local Goods

Even if we have extensive gardens and eat plant-rich diets, there is a lot more we can do regarding our levels of consumption.

Food Miles

We are hardly ever totally self-sufficient for food and still purchase items which may have travelled many miles to reach us, using fossil fuels in the process. So let’s try reducing food miles by buying food from local growers when we cannot produce it ourselves – think Farmer’s Markets, Harvest Swaps and foraging for food.

Other Goods

We can seek out other items for the garden e.g. furniture, stakes or pots, which are produced in Australia – or even better in our own state – rather than those that are imported. This may mean a higher financial cost, but that may encourage us to . . . .

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

We can become thrifty gardeners!

Being clever about minimizing our purchases, reusing items and recycling what we can’t reuse in their current form means less waste, less resource use (including less coal-fired electricity) and less waste going to landfill which would lead to methane production.

For example, we can minimize use of plastic pots for seedlings by making containers using the centres of toilet rolls as the sides and some newspaper in the bottom. In fact, newspaper can be used to make complete seedling pots.  Both alternative types of “pot” are also better for seedlings since the whole “pot” plus seedling can be popped directly into a garden bed without disturbing the roots – the cardboard or paper will gradually decay.

Some clever ideas for reusing and recycling in the garden have been used in the garden of one of SGA’s subscribers.  Recycled materials can be used for garden edging and garden art.

Composting

Sending organic waste to landfill results in methane because decomposition occurs in the absence of oxygen.  In contrast, composting it, either at home or commercially, reduces methane production and, although aerobic composting as In your compost heap produces some carbon dioxide, application of the finished product to soil helps soil to retain carbon as well as increasing its fertility.

Fertilisers and Pest Control

Try to use as many natural methods to enhance soil quality and fertility.  Compost or worm castings/ tea from your own green/food waste have involved no fossil fuel use and relatively low carbon emissions. If you are growing vegetables, crop rotation employing a green manure cycle reduces the need for external inputs of any sort.

Manures from your chooks or collected from farms are almost as good, involving only the carbon inputs from their food and transportation.  Other products such as blood and bone, fish meal, seaweed extract, compost and natural minerals e.g. organically certified phosphorus are less energy-intensive than chemical fertilisers that have gone through complex extraction and manufacturing processes.

Using integrated pest management techniques and companion planting will minimise the need for energy-intensive manufactured pesticides needed to control insects, weeds and disease.

References

1. https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/reports.shtml

2. Baldocchi D, Penuelas J. (2018). The physics and ecology of mining carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by ecosystems. Climate Change Biology https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.14559 

3. Hedenus F, Wirsenius S, Johansson DJA (2014) The importance of reduced meat and dairy consumption for meeting stringent climate change targets. Climatic Change. 124 (1–2): 79–91.

4. Hoolohan C Berners-Lee CM, McKinstry-West J, Hewitt CN. (2013) Mitigating the greenhouse gas emissions embodied in food through realistic consumer choices. Energy Policy 63: 1065-1074.

5. McEvoy CT, Temple N, Woodside JV (2012) Vegetarian diets, low-meat diets and health: a review. Public Health Nutrition 15 (12): 2287-2294.

6. Prashanth Rawla, Tagore Sunkara, Adam Barsouk (2019) Epidemiology of colorectal cancer: incidence, mortality, survival, and risk factors.

7. Philippou E and Nikiphorou E. (2018) Are we really what we eat? Nutrition and its role in the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. Autoimmunity Reviews 17(11): 1074-1077.