Not just temperature, not just Ohio

The ever-popular water-cooler conversation topic of climate change may need to be updated.

According to, Laurel Anderson, associate professor of botany-microbiology at Ohio Wesleyan, there are multiple factors contributing to and generated from the alterations in the environment that have been overlooked.

The botany/microbiology professor presented her lecture on the global state of food and climate to a bright room packed with local Delawareans as the opening event for the annual Great Decisions Discussion Series Friday, Feb. 21.

Anderson’s talk covered topics from pollination and greenhouse gases to compost and what one can do to minimize negative impacts on the environment. She emphasized the idea that even though it can be easy to immediately localize environmental issues, these are global problems.

“There are many different types of changes that we’re seeing in our environment today,” she said. “We’re seeing changes in the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and changes in the water cycle.”

Anderson added, “These (changes) have some really strong effects on food, which I am going to equate with plants.

“I think a lot about how plants interact with their environment and how their physiological processes, like photosynthesis and water uptake help them cope with stresses in the environment. And really if you think about food carefully you’ll realize that even if you’re eating animal products, those animals ate something and those were plants.”

Throughout the 50-minute talk, Anderson related many prominent environmental changes to food production.

For example, Anderson said that between 1888 and 2012 the overall global temperature has risen 0.85 degrees Celsius. Higher temperatures globally have led to rising sea levels which can, and have already, affect production of healthy crops.

“Often when people think of sea level rise, they think of the movie ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ where this giant tidal wave engulfs New York City, and I’m actually thinking of something more insidious and harder to deal with. I’m thinking about salt water intrusion on crops.”

As Anderson revealed many direct effects of environmental changes on agriculture, she also introduced less-discussed points of how agriculture affects climate. For example, deforestation has increased in areas such as Brazil because of the increased demand for non-genetically modified soybeans.

Anderson also raised the point that one of the prominent greenhouse gases, methane, is produced in high quantities in the “guts of ruminant animals,” largely from cattle industries.

“The cattle industry is also associated with significant emissions of CO2 and deforestation,” she said.

To help decrease negative environmental changes, Anderson said the best things that one can do are not necessarily to drive less, but instead to “consider foods that have lower carbon and methane footprints (plants), support policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to replace old appliances with energy efficient models,” among others options.

And after all, as Anderson said, small actions are “the gateway drug” to making bigger changes globally.

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