Our Best Climate Stories of 2020

Another year of climate-fueled extreme weather revealed the imminent dangers we face, the urgent need to act, and the role agriculture plays in both. Here is our best climate reporting.

West Coast wildfires turn the skies orange over the Iverson Famil Farms vineyards. (Photo courtesy of Iverson Family Farms)

West Coast wildfires turn the skies orange over the Iverson Famil Farms vineyards. (Photo courtesy of Iverson Family Farms)

From hurricanes to flooding, drought, and wildfires, the climate crisis made its presence even more obvious in 2020. And it’s clearer than ever that agriculture is a big part of the equation. This year, we sharpened our climate reporting, focusing on the potential of—and the perils of—overselling regenerative agriculture and carbon markets, the role conservation programs play in incentivizing climate-beneficial farming, and the incoming administration’s promise to act boldly on climate, including its commitment to rejoin the Paris Agreement. While there is no silver bullet, we know cutting emissions from the food system is crucial and all solutions must be explored. Here are some of our best stories this year on climate change and food.

cover crop rye grass

Two States are Leading a Cover Crop Revival
Farmers in Maryland and Iowa are investing in crops that improve water quality, soil health, and build resiliency in the face of climate change.

Climate Change Will Expand Agriculture’s Reach, Solving Some Problems and Creating New Ones
As land at undeveloped latitudes and elevations becomes warmer, millions of acres could be farmed commercially for the first time. But growing food there would put biodiversity and clean water at risk while releasing massive quantities of CO2.

Plant-Based Diets and Regenerative Ag Have Sparked a Pea and Lentil Renaissance
Health and environmental concerns are driving ‘phenomenal’ growth for these humble pulse crops, which offer soil as well as dietary benefits.

A Comprehensive New Federal Roadmap for Climate Action on Farms
U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree’s Agriculture Resilience Act would incentivize and support farmers to address the climate crisis in the face of USDA inaction.

rice paddy flooded. Photo CC-licensed by Phil Hendley.

Could Changing the Way We Farm Rice Be a Climate Solution?
Farmers are on focusing on ways to reduce methane emissions and save water to further reduce the staple crop’s climate footprint.

Are Dairy Digesters the Renewable Energy Answer or a ‘False Solution’ to Climate Change?
Capturing the massive quantities of methane dairy farms emit could reduce overall carbon pollution. But critics say the effort is propping up Big Dairy.

The World Food Prize Winner Says Soil Should Have Rights
Soil scientist Dr. Rattan Lal digs deep into the power of soil to sequester carbon, mitigate climate change, and the need for a Clean Soil Act.

An overhead view of the Detroit urban farm study on week five. (Photo courtesy of Naim Edwards)

Could a Detroit Experiment Unleash the Power of Urban Soil?
A multi-year study underway aims to build healthy urban soil quickly at minimum cost, yielding local, fresh food and climate mitigation as a bonus.

Perennial Vegetables Are a Solution in the Fight Against Hunger and Climate Change
A new study shows the nutrition and environmental benefits of more than 600 perennial species—from artichokes to chaya—which address climate mitigation, biodiversity, and nutrition.

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Wildfires Across Northern California Devastate Farmers and Farmland
Dozens of lightning-sparked wildfires have hit some of the Bay Area’s most beloved farming communities, destroying farm structures and razing crops, with little containment in sight.

Grain bins damaged by the derecho storm in are shown at the Heartland Co-Op grain elevator on August 11, 2020 in Luther, Iowa.

The Iowa Derecho Put Refugee Food Workers at Even Greater Risk
The hurricane-force winds that leveled Cedar Rapids have impacted hundreds of refugees who were considered ‘essential workers’ at meatpacking plants and supermarkets.

Iowa Farmers Face Climate-Fueled Destruction, While the Industry Says it’s ‘Just Weather’
Flooding, drought, and a derecho storm have recently upended Iowa’s farms, but the Iowa Farm Bureau and the USDA are actively pushing back on the climate narrative.

Rollen Chalmers prepping the Wormsloe site. (Photo credit: Sarah Ross)

How a South Carolina Farmer Is Adapting an Heirloom Rice to Withstand Climate Change
Rollen Chalmers is the ‘quiet force’ behind a renewed interest in heirloom rice while contending with encroaching saltwater, invasive weeds—and alligators.

In a Year of Climate Reckoning, Where Does Joe Biden Stand on Climate and Agriculture?
Fires rage in the West as storms, hurricanes, and floods hit the rest of the country. Progressives are pushing Biden to transform the food system and manage and mitigate the effects of the climate crisis.

Are Carbon Markets for Farmers Worth the Hype?
Private markets promise farmers monetization of a secondary crop: carbon stored in the soil. But questions loom about data ownership, consolidation, and increased pollution in communities of color.

Does Overselling Regenerative Ag’s Climate Benefits Undercut its Potential?
A new white paper from the Rodale Institute and the Carbon Underground says that regenerative practices, if adopted around the world, could sequester all annual carbon dioxide emissions. Critics warn the scientific data doesn’t support these claims, and may oversell the benefits.

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Walking through a field of Kernza. (Photo credit: Jacob Jungers)

Can the Climate-Friendly Grain Kernza Finally Hit the Big Time?
With $10 million in new funding, farmers, researchers, and restaurants aim to bring the perennial grain grown for bread, cereal, beer, and more to the masses.

New Research Confirms What We Eat Is Central to the Climate Crisis
A decade after writing a book about agriculture’s connection to climate change, Anna Lappé interviews the author of a new study that confirms we can’t bring down emissions without addressing the food system.

picking wild apples as part of a foraging project in upstate new york Photo credit: South Hill Cider

Cider Makers Are Betting on Foraged Apples for Climate Resilience
For years, upstate New York’s small-scale cider makers have foraged wild apples. Now they see the benefits of incorporating wild varieties into their orchards.

Can Organic Farming Solve the Climate Crisis?
With regenerative agriculture gaining traction, the organic industry is positioning itself as leading the way on carbon sequestration. The research is promising—but inconclusive.

The Civil Eats Editors

Since 2009, the Civil Eats editorial team has published award-winning and groundbreaking news and commentary about the American food system, and worked to make complicated, underreported stories—on climate change, the environment, social justice, animal welfare, policy, health, nutrition, and the farm bill— more accessible to a mainstream audience. Read more >

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