The Importance of Land Use/Land Practices On Climate – A Perspective From Jon Foley

In 2007, I posted

Presentation On Global Change and Climate Change By Jon Foley At The April 4-6, 2007 NASA Land-Cover and Land-Use Change Meeting

From his website

Jonathan Foley is the director of the Institute on the Environment (IonE) at the University of Minnesota, where he is a professor and McKnight Presidential Chair in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. He also leads the IonE’s Global Landscapes Initiative.

The title of Jon’s talk was

Planet Against the Grain

As a result of a committee I am on [which I will have more to say about at a later date], there remains the misunderstanding with respect to the role of human land management on the climate system. Jon Foley’s powerpoint presentation is among the very best at documenting the role of human land management as a first order climate system (and environmental) forcing.

Examples of his view (which I agree with) are summarized in his talk. These include

  • massive changes to Earth’s land ~40% of land converted to agriculture [from slide 7]
  • massive increases in water use – water use tripled in 50 years – mostly due to agriculture – 70% irrigation, 20% industry, 10% domestic [from slide 8]
  • massive release of excess nutrients doubling natural nitrogen, phosphorus flows polluted lakes and rivers coastal “dead zones” [from slide 9]

Jon introduces a key finding that

land use practices are changing quickly; much more than changing land cover [from slide 30]

With respect to greenhouse emissions, he states that

wow! global land use & agriculture, taken together, contribute more greenhouse gases than any single societal activity; altogether, agriculture and deforestation appear to contribute at least 1/3 of all GHG forcing

In regards to using a global average metric to characterize changes in the climate system, he wrote that land use

often get “washed out” in outdated climate metrics of radiative forcing and global mean temperature [from slide 44]

He writes the overarching theme of his talk includes that

Bottom Line Global Change is Much More Than CO2 and Global Warming [from slide 46]

and that

Current Focus on CO2 / Climate Connection is Very Short Sighted [from slide 54]

Jon’s perspective can be read in his papers, such as

Foley et al 2005: Global Consequences of Land Use. Science. Science 22 July 2005: 570-574. [DOI:10.1126/science.1111772]


Foley et al, 2011: Solutions for a cultivated planet. Nature478, 337-342 doi:10.1038/nature10452

In his 2011 article he wrote

Agriculture is now a dominant force behind many environmental threats, including climate change, biodiversity loss and degradation of land and freshwater…. In fact, agriculture is a major force driving the environment beyond the ‘‘planetary boundaries’’ ….

I also highly recommend Jon’s talk

“The Other Inconvenient Truth” – Jon Foley, TECxTC presentation. Watch the video on YouTube

Clearly,  climate assessments that focus primarily on CO2 and a few other greenhouse gases are inappropriately too narrow.

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