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Lexicon of Sustainability

Watchword: Climate Change

Watchword: Climate Change
To draw attention to the best and brightest ideas in sustainability, the Lexicon of Sustainability's Food List project defines the words that are integral to a healthy, transparent, and accountable food system. Each week, we explore a new word through artwork, films, recipes, and written works. See all Food List words here. 

Climate Change: Over the last 150 years, conventional agriculture has been one of several dominating contributors to climate change through deforestation, pollution, and erosion of vital top soil. An estimated 33% of the total global warming effect can be attributed to the food system. 

Scientists talk about peak oil and peak water, conditions that signal a point where our consumption will outstrip the availability of remaining resources. Economic collapse is their dire prediction. They could be right, but scare tactics won’t bring about a shift in consciousness. People run from bad news, not toward it. The answer is to build consensus on a foundation of innovative ideas, find out what works, then let solutions ​like methane digestersbiochar and carbon sequestration (removing carbon from the air and capturing it in the soil)​ spread.

Title: Mobstocking
Location: Polyface Farm in Swoope, Virginia
Featuring: Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm

Mobstocking is an agricultural technique that involves confining a large herd of sheep or livestock to an area to do intensive grazing. When plants are grazed, a certain amount of root biomass is pruned off to maintain symmetry, leaving carbon in the soil instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. This feeds the soil biota (e.g. earthworms), and animal defecation in the area stimulates plants to grow. 

Short film: "Biochar"

For thousands of years, farmers in Brazil’s Central Amazonian Basin ​have created rich soils to support microbial life and improve their crop yields. Their secret is a principle called terra preta, which creates a charcoal-like substance that greatly increases a soil’s resilience. Today, technology ​helps create a modern form of terra preta​ ​called ​biochar, ​which ​strengthens the soil food web and creates a more biologically dynamic system to grow food.

Soil: An Ally Underfoot

We know that pumping too much carbon in the atmosphere disturbs the climate cycle, and too much in the ocean causes it to acidify. Sinking atmospheric carbon in the ground, however, is actually a good thing, since carbon helps plants grow.

One of our biggest potential climate allies is directly under our feet. Healthy, living soil has an enormous capacity to store carbon; therefore, improving the health of degraded soil holds tremendous potential to mitigate climate change.

Recipe: Red Lentil Burgers by Chef Ann Cooper

Lentils have one of the smallest carbon footprints of any common food. Enjoy these tasty vegetarian burgers knowing that they are responsible for 6 times fewer greenhouse gas emissions than beef. 

How do you try to reduce your carbon footprint on a daily basis?  Tell us in the comments below, and follow us for more on agriculture and climate change throughout the week. 

For the past three years, the Lexicon of Sustainability has sought out the foremost practitioners of sustainability in food and farming to gain their insights and experiences on this important subject. What began as a photography project to spread their knowledge has grown to include short films, study guides, traveling shows, a book, and a website where people can add their own terms to this ever-evolving lexicon. See more at

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