If science is the new religion, then carbon emissions are the new sins. Nearly every human action these days is being judged for its impact on the levels of atmospheric carbon. While we’re all familiar with the impact fossil fuels and cow farts have on the environment, many of us are ultimately powerless to stop driving to McDonald’s for lunch with the air conditioning running. While some of us might avoid using cars and eating meat altogether, a new study published by a group of interdisciplinary climate scientists the University of Sheffield might prove that we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
In a press release from the University’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, Dr. Liam Goucher claims that bread, a food found around the world and which in some ways tells the story of human civilization, takes a huge toll on the environment:
We found in every loaf there is embodied global warming resulting from the fertiliser applied to farmers’ fields to increase their wheat harvest. This arises from the large amount of energy needed to make the fertilizer and from nitrous oxide gas released when it is degraded in the soil.
The researchers estimate that the ammonium nitrate fertilizers used in wheat production could contribute up to a whopping 40% of total human carbon emissions. While this might make some people want to swear off the loaf forever, the researchers note in their published data that it’s not bread itself which is the problem – it’s the fertilizers. New methods of wheat production could potentially mitigate the impact wheat has on the environment. Maybe we won’t have to kick hot dogs after all. Everyone knows they’re the best variety of sandwich (yep, shots fired).
But seriously, what isn’t to blame for climate change these days? I write that not to disparage climate change science or efforts to curb our impact on the Earth, but merely to wonder if human beings are ultimately part of a larger chemical reaction which we might ultimately be powerless to stop. Some of the essential processes of human life – respiration, digestion – release carbon into the atmosphere. Could an innate predisposition for releasing carbon emissions be hardwired in our DNA? Just look at how human beings are captivated by fire. Even the Earth itself contains massive underground seas of carbon just waiting to be released into the atmosphere. It’s a terrifying thought.