Nitrous oxide gets much less attention in ag circles than carbon dioxide and methane, but it’s 300 times more powerful at warming the planet.
By Gosia Wozniacka September 19, 2019
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
November 9, 2021 update: A report from Greenpeace International, GRAIN, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found that Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer accounts for 2.4% of global emissions and its supply chain accounts for 21.5% of the annual direct emissions from agriculture.
It doesn’t steal headlines like carbon dioxide and isn’t as quirky as the methane emitted by cows’ burps. But nitrous oxide (N2O), an often-overlooked greenhouse gas, is a significant contributor to global warming. Its concentration has greatly increased in recent decades due to human activity—no laughing matter, given that it’s a lot more potent than other greenhouse gases.
How and Where Nitrous Oxide is Produced
Nitrous oxide has always existed in the atmosphere. It’s mostly produced by microbes in soil and naturally re
leased, especially from tropical rainforests, permafrost melting in the Arctic, as well as microbes in the oceans.
Human-made sources account for an increasingly larger share of N2O emissions. An estimated one-third to one-half of the nitrous oxide released into the atmosphere today is a result of human activities. The biggest culprit: the increase in agricultural lands and synthetic fertilizer use in agriculture, which has steadily increased in recent decades. And industrial farming—especially of annual crops like vegetables and grains—are especially to blame, as farmers tend to over-apply fertilizers to boost their yields.
- Soils, Agriculture, Carbon Sequestration and Human Survival
- BBC World Service – The Climate Question, Can we feed the world without using chemical fertilisers?
- The 500-yr+ collapse of Agricultural Development Schemes in Africa & the implications for humankind.
- The “Green Revolution:” Its Essence, Achievements & Aftermath
- The Tragedy is that “We treat soil like dirt” — Topsoil, Climate Change and the Collapse of Civilizations
- Soil Not Oil Coalition – Videos
- Soil Not Oil – References
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- The Truth about the Green Revolution – Contribution to GTI Forum Technology and the Future Feb 2022
- Global Balliol – T. C. Weiskel