There are lots of ecological reasons to buy local food, from reducing the carbon footprint of the meals you eat to preventing agribusiness' destruction of unique ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest.
But research published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday uncovered another surprising benefit to local agriculture: it is also better for the environment of countries that currently import lots of food.
This is because, when local crops are displaced by cheaper imports, farmland is then drafted into service growing less sustainable crops, with environmental consequences for the importing country.
The study pointed out that its findings go against conventional wisdom, which held that importing countries benefited from global food trade at the ecological expense of exporting countries.
"What is obvious is not always the whole truth," study author and Michigan State University (MSU) Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability Director Jianguo "Jack" Liu said in an MSU press release. "Unless a world is examined in a systemic, holistic way, environmental costs will be overlooked," she said.
To undertake that systemic examination, the study's authors looked at the international soybean trade.
As the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies explained, Brazil is the world's second-largest producer of soybeans, and its efforts to clear land for that production is a "major driver of deforestation in the Amazon basin."
But the study found that the trade also hurt countries like China, which is the world's largest soybean importer.
As China imported more and more soybeans, local farmers could no longer compete and converted their fields to crops like corn and rice, which require more nutrients to grow and therefore result in an increase in Nitrogen pollution.
The study looked specifically at the highest-producing agricultural land in China, in the country's northeast, and found that the greatest increases in Nitrogen pollution there came from fields that had flipped from soy to rice, followed by fields that had flipped from soy to corn.
Researchers further examined 160 cases on six continents and found Nitrogen levels went up when fields in importing countries switched from soy to other, more demanding crops like wheat, vegetables, corn or rice.
The study's abstract concluded with a call for more research into the environmental consequences of international trade agreements for importing countries,
According to the MSU press release, another potential area of study would be fields in Mexico and South America that have switched from corn to more nutrient-demanding vegetables due to an influx in cheap corn from the U.S. The release noted that changes in crops can also put increased pressure on local water supplies.
"This study underscores the need to pay attention to both sides of international trade not rely on conventional wisdom," Liu said in the MSU press release.
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Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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