Speaking of the troubles associated with industrial agriculture and its fertilizer regime, check this out:

The public does not yet know much about nitrogen, but in many ways it is as big an issue as carbon, and due to the interactions of nitrogen and carbon, makes the challenge of providing food and energy to the world’s peoples without harming the global environment a tremendous challenge.

The speaker is University of Virginia environmental sciences professor James Galloway (quoted in an AP piece), talking about his paper published (abstract here) in the latest Science.

According to Galloway, "We are accumulating reactive nitrogen in the environment at alarming rates, and this may prove to be as serious as putting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."

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Nothing new here that I can tell at first glance. (I’d love to read the paper, but it’s password-protected.) I agree, though, that nitrogen’s role in climate change is way under-discussed.

The same issue of Science also contains an article about how synthesized nitrogen affects the oceans — specifically their role as greenhouse-gas sinks. Seems that the vast algae blooms that result from nitrogen pollution of the oceans — the ones that famously suck in oxygen and create dead zones — do soak up free carbon from the air, helping to mitigate climate change. But …

Although 10% of the ocean’s drawdown of atmospheric anthropogenic carbon dioxide may result from this atmospheric nitrogen fertilization, leading to a decrease in radiative forcing, up to about two-thirds of this amount may be offset by the increase in N2O emissions.

N2O — nitrous oxide — is a greenhouse gas 296 times more potent than carbon. Titanic amounts of it are released into the air when farmers fertilize their fields.

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