The increasing prevalence of ecologically sustainable products in consumer markets, such as organic produce, are generally assumed to curtail anthropogenic impacts on the environment. Here I intend to present an alternative perspective on sustainable production by interpreting the relationship between recent rises in organic agriculture and greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production. I construct two time series fixed-effects panel regressions to estimate how increases in organic farmland impact greenhouse gas emissions derived from agricultural production. My analysis finds that the rise of certified organic production in the United States is not correlated with declines in greenhouse gas emissions derived specifically from agricultural production, and on the contrary is associated positively overall agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. To make sense of this finding, I embed my research within the conventionalization thesis. As a result I argue that the recent USDA certification of organic farming has generated a bifurcated organic market, where one form of organic farming works as a sustainable counterforce to conventional agriculture and the other works to increase the economic accessibility of organic farming through weakening practice standards most conducive to reducing agricultural greenhouse gas output. Additionally, I construct my own theoretical framework known as the displacement paradox to further interpret my findings.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Data on the number of farms and average farm size was also gathered but found to be insignificant in relation to agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
The models exclude Alaska in the years of 2000 and 2001, and Louisiana due to absent data in the NASS, resulting in an N of 439.
In order to be truly exempt from organic certification, NOP policy states that an organic farm cannot sell more than $5,000 worth of organic agricultural products annually. That $5,000 is total gross sales, not net sales.
VIFs for independent variables in model 1: GDP per capita 0.7, Organic farmland 0.9, total agricultural land 1, population 0.9. VIFs for independent variables in model 2: GDP per capita 1, percent organic farmland 1, total agricultural land 0.9, population 0.9.
Belsley, D.A., E. Kuh, and R.E. Welsch. 1980. Regression diagnostics: Identifying influential data and sources of collinearity. New York: Wiley.
Buck, D., C. Getz, and J. Guthman. 1997. From farm to table: The organic vegetable commodity chain of Northern California. Sociologia Ruralis 37(1): 3–20.
Clark, B., and R. York. 2008. Rifts and shifts: Getting to the root of environmental crises. Monthly Review 60(6): 13–24.
Clement, M.T. 2011. The Jevons paradox and anthropogenic global warming: A panel analysis of state-level carbon emissions in the United States, 1963–1997. Society & Natural Resources 24(9): 951–961.
Constance, D.H., J. Choi, and H. Lyke-Ho-Gland. 2008. Conventionalization, bifurcation, and quality of life: Certified and non-certified organic farmers in Texas. Southern Rural Sociology 23(1): 208–234.
ERS (US Economic Research Service). 2012. http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products.aspx#.U_zD4bGJV5c. Accessed June 9, 2012.
FOA. 2011. Organic agriculture and climate change. http://www.fao.org/organicag/oa-specialfeatures/en/. Accessed April 5, 2013.
Govaerts, B., N. Verhulst, A. Castellanos-Navarrete, K.D. Sayre, J. Dixon, and L. Dendooven. 2009. Conservation agriculture and soil carbon sequestration: Between myth and farmer reality. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 28(3): 97–122.
Guthman, J. 2004. Agrarian dreams: The paradox of organic farming in California. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Howard, P. 2009. Consolidation in the North American organic food processing sector, 1997 to 2007. International Journal of Sociology of Food and Agriculture 16(1): 13–30.
Jaffee, D., and P. Howard. 2010. Corporate cooptation of organic and fair trade standards. Agriculture and Human Values 27(4): 387–399.
Johnston, J., A. Biro, and N. MacKendrick. 2009. Lost in the supermarket: The corporate-organic foodscape and the struggle for food democracy. Antipode 41(3): 509–532.
Jorgenson, A.K., K. Austin, and C. Dick. 2009. Ecologically unequal exchange and the resource consumption/environmental degradation paradox. A panel study of less-developed countries, 1970–2000. International Journal of Comparative Sociology 50(3–4): 263–284.
Kirchmann, H., and B. Lars. 2009. Organic crop production: Ambitions and limitations. Dordrecht: Springer.
Leifeld, J., and J. Fuhrer. 2010. Organic farming and soil carbon sequestration: What do we really know about the benefits? Ambio 39(8): 585–599.
NASS (National Agriculture Statistics Service). 2012. http://quickstats.nass.usda.gov/. Accessed April 11, 2012.
O’Brien, R.M. 2007. A caution regarding rules of thumb for variance inflation factors. Quality & Quantity 41(5): 673–690.
OECD (Organization For Economic Co-operating and Development Organic Agriculture). 2003. Sustainability, markets and policies. New York: CABI.
Pelletier, N., R. Pirog, and R. Rasmussen. 2010. Comparative life cycle environmental impacts of three beef production strategies in the Upper Midwestern United States. Agricultural Systems 103(6): 380–389.
Polimeni, J.M. 2008. The Jevons paradox and the myth of resource efficiency improvements. London: Earthscan.
Sellen, A.J., and R.H. Harper. 2002. The myth of the paperless office. Massachusetts: MIT Press.
Soil Association. 2012. http://soilassociation.org. Accessed May 26, 2012.
U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. 2012 National Population Projections. http://www.census.gov/population. Accessed April 4, 2012.
USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). 2012. http://usda.gov. Accessed April 10, 2012.
Venkat, K. 2012. Comparison of twelve organic and conventional farming systems: A life cycle greenhouse gas emissions perspective. Journal of Sustainable Agriculture 36(6): 620–649.
Williams, A. 2006. Determining the environmental burdens and resource use in the production of agricultural and horticultural commodities. Bedford: Cranfield University and DEFRA.
World Resources Institute. 2010. http://www.wri.org/. Accessed June 6, 2012.
York, R. 2012. Do alternative energy sources displace fossil fuels? Nature Climate Change 2(6): 441–443.
York, R. 2010. The paradox at the heart of modernity. International Journal of Sociology 40(2): 6–22.
York, R., E. Rosa, and T. Dietz. 2003. Footprints on the earth: The environmental consequences of modernity. American Sociological Review 68(2): 279–300.
I would like to thank my wife Kayla Clark, my colleagues at the University of Oregon (Michael Tran, Richard York, and Kathryn Norton-Smith), as well as Harvey James and three anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and insights.
About this article
Cite this article
McGee, J.A. Does certified organic farming reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production?. Agric Hum Values 32, 255–263 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-014-9543-1