Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agriculture: Reconciling the Epistemological, Ethical, Political, and Practical Challenges

  • Robert M. Chiles
  • Eileen E. Fabian
  • Daniel Tobin
  • Scott J. Colby
  • S. Molly DePue


The purpose of this paper is to provide further clarity to the technical and policy difficulties associated with mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by identifying and distilling the core tensions which propagate and animate them. We argue that these complexities exist across four critical dimensions: the epistemological, the ethical, the political, and the practical. Adequately confronting the challenge of agricultural emissions will require improved transparency in emissions measurement, increased science communication, enhanced public participatory mechanisms, and the integration of ethical deliberation in scientific and policy discussions.


Agricultural ethics Climate change Emissions measurement Climate justice Sustainability Epistemology Food politics Governance Science and technology studies 



The authors would like to thank David Blandford, Katharina Hassapoyannes, Clare Hinrichs, Carolyn Sachs, Arie Sanders, Paul B. Thompson, Wes Eaton, Leslie Pillen, and Heidrun Moschitz for their very useful comments and contributions to our group discussions. Any errors or omissions are the authors’ alone. This work was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Federal Appropriations under Project PEN04437 and Accession number 1012188.


  1. Arbuckle, J. G., Prokopy, L. S., Haigh, T., Hobbs, J., Knoot, T., Knutson, C., et al. (2013). Climate change beliefs, concerns, and attitudes toward adaptation and mitigation among farmers in the Midwestern United States. Climatic Change, 117(4), 943–950.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Atkin, D. (2013). Trade, tastes, and nutrition in India. The American Economic Review, 103(5), 1629–1663.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Blandford, D., & Hassapoyannes, K. (2015). A new global climate agreement: Implications for agriculture? EuroChoices, 14(2), 4–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Carter, S. M., & Little, M. (2007). Justifying knowledge, justifying method, taking action: Epistemologies, methodologies, and methods in qualitative research. Qualitative Health Research, 17(10), 1316–1328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Epstein, S. (2006). Institutionalizing the new politics of difference in US biomedical research: Thinking across the science/state/society divides. In S. Frickel & K. Moore (Eds.), The new political sociology of science: Institutions, networks and power. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  6. Hess, D. J. (2007). Alternative pathways in science and industry. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  7. Hess, D. J. (2009). The potentials and limitations of civil society research: Getting undone science done. Sociological Inquiry, 79(3), 306–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Laestadius, L. I., Neff, R. A., Barry, C. L., & Frattaroli, S. (2014). “We don’t tell people what to do”: An examination of the factors influencing NGO decisions to campaign for reduced meat consumption in light of climate change. Global Environmental Change, 29, 32–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Lambert, C. (2006). The marketplace of perceptions. Harvard Magazine, 108(4), 50.Google Scholar
  10. Rivera-Ferre, M., López-i-Gelats, F., Howden, M., Smith, P., Morton, J., & Herrero, M. (2016). Re-framing the climate change debate in the livestock sector: Mitigation and adaptation options. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 7(6), 869–892.Google Scholar
  11. Schnaiberg, A. (1980). The environment, from surplus to scarcity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Stone, L. (2008). Epistemology. The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research, 1, 264–268.Google Scholar
  13. Thompson, P. B. (2015). From field to fork: Food ethics for everyone. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert M. Chiles
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Eileen E. Fabian
    • 4
  • Daniel Tobin
    • 5
  • Scott J. Colby
    • 1
  • S. Molly DePue
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and EducationThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Food ScienceThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  3. 3.Rock Ethics InstituteThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  4. 4.Department of Agricultural and Biological EngineeringThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  5. 5.Department of Community Development and Applied EconomicsThe University of Vermont College of Agriculture and Life SciencesBurlingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations