Nav: Home

How much does that fertilizer REALLY cost?

October 05, 2016

Humans have more than doubled the amount of reactive nitrogen in the environment since the Industrial Revolution, with adverse consequences that include air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, ozone depletion, water acidification and climate change.

But what exactly do these impacts mean for people and communities, and how can we can figure out where and how much to most effectively reduce the amount of new nitrogen entering the environment?

To adequately account for the cost of nitrogen pollution, researchers from the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment have proposed a framework that accounts for all of the damages that occur when reactive nitrogen enters our air or water. The framework, published today in the journal Science Advances, provides a valuable tool for estimating the social cost of nitrogen pollution -- meaning the dollars-and-cents cost of the trouble it causes -- elevating nitrogen accounting to the same level governments now use to account for carbon.

"Scientists and economists have figured out ways to put a price on carbon pollution. Getting a handle on the societal costs of climate change means those costs can be integrated into decisions by agencies and other groups," said study author Bonnie Keeler, IonE program director and lead scientist with the Natural Capital Project, a partnership of the University of Minnesota, Stanford University, The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund. "We currently don't have a handle on the costs of nitrogen and as a result the damages caused by nitrogen are not incorporated into decisions."

Tracking nitrogen is tricky because the element takes multiple forms and ends up in diverse places on the landscape -- with correspondingly diverse costs. To demonstrate how nitrogen costs can be tracked, the researchers developed a simplified model and applied it to nitrogen fertilizer management in Minnesota. They used data on where and how much nitrogen is applied to cropland, then used the model to track how nitrogen would move into surface and groundwater and the atmosphere, and from there, who it would affect and how much.

"Our work shows that it is possible to get a better handle on the costs of nitrogen and show where investments in mitigating damages from excess nitrogen are most likely to benefit communities," said Keeler. "Ultimately, I'd like to see agencies start incorporating the damage costs of nitrogen into payment schemes, conservation programs, commodity prices or new regulations, just like we are starting to do for carbon. In the meantime we're getting a lot closer to closing the loop on nitrogen impacts."

The University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment is leading the way toward a future in which people and the environment prosper together. For more information, visit environment.umn.edu.
-end-


University of Minnesota

Related Climate Change Articles:

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.
Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.
Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.
Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.
A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.
Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Meditations on Loneliness
Original broadcast date: April 24, 2020. We're a social species now living in isolation. But loneliness was a problem well before this era of social distancing. This hour, TED speakers explore how we can live and make peace with loneliness. Guests on the show include author and illustrator Jonny Sun, psychologist Susan Pinker, architect Grace Kim, and writer Suleika Jaouad.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#565 The Great Wide Indoors
We're all spending a bit more time indoors this summer than we probably figured. But did you ever stop to think about why the places we live and work as designed the way they are? And how they could be designed better? We're talking with Emily Anthes about her new book "The Great Indoors: The Surprising Science of how Buildings Shape our Behavior, Health and Happiness".
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Third. A TED Talk.
Jad gives a TED talk about his life as a journalist and how Radiolab has evolved over the years. Here's how TED described it:How do you end a story? Host of Radiolab Jad Abumrad tells how his search for an answer led him home to the mountains of Tennessee, where he met an unexpected teacher: Dolly Parton.Jad Nicholas Abumrad is a Lebanese-American radio host, composer and producer. He is the founder of the syndicated public radio program Radiolab, which is broadcast on over 600 radio stations nationwide and is downloaded more than 120 million times a year as a podcast. He also created More Perfect, a podcast that tells the stories behind the Supreme Court's most famous decisions. And most recently, Dolly Parton's America, a nine-episode podcast exploring the life and times of the iconic country music star. Abumrad has received three Peabody Awards and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011.