When and Where Can Farm-level Life Cycle Assessments be Used to Predict Aggregate Food System Contributions to Global Warming?
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Food production is a key anthropogenic system driving global warming, biodiversity loss, land use change, and biogeochemical cycle disruption. Food system sustainability is a field of research dedicated to addressing these issues, ultimately motivated to meet human needs within biophysical planetary boundaries. One of the many tools that have emerged in food system sustainability research is the life cycle assessment (LCA). Though not without limitation, individual farm-level LCAs and the works that synthesize them are extremely valuable, as they characterize system contributions to environmental concerns and resource depletions. Drawing from published LCAs, previous meta-analyses have demonstrated that food production systems and their associated contributions to environmental concerns can be highly variable between producers of the same product, between products, and between geographies, among other factors, and that there is more to be understood with regard to both food systems and LCA methods. This exploratory research investigates how and why farm-level production systems vary in their contributions to environmental concerns within and between production regions. Separately, this work also assesses whether life cycle assessments have thus far been undertaken systematically to geographically represent production patterns. With these objectives in mind, a review and comparison of available wine LCA data was conducted, as well as a systematic wine LCA literature inventory. Results indicate that wine grape production system contributions to global warming can be highly variable within and between production locales, and that LCA research has not been undertaken systematically to geographically represent production patterns. These conclusions are intended to help inform future food system sustainability research methods, thus contributing to the sustainable development of our food systems.