This is a very long, but brilliantly well researched essay by Peter Salonius, taken from The Oil Drum. The basic premise is that we stopped being sustainable thousands of years ago (this is the general feeling of most anti-civ writers working today) and that without phenomenal population reductions in tandem with a complete cultural change [...] Read more »
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Two recent treehugger articles, discussing 7 Low-Cost, Low-Emissions Foods and the water footprint of your food reinforce the myth that to simply change the actual items that we buy, without considering where they come from and how they are grown, is enough of a change to slow the human impact on the planet and other [...] Read more »
Nairobi- A seven point plan to reduce the risk of hunger and rising food insecurity in the 21st century is outlined in new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Changing the ways in which food is produced, handled and disposed of across the globe- from farm to store and from fridge to landfill - can both feed the world's rising population and help the environmental services that are the foundation of agricultural productivity in the first place.
Unless more intelligent and creative management is brought to the world's agricultural systems, the 2008 food crisis - which plunged millions back into hunger - may foreshadow an even bigger crisis in the years to come, says the rapid assessment study.
The report, entitled 'The Environmental Food crises: Environment's role in averting future food crises', has been compiled by a wide group of experts from both within and outside UNEP. It supports UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's task force on the world food crisis.
- The one hundred year trend of falling food prices may be at an end, and food prices may increase by 30-50 per cent within decades with critical impacts for those living in extreme poverty spending up to 90 per cent of their income on food. These findings are supported by a recent report from the World Bank stating that if agricultural production is depressed further, food prices may rise.
- Up to 25 per cent of the worlds food production may become lost due to 'environmental breakdowns' by 2050 unless action is taken. Already, cereal yields have stagnated worldwide and fish landings are declining.
- Today, over one third of the world's cereals are being used as animal feed, rising to 50 per cent by 2050. Continuing to feed cereals to growing numbers of livestock will aggravate poverty and environmental degradation.
- The report instead suggests that recycling food wastes and deploying new technologies, aimed at producing biofuels, to produce sugars from discards such as straw and even nutshells could be a key environmentally-friendly alternative to increased use of cereals for livestock.
- The amount of fish currently discarded at sea - estimated at 30 million tonnes annually - could alone sustain more than a 50 per cent increase in fish farming and aquaculture production, which is needed to maintain per capita fish consumption at current levels by 2050 without increasing pressure on an already stressed marine environment.
The report shows that many of the factors blamed for the current food crisis - drought, biofuels, high oil prices, low grain stocks and especially speculation in food stocks may worsen substantially in the coming decades.
Climate change emerges as one of the key factors that may undermine the chances of feeding over nine billion people by 2050. Increasing water scarcities and a rise and spread of invasive pests such as insects, diseases and weeds - may substantially depress yields in the future.
This underlines yet another reason why governments at the UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in some 300 days' time must agreed a deep and decisive new global deal.
Other actions under the seven point plan include:
- Re-organizing the food market infrastructure to regulate prices and generate food safety nets for those at risk backed by a global, micro-financing fund to boost small-scale farmer productivity in developing countries.
- Removal of agricultural subsidies and the promotion of second generation biofuels based on wastes rather than on primary crops - this could reduce pressure on fertile lands and critical ecosystems such as forests.
Medium to long term measures include managing and better harvesting extreme rainfall on Continents such as Africa, alongside support to farmers for adopting more diversified and ecologically-friendly farming systems - ones that enhance the 'nature-based' inputs from pollinators such as bees as well as water supplies and genetic diversity.
A recent report by UNEP and the UN Conference on Trade and Development surveyed 114 small-scale farms in 24 African countries, publishing our findings in late 2008.
- Yields had more than doubled where organic, or near-organic practices had been used, with the in yield jumping to 128 per cent in east Africa.
- The study found that organic practices outperformed traditional methods and chemical-intensive conventional farming and also found strong environmental benefits such as improved soil fertility, better retention of water and resistance to drought.
The research also highlighted the role that adapting organic practices could have in improving local education and community cooperation.
A report launched by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in April 2007 also highlighted the key role of ecosystems in food production. The Rapid Food Assessment also follows the IAASTD report on sustainable agricultural production, which was co-produced by UNEP in 2008.
Only last week UNCTAD reported that, despite the economic crisis, organic agriculture would continue to grow, representing an opportunity for developing country farmers including those in Africa.
It estimated that sales of certified organic produce could reach close to $70 billion in 2012, up from $23 billion in 2002.
"We need a Green revolution in a Green Economy but one with a capital G", says UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. "We need to deal with not only the way the world produces food but the way it is distributed, sold and consumed, and we need a revolution that can boost yields by working with rather than against nature."
He said the report also shone a light on perhaps one of the least discussed areas - food waste, from the farm and the seas to the supermarket and the kitchen.
"Over half of the food produced today is either lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain. There is evidence within the report that the world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient while also ensuring the survival of wild animals, birds and fish on this planet," he added.
- Losses and food waste in the United States could be as high as 40-50 per cent, according to some recent estimates. Up to one quarter of all fresh fruits and vegetables in the US is lost between the field and the table.
- In Australia it is estimated that food waste makes up half of that country's landfill. Almost one-third of all food purchased in the United Kingdom every year is not eaten.
- Food losses in the developing world are also considerable, mainly due to spoilage and pests. For instance, in Africa, the total amount of fish lost through discards, post-harvest loss and spoilage may be around 30 per cent of landings.
- Food losses in the field between planting and harvesting could be as high as 20-40 per cent of the potential harvest in developing countries due to factors such as pests and pathogens.
This underlines the need for greater agricultural research and development which in Africa amounts to just 13 per cent of global investment, versus over 33 per cent in Latin America and over 40 per cent in Asia.
Innovative solutions are also required. A case in point is Niger where an estimated 60 per cent of the national onion crop, or some 3,000 tonnes a year, can be lost. The losses also lead to emissions of the greenhouse gas methane as the vegetables rot. Experts are looking at using solar dryers and other systems to preserve the onions so they do not rot in storage or on the way to market.
Environmental degradation poses a major risk to food production. For instance:
- The melting and disappearing glaciers of the mighty Himalayas, linked to climate change, supply water for irrigation for near half of Asia's cereal production or a quarter of the world production.
- Globally, water scarcity may reduce crop yields by up to 12 per cent. Climate change may also accelerate invasive pests of insects, diseases and weeds, reducing yields by an additional 2-6 per cent worldwide.
- Continuing land degradation, particularly in Africa, may reduce yields by another 1-8 per cent. Croplands may be swallowed up by urban sprawl, biofuels, cotton and land degradation by 8-20 per cent by 2050, and yields may become depressed by 5-25 per cent due to pests, water scarcity and land degradation.
- In Sub-Saharan Africa, population growth is projected to increase from the current 770 million to over 1.7 billion in less than 40 years, while also being the Continent on the front-line in terms of climate change, land degradation, water scarcity - and conflicts. Unless a major economic, agricultural and investment boom takes place, the situation may become very serious indeed.
- Increased use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, increased water use and cutting down of forests will result in massive decline in biodiversity.
Already, nearly 80 per cent of all endangered species are threatened due to agricultural expansion, and Europe has lost over 50 per cent of its farmland birds during the last 25 years of intensification of European farmlands.
"Simply ratcheting up the fertilizer and pesticide-led production methods of the 20th Century is unlikely to address the challenge", says Achim Steiner. "It will increasingly undermine the critical natural inputs and nature-based services for agriculture such as healthy and productive soils, the water and nutrient recycling of forests, and pollinators such as bees and bats."
The report 'The environmental food crisis: Environments role in averting future food crises' can be accessed at at www.unep.org or at www.grida.no including high and low resolution graphics for free use in publications.
The report is released during the 25th session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum taking place in Nairobi, Kenya from 16-20 February. The meeting's main focus is on finding solutions to the current environmental, financial, food and energy crisis through the emerging concept of Green Economy.
More information can be found online at: www.unep.org/gc/gc25
Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States and the nation's first African-American president Tuesday. This is a transcript of his prepared speech.
My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often, the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land -- a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the fainthearted -- for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path toward prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.
Time and again, these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions -- that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act -- not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions -- who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them -- that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works -- whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account -- to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day -- because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control -- and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our gross domestic product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart -- not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort -- even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages. We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment -- a moment that will define a generation -- it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends -- hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility -- a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence -- the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed -- why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent Mall, and why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested, we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back, nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.