Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Food, The Environment, and Civilization in Peril

We desperately need a new way of thinking, a new mind-set. The thinking that got us into this bind will not get us out. When Elizabeth Kolbert, a writer for the New Yorker, asked energy guru Amory Lovins about thinking outside the box, Lovins responded: "There is no box."

There is no box. That is the mind-set we need if civilization is to survive.

These are the concluding words of an essay Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization? published in the May 2009 Scientific American. The author, Lester Brown, heralded as "one of the world's most influential thinkers" is deeply concerned about the direction of our food, fuel and environmental policies. He writes that, "[o]ur continuing failure to deal with the environmental declines that are undermining the world food economy—most important, falling water tables, eroding soils and rising temperatures—forces me to conclude that such a collapse is possible."

In this thought-provoking essay, Brown notes our inability to increase food production on par with increases in population and highlights the stress that this causes on societies that are already in turmoil. Demand for grain stocks for human food now competes with other less efficient uses - fuel and livestock feed for meat production. Water shortages, soil losses and rising temperatures from global warming are placing severe limits on food production, and they are getting worse. Brown advocates for urgent action to stem these three environmental emergencies before it is too late.

He lays out the framework for his plan - Plan B.

Similar in scale and urgency to the U.S. mobilization for World War II, Plan B has four components: a massive effort to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent from their 2006 levels by 2020; the stabilization of the world’s population at eight billion by 2040; the eradication of poverty; and the restoration of forests, soils and aquifers.

A significant agenda, no doubt. I encourage all to read this sobering assessment and to consider "there is no box."


Blogger Unknown said...

Although I found the "Plan B" comprehensive - the population stabilization element fails to go far enough. Even with a stable world population, I fear that the increasing industrialization and "consumerization" of the developing countries (what the plan refers to a "eradication of poverty") will erode all the gains of the other factors. The greening of the planet may result in even more people, just as the widening of a freeway results in even more traffic. We need fewer people so that our green efforts can reverse the damage and bring sufficient resources for a quality of life to all.

5/05/2009 3:50 PM  
Anonymous rumela lony said...

This blog is so helpful. I like your information. This is quite different from the radical innovations of industrialized nutritionism that have separated us from food, the environment, and healthful living. I love Pollan's advice to shop the perimeters of supermarkets middles as much as possible. thank you for shearing your post.

5/29/2009 9:04 AM  
Blogger Lauren said...

I have heard that if 6 billion of us were to live at the standards of a United States citizen, we would need six earths to provide enough resources. Obviously, privileged people are going to have to learn how to make do with less, if we are going to achieve sustainability.

6/09/2009 11:58 AM  
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