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posted by martyb on Tuesday January 11, @04:47PM   Printer-friendly
from the Betteridge-says-"No" dept.

Can We Feed Billions of Ourselves Without Wrecking the Planet?

We are now producing more food more efficiently than ever, and there is plenty to go around for a human population of 7 billion. But it is coming at a drastic cost in environmental degradation, and the bounty is not reaching many people.

Sustainable Food Production, a new Earth Institute primer from Columbia University Press, explores how modern agriculture can be made more environmentally benign, and economically just. With population going to maybe 10 billion within 30 years, the time to start is now, the authors say.

The lead author is ecologist Shahid Naeem, director of the Earth Institute for Environmental Sustainability. He coauthored the book with former Columbia colleagues Suzanne Lipton and Tiff van Huysen.

This is an interesting interview with the author. Do you agree (or disagree) with his conclusions?

Columbia Climate School

[Also Covered By]: Phys.org


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  • (Score: 1) by fustakrakich on Thursday January 13, @04:45AM (17 children)

    by fustakrakich (6150) on Thursday January 13, @04:45AM (#1212328) Journal

    Ok, so you have to control the runoff too. I'm just saying a leaky water pipeline is less offensive than a leaky chemical pipeline. On the other hand, more agriculture puts more moisture into the air, and water vapor is a helluva greenhouse gas..

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  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Thursday January 13, @03:00PM (16 children)

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday January 13, @03:00PM (#1212418)

    Oh yeah, I'd much rather have potable, or near potable water leaking from a pipeline under my land than petrochemicals, or worse - and there are worse pipelines out there.

    However, the major irrigation projects that make those pretty green circles in the flyover states, many of them are not long-term sustainable and they're hurting the ecosystems they take the water from, and while you can argue that agriculture "improves" the ecosystem that gets irrigated, other than the people eating (and profiting from) the food, pretty much everything else that just got displaced by the agriculture is suffering, suffering hard on the farmland itself, and even around it.

    As for controlling runoff - they grow tomatoes by flooding the fields, we're talking about several (like 10+) feet of water being used over the course of a single crop, so 100 acres of tomatoes will consume ~1000 acre-feet of water in the space of a few months. One acre-foot is 325851 gallons. There's really not much way to deal with three hundred million gallons of runoff other than letting it flow into the existing streams and rivers.

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    • (Score: 1) by fustakrakich on Thursday January 13, @06:16PM (15 children)

      by fustakrakich (6150) on Thursday January 13, @06:16PM (#1212452) Journal

      There's really not much way to deal with three hundred million gallons of runoff other than letting it flow into the existing streams and rivers.

      Aren't they taking their water from those same streams and rivers?

      Our methods are not sustainable, the ideas are not. All water is ultimately just circulated, With the right priorities I'm sure we can put it anywhere we want without wrecking the planet

      --
      Ok, we paid the ransom. Do I get my dog back? REDЯUM
      • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Thursday January 13, @06:54PM (14 children)

        by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday January 13, @06:54PM (#1212479)

        Aren't they taking their water from those same streams and rivers?

        No, those are too unreliable as a water source, and far too visible when they run dry and agriculture is pulling water from them.

        They pull their water from underground - the Hawthorne aquifer in the case of Sarasota County where the Myakka problem is. The Hawthorne originates at the Okeefenokee swamp in Georgia and flows through limestone formations all the way down the state. Water from the Hawthorne is directly potable, it has some H2S content that makes it unpleasant when it first comes from the ground, but if you let is stand and offgas for an hour it is high quality drinking water without further treatment. They hook multiple 1000hp pumps to multiple 12" boreholes down to the 200-300' range and they suck the water out of the aquifer at such rates that where it used to flow out as natural springs, it will drop 15-20' below ground almost beyond the range of shallow (suction based) well pumps.

        While the citizens of Sarasota County are on water restrictions, only allowed to wash cars and water lawns on alternate days based on address and license plate number, building codes requiring low flow showerheads and won't completely flush in one try toilets, the tomatoes of Sarasota County are blowing water out of the same aquifer the people drink from at a higher rate than the people. Maybe more clearly: in a given year, Sarasota County puts more water on tomatoes than ALL of their citizens consume through municipal sources plus estimates of private (residential / non agricultural) well usage.

        With the right priorities I'm sure we can put it anywhere we want without wrecking the planet

        Yeah, except that the existing ecosystems have evolved over hundreds to millions of years, and when you go mucking about with one of their primary resources either too little or too much of it will unbalance the system which may or may not recover gracefully. Plus, any man-made change to the primary resource supplies is likely to be unreliable in the extreme, like warm water discharge from power plants providing safe winter haven for Manatees, until the plant shuts down in January and the Manatees sheltering there die of hypothermia before they can find a new safe harbor.

        One problem is that even the best scientists don't fully understand how ecosystems work, even today. A bigger problem is: even where the scientists do have practical understanding of the situation the businesses and politicians who mostly direct development don't care. Most "eco friendly" development legislation is used more for competitive advantage, creating a restricted supply of developable land driving prices & profits of available developments higher. Not to mention when it is pushed through by players holding resources that won't be impacted by new "eco friendly" rules to cut down on their present and future competition.

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        • (Score: 1) by fustakrakich on Thursday January 13, @06:58PM (13 children)

          by fustakrakich (6150) on Thursday January 13, @06:58PM (#1212484) Journal

          Most "eco friendly" development legislation is used more for competitive advantage, creating a restricted supply of developable land driving prices & profits of available developments higher. Not to mention when it is pushed through by players holding resources that won't be impacted by new "eco friendly" rules to cut down on their present and future competition.

          And we've circled back to corruption... the real problem

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          • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Thursday January 13, @08:28PM (12 children)

            by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday January 13, @08:28PM (#1212512)

            The problem I see in fixing corruption is that it's so damn much work for so little reward.

            I mean: who would bother getting into politics in the first place, unless they planned to profit from it?

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            • (Score: 1) by fustakrakich on Thursday January 13, @08:34PM (11 children)

              by fustakrakich (6150) on Thursday January 13, @08:34PM (#1212514) Journal

              who would bother getting into politics in the first place, unless they planned to profit from it?

              That issue is solved by conscription, like jury duty, in and out, nobody gets hurt

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              • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Thursday January 13, @08:38PM (10 children)

                by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday January 13, @08:38PM (#1212516)

                That was the Arthur C. Clarke solution - sounds nice, but would require significant restructuring to avoid the crackpot at the top problem, so recently demonstrated.

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                • (Score: 1) by fustakrakich on Thursday January 13, @09:00PM (9 children)

                  by fustakrakich (6150) on Thursday January 13, @09:00PM (#1212521) Journal

                  Without reelection, it will be a small problem, and besides, you will need a congress (half) full of them

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                  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday January 14, @03:24AM (8 children)

                    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday January 14, @03:24AM (#1212589)

                    I think about my neighbors, and I think the country could survive four years of most of them as President - most. That 1/100 is going to get in sometime and as bad as 2017-2020 was, it could have easily been much worse - and I know that 1/100 neighbor who could and likely would have made it worse.

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                    • (Score: 1) by fustakrakich on Friday January 14, @04:10AM (7 children)

                      by fustakrakich (6150) on Friday January 14, @04:10AM (#1212602) Journal

                      We really don't have to worry about that, a president has no power without a congress to back him up, and that we paralyze by keeping it conveniently divided right down the middle, but that just slows down the destruction a bit, it's still a "ship of fools", as the story goes

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                      • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday January 14, @02:24PM (6 children)

                        by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday January 14, @02:24PM (#1212666)

                        CinC of the armed forces? I know the people just under the cabinet were developing contingency plans for how to deflect an order to nuke China as the 2020 election was wrapping up, they didn't have really good legal ground to stand on, but regardless - that kind of chaos at the top severely undermines national security.

                        It could work with some structural changes, but even 1/3 of my neighbors between the ages of 35 and 60 would be as harmful to social progress as the orange trust fund baby was.

                        The current structures implement lots of (undesirable, but it's how it is) quid-pro-quo cooperation among the representatives. The representatives don't directly represent their electorate very well, but they do each represent certain power factions in the country - large businesses, etc. The shrub years (Bush W) showed what happens when one group (petrochem energy) gets a rapid boost in government representation. The blue party is just as much in the pockets of business, they just put up a better front about also trying to occasionally represent "the common man."

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                        • (Score: 1) by fustakrakich on Friday January 14, @08:34PM (5 children)

                          by fustakrakich (6150) on Friday January 14, @08:34PM (#1212755) Journal

                          CinC of the armed forces?

                          Technically only congress can declare war, and theoretically they can impeach and remove a president that violates the rules.

                          It could work with some structural changes, but even 1/3 of my neighbors between the ages of 35 and 60 would be as harmful to social progress as the orange trust fund baby was.

                          Exactly, the corruption is much closer to home than it appears (takes corrupt voters to reelect corrupt politicians), but we still put them on juries, so why not give 'em a whack at politics? But without the perks...

                          --
                          Ok, we paid the ransom. Do I get my dog back? REDЯUM
                          • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Saturday January 15, @01:11AM (4 children)

                            by JoeMerchant (3937) on Saturday January 15, @01:11AM (#1212816)

                            Check out what all Obama did without declaring war.

                            I don't know that the voters all know what they're voting for. I'd be surprised if even half know what the candidates they're voting for do, much less their stated policy stances or voting records.

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                            • (Score: 1) by fustakrakich on Saturday January 15, @01:51AM (3 children)

                              by fustakrakich (6150) on Saturday January 15, @01:51AM (#1212831) Journal

                              Check out what all Obama did without declaring war.

                              Obama/Bush/Reagan... Because congress allows it, but they don't have to. We have the tools to prevent all this, just takes the simple will to apply them

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                              • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Sunday January 16, @05:51PM (2 children)

                                by JoeMerchant (3937) on Sunday January 16, @05:51PM (#1213172)

                                Because congress allows it, but they don't have to.

                                Um... the law as it was taught to me is that the President has authority to take military action, but not to declare war.

                                Congress ultimately controls the budget, the only way for Congress to stop the President from taking unilateral "less than war" military actions is to defund the military, or rewrite the laws as they have been since Vietnam.

                                Vietnam (I believe) was a result of Congress giving even MORE power to the President through the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, etc. which they finally took back after Nixon resigned.

                                Of course, the system is "flexible" enough to reshape itself into anything on sustained support of a massive majority of the electorate - historically, we haven't shut down Presidential authority to take global military action - ever.

                                Can you imagine requiring Congressional approval to launch ICBMs with nuclear warheads? So far, no superpower has implemented anything like that.

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                                • (Score: 1) by fustakrakich on Sunday January 16, @06:15PM (1 child)

                                  by fustakrakich (6150) on Sunday January 16, @06:15PM (#1213181) Journal

                                  Can you imagine requiring Congressional approval to launch ICBMs with nuclear warheads?

                                  Well, I do know that we should never let just one person decide to launch. With sane people at the helm, the lead up to war is very slow, and even insane people can't hide much. Right now, we are way too permissive with that kind of authority

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                                  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Sunday January 16, @10:41PM

                                    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Sunday January 16, @10:41PM (#1213267)

                                    Dr. Strangelove assured us that the chain of command could not be subverted like shown in the movie.

                                    There was a Russian field officer back in the 1980s (I think) who subverted chain of command and procedure to NOT launch when all his orders told him to do so.

                                    Neither of these situations address the "madman at the top" scenario. In 2020 the madman ordered an underling to go ride herd on a Carrier captain, and the underling did so - then resigned after he thought better of the situation (possibly after his PR team told him it would be to his advantage to do so), but in any event - the moment of sanity came far after the transit time of an ICBM,

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