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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

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  • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday January 14, @04:08PM

    by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday January 14, @04:08PM (#1212686)

    Is this really a narrative you want to push? My take is a far better example of the harm of transporting water is Owen's Valley in California.

    Yes. All the stories need to be told, and this is one I have actual firsthand experience in. When we bought our land on the Peace River, first day after closing we just laid down under the trees after lunch and rested. We had been on the land 100 times before, but never really stopped and just rested there. Something was making a big racket in the leaves just behind us, it wouldn't stop so eventually I went to see what it was and it turned out to be a little funny colored skink. I took a picture and looked him up on the internet later. Turns out his coloration nailed him down as a very specific species of skink with a known range that stopped about 100 miles north of where we observed him back in the woods. It's not surprising that a lizard is found outside its known range in Florida, but it does tell you something about the state of "science" and the description of the species. All it took to observe him was sitting quietly in the woods for 15 minutes, but I'd bet that no scientist had done that in that area in a long long time.

    If I wanted to tell a story of a massive hydrological fuckup, I don't have to leave Florida. Just lookup the Everglades Restoration Project, it's a slow motion train wreck 100+ years in the making, and they still aren't on a good course for making things even close to right. Just because the Myakka river basin is less than 5% the size of the Everglades doesn't make it less important. If anything, it needs more attention because it is representative of hundreds of similar situations scattered around the SouthEast US which all are basically ignored and unaddressed because they're "insignificant" compared to the poster-children ecological screwups.

    Basically, Los Angeles turned the place into a desert. Even if that situation continued for a thousand years, you won't see a lot of biodiversity.

    Desert has its own biodiversity, and being different from the environments we normally inhabit that diversity is, if anything, more important than making more habitat for golden retrievers and Holstein milk cows. I'm sure the people who lived in Owen's valley before the change could list a huge inventory of the value that was lost, and if my Grandfather's conspiracy theory that fusion power has been "in reach" since the 1960s but funding for its development has been suppressed by petro-energy concerns, then it is a true tragedy that Los Angeles was built on the desertfication of Owen's valley and so many other places like it, instead of being hydrated by fusion powered desalination plants.

    One of the biggest problems about man-made shifts in hydrology and similar bio-resources is that we are fleeting little flits in the bigger picture of evolutionary time. We may well start supplying Los Angeles' water from desalination by the 2050s, so then the "desert reset" in Owen's valley will have lasted just 100 years or so, long enough to wipe out the endemic species and push "reset" on evolutionary biology there that may take a million years to rebuild to something on the level of what it once was. Same for most of the U.S., really. South of the 49th parallel, we've wiped the continent clean down to maybe 1% "virgin" lands, except in the deserts and extreme swamps, and even they have huge problems from the changes that have taken place around them.

    Stocking a lake with Rainbow Trout and stocking a prarie with grazing cattle may look all rosy and productive, but it's not the same thing as naturally evolved communities. Will we ever "grow up" enough to not be afraid of large apex predators (lions, tigers and bears?) Probably not, and more's the shame for future generations.

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