Archive for the tag “farming”

George Monbiot: Soil the crisis to beat them all?

Tractor ploughing

War, pestilence, even climate change, are trifles by comparison. Destroy the soil and we all starve.
George Monbiot

Imagine a wonderful world, a planet on which there was no threat of climate breakdown, no loss of freshwater, no antibiotic resistance, no obesity crisis, no terrorism, no war. Surely, then, we would be out of major danger? Sorry. Even if everything else were miraculously fixed, we’re finished if we don’t address an issue considered so marginal and irrelevant that you can go for months without seeing it in a newspaper.

It’s literally and – it seems – metaphorically, beneath us. To judge by its absence from the media, most journalists consider it unworthy of consideration. But all human life depends on it. We knew this long ago, but somehow it has been forgotten. As a Sanskrit text written in about 1500BC noted: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”

The issue hasn’t changed, but we have. Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction so intense that, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world on average has just 60 more years of growing crops. Even in Britain, which is spared the tropical downpours that so quickly strip exposed soil from the land, Farmers Weekly reports, we have “only 100 harvests left”.

To keep up with global food demand, the UN estimates, 6m hectares (14.8m acres) of new farmland will be needed every year. Instead, 12m hectares a year are lost through soil degradation. We wreck it, then move on, trashing rainforests and other precious habitats as we go. Soil is an almost magical substance, a living system that transforms the materials it encounters, making them available to plants. That handful the Vedic master showed his disciples contains more micro-organisms than all the people who have ever lived on Earth. Yet we treat it like, well, dirt.

The techniques that were supposed to feed the world threaten us with starvation. A paper just published in the journal Anthropocene analyses the undisturbed sediments in an 11th-century French lake. It reveals that the intensification of farming over the past century has increased the rate of soil erosion sixtyfold.

Another paper, by researchers in the UK, shows that soil in allotments – the small patches in towns and cities that people cultivate by hand – contains a third more organic carbon than agricultural soil and 25% more nitrogen. This is one of the reasons why allotment holders produce between four and 11 times more food per hectare than do farmers.

Continue reading

Soil degradation: SAO Soils portal

Scientific American article: Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues

News update

Can Solar be the Backbone of Indias Energy System by 2035?
Tobias Engelmeier, The Energy Collective
Around 70% of India’s power comes from coal, less than 1% from solar. Will that change in the next 20 years? Can solar become the new backbone of the Indian energy system? I think there is a good possibility that it will. Here is a thought experiment.

Is Big Oil Finally Entering a Climate Change World?
Michael Klare, TomDispatch
Many reasons have been provided for the dramatic plunge in the price of oil to about $60 per barrel (nearly half of what it was a year ago): slowing demand due to global economic stagnation; overproduction at shale fields in the United States; the decision of the Saudis and other Middle Eastern OPEC producers to maintain output at current levels; and the increased value of the dollar. There is, however, one reason that’s not being discussed, and yet it could be the most important of all: the complete collapse of Big Oil’s production-maximizing business model.

Keep fossil fuels in the ground to stop climate change
George Monbiot
You cannot solve a problem without naming it. The absence of official recognition of the role of fossil fuel production in causing climate change – blitheringly obvious as it is – permits governments to pursue directly contradictory policies. There is nothing random about the pattern of silence that surrounds our lives. Silences occur where powerful interests are at risk of exposure. They protect these interests from democratic scrutiny.

Climate Justice and Degrowth: a tale of two movements
Tadzio Müller, Degrowth blog
While degrowth is a story that is largely articulated in the global North, a story that speaks from and to sensibilities that exist largely in the North, climate justice is a movement and a story that it articulated and led by folks in the global South.

Find a new way to tell the story how the Guardian launched its climate change campaign
The Guardian UK
Climate change is the biggest story journalism has never successfully told. The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, has decided to change that. This podcast series follows Rusbridger and his team as they set out to find a new narrative on the greatest threat to humanity

Peak meaninglessness
John Michael Greer
Secular stagnation? That’s the concept, unmentionable until recently, that the global economy could stumble into a rut of slow, no, or negative growth, and stay there for years. And the most important cause of secular stagnation is the increasing impact of externalities on the economy, hidden by dishonest macroeconomic bookkeeping that leads economists to think that externalized costs go away because they’re not entered into anyone’s ledger books.

Can the world get richer forever?
Theo Leggett, BBC News
We live on a finite planet, but growth is exponential. So an annual increase in gross domestic product (GDP) of 3% might not sound like much but it means an economy will double in size every 23 years. So does this matter? According to Tom Murphy, professor of physics at the University of California San Diego, it definitely does, as economic growth goes hand in hand with increasing energy consumption.

We need regenerative farming, not geoengineering
Charles Eisenstein
Geoengineering has been back in the news recently after the US National Research Council endorsed a proposal to envelop the planet in a layer of sulphate aerosols to reduce solar radiation and cool the atmosphere. The mindset behind geoengineering stands in sharp contrast to an emerging ecological, systems approach taking shape in the form of regenerative agriculture. More than a mere alternative strategy, regenerative agriculture represents a fundamental shift in our culture’s relationship to nature.

News update

Can Solar be the Backbone of Indias Energy System by 2035?
Tobias Engelmeier, The Energy Collective
Around 70% of India’s power comes from coal, less than 1% from solar. Will that change in the next 20 years? Can solar become the new backbone of the Indian energy system? I think there is a good possibility that it will. Here is a thought experiment.

Is Big Oil Finally Entering a Climate Change World?
Michael Klare, TomDispatch
Many reasons have been provided for the dramatic plunge in the price of oil to about $60 per barrel (nearly half of what it was a year ago): slowing demand due to global economic stagnation; overproduction at shale fields in the United States; the decision of the Saudis and other Middle Eastern OPEC producers to maintain output at current levels; and the increased value of the dollar. There is, however, one reason that’s not being discussed, and yet it could be the most important of all: the complete collapse of Big Oil’s production-maximizing business model.

Keep fossil fuels in the ground to stop climate change
George Monbiot
You cannot solve a problem without naming it. The absence of official recognition of the role of fossil fuel production in causing climate change – blitheringly obvious as it is – permits governments to pursue directly contradictory policies. There is nothing random about the pattern of silence that surrounds our lives. Silences occur where powerful interests are at risk of exposure. They protect these interests from democratic scrutiny.

Climate Justice and Degrowth: a tale of two movements
Tadzio Müller, Degrowth blog
While degrowth is a story that is largely articulated in the global North, a story that speaks from and to sensibilities that exist largely in the North, climate justice is a movement and a story that it articulated and led by folks in the global South.

Find a new way to tell the story how the Guardian launched its climate change campaign
The Guardian UK
Climate change is the biggest story journalism has never successfully told. The Guardian’s editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, has decided to change that. This podcast series follows Rusbridger and his team as they set out to find a new narrative on the greatest threat to humanity

Peak meaninglessness
John Michael Greer
Secular stagnation? That’s the concept, unmentionable until recently, that the global economy could stumble into a rut of slow, no, or negative growth, and stay there for years. And the most important cause of secular stagnation is the increasing impact of externalities on the economy, hidden by dishonest macroeconomic bookkeeping that leads economists to think that externalized costs go away because they’re not entered into anyone’s ledger books.

Can the world get richer forever?
Theo Leggett, BBC News
We live on a finite planet, but growth is exponential. So an annual increase in gross domestic product (GDP) of 3% might not sound like much but it means an economy will double in size every 23 years. So does this matter? According to Tom Murphy, professor of physics at the University of California San Diego, it definitely does, as economic growth goes hand in hand with increasing energy consumption.

We need regenerative farming, not geoengineering
Charles Eisenstein
Geoengineering has been back in the news recently after the US National Research Council endorsed a proposal to envelop the planet in a layer of sulphate aerosols to reduce solar radiation and cool the atmosphere. The mindset behind geoengineering stands in sharp contrast to an emerging ecological, systems approach taking shape in the form of regenerative agriculture. More than a mere alternative strategy, regenerative agriculture represents a fundamental shift in our culture’s relationship to nature.

Report: The Future of Food and Farming

This report by the UK Governments Foresight project looks at the increasing pressures on the global food system between now and 2050. Titled The Future of Food and Farming, it highlights the decisions that policy makers need to take today, and in the years ahead, to ensure that a global population rising to 9 billion or more can be fed in a fair and sustainable way.

The project focused on 5 challenges for the future:
-balancing future demand and supply sustainably to ensure that food supplies are affordable
-ensuring that there is stability in food prices and protecting the most vulnerable from the volatility that does occur
-achieving global access to food and ending hunger
recognising that producing enough food in the world so that everyone can potentially be fed is not the same thing as ensuring food security for all
-managing the contribution of the food system to the mitigation of climate change
-maintaining biodiversity and ecosystems while feeding the world

The project involved around 400 leading experts and stakeholders from about 35 countries across the world. It was overseen by a high level stakeholder group and lead expert group to make sure it included the most relevant evidence and its findings were of a high scientific standard.

Over 100 peer-reviewed evidence papers were commissioned to inform the analysis.

To learn more about the project and to download a copy of the report, click here.

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