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Bumper 2011 Grain Harvest Fails to Rebuild Global Stocks

This post is by Janet Larsen, Director of Research at the Earth Policy Institute. The world’s farmers produced more grain in 2011 than ever before. Estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show the global grain harvest coming in at 2,295 million tons, up 53 million tons from the previous record in 2009. Consumption grew by 90 million tons over the same period to 2,280 million tons. Yet with global grain production actually falling short of consumption in 7 of the past 12 years, stocks remain worryingly low, leaving the world vulnerable to food price shocks. Nearly half the calories …

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Rising Meat Consumption Takes Big Bite out of Grain Harvest

World consumption of animal protein is everywhere on the rise. Meat consumption increased from 44 million tons in 1950 to 284 million tons in 2009, more than doubling annual consumption per person to over 90 pounds. The rise in consumption of milk and eggs is equally dramatic. Wherever incomes rise, so does meat consumption. As the oceanic fish catch and rangeland beef production have both leveled off, the world has shifted to grain-based production of animal protein to expand output. With some 35 percent of the world grain harvest (760 million tons) used to produce animal protein, meat consumption has …

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Troubling Health Trends Holding Back Progress on Life Expectancy

By Brigid Fitzgerald Reading People born today will live for 68 years on average, 20 years longer than those born in 1950. By the mid-twentieth century, industrial countries had already made major strides in extending lifespans with improvements in sanitation, nutrition, and public health. After World War II, rapid gains in life expectancy in developing countries began to narrow the gap between these nations and industrial countries. Although average life expectancy worldwide continues to increase, gains have come more slowly in the last few decades. Worryingly, life expectancy has actually declined in some developing countries, while a few industrial countries …

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Demographics loom large in state failure

After a half-century of forming new states from former colonies and from the breakup of the Soviet Union, the international community is today faced with the opposite situation: the disintegration of states. Failing states are now a prominent feature of the international political landscape. The most systematic ongoing effort to analyze countries’ vulnerability to failure is one undertaken by the Fund for Peace and published in each July/August issue of Foreign Policy. The research team analyzes 177 countries and ranks them according to “their vulnerability to violent internal conflict and societal deterioration,” based on 12 social, economic, and political indicators. …

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Don’t let Solyndra fool you: Solar PV is on fire

This post was written by J. Matthew Roney, research associate for the Earth Policy Institute. Additional resources at http://www.earth-policy.org. Solar photovoltaic (PV) companies manufactured a record 24,000 megawatts (MW) of PV cells worldwide in 2010, more than doubling their 2009 output. Annual PV production has grown nearly 100-fold since 2000, when just 277 MW of cells were made. Newly installed PV also set a record in 2010, as 16,600 MW were installed in more than 100 countries. This brought the total worldwide capacity of solar PV to nearly 40,000 MW -- enough to power 14 million European homes. Made of …

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Population facts and figures at your fingertips

This post is by Brigid Fitzgerald Reading, staff researcher at the Earth Policy Institute. The number of people in the world is expected to reach 7 billion by the end of October 2011. Our rate of increase continues to slow from the high point of over 2 percent in 1968. Still, this year’s 1.1 percent increase means some 78 million people will be added to the global population in 2011. The human population did not reach 1 billion until the early nineteenth century, and it took more than 100 years to reach 2 billion. After that, the intervals between billions …

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Two Stories of Disease: Smallpox and Polio

Smallpox plagued humanity for thousands of years. In the 18th century, smallpox killed one out of every ten children in France and Sweden. Over the 20th century, the virus caused between 300 and 500 million deaths worldwide. No effective treatment was ever developed. The eradication of this devastating disease is one of public health’s greatest achievements. It involved mass vaccinations and surveillance to track and contain outbreaks. In 1977, ten years after the World Health Organization (WHO) began an intensive eradication program, the last naturally occurring case of smallpox was identified in Somalia. And on May 8, 1980, the World …

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Grain Production Falling as Soil Erosion Continues

The thin layer of topsoil that covers much of the earth’s land surface is the foundation of civilization. As long as soil erosion on cropland does not exceed new soil formation, all is well. But once it does, it leads to falling soil fertility and eventually to land abandonment. As countries lose their topsoil through overgrazing, overplowing, or deforestation, they eventually lose the capacity to feed themselves. Among those facing this problem are Lesotho, Haiti, Mongolia, and North Korea. Lesotho, one of Africa’s smallest countries with only 2 million people, is paying a heavy price for its soil losses. A …

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Shining a light on energy efficiency

Our inefficient, carbon-based energy economy threatens to irreversibly disrupt the Earth’s climate. Averting dangerous climate change and the resultant crop-shrinking heat waves, more-destructive storms, accelerated sea level rise, and waves of climate refugees means cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020. The first key component of the Earth Policy Institute’s climate stabilization plan is to systematically raise the efficiency of the world energy economy. One of the quickest ways to increase efficiency, cut carbon emissions, and save money is simply to change light bulbs. Some 19 percent of world electricity demand goes to lighting. The carbon emissions generated by this …

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Growing Goat Herds Signal Global Grassland Decline

After the earth was created, soil formed slowly over geological time from the weathering of rocks. It began to support early plant life, which protected and enriched it until it became the topsoil that sustains the diversity of plants and animals we know today. Now the world’s ever-growing herds of cattle, sheep, and goats are converting vast stretches of grassland to desert. One indicator that helps us assess grassland health is changes in the goat population relative to those of sheep and cattle. As grasslands deteriorate, grass is typically replaced by desert shrubs. In such a degraded environment, cattle and …

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