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all you can eat

Rethinking food production for a world of 8 billion

In April 2005, the World Food Programme and the Chinese government jointly announced that food aid shipments to China would stop at the end of the year. For a country where a generation ago hundreds of millions of people were chronically hungry, this was a landmark achievement. Not only has China ended its dependence on food aid, but almost overnight it has become the world’s third largest food aid donor. The key to China’s success was the economic reforms in 1978 that dismantled its system of agricultural collectives, known as production teams, and replaced them with family farms. In each …

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Our Oil Obsessed Civilization

The oil intensity of food

Today we are an oil-based civilization, one that is totally dependent on a resource whose production will soon be falling. Since 1981, the quantity of oil extracted has exceeded new discoveries by an ever-widening margin. In 2008, the world pumped 31 billion barrels of oil but discovered fewer than 9 billion barrels of new oil. World reserves of conventional oil are in a free fall, dropping every year. As I note in my latest book Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, discoveries of conventional oil total roughly 2 trillion barrels, of which 1 trillion have been extracted so far, …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Destructive Storms are Sucking Financial Resources Dry

A warming world means more destructive storms

Elevated global temperatures bring a number of threats, including rising seas and more crop-withering heat waves. Higher surface water temperatures in the tropical oceans also provide more energy to drive tropical storm systems, leading to more-destructive hurricanes and typhoons. The combination of rising seas, more powerful storms, and stronger storm surges can be devastating. As noted in my most recent book, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, just how devastating this combination can be became evident in late August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina came onshore on the U.S. Gulf Coast near New Orleans. In some Gulf Coast towns, Katrina’s …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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The Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in the summer by 2030, or sooner.

Melting ice could lead to massive waves of climate refugees

As the earth warms, the melting of the earth’s two massive ice sheets—Antarctica and Greenland—could raise sea level enormously. If the Greenland ice sheet were to melt, it would raise sea level 7 meters (23 feet). Melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet would raise sea level 5 meters (16 feet). But even just partial melting of these ice sheets will have a dramatic effect on sea level rise. Senior scientists are noting that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections of sea level rise during this century of 18 to 59 centimeters are already obsolete and that a …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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When population growth and resource availability collide

Many political conflicts stem from undue population pressure on water and grasslands

As land and water become scarce, competition for these vital resources intensifies within societies, particularly between the wealthy and those who are poor and dispossessed. The shrinkage of life-supporting resources per person that comes with population growth is threatening to drop the living standards of millions of people below the survival level, leading to potentially unmanageable social tensions. Access to land is a prime source of social tension. Expanding world population has cut the grainland per person in half, from 0.23 hectares in 1950 to 0.10 hectares in 2007. One-tenth of a hectare is half of a building lot in …

Read more: Politics

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The potential of high-speed rail

Restructuring the U.S. transport system

Aside from the overriding need to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to stabilize climate, there are several other compelling reasons for countries everywhere to restructure their transport systems, including the need to prepare for falling oil production, to alleviate traffic congestion, and to reduce air pollution. The U.S. car-centered transportation model, with three cars for every four people, that much of the world aspires to will not likely be viable over the long term even for the United States, much less for everywhere else. The shape of future transportation systems centers around the changing role of the automobile. This in …

Read more: Cities

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Moving to a stable world population

We must strive to meet the U.N.'s low population projection of 8 billion by 2041

Some 43 countries around the world now have populations that are either essentially stable or declining slowly. In countries with the lowest fertility rates, including Japan, Russia, Germany, and Italy, populations will likely decline somewhat over the next half-century. A larger group of countries has reduced fertility to the replacement level or just below. They are headed for population stability after large numbers of young people move through their reproductive years. Included in this group are China and the United States. A third group of countries is projected to more than double their populations by 2050, including Ethiopia, the Democratic …

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Building green

'Plan B' efficiency and conservation measures drop energy demand by 2020

Projections from the International Energy Agency show global energy demand growing by close to 30 percent by 2020, setting the stage for massive growth in the carbon dioxide emissions that are warming our planet. But dramatically ramping up energy efficiency would allow the world to not only avoid growth in energy demand but also actually reduce global demand to below 2006 levels by 2020. We can reduce the amount of energy we use by preventing the waste of heat and electricity in buildings and industrial processes and by switching to efficient lighting and appliances. We can also save an enormous …

Read more: Cities

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A massive market failure

The ‘invisible hand’ is blind to climate externalities and the value of natural resources

When Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank, released his ground-breaking study in late 2006 on the future costs of climate change, he talked about a massive market failure. He was referring to the failure of the market to incorporate the climate change costs of burning fossil fuels. The costs, he said, would be measured in the trillions of dollars. The difference between the market prices for fossil fuels and the prices that also incorporate their environmental costs to society are huge. The roots of our current dilemma lie in the enormous growth of the human enterprise over …

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Invested interests

Create jobs, cut emissions, and reduce oil imports by investing in renewables and energy efficiency

Originally posted at earthpolicy.org ----- At a time when major U.S. companies are announcing job layoffs almost daily, the renewable energy industry is hiring new workers every day to build wind farms, install rooftop solar arrays, and build solar thermal and geothermal power plants. The output of industrial firms that manufacture the equipment for these energy facilities is expanding by well over 30 percent a year. These investments both create jobs and help prevent climate change from spiraling out of control. Among the several sources of renewable energy, wind looms large. The United States has 24,000 megawatts of wind generating …

Read more: Climate & Energy