At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for everyone

Population7billion(Click to enlarge)

On the one hand, these three numbers: 3 billion people in 1960, 7 billion in 2014, whose half, 3’5 billion, are living in cities. On the other, the obvious: major climate change shook the world during this period.

For many demographers, the comparison is not relevant. But not for everyone. In France, Jacques Véron, a researcher at the National Institute of Demographic Studies, is working to cross population factors, lifestyle and technical progress. He explains that one way to link digitally the population to the environment is to estimate the « carrying capacity ». We are talking, for example, of the capacity of a sheep herd, that is to say, its size limited to and fro which it can no longer live in the area it has chosen without devastate and therefore suffer. Applied to humanity, what is the capacity of the latter on the Earth, to and fro which, life is no longer possible? At what point there will be too many people chasing too few resources? Fear of overflow and its implications for the future of mankind on Earth is not new. What does say Malthus in 1803 of « A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labour »? He is simply in the way, unwelcome. The formula is famous. It is lapidary: « At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. »

And what happens, says Malthus, if, on the contrary, « these guests get up and make room for him»? Well, in that case, « the happiness of the guests is destroyed by the spectacle of misery and dependence in every part of the hall. »

Jacques Veron seizes this parable of the feast that defends the legitimacy of the populations to consume regardless of the following, to overthrow it. And he contrasts his definition of sustainable development that encourages, instead, to consider the rights of future generations. The overflow –let us remember— the great fear of the mid-twentieth century, « 700 millions de Chinois. Et moi ? Et moi ? Et moi ? »(*). The planet is then in and extensive demographic explosion. Specialists made therefore some calculations and projections that are downright frightening. In 1972 a report by the MIT, on behalf of the Club of Rome, warned about the population growth, a threat to the future of humankind, and as it could ultimately lead to a depletion of resources. It is urgent to stop it.

Fifteen years later, in 1987, the famous Brundtland Report came into the light, in preparation for the Earth Summit. It also called for stabilizing the population at 6,000,000,000. But despite political birth control (especially in China), despite the ongoing demographic transition, that number will be exceeded by 7 billion in 2014, and is expected to reach nearly 10 billion in 2050 and this time … carrying capacity could reach its limit.

One has the feeling that in spite of all these data, the reports are not obvious.
In the 1960s, biologist Paul R. Ehrlich published « The Population Bomb ». It refocuses the environmental question on the issue of population pressure. It leads to conclusions that are not very humanistic, for example, sterilization. Since, in fact, demographers have not been much engaged in the environmental issue as a result of the discrediting of their « anti-humanism». Emmanuel Todd or Hervé Le Bras, only belatedly became interested in these issues, even though environment plays a fundamental role in demography.

As for environmentalists, are they being taken sufficiently into account the concern on population growth? Is there a population problem? If you look at the history of mankind as a trajectory, the last two millennia, people have just about doubled; when in the space of a century, the twentieth, it was multiplied by 6, a sudden acceleration peak in the pace … but then what is the figure of a « normal » population? This calculation depends on scholar lifestyles, available technology, populations’ dispersals, social innovations, wealth sharing, and many other phenomena, well … that give rise to the most fanciful figures on the future. Most likely, it seems, is that around 10 billion. For the moment at least…

But the population is not evenly distributed across the Planet territory. There is a difference here between overcrowding in urban areas and the overall volume of people on Earth.
Urban crowding is a reality: there are local problems of overpopulation, but at the same time this does not imply the existence of a global problem of population growth. The problem is the way of life (we pollute too much, we are consuming too much energy), not the number. This is a « cultural » problem —the well-known « ecological footprint »— that should be fixed. Taking as an example the problem of global warming, and therefore a problem that is not « local », the British environmentalist James Lovelock believes that overpopulation and climate change are two sides of a same coin. However, the most populated regions are not those that emit the most greenhouse gas emissions, but the richest and/or in high-growth regions. The United States has plenty of space for little people —and it is among the largest emitters.

The problem is not how many we are, but how we live. This is a question of social organization, and again, of management and usage of land and resources.

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(*) A well know French song by Jacques Dutronc

Livestock, Meat and human health

LIVESTOCK is itself a risk factor for our health. Industrial production systems have long been the norm in developed countries and are becoming more prevalent in developing countries. The huge number of animals kept in confinement, with a very low genetic variability, and subject to rapid growth in appalling conditions, creates ideal conditions for the emergence and spread of new pathogens.

Not to mention the scandals in the food industry: BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), growth hormones, bird flu, foot and mouth disease…

Some scenes from the movie Samsara on factory farming became the norm in so-called advanced countries

Thus, modern livestock production systems are incubators for viruses, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli, and other proponents of “flu” of all kinds. As one FAO survey reports: “It is not surprising that three-quarters of new pathogens affecting humans in the last decade come from animals or animal products.”

Consumption of red meat damages health

The consumption of meat has the effect of increasing the prevalence of the following diseases: cancers (colon, prostate, bowel, rectum), cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, obesity, hypertension, osteoporosis, type 2 [10] diabetes, impaired cognitive functions, gallstones, rheumatoid arthritis.

“Various factors seem to pose a problem in red meat. Including Iron plays an oxidizing role, promoting inflammatory diseases and aging when present in excessive amounts, especially in men or postmenopausal women. Fats present in red meat, saturated majority or omega-6, may also play a role, “says the website La Nutrition.fr.

The meat is carcinogenic

The Global Fund for Cancer Research presented in 2010 a detailed 7000 clinical studies on the links between diet and cancer examination. It shows that processed meats may be hazardous to human consumption and are strongly linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Processed meats (ham, bacon, sausage, pepperoni, salami, and almost all meat present in dishes such as pizza, lasagna or ravioli) are usually manufactured with a carcinogenic ingredient sodium nitrate. Sodium nitrate is used primarily as a coloring that makes us believe that the meat is fresh. However, sodium nitrate (saltpeter or Chile) combines with the meat proteins to give nitrosamines, highly carcinogenic.

A study conducted by the University of Hawaii in 2005 found that eating processed meat increased the risk of pancreatic cancer by 67%, while another study showed it increased the risk of colorectal cancer 50 %!

Other food additive added monosodium glutamate or MSG (E621). Present in virtually all processed meat products, it would be linked to neurological disorders such as migraine, Alzheimer’s disease, loss of appetite control, obesity …

Eating meat is not essential

Contrary to popular belief, the products of animal origin are not essential to human health. The joint position of American and Canadian dietitians, released in 2003, made a good summary of this reality. These two organizations, which include 70,000 dietitians, endorsed that “vegetarian diets (including vegan) conducted properly, are good for health, nutritionally adequate and beneficial for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. ” This position of the American Dietetic Association was reaffirmed in 2009.

In addition, the service sector of our society and our way of life increasingly sedentary no longer justifies the consumption of meat.

It is in the rich countries as consumption of animal products is strongest, a situation which does not meet any nutritional need and cause catastrophic environmental damage. But farming is supported there by significant public funding …

UN climate talks Get-up-and-go!

summit-banner-668-enAmbition and transformation needed

The one-day United Nations Climate Summit wrapped up in New York. They were held to lead up to meetings in Lima and Paris. What for? What needs to happen next?

• The results of the summit.

The climate summit in New York on Tuesday (23.09.2014), was supposed to prepare climate negotiations scheduled for later this year in Lima, Peru, and then in Paris next year.

Some of the top-line initiatives that were launched and discussed were a mayor’s compact to reduce emissions by up to 16 percent. We heard about forests, improving supply chains, reducing deforestation, helping half a billion farmers.

We heard oil and gas companies committing to curb methane. We heard the finance sector talking about investing $200 billion in low-carbon economies. We heard about an inspiring, Africa green clean energy corridor.

So what we saw is countries of the world coming together, putting their commitments on the table and saying: In some ways, these are things we have to do anyway, but we want to show our willingness and our commitment to fight climate change together.

Every region, every country is coming with tailored country-specific or region-specific solutions for those sets of particular climate challenges – but everybody is coming with something. There’s a great recognition, like the secretary general said, « all hands on deck. » Everything that we have is needed.

It was inspiring, but it’s not enough, from a scientific perspective. The kinds of commitments that were put on the table on Tuesday [23.09.2014] were not binding. They are the tip of the iceberg in terms of the ambition needed. They certainly set the trajectory in a positive direction. We need much, much more ambitious commitment moving forward in order to maintain a safe operating space for humanity.

• Pledges aren’t binding yet.

There have been a few pledges, and world leaders said they would dedicate some $5 billion to make the world more sustainable.

What you see at the climate summit is countries, companies – the power players of the world – coming together and voluntarily putting things on the table. This is not a negotiation, it’s not binding. The purpose of the summit is to create public awareness and to create a public space where countries aren’t negotiating, so it’s a little bit more of a safe space for countries to come and have a positive showcase for the good they are doing.

• Later negotiations, in Lima

The purpose of the climate summit is to create an open space where countries can come, put their own voluntary commitments to fight climate change on the table, let the media talk about it, raise ambition, and then go into the negotiation space in the UNFCCC starting in couple of weeks in Bonn, leading to Lima, leading to Paris, where we hope to have a legally binding, international climate agreement in 2015.

• Remodeling main polluters policies

After years of avoiding commitments, the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters – the United States and China – seem to be ready to change their policies. Obama spoke of a « special responsibility to lead » and China vowed to stop the rise of carbon dioxide emissions as soon as possible. These are rather condescending statements. Will this translate to binding commitments in the future?

The role of US and China leadership can’t be underscored enough – it is so important. There is a difference between statements that are made to the media in a public space like the climate summit, and what will become hopefully a legally binding agreement.

But the comments by Obama and the top climate leader in China are really important in setting the trajectory. It’s not clear how that’s going to translate into a climate agreement next year in Paris, but it’s a really, really important signal. The mood was definitely upbeat after the US and China made their speeches.

• Say the UN climate summit in New York was indeed successful?

It was a success in terms of bringing world leaders together – it was an unprecedented number of world leaders, 120 coming together around climate change, and we’re talking prime minister, presidents, the very top country leadership – so in that way it was a big success. Also the involvement of other key players – cities, companies – it was very positive in that way.

• After the many climate negotiations, is there a new global momentum to fight climate change now?

The climate negotiations have been going on for more than 20 years, but particularly over the last few years, public awareness and government engagement around climate has grown significantly, and that’s a positive thing. One of the dangers we face is, however, that climate change becomes the new normal, and that we get into a cycle of managing crises. What we need now is systematic, ambitious, transformation of our energy systems, our lifestyles. We need to be making a very fundamental kind of shift.

There is momentum, but we need to see new ways of doing, new ways of thinking about things – doing things at a different scale, definitely with a new scale of finance. We are not there yet. What we really have to do is get out of « business as usual » and see some very ambitious leadership in the direction of transformation.

Measuring different dimensions of food security

food-security1Food security in terms of the prevalence of undernourishment indicator is a measure of dietary energy deprivation. As a standalone indicator, the prevalence of undernourishment indicator is not able to capture the complexity and multidimensionality of food security, as defined by the 2009 Declaration of the World Summit on Food Security: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

Based on this definition, four food security dimensions can be identified: food availability, economic and physical access to food, food utilization and stability (vulnerability and shocks) over time. Each food security dimension is described by specific indicators. Measuring the complexity of food security is part of a broader debate that currently takes place in the preparation process of the post-2015 development agenda.

Food security and its four dimensions

Stability: exposure to short-term risks may endanger long-term progress

Two types of indicator have been identified to measure the extent and exposure to risk. Key indicators for exposure to risk include the area equipped for irrigation, which provides a measure of the extent of exposure to climatic shocks such as droughts, and the share of food imports in total merchandise exports, which captures the adequacy of foreign exchange reserves to pay for food imports. A second group of indicators captures risks or shocks that directly affect food security, such as swings in food and input prices, production and supply. The suite of indicators covers a number of stability measures, including an indicator of political instability available from the World Bank.

A thorough and comprehensive review of stability measures is not possible here because of space constraints.

The content that follows takes a limited and more focused look at two important aspects of stability, namely those that pertain to food supply and food price stability.

The recent vagaries of international food markets have moved vulnerability to food insecurity to the forefront of the food policy debate. However, newly available data on changes in consumer prices for food suggest that the changes in prices on international commodity markets may have had less impact on consumer prices than initially expected. Where world price shocks induced high domestic volatility, food producers risked losing the inputs and capital they had invested. The low capacity of small-scale producers, such as smallholder farmers, to cope with large swings in input and output prices makes them risk-averse, lowers their propensity to adopt and invest in new technologies and ultimately results in lower overall production.

Together with swings in prices, food supplies have seen larger-than-normal variability in recent years. However, there is also evidence that production variability is lower than price variability, and that consumption variability is smaller than both production and price variability. Among the main regions, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced the widest fluctuation in food supply since 1990, while variability has been smaller in Asia. Variability in food production per capita was greatest in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.

The vulnerability dimension of food security is increasingly cast in the context of climate change. The number of extreme events such as droughts, floods and hurricanes has increased in recent years, as has the unpredictability of weather patterns, leading to substantial losses in production and lower incomes in vulnerable areas. Changeable weather patterns have played a part in increasing food price levels and variability. Smallholder farmers, cotters and poor consumers have been particularly badly affected by these sudden changes.

Climate change may play an even more prominent role in the coming decades. Mitigating its impacts and preserving natural resources will be major objectives, especially in connection with the management of land, water, soil nutrients and genetic resources. Improved management of natural resources should focus on reducing variability in agricultural outputs and increasing resilience to shocks and long-term climate change.

The pressing need to improve natural resources management extends well beyond agriculture. Forests and trees outside forests play a large part in protecting soil and water resources. They promote soil fertility, regulate climate and provide habitat for wild pollinators and the predators of agricultural pests. They can help stabilize agricultural output and provide protection from extreme weather events.

According to FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2010, 48 percent of the world’s forests (330 million hectares) are managed specifically to address soil and water conservation objectives. They not only provide a wide range of nutritious foods on a regular basis, but they also help protect access to food in the form of dietary supplements during times of poor yields, natural calamities and economic hardships.

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Read the full report at this link http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3434e/i3434e.pdf

The garbage orchestra from Paraguay

« The world sends us garbage – we send back music ». That’s the motto of Favio Chavez. He opened a music school in Cateura on the outskirts of the Paraguayan capital Asunción. There’s no money for instruments – but no shortage of refuse in the neighbourhood.

Gomez turns the garbage into violins, guitars, cellos and other musical instruments. The orchestra he started has had invitations to perform around the world. A documentary film about the project called « Landfill Harmonic » has received backing from crowd funding.

Cateura exists virtually on top of a landfill site where residents make their livings recycling and selling other people’s rubbish.

Situated along the banks of the Paraguay River, 1,500 tons of waste is dumped in the area each day.
But despite the critical levels of pollution and the threat to their health residents of Cateura manage to find the most positive of uses for the rubbish.

Inspired to do something to help the inpoverished families, Chávez began using the trash in the landfill to create instruments for the children.

« One day it occurred to me to teach music to the children of the recyclers and use my personal instruments, » explains 36 year-old Chávez, who worked as an ecological technician at the landfill.

« But it got to the point that there were too many students and not enough supply. So that’s when I decided to experiment and try to actually create a few. »

Pleas but no progress at COP19 climate talks

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PRELIMINARIES OF THE UN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE IN WARSAW

climate change34

The climate conference in Warsaw began under the shadow of last week’s disaster in the Philippines. But despite passionate appeals, the conference moves into its second week without any significant progress.

« There is no Planet B », « leave the coal in the hole » outdoors demonstrators shouted. A number of technicalities are to be sorted out in advance, so that the ministers – due to arrive in Warsaw on Tuesday 19 November – will be left with deals in which only political questions are still up for debate.

Time to show up the records

There are still plenty of issues to address on a technical level, too. Work is being done, but there are no concrete results to report yet. Not everyone sees it this way. Switzerland’s negotiator Franz Perrez expressed deep frustration with the progress made in the first week. « We began the conference with a strong appeal that we should not continue business as usual, and that we have to move towards concrete decisions,  » he said. « Too often we were moving back to traditional finger-pointing, and not searching for solutions.  »

Disagreement on criteria

This is the situation ahead of the global climate agreement, due at a climate conference in Paris in two years’ time, when all countries – both industrialized and non-industrialized – will be expected to put figures on the table and declare by how much they intend to reduce their carbon emissions.

Discussions about fundamental criteria are already being held in Warsaw. Delegates are trying to come to a common understanding on criteria such as which year will be used as a point of reference for emissions targets, and how the tonnage of carbon emissions will be calculated. And there are plenty of disagreements.

Delaying tactics: Brazil looks set to delay an agreement

Brazil, for instance, wants the historical responsibility of the industrialized countries to be taken into account. Their industries, so their argument goes, have been releasing carbon into the atmosphere since the end of the 18th century – much longer than industries in the developing world. But the European Union suspects that this argument is untruthful.

From the EU perspective there is no problem with discussing historical emissions, but there are a number of serious procedural and substantive concerns with this proposal, since historic emission rates would then serve as the only indicator in this equation. With that, the proposal poses a very serious risk of delaying the agreement beyond 2015, because of the time that would be needed to develop the indicator and then apply it to parties’ commitments.

Even though Brazil is right to argue that the industrialized countries should pay for their historical responsibilities, this shouldn’t be used as an excuse to delay an agreement. Brazil looks particularly reluctant in the negotiations – like a country that wants to postpone and delay talks, presumably also because of their presidential election next year.

Japan changes its mind

There were generally more steps back than forward in this preliminary first week of talks. Even though countries were supposed to present figures showing how much they intended to reduce emissions before the global agreement comes into force in 2020, environmentalists often saw a lot to be desired when it came to actual progress in that direction – prominently so in the case of Japan: Its representatives declared on Friday that it was giving up its target altogether.

Instead of reducing emissions by 25 percent until 2020 – compared to 1990 – it now wants to allow emissions to increase by three percent. With a hint of an apology, Japanese chief negotiator Hiroshi Minami declared that since the nuclear accident in Fukushima in March 2011, none of Japan’s 50 reactors were producing electricity.

Previous climate target estimates, he explained, were based on the assumption that 40 percent of Japan’s energy needs would be covered by nuclear power – now they had to assume that the nuclear reactors would not produce any power, meaning that fossil fuels would have to be used instead.

Japan’s announcement of reducing its own goals sends a fatal signal to India and China as those are countries that we desperately need to be part of a future climate change agreement. The EU expressed disappointment with the move, as it is more than just disappointing. But above and beyond, is Europe (and OECE countries) doing enough on climate innovation? That is, fixing ambitious targets to reduce emissions all through binding carbon budgets and implementing a clear accountability framework.

Climate change must be stopped – but in such a way that the world becomes more just, not less.

What Does ‘Sustainable Development’ Really Mean?

The model for ‘sustainable development’ as espoused in official UN documents cannot withstand a serious critique. A real sustainability requires a change of economic paradigm, not a continuation of the industrialist/capitalist/consumerist economic model that is dependent on unimpaired profits.

An Attempt to Define SustainabilityImage

There is a conflict among the different ways people understand sustainability and sustainable development. The definition of the 1987 Brundland Report of the United Nations is classic: Sustainable development is one that attends the needs of present generations without endangering the capacity of future generations to attend to their needs and aspirations. This concept is correct, but it has two important limitations: it is anthropocentric (it only considers human beings) and it says nothing about the community of life (other living beings that also need a biosphere and sustainability).

Let’s make a formulation that is as inclusive as possible: Sustainable development is every action destined to maintain the energy, information, and physical-chemical conditions that make all beings sustainable, especially the living Earth, the community of life and human life, seeking their continuity, and also to attend the needs of present and future generations in such a way that the natural capital is maintained and its capacity of regeneration, reproduction and eco-evolution is enriched.

Let’s rapidly explain the terms of this holistic vision:

To make sustainable all the conditions necessary for the creation of all beings: they exist starting with the combination of energies, of the physical-chemical and informative elements that, combined together, give origin to everything

To make sustainable all beings: this is about completely overcoming anthropocentrism. All beings emerge from the process of evolution and enjoy an intrinsic value, independent of human use.

To especially make the living Earth sustainable: the Earth is much more than a «thing» (res extensa), lacking intelligence, or a mere means of production. She does not contain life; she is alive, she self-regulates, self-regenerates and evolves. If we do not guarantee the sustainability of the living Earth, called Gaia, we take away the basis of all other forms of sustainability.

To also make the community of life sustainable: the environment does not exist as something secondary and peripheral. We do not just exist: we coexist, and are all interdependent. All living beings are carriers of the same basic genetic alphabet. We form the net of life, microorganisms included. This net creates the biomass and the biodiversity that is necessary for the subsistence of our life on this planet.

To make human life sustainable: we are a singular link of the net of life, the most complex being in our solar system and a spearhead of the process of evolution as we know it, because we are carriers of consciousness, sensibility and intelligence. We feel that we are called upon to care for and to guard Mother Earth, to guarantee the continuity of civilization and also to be vigilant of our destructive capacity.

To make the continuity of the process of evolution sustainable: all beings are conserved and supported by the Basic Energy or the Source that Creates all Beings. The universe possesses an end in itself, by the simple fact of existing, of continuing to expand and create itself.

To make tending to human needs sustainable: through the rational and caring use of the goods and services which the cosmos and the Earth offer us, and without which we would cease to exist. To make sustainable our generation and the generations that will follow ours: the Earth is sufficient for each generation so long as a relation of synergy and cooperation with the Earth is established, and goods and services are distributed equitably. The use of those goods must be guided by generational solidarity. Future generations have the right to inherit a well preserved Earth and nature.

Sustainability is measured by the capacity to conserve natural capital, that it may renew itself and, perhaps through human genius, that it may be enriched for future generations. This widened and integrating concept of sustainability must serve as criteria for evaluating whether or not we have progressed along the path of sustainability, and should serve equally as inspiration or idea-generating for making sustainability a reality in the different fields of human activity. Without it, sustainability is pure rhetoric of no consequence