Agriculture, Climate Change
And World Hunger
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To bring this blog series full circle, we can note that agriculture – governed by Ceres – in its current form is one of the primary drivers of climate change. The same practices that have distorted our relationship to the natural order – and that are killing Ceres’ bees, poisoning our air and water, and leaving toxic residues with unknown long-term health effects in our food – are causing climate change.
According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization Statistical yearbook 2013 (1):
"Emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from agriculture, forestry and other land uses contribute significantly to the threat of global warming. The land sectors are responsible for nearly 30 percent of all human-induced GHG emissions into the atmosphere, a contribution comparable to that of the energy sector and far exceeding total emissions from transportation. Crop and livestock production alone is responsible for half of the methane and two-thirds of the nitrous oxide emitted into the atmosphere by human activity."
While agriculture contributes greatly to climate change, climate change in turn will have a potentially devastating impact on world agriculture. As noted by the Climate Institute, “it seems very likely that in the future, climate change will increasingly diminish food security and widen the gap between the rich and the poor. Preventing a deepening food crisis and lessening the potential for wider social and geopolitical unrest will require swift action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, policies to protect the millions of people facing poverty and hunger, and changes to agricultural practices worldwide” (2).
According to the World Food Programme of the United Nations, one in nine people on the Earth – about 805 million total – are malnourished, and hunger kills more people per year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined (3). The majority of hungry people in the world reside in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Asia, Africa and Latin America together currently account for 84% of the world’s population (4). Although population in some parts of the world may actually decline, population in areas where the hungry are concentrated will continue to rise, as will the number of hungry people in the world. Despite an increasingly effective response to famines and widespread hunger around the world, the problem of world hunger continues to get worse (5).
As Frances Moore Lappe and the Institute for Food and Development Policy are quick to point out, however, poverty and inequality contribute as much if not more than population growth per se to world hunger (6). In 2007-2008, shortly after Ceres was promoted to dwarf planet status, there was a dramatic rise in food prices around the world – leading to rioting and demonstrations in 14 countries (7). According to the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, “Before the price spike, poverty meant that 800 million people were hungry. Following the price spike, this number increased to a little over 1 billion people . . . It is estimated that an additional 44 million people have since fallen into extreme poverty due to the rise in food prices since June 2010.”
It is worthwhile – if not encouraging – to note that the same global corporate plutocracy that has turned contemporary agriculture into a toxic business contributing greatly to climate change has also produced the extremes of inequality and poverty driving an increase in world hunger, likely to become exacerbated in the Age of Ceres – unless we have a collective epiphany that dramatically changes our current policies. As the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture points out (8):
"Over the course of the 21st century, the world will need to produce significantly more food in order to deliver a basic, but adequate, diet to everyone. The amount of food required will be even greater if current trends in diets and the management of food systems continue. We need to make concurrent efforts to establish climate-resilient agricultural production systems, make efficient use of resources, develop low-waste supply chains, ensure adequate nutrition and encourage healthy eating choices. Together, these will constitute a sustainable food system. Intensification of food production must be accompanied by concerted action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture to avoid further acceleration of climate change and avert threats to the long-term viability of global agriculture . . . Specific actions must be taken to assist those most vulnerable to long- and short-term increases in the price of food rather than relying on trickle-down economic effects . . . Making these changes, although technically feasible, requires urgent, collective and substantially increased action internationally, nationally and locally."
We know what we must do. We have the technological knowledge to do it. There are, of course, many alternatives to the toxic, energy-intensive form of agriculture that dominates our world – various systems of organic gardening, biodynamics, permaculture, and so on – that work with natural systems, rather than attempting to manipulate, control or override them, as well as many local farmers markets, and small local human-scale systems of food distribution. Before such approaches become the norm and add up to a different global food system, we need a major attitude adjustment to help us get our priorities straight.
Do we have the collective political will to hold the corporate world accountable for what happens on an international scale? Do we have a sense of humanity deep enough to want to do what it takes to save one-fifth of our species from starving to death? Do we have the consciousness to ensure a sustainable future for the 7 billion and counting of us that forget we depend on the Earth for our existence?
Though some may wish to turn a blind eye to the suffering in the world, while stuffing their faces with excess and adding insult to injury with waste, as a species we cannot avoid these hard questions about how we feed ourselves in the Age of Ceres.
In this regard, I take heart in learning the story of St. Louis Ram’s center – 29-year old Jason Brown. In 2009, Brown signed a contract for $37.5 million – making him the highest paid center in football history. In 2012, he started watching You-Tube videos to learn how to farm. Then he walked away from all that money to start his own farm in North Carolina. This fall, he gave away 46,000 pounds of sweet potatoes and 10,000 pounds of cucumbers to food pantries feeding the homeless in his community (9).
If all the corporate executives at Cargill, Archer Daniel Midlands, and Bunge did the same, we would be living in a different world.
The next post in this series is Ceres and the Opportunity for Empowerment in the Face of Crisis.
To read more blog posts, go here.