I was due to write about food and farming this week, but global events call for urgent comment. Our hearts go out to the people of Japan in their time of crisis and suffering. The triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and radiation leak is the greatest disaster to face the country since the Second World War. Meanwhile across North Africa and the Middle East the desire for democracy is palpable, but is being met by the forces of reaction and repression in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere. Again our hearts are with the people wanting a peaceful and democratic future, whoever and wherever they are.
These two issues have profound implications for global energy policy. The costs, security of supply, safety and carbon emissions are all hotly debated. In the light of Fukushima many countries are reconsidering building new nuclear capacity, but if they invest in new fossil fuel plants this will only exacerbate climate change. Meanwhile geopolitical unrest and geological depletion push oil prices up.
Now more than ever is the time for humanity to collectively cooperate and commit to a path of ecological sustainability and global social justice, and at the heart of this must be the conversion of our energy systems to 100% renewables, for electricity, heating and transport. This is a much more achievable objective than often portrayed.
We should listen to energy experts like Gregor Czisch, Jacobson & Delucchi and all the people involved in the Desertec project. Firstly we must stop wasting energy, which we can do by building radically more energy efficient housing, transport and food production systems. Secondly we will need many forms of renewable energy developed in every country on Earth, and thirdly we will need a supergrid to link the areas of easy surplus (hot sunny deserts, windy seas and steppes, good hydro and geothermal sites etc) to the World’s megacities where local renewables will prove insufficient to meet demand.
Oil, coal and nuclear are yesterdays sources of energy: solar, wind, geothermal and water are what we should be developing now.
There are now about 7 billion of us humans. Soon there probably will be 9 billion of us. Malthusian predictions of mass starvation due to absolute lack of food have so far proved unfounded. Famines in the twentieth century were largely due to inequality, distribution problems and waste. Absolute global food production has more than kept pace with population increase. However this increased production has largely been achieved in ways that are profoundly unsustainable. Modern agriculture is highly dependent upon cheap oil, as tractors have replaced human labour, as have huge amounts of oil-derived fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. These have had serious adverse effects on bio-diversity and on human health. Soils that should never have been ploughed are becoming eroded and in many areas of the world water is becoming a very serious concern. As fossil-fuels become more expensive, as indeed they must if we are to mitigate climate change, and as indeed they will in a post peak oil era, things will have to change.
It is my belief that we can feed humanity in ways that are ecologically restorative, sustainable and socially just. We could feed 9 billion or more of us and do it organically. Issues that are of critical importance are:
- Social Justice; land and food access for the poor.
- Socially inclusive and innovative ways to engage more people in agriculture.
- Soil and water conservation; stopping erosion and building soil fertility.
- Trees, Permaculture, Perennial crops and Polyculture.
- Financial investment in ecological farming.
- On farm renewable energy generation.
- Photosynthesis driven carbon sequestration, and soils as carbon stores.
- Solar desalination and desert reclamation.
- Greenhouses with thermal mass and inter-seasonal heat storage.
- Changes in the global diet toward more local organic fruit and vegetables.
- Protecting fisheries and creating marine conservation zones.
Over the next few blogs I want to look at some inspirational examples of global best practice in terms of ecologically sustainable, socially just, productive and profitable agriculture.