29 April 2019
The environmentalist, activist, professor of genetics and science broadcaster hits us with some home truths about what our future will look like if we continue to live the way we have been.
The environmentalist, activist, professor of genetics and science broadcaster hits us with some home truths about what our future will look like if we continue to live the way we have been.
Say "doomsday bunker" and most people would imagine a concrete room filled with cots and canned goods.
The threat of global annihilation may feel as present as it did during the Cold War, but today's high-security shelters could not be more different from their 20th-century counterparts.
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A number of companies around the world are meeting a growing demand for structures that protect from any risk, whether it's a global pandemic, an asteroid, or World War III -- while also delivering luxurious amenities.
"Your father or grandfather's bunker was not very comfortable," says Robert Vicino, a real estate entrepreneur and CEO of Vivos, a company he founded that builds and manages high-end shelters around the world.
"They were gray. They were metal, like a ship or something military. And the truth is mankind cannot survive long-term in such a Spartan, bleak environment."
the oppidum 3
The Oppidum, Czech Republic
The Oppidum, Czech Republic
the oppidum 2
Vivos Europa One, Germany
vivos x point 2
vivos x point inside door
vivos x point 3
Vivos XPoint, South Dakota
Survival Condo, Kansas
survival condo pool pic
safe house 1
safe house 3
safe house 2
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Trident Lakes, Texas
the californian house
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flood house 1
1/22 – The Oppidum, Czech Republic
The demand for designer bunkers has grown rapidly in recent years. Credit: the oppidum
Many of the world's elite, including hedge fund managers, sports stars and tech executives (Bill Gates is rumored to have bunkers at all his properties) have chosen to design their own secret shelters to house their families and staff.
Gary Lynch, general manager of Texas-based Rising S Company, says 2016 sales for their custom high-end underground bunkers grew 700% compared to 2015, while overall sales have grown 300% since the November US presidential election alone.
Apocalypse now: Our incessant desire to picture the end of the world
The company's plate steel bunkers, which are designed to last for generations, can hold a minimum of one year's worth of food per resident and withstand earthquakes.
But while some want to bunker down alone, others prefer to ride out the apocalypse in a community setting that offers an experience a bit closer to the real world.
kemnal bunker walls
survival condo exterior
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survival condo generator
survival condo original
germanys wartime bunkers residential housing bremen
germanys wartime bunkers wohnen im bunker
germanys wartime bunkers vivos europa one
munich bunker befoer
beijing underground 2
beijing underground 3
1/17 – Five-star shelter
A secret bunker in South-East London, built to protect key government employees during a nuclear winter, has been transformed into a $4 million luxury residence. Credit: JDM estate agents
Developers of community shelters like these often acquire decommissioned military bunkers and missile silos built by the United States or Soviet governments -- sites that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build today.
The fortified structures are designed to withstand a nuclear strike and come equipped with power systems, water purification systems, blast valves, and Nuclear-Biological-Chemical (NBC) air filtration.
Most include food supplies for a year or more, and many have hydroponic gardens to supplement the rations. The developers also work to create well-rounded communities with a range of skills necessary for long-term survival, from doctors to teachers.
Vicino says Vivos received a flurry of interest in its shelters around the 2016 election from both liberals and conservatives, and completely sold out of spaces in its community shelters in the past few weeks.
One of those shelters, Vivos xPoint, is near the Black Hills of South Dakota, and consists of 575 military bunkers that served as an Army Munitions Depot until 1967.
Presently being converted into a facility that will accommodate about 5,000 people, the interiors of each bunker are outfitted by the owners at a cost of between $25,000 to $200,000 each. The price depends on whether they want a minimalist space or a home with high-end finishes.
The compound itself will be equipped with all the comforts of a small town, including a community theater, classrooms, hydroponic gardens, a medical clinic, a spa and a gym.
Vivos Europa One in Germany
Vivos Europa One in Germany Credit: © Copyright Terravivos.com
For clients looking for something further afield and more luxurious, the company also offers Vivos Europa One, billed as a "modern day Noah's Ark" in a former Cold War-era munitions storage facility in Germany.
The structure, which was carved out of solid bedrock, offers 34 private residences, each starting at 2,500 square feet, with the option to add a second story for a total of 5,000 square feet.
Stunning mural appears in secret forest
The units will be delivered empty and each owner will have the space renovated to suit their own tastes and needs, choosing from options that include screening rooms, private pools and gyms.
Vicino compares the individual spaces to underground yachts, and even recommends that owners commission the same builders and designers that worked on their actual vessels.
"Most of these people have high-end yachts, so they already have the relationship and they know the taste, fit, and finish that they want," he explains.
The vast complex includes a tram system to transport residents throughout the shelter, where they can visit its restaurants, theater, coffee shops, pool and game areas.
"We have all the comforts of home, but also the comforts that you expect when you leave your home," Vicino adds.
Survival Condo in Kansas
Survival Condo in Kansas Credit: Courtesy of Survival Condo
Nuclear hardened homes
Developer Larry Hall's Survival Condo in Kansas utilizes two abandoned Atlas missile silos built by the US Army Corps of Engineers to house warheads during the early 1960s.
Super-rich building luxury doomsday bunkers
"Our clients are sold on the unique advantage of having a luxury second home that also happens to be a nuclear hardened bunker," says Hall, who is already starting work on a second Survival Condo in another silo on site.
"This aspect allows our clients to invest in an appreciating asset as opposed to an expense."
The Survival Condo has several different layouts, from a 900-square-foot half-floor residence to a two-level, 3,600-square-foot penthouse that starts at $4.5 million.
Owners have access to their homes and the facilities at anytime, whether a disaster is imminent or they just want to get away from it all, and the complex features a pool, general store, theater, bar and library.
The condo association sets the rules for the community, and during an emergency, owners would be required to work four hours a day.
If you prefer to spend the end of days solo, or at least with hand-selected family and friends, you may prefer to consider The Oppidum in the Czech Republic, which is being billed as "the largest billionaire bunker in the world."
The top-secret facility, once a joint project between the former Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia), was built over 10 years beginning in 1984.
An interior shot of the Oppidum in Czech Republic
An interior shot of the Oppidum in Czech Republic Credit: Courtesy of the Oppidum
The site now includes both an above-ground estate and a 77,000-square-foot underground component. While the final product will be built out to the owner's specifications, the initial renderings include an underground garden, swimming pool, spa, cinema and wine vault.
While many might see the luxury amenities at these facilities as unnecessary, the developers argue that these features are critical to survival.
"These shelters are long-term, a year or more," Vicino says. "It had better be comfortable."
A Response to David Roberts’ Self-Censorship on Overpopulation
Reading David Roberts’ recent explanation of why he never writes on overpopulation, I felt compelled to reply. While Roberts made a set of superficially convincing arguments, ultimately he’s wrong not to focus directly on the population pressures we’re facing. Not confronting population head-on is like looking out the window of a plane and realizing you’re about to crash but refusing to tell the other passengers about the impending crash. Instead you spend your remaining moments convincing people that it’s “empowering” to wear their seat belts. That it’s a good for their health to put their laptops away and hold their head between their legs. Sure, you’ll convince some—and those you do convince might be better off—but you’ll convince far fewer as the sense of urgency is gone.
Reducing the global population is essential in addressing humanity’s impact on the planet—along with reducing overall consumption (affluence) and the use of unsustainable technologies (all variables in the I = PAT equation). And after the missteps of the Sierra Club and some governments, Roberts can be excused for why he feels it may be smarter to simply address the P in the equation indirectly by focusing on women empowerment and providing good access to family planning (and I would add providing comprehensive sexuality education to all children, as Mona Kaidbey and Robert Engelman and discuss in EarthEd: Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet). But that won’t be enough.
Stabilizing population is urgent. The goal should not simply be to nudge along a little less growth so population stabilizes at 9 billion rather than 9.5 or 10 billion. Instead, we need to make a long term plan to get population back to a manageable range. How far to scale population back, as noted 10 years ago by Roberts in another essay on why he doesn’t talk about population, “is up for debate, but probably a lot.” Some, including Paul Ehrlich, have suggested the ideal population range is around 1-3 billion, depending on how badly we have damaged the Earth’s systems and how much we want to consume moving forward. If Roberts is serious when he says he wants poor countries to be less poor “than their forebearers” then that means the Affluence variable in the I = PAT equation will increase. Yes, affluence elsewhere must shrink in accordance (and I wholeheartedly agree that wealth inequities need to be grappled with as does consumerism more broadly), but our population—particularly the 2-3 billion of us in the global consumer class—is completely overwhelming Earth’s systems.
In Is Sustainability Still Possible?, Jennie Moore and William Rees explored what a one-planet lifestyle would look like (in a world with 7 billion not 9.5 billion) and their analysis shows that if we lived within Earth’s limits, gone would be the days of driving personal vehicles, flying, eating meat, living in large homes, and essentially the entire consumer society that we know today. Frankly, that’s fine with me, considering the ecological, social and health costs of modern society—but most will not accept that. And considering that—and that policymakers and economists and even most environmentalists still believe further economic growth is possible and even beneficial—it’s increasingly hard to imagine any scenario other than a horrifying ecological collapse in our future.
That is another reason why we should prioritize population degrowth. Every million people not born is a million not to die when climate change brings about terrible flooding, droughts, disasters and famines it will in the increasingly near future. And please don’t take this to the absurd extreme that, ‘well, let’s just stop reproducing altogether and then there’ll be no suffering.’ I’m not saying people should have no children at all (here’s another Tucker Carlson video for you to enjoy, this one with the founder of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement). But people should have far fewer—particularly in overdeveloped countries like the United States. I personally chose to have one child, even though both my wife and I would like to have a second. But I deemed it morally irresponsible, or in the words of bioethicist Travis Rieder probably not ‘honorable’ to have a second, particularly knowing what’s in store for our kids in the coming century, and knowing that by living in the United States, I am a ravenous consumer no matter how hard I try to be otherwise.
Roberts also selectively focuses on history to better make his point—providing examples of the Sierra Club brouhaha but not the work of all the population organizations that helped shift population trends in a positive direction. And while there have certainly been tragic missteps—such as India’s efforts at forced sterilization—there have been unqualified successes. In his book Countdown, Alan Weissman describes the amazing case study of Iran, which through a focused campaign, reduced population growth dramatically. Yes, the primary tactics were to provide free family planning and education, which I don’t think anyone will disagree are very smart tactics, but the government was clear in its goal and the urgency—and also supplemented its efforts with social marketing to create a smaller “normal” family size, including advertisements on TV, banners, and billboards that “One is good. Two is enough.” Similar successes can be seen in the efforts of the Population Media Center that uses soap operas to shift norms around population size.
While I don’t know if the numbers were or could ever be estimated, efforts like Iran’s and PMC’s, like Stephanie Mills committing so publicly to never have children at the height of her reproductive years, and Paul Ehrlich capturing the public’s attention with his warnings about the population bomb, all of this helped focus our collective attention on population issues in the 1960’s and 70’s and helped slow population growth.
Ultimately, Ehrlich, with as much criticism as he receives, was not wrong about the population bomb. His warnings and the efforts they helped trigger—along with the Green Revolution—allowed us to extend the fuse. But in all those years, the fissile material has also been building, and when the bomb finally explodes, the shockwaves will be felt around the world. In fact, even Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution warned, “Unless progress with agricultural yields remains very strong,” which Borlaug noted cannot continue indefinitely unless we cut down our forests, which he implored us not to do, “the next century will experience sheer human misery that, on a numerical scale, will exceed the worst of everything that has come before.”
As for immigrants—sure it probably wasn’t the best idea for Professor Phil Cafaro to go on Tucker Carlson’s show to support anti-immigrant sentiments, but Cafaro’s point is valid, even if uncomfortable and confusing for progressives. Until America has a one-planet footprint, all new immigrants are going to increase global impacts because they’ll consume more in the US than in their home countries. (This even suggests all adoption ideally should be domestic, which is a-whole-nother can of worms!)
That’s not to say we should ban immigration or foreign adoption, but it means we should have a clear plan around immigration (along with one on reducing American consumption) and we should offset immigration by reductions in births of Americans (easier done if we have a population goal in mind for the United States). This offset is essentially what’s happening in European countries that have smaller than replacement rate birthrates—but the problem there is that this cultivates anti-immigrant sentiments as white European populations suddenly darken. With America at least, we have always been an immigrant nation so theoretically we could adapt, though obviously the current administration and its supporters are fomenting the same fears and biases that Americans have shown since its early days, as waves of immigrants from Ireland, Southern Europe, China, and Mexico started arriving.
Is it so scary or morally fraught to start advocating for a smaller global population—or at the very least start talking openly about population challenges? Is it impossible to imagine nurturing a one-child family size norm in the US and Europe (where each child’s impact is many times greater than a child’s in a developing country)? One is good. Two is enough. Three is too many.
As Roberts notes, momentum is already bringing us toward smaller family sizes—but that same momentum is also bringing us toward higher consumption rates. Some smart social marketing and celebrity modeling could bring us toward population reductions quicker. Breaking the myth that sole children are spoiled and lonely—as Bill McKibben did in his great book Maybe One—would be a good place to start. As would showing the economic and environmental benefits of having one child. And so would making it cool to have one child. Perhaps that’s the marketing slogan we use: “It’s Hip to Have One.”
And let developing countries shape their own population targets so as to avoid the obvious criticisms of imperialism (maybe it’s even time for a Framework Convention on Population Growth to go along with the Framework Convention on Climate Change—so all countries can feel ownership in this effort). But clearly, population stabilization is as important in developing countries—not because of the immediate effects on human impact (I), but because as Earth systems finally break down after the decades of abuse we’ve delivered, people are going to retreat from their flooding towns, their drought stricken lands, their war-torn regions, and they’re going to have to go somewhere. And then the right-wing extremists will say “we told you so,” waving their copies of Camp of Saints in their hands as they do, and be perfectly poised to take over more government institutions—and that may be the population crisis’ scariest outcome of all.
The global megacity boom
From left: Tokyo, Shanghai, Mexico City, Mumbai, New York City. Photos: AP. Collage by Erica Pandey / Axios
As of 1975, there were three metro areas with at least 10 million people â€” Tokyo, New York and Mexico City. A list of the 10 largest cities at that time would have included Paris (now 25th), Moscow (22nd) and Los Angeles (21st). Now there are 31 megacities with at least 10 million people, and most of them are in the developing world. The UN projects 10 more will join the list by 2030, and all but one (BogotÃ¡) is in Africa or Asia.
The Big Picture: 518 million people (7% of the global population) now live in megacities of 10 million or more people. That's a tenfold increase from four decades ago, and it's radically changing the way people live, work and view the world.
The world's largest metro areas
Tokyo, Japan. 38 million
At a glance: Japan's capital is major international financial center and has the biggest economy of any global metro area. Tokyo's restaurants have by far the most Michelin stars of any city.
GDP per capita: $43,884
Population in 1975: 27 million (Rank: 1st)
New Delhi, India. 26 million
At a glance: India's capital has been inhabited for at least 2,500 years, and boasts multiple world heritage sites. Its growing economy draws significant foreign investment. It is also one of the world's most polluted cities.
GDP per capita: $16,861
Population in 1975: 4.4 million (Rank: Outside top 10)
Shanghai, China. 26 million
At a glance: Shanghai is the world's biggest shipping port and China's financial hub. As the Economist writes, it is in the midst of a "cultural transformation."
GDP per capita: $32,684
Population in 1975: 7.3 million (Rank: Outside top 10)
Sao Paulo, Brazil. 21 million
At a glance: A diverse, cosmopolitan city, Sao Paulo has the biggest economy of any city in Latin America, though it lacks the glamour of nearby Rio de Janeiro.
GDP per capita: $27,366
Population in 1975: 13 million (Rank: 5th)
Mumbai, India. 21 million
At a glance: India's financial capital is also the home of the Bollywood film industry. 41 billionaires live in Mumbai, but more than half of the population resides in slums.
GDP per capita: $10,147
Population in 1975: 7.1 million (Rank: Outside top 10)
Mexico City, Mexico. 21 million
At a glance: Mexico's sprawling capital city was first settled by the Aztecs. It's the center of Mexico's politics and economy.
GDP per capita: $23,017
Population in 1975: 11 million (Rank: 3rd)
Beijing, China. 20 million
At a glance: China's capital city is home to many cultural landmarks, including the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven. It's home to 52 Fortune Global 500 companies, the most of any city. Air pollution is a significant concern.
GDP per capita: $30,335
Population in 1975: 6 million (Rank: Outside top 10)
Osaka, Japan. 20 million
At a glance: Historically the center of Japanese cuisine and commerce, Osaka is less flashy than Tokyo but has one of the largest economies of any city in the world.
GDP per capita: $36,335
Population in 1975: 10 million (Rank: 4th)
Cairo, Egypt. 19 million
At a glance: An ancient city with some of the world's most impressive Islamic architecture, Egypt's capital also has a bustling metro system. It was the site of the Tahrir Square protests in 2011.
GDP per capita: $7,843
Population in 1975: 6 million (Rank: Outside top 10)
New York, USA. 19 million
At a glance: A global center of finance and the arts, New York has been the largest U.S. city since the country's first census and was the world's largest for some of the 20th century. It is home to the United Nations.
GDP per capita: $74,000
Population in 1975: 16 million (Rank: 2nd)
Of the world's 31 megacities, 6 are in China and 5 are in India. By 2030, both countries will have 7 megacities.
There will be 8 cities with ~25 million or more people by 2030 â€” we may soon need a new definition for what qualifies as a megacity.
Six of the world's 10 largest cities are in Asia. Zero are in Europe.
Worth noting: Estimates of urban populations vary widely, mainly because the boundaries and definitions used can be subjective. All of the population data cited above comes from the United Nations.
GDP data (via Brookings)
Jeremy Grantham is Worried About the World
The veteran investor now runs a $900 million foundation focused on protecting the environment. What he supports, where he invests.
By SARAH MAX
Oct. 6, 2017 11:42 p.m. ET
Tony Luong for Barron's
Investors know Jeremy Grantham as the chief investment strategist of GMO, the $77 billion Boston-based asset management firm he co-founded in 1977. The venerable value investor is praised for his prescient market calls, including predicting the 2000 and 2008 downturns. He also told investors to “reinvest when terrified” in a piece published in 2009 on the very day the market hit its postfinancial crisis low.
In environmental circles, Grantham, who just turned 79, is equally esteemed. In 1997 he and his wife, Hannelore, converted their foundation to focus exclusively on the environment. The $900 million Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment gives money to organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund and World Wildlife Fund, and supports climate-related research and communication at four academic institutions. It has contributed to the training of more than a hundred Ph.Ds in climate-related work, and funded two Pulitzer-winning projects and one recipient of an Emmy. Last year Grantham, who is British, was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for his philanthropic contributions to the environment.
As an investor, Grantham’s priority is earning the best return. Still, he says, it’s impossible to separate what he knows about the environment and how he thinks about risk and opportunity. “If you believe, as I do, that climate change is so severe that it’s an actual question about survival as a well functioning global society, then you know that I take it extremely seriously,” he says.
If we don’t solve climate change, he warns, “all the other things we are trying to protect and encourage are a waste of money and energy.”
Barron’s: What sparked your interest in climate change?
Grantham: Twenty-eight years ago, I had a series of fairly epic summer vacations with my wife and three kids. The first trip was in the Amazon, the Galapagos, and the Andes, and involved taking dugout canoes up rivers in pouring rain with my four-year-old daughter hiding under my poncho. The next one was in Rwanda, during a pause in the civil war, and on to Tanzania. The final one was to Borneo. We sailed up to the middle of nowhere and stayed in longhouses that had one visitor a year.
This exposed us to the masses of clear-cut forests and the interminable piles of logs lying along the side of the rivers. We all became increasingly obsessed by the significance of climate change and the damage to the environment.
What is one of your biggest concerns?
Acceleration. Carbon dioxide is going up at an increasing rate, with the three biggest increases occurring in the last three years; the climate is warming at an increasing rate; and the water is warming at an increasing rate; and therefore, the level at which oceans are rising is increasing at an accelerating rate. It’s one thing for the world to be deteriorating, but deteriorating at an increasingly fast rate is particularly dangerous and scary.
“It’s one thing for the world to be deteriorating, but deteriorating at an increasingly fast rate is particularly dangerous and scary.“ —Jeremy Grantham Tony Luong for Barron's
Tell us about your foundation.
Total annual giving runs about $25 million to $30 million. About 30% is in the U.K., where, all things being equal, research costs half as much as it does in the U.S.
We fund four climate-change institutes—at Imperial College, the London School of Economics, and Sheffield University, as well as a related investment at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
We give 20% to about a dozen small organizations engaged in communications. We allocate about 40% of our giving to some of the usual suspects, The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Defense Fund, and the World Wildlife Fund, and a fourth group called RARE, which is U.S.-based but spends everything abroad protecting the environment.
The remaining part is an army of 15 or 20 more specialized enterprises, one of which is based on population. Population is a massive problem, particularly in Africa. All the safety margins, the resilience of these countries, has been chewed up by having so many people. Resources are a threat in the long run. Overpopulation is a threat. Climate change interacts with all of them in a rather pernicious way.
What is the foundation’s approach to grant-making?
We try to look at critical areas for the future. We require that grantees are urgent in their style and have fire in their bellies. We are especially focused on areas that are important but haven’t yet been recognized—and where the need for speed is critical. We also look for important areas that are politically incorrect and have a hard time attracting money because they are so controversial—like population growth.
How does the foundation invest its assets?
We have $900 million spread across a family foundation, a public trust, and, to a substantially lesser degree, my personal assets. The three pieces are run as one with the help of Cambridge Associates [an investment consultant]. We have a stunningly large amount, about 45% of assets, in early-stage venture capital funds chosen by Cambridge.
We’ve got 35% in what I modestly call world-class, very conservative hedge funds, including GMO. The remaining 20% is invested by the foundation’s executive director, Ramsay Ravenel, and myself. About 12% is in emerging markets, 5% in cash, and 3% is in our GMO Resources IV [ticker: GOVIX] in 2013, and GMO Climate Change III [GCCHX].
How has your insight into climate change influenced your investment decisions at GMO?
I’m not doing any direct investing at GMO. For the last 10 years, I have spent my time thinking about the big picture—productivity, economic booms and busts, climate change, and resource limitations. But, as an investor, you can never know too much. I can’t separate how my investing instincts were affected by knowing a lot more about resource limitations and the effects of climate change. It was part of the background music, like everything else I know.
The two funds you mentioned, GMO Resources and GMO Climate Change, are for institutional investors. Tell us about them.
We launched Resources in 2013, and Climate Change this year. Lucas White is the portfolio manager of both funds. One of the advantages for the Resources fund is that, because resource prices are volatile, most investors hate them. Value managers who might normally buy them shy away; they outperform over time because they’re cheap. Meanwhile, these stocks tend to have a low correlation with most other investments.
How do you reconcile your views on climate change with investments in the Resources fund?
It’s complicated because the biggest resources are fossil fuels. New technology is an arrow aimed at the heart of fossil fuels; after a decent one or two years, the slow burn of green energy will substitute them away. They will have to manage a long, slow decline. [About 30% of the portfolio is in oil and gas, versus nearly 70% for most market-cap-weighted resource benchmarks.] We would expect over the next 10 years to be handsomely underweighted. That does not mean that there may not be a time when the fund will choose to invest.
And the Climate Change fund?
The goal is to make money by understanding the bewildering amount of change going on. We’re not pretending that every holding is ESG. Our job is to understand this rapidly changing world and make an attractive fund for clients who would like to be investing on the right side of climate change. For example, copper mining can be a dirty business, but it’s hugely critical for electric cars. [ Freeport-McMoRan (FCX) is one of the fund’s top holdings.]
Where else does it invest?
Clean energy is almost a third of the portfolio, including companies focused on solar and wind power, and storage. [The fund owns Vestas Wind Systems (VWS), First Solar (FSLR), and Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile (SQM), which mines lithium used for storage.]
Energy efficiency is 24% of the portfolio. One aspect of this is transportation, which includes companies that are making items to increase the efficiency of motors and cars themselves. It also includes energy efficiency in buildings, as well as diversified efficiency enterprises. [Two holdings, Schneider Electric (SU.France) and Eaton (ETN), have multiple businesses tied to energy efficiency.]
There is also a fair amount in timber, fish farming, and suppliers of farming materials and equipment, such as Deere [DE], right?
We have, by other people’s standards, a stunningly large allocation of more than 17% to agriculture.
Can technology help feed more people?
Technology in agriculture is much harder, because it comes up against the laws of physics. There is just so much energy you can get out of the sun if you are a plant. We have spent a few thousand years boosting that efficiency level. We are approaching a theoretical limit.
On top of that, you have to throw in the increasing effects of storms, droughts, and temperature. Higher temperatures carry more water vapor, 4% to 5% more up in the air than there used to be. You don’t get more storms, but when you get them, they’re heavier. If you chart the incidence of heavy storms, say one inch in an hour, you will find that they are doubly grown over the last 40 years. That is so obviously the case when you read the news.
What about new food sources or agricultural methods?
There is steady progress on agriculture and feeding the public. We may have to change what we eat. To take a very tough example for Westerners, insects are incredibly nutritious and much, much more efficient sources of energy than chicken. They’re eaten a lot in Africa and the East.
Fish are being overfished, but there are great opportunities in seaweed, which is entirely edible. Seaweed can grow 10 to 20 inches a day, four times faster than the fastest-growing land plant. In that context, the sea is amazingly underoptimized. We’ve squeezed the common grains as much as they can be squeezed, but there are plenty of secondary grains important in Africa and Asia that have much more productivity potential.
Humans have all the skills and technology required to have a perfectly recyclable world that doesn’t face imminent danger from climate change, and doesn’t have massive poverty. But we have chosen to go on a rather more chaotic and help-yourself route.
Capitalism does a brilliant job on millions of decisions balancing supply and demand and so on, but on a handful of issues, it seems, it is clearly ill-equipped to deal with the problem. How do you handle global overfishing? How do you handle long-term erosion of soil and the overdevelopment of underground water, each of which is owned by an individual farmer, or an individual? These require more global cooperation and more concrete internal cooperation, and thinking and planning.
Can capitalism help with some of that? Using ESG criteria to choose securities is becoming more common.
Interest in ESG isn’t necessarily because of the rush of blood to being good. It could be just good business. If you’re a producer of consumer goods, and people become worried about the plastics in your product, or botulism in your food, you lose business.
There’s quite a lot of work that suggests that people who are early movers on good behavior are demonstrating that they are simply thinking more about the future, how it will look, how it will play out over 10 or 15 years. A study by Harvard Business School concluded that in the past, the companies that were good on ESG did exactly that, and they were outperformers.
But the heavy lifting [in combating climate change] will still be technological. By the early stage of the next decade, solar and wind will be three cents per kilowatt hour and by the middle of next decade—which is just seven years away—it will be cheaper than the marginal cost of nuclear and coal. The cost of running [a coal plant] and mining will be more than building a solar plant or wind farm from ground zero.
When that point is reached you’re talking economics. People who would have stood their ground until the end of time will be eagerly signing up for solar farms, storage facilities, etc.
Thank you, Jeremy.
ULAN BATOR, Mongolia — The land beneath Dolgor Dashnyam’s home is wet and gritty and smells of decay. Here, atop one of Ulan Bator’s largest landfills, Ms. Dashnyam lives under a roof made of soggy mattresses. She spends her days rummaging through piles of gin bottles and discarded animal bones, picking up pieces of scrap metal to sell in order to buy water and bread.
Ms. Dashnyam, 55, was once an ambitious college graduate who dreamed of owning a farm and getting rich. But a scarcity of affordable housing has pushed her and thousands of low-income residents to the fringes of Ulan Bator, the city of 1.4 million that is Mongolia’s capital, where they struggle for basic necessities like food and clean water.
“Nobody cares about us,” said Ms. Dashnyam, who makes about $3 a day and says she has been unable to obtain government-subsidized housing. She was laid off from a job in farming. “We don’t exist.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have flocked to Ulan Bator in recent years, drawn by the promise of high-paying jobs and a path to the middle class. Many are fleeing harsh conditions in the countryside brought on by climate change, with droughts and bitter winters devastating fields and livestock.
But city life has grown increasingly bleak. While luxury high-rises are plentiful along sleek downtown streets, affordable housing is scarce. Homelessness is rising, advocates for the poor say, as an economic slowdown hurts jobs and wages. Pollution is worsening, and access to public resources like electricity and sewers is strained.
Ulan Bator, nestled in a valley about 4,400 feet above sea level, was never designed to house more than a few hundred thousand residents. Now it is on course to expand indefinitely, raising fears that the government may not be able to keep up with the influx of migrants.
City officials, citing concerns about a lack of space at schools and an overburdened welfare system, said this year that Ulan Bator would not accept any more rural migrants. The government has cautioned against constructing homes in some areas because of the dangers of overcrowding.
Still, many Mongolians are defiant. On craggy hillsides and rocky plains, they are setting up makeshift shacks and gers, or yurts, the traditional homes of Mongolian nomads.
On a secluded hill in northern Ulan Bator, Enkh-amgalan Tserendorj, 50, washed clothes outside the family yurt, where she and her husband have lived since last year. Ms. Tserendorj said she did not want to live so far from downtown but had no choice. Under Mongolian law, citizens are entitled to claim small plots of land of about 7,500 square feet — about 700 square meters — leaving many people struggling to find attractive spaces.
“It’s unfair,” she said. “Every good piece of land is occupied.”
Ms. Tserendorj’s 26-year-old son has tuberculosis, and she said the family’s isolation had made it difficult to find proper medical care. She said she was also concerned by a lack of reliable electricity and the threat of natural disasters like landslides.
Ulan Bator’s government has vowed to invest billions in affordable housing by 2030 and to begin transforming several yurt districts into residential complexes. The government hopes to have 70 percent of its citizens living in apartments by 2030, compared with about 40 percent right now. The city’s population is estimated to increase to 1.6 million by 2020, and 2.1 million by 2030, from 1.4 million in 2015.
But advocates say the government’s housing plan falls short. And some worry that the city does not do enough to protect residents who are forced by the government to leave their homes to make way for new construction.
“Families are living in fear that they will be left homeless,” said Nicholas Bequelin, the East Asia director for Amnesty International in Hong Kong. “The authorities are falling short in their responsibilities to protect residents’ rights.”
Climate change has intensified the pressure to resolve the housing crisis. Mongolia has been particularly hard hit, with a series of devastating droughts. Temperatures are also on the rise; this summer was the hottest in more than a half-century.
Gandavaa Mandakh, a former herder, moved to Ulan Bator three years ago from a town in southern Mongolia after losing dozens of cows, camels, goats and sheep during harsh winters.
Mr. Mandakh, 38, now works as a taxi driver; his wife works as a cook at a Korean restaurant. They have three children and earn about $500 per month.
“Of course, we have many problems here,” he said, noting the city’s bad traffic and overcrowded schools. “But it’s still better than staying in the countryside.”
In a yurt a few miles away, Dolgorsuren Sosorbaram, 59, a retired private business owner and a lifelong resident of Ulan Bator, said she had grown tired of rampant air pollution, which can reach hazardous levels in the winter. She said that life in the city was becoming too difficult and that the government should do more to encourage city residents to take up jobs in the countryside.
“There’s no more space here,” Ms. Sosorbaram said as she yanked stalks of flowering yellow wormwood from the ground outside her home. “It’s time for us to return to our roots in the countryside.”
While Ulan Bator once offered the promise of riches, a sharp economic slowdown has brought fresh anxiety. Mongolia’s economy, which depends heavily on mining, was once a darling of global investors, growing by 17.3 percent in 2011 as commodity prices surged. It has sputtered in recent years, expanding 1 percent last year and 5.3 percent in the first half of this year.
Some of Ulan Bator’s poorest residents say the slowdown has hurt their earnings and made homeownership a distant dream.
At the Ulaan Chuluut landfill in the northern part of the city, scavengers like Ms. Dashnyam have given up hopes of an ordinary life. They wake each morning to the sound of rumbling garbage trucks, chasing after each one with a metal rod in hand to sort through garbage and pick out the most lucrative items, like cans and pieces of metal.
n May, Ms. Dashnyam thought her problems might be solved. Officials who said they represented the General Intelligence Agency of Mongolia showed up at the landfill, saying they would pay several thousand dollars a head if Ms. Dashnyam and the other landfill dwellers could locate a stack of documents that had been mistakenly discarded.
After several days of searching, Ms. Dashnyam and her friends found the documents. But when the government workers took the files, they paid only a small portion of what they had promised, the scavengers said.
Ms. Dashnyam, who has lived at the landfill for several months, said she worried she would be stuck there in the winter in subzero temperatures.
“We have no other option,” she said. “I just hope I can survive.”
Munkhchimeg Davaasharav contributed reporting.
Follow Javier Hernandez on Twitter: @HernandezJavier
ROME, Sep 12 2017 (IPS) - Pressures on global land resources are now greater than ever, as a rapidly increasing population coupled with rising levels of consumption is placing ever-larger demands on the world’s land-based natural capital, warns a new United Nations report.
Consumption of the earth’s natural reserves has doubled in the last 30 years, with a third of the planet’s land now severely degraded, adds the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) new report, launched on 12 September in Ordos, China during the Convention’s 13th summit (6-16 September 2017).
“Each year, we lose 15 billion trees and 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil,” the UNCCD’s report The Global Land Outlook (GLO) says, adding that a significant proportion of managed and natural ecosystems are degrading and at further risk from climate change and biodiversity loss.
In basic terms, there is increasing competition between the demand for goods and services that benefit people, like food, water, and energy, and the need to protect other ecosystem services that regulate and support all life on Earth, according to new publication.
At the same time, terrestrial biodiversity underpins all of these services and underwrites the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, such as the rights to a healthy life, nutritious food, clean water, and cultural identity, adds the report. And a significant proportion of managed and natural ecosystems are degrading and at further risk from climate change and biodiversity loss.
The report provides some key facts: from 1998 to 2013, approximately 20 per cent of the Earth’s vegetated land surface showed persistent declining trends in productivity, apparent in 20 per cent of cropland, 16 per cent of forest land, 19 per cent of grassland, and 27 per cent of rangeland.
These trends are “especially alarming” in the face of the increased demand for land-intensive crops and livestock.”
More Land Degradation, More Climate Change
Land degradation contributes to climate change and increases the vulnerability of millions of people, especially the poor, women, and children, says UNCCD, adding that current management practises in the land-use sector are responsible for about 25 per cent of the world’s greenhouses gases, while land degradation is both a cause and a result of poverty.
“Over 1.3 billion people, mostly in the developing countries, are trapped on degrading agricultural land, exposed to climate stress, and therefore excluded from wider infrastructure and economic development.”
Land degradation also triggers competition for scarce resources, which can lead to migration and insecurity while exacerbating access and income inequalities, the report warns.
“Soil erosion, desertification, and water scarcity all contribute to societal stress and breakdown. In this regard, land degradation can be considered a ‘threat amplifier’, especially when it slowly reduces people’s ability to use the land for food production and water storage or undermines other vital ecosystem services. “
High Temperature, Water Scarcity
Meanwhile, higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and increased water scarcity due to climate change will alter the suitability of vast regions for food production and human habitation, according to the report.
“The mass extinction of flora and fauna, including the loss of crop wild relatives and keystone species that hold ecosystems together, further jeopardises resilience and adaptive capacity, particularly for the rural poor who depend most on the land for their basic needs and livelihoods.”
Our food system, UNCCD warns, has put the focus on short-term production and profit rather than long-term environmental sustainability.
Monocultures, Genetically Modified Crops
The modern agricultural system has resulted in huge increases in productivity, holding off the risk of famine in many parts of the world but, at the same time, is based on monocultures, genetically modified crops, and the intensive use of fertilisers and pesticides that undermine long-term sustainability, it adds.
And here are some of the consequences: food production accounts for 70 per cent of all freshwater withdrawals and 80 per cent of deforestation, while soil, the basis for global food security, is being contaminated, degraded, and eroded in many areas, resulting in long-term declines in productivity.
In parallel, small-scale farmers, the backbone of rural livelihoods and food production for millennia, are under immense strain from land degradation, insecure tenure, and a globalised food system that favours concentrated, large-scale, and highly mechanised agribusiness.
This widening gulf between production and consumption, and ensuing levels of food loss/waste, further accelerates the rate of land use change, land degradation and deforestation, warns the UN Convention.
Speaking at the launch of the report, UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut said, “Land degradation and drought are global challenges and intimately linked to most, if not all aspects of human security and well-being – food security, employment and migration, in particular.”
“As the ready supply of healthy and productive land dries up and the population grows, competition is intensifying, for land within countries and globally. As the competition increases, there are winners and losers.
No Land, No Civilisation
According the Convention, land is an essential building block of civilisation yet its contribution to our quality of life is perceived and valued in starkly different and often incompatible ways.
A minority has grown rich from the unsustainable use and large-scale exploitation of land resources with related conflicts intensifying in many countries, UNCCD states.
“Our ability to manage trade-offs at a landscape scale will ultimately decide the future of land resources – soil, water, and biodiversity – and determine success or failure in delivering poverty reduction, food and water security, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.”
A Bit of History
Except for some regions in Europe, human use of land before the mid-1700s was insignificant when compared with contemporary changes in the Earth’s ecosystems, UNCCD notes, adding that the notion of a limitless, human-dominated world was embraced and reinforced by scientific advances.
“Populations abruptly gained access to what seemed to be an unlimited stock of natural capital, where land was seen as a free gift of nature.”
The scenario analysis carried out for this Outlook examines a range of possible futures and projects increasing tension between the need to increase food and energy production, and continuing declines in biodiversity and ecosystem services.
From a regional perspective, these scenarios predict that sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa will face the greatest challenges due to a mix of factors, including high population growth, low per capita GDP, limited options for agricultural expansion, increased water stress, and high biodiversity losses.
These are the real facts. The big question is if this self-destructive trend can be reversed? The answer is yes, or at least that losses could be minimised.
On this, Monique Barbut said that the GLO report suggests, “It is in all our interests to step back and rethink how we are managing the pressures and the competition.”
“The Outlook presents a vision for transforming the way in which we use and manage land because we are all decision-makers and our choices can make a difference – even small steps matter,” she further added.
For his part, UN Development Programme Administrator Achim Steiner stated, “Over 250 million people are directly affected by desertification, and about one billion people in over one hundred countries are at risk.”
They include many of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people, he said, adding that achieving land degradation neutrality can provide a healthy and productive life for all on Earth, including water and food security.
The Global Land Outlook shows that “each of us can in fact make a difference.”
Can Mother Nature recover? The answer is a clear yes. Perhaps it would suffice that politicians pay more attention to real human real needs than promoting weapons deals — and that the big business helps replenish the world’s natural capital.
Third of Earth's soil is acutely degraded due to agriculture
Fertile soil is being lost at rate of 24bn tonnes a year through intensive farming as demand for food increases, says UN-backed study
Soil erosion in Maasai heartlands in Tanzania.
Soil erosion in Maasai heartlands, Tanzania, is due to climate change and land management decisions. Photograph: Carey Marks/Plymouth University
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Tuesday 12 September 2017 13.18 EDT First published on Tuesday 12 September 2017 13.15 EDT
A third of the planet’s land is severely degraded and fertile soil is being lost at the rate of 24bn tonnes a year, according to a new United Nations-backed study that calls for a shift away from destructively intensive agriculture.
The alarming decline, which is forecast to continue as demand for food and productive land increases, will add to the risks of conflicts such as those seen in Sudan and Chad unless remedial actions are implemented, warns the institution behind the report.
“As the ready supply of healthy and productive land dries up and the population grows, competition is intensifying for land within countries and globally,” said Monique Barbut, executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) at the launch of the Global Land Outlook.
“To minimise the losses, the outlook suggests it is in all our interests to step back and rethink how we are managing the pressures and the competition.”
Why meat eaters should think much more about soil
The Global Land Outlook is billed as the most comprehensive study of its type, mapping the interlinked impacts of urbanisation, climate change, erosion and forest loss. But the biggest factor is the expansion of industrial farming.
Heavy tilling, multiple harvests and abundant use of agrochemicals have increased yields at the expense of long-term sustainability. In the past 20 years, agricultural production has increased threefold and the amount of irrigated land has doubled, notes a paper in the outlook by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European commission. Over time, however, this diminishes fertility and can lead to abandonment of land and ultimately desertification.
The JRC noted that decreasing productivity can be observed on 20% of the world’s cropland, 16% of forest land, 19% of grassland, and 27% of rangeland.
“Industrial agriculture is good at feeding populations but it is not sustainable. It’s like an extractive industry, said Louise Baker, external relations head of the UN body. She said the fact that a third of land is now degraded should prompt more urgent action to address the problem.
“It’s quite a scary number when you consider rates of population growth, but this is not the end of the line. If governments make smart choices the situation can improve,” Baker said, noting the positive progress made by countries like Ethiopia, which has rehabilitated 7m hectares (17m acres).
Farmers in Sudan battle climate change and hunger as desert creeps closer
The impacts vary enormously from region to region. Worst affected is sub-Saharan Africa, but poor land management in Europe also accounts for an estimated 970m tonnes of soil loss from erosion each year with impacts not just on food production but biodiversity, carbon loss and disaster resilience. High levels of food consumption in wealthy countries such as the UK are also a major driver of soil degradation overseas.
The paper was launched at a meeting of the UNCCD in Ordos, China, where signatory nations are submitting voluntary targets to try to reduce degradation and rehabilitate more land. On Monday, Brazil and India were the latest countries to outline their plan to reach “land degradation neutrality”.
However, the study notes that pressures will continue to grow. In a series of forecasts on land use for 2050, the authors note that sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, the Middle East and north Africa will face the greatest challenges unless the world sees lower levels of meat consumption, better land regulation and improved farming efficiency.
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — For years, Pakistan’s soaring population growth has been evident in increasingly crowded schools, clinics and poor communities across this vast, Muslim-majority nation. But until two weeks ago, no one knew just how serious the problem was. Now they do.
Preliminary results from a new national census — the first conducted since 1998 — show that the population grew by 57 percent since then, reaching 207.7 million and making Pakistan the world’s fifth most populous country, surpassing Brazil and ranking behind China, India, the United States and Indonesia. The annual birthrate, while gradually declining, is still alarmingly high. At 22 births per 1,000 people, it is on a par with Bolivia and Haiti, and among the highest outside Africa.
“The exploding population bomb has put the entire country’s future in jeopardy,” columnist Zahid Hussain wrote in the Dawn newspaper recently. With 60 percent of the population under age 30, nearly a third of Pakistanis living in poverty and only 58 percent literate, he added, “this is a disaster in the making.”
[She’s a Nobel winner heading to Oxford. But ‘Malala hate’ is still real in Pakistan.]
The chief causes of the continuing surge, according to population experts, include religious taboos, political timidity and public ignorance, especially in rural areas. Only a third of married Pakistani women use any form of birth control, and the only family-planning method sanctioned by most Islamic clerics is spacing births by breast feeding newborns for two years.
Pakistan has a high birthrate and soaring population growth. (Pamela Constable/The Washington Post)
Even if the birthrate slows, some experts estimate that Pakistan’s population could double again by midcentury, putting catastrophic pressures on water and sanitation systems, swamping health and education services, and leaving tens of millions of people jobless — prime recruits for criminal networks and violent Islamist groups.
But instead of encouraging fresh ideas over the population crisis, the census has triggered a rash of arguments over whether certain areas have been over- or undercounted, or reclassified as urban instead of rural. These squabbles amount to fights over political and financial spoils, including the number of provincial assembly seats and the amount of funding from the central government.
A few people, however, are paying close attention to the larger picture. One is Shireen Sukhun, a district officer for the Population Welfare Department in Punjab province. Her mission is to persuade Pakistani families to have fewer children and offer them access to contraceptive methods, but she is keenly aware of the obstacles.
“The fatal combination we face is poverty and illiteracy,” Sukhun said. “It takes a long time to change people’s mindsets, and we don’t have the luxury of leaving it to time.”
One outpost in her campaign is a tiny bench-lined room in Dhoke Hassu, a congested working-class area of Rawalpindi. Inside, Rubina Rehman, a family welfare worker, listens all day to women’s problems with feverish babies, painful deliveries and other woes. Once they feel comfortable with her, she broaches the topic of contraception.
It has not been an easy sell. All the clients are Muslims, and most have little education. Some have been taught that God wants them to have many children. Some have husbands who earn too little to feed a large family but keep wanting another child. Some would like help but are too shy to discuss a taboo topic.
“When we first opened this post, women were frightened to come, and some people asked why we were against increasing the ummah [Muslim masses],” Rehman said. “But we explained how the prophet taught that you should have a gap of 24 months between each child, and that you should consider the family’s resources when making decisions. Now we do not face such opposition.”
On Thursday, a dozen women crowded into Rehman’s office, some carrying infants or toddlers. Several leaned close and whispered to her, then slipped packets of birth-control pills into their purses. One woman named Yasina, 35, explained proudly that she had gotten an “implant” — a hormone dose injected under the skin that prevents conception for several years.
“I already have five children, and that is more than enough,” she said. At first she had agreed to a tubal ligation, which the government arranges at no cost, but her husband, a laborer, would not allow it. “So I got the implant instead, and I didn’t tell him,” she said, bursting into laughter as the other women smiled.
Outside, the markets and alleys of Dhoke Hassu were teeming with a mix of Afghan refugees, migrants from rural Punjab and government workers. Some expressed confidence that God would provide for any children that came, but many said that it was important to balance family size with income and that their Muslim beliefs did not conflict with such practical needs.
“If half of our population is young, what will happen to their lives, their jobs, their needs?” mused Rizvi Salim, 29, a government railways employee carrying his only child, a 2-year-old girl, in his arms. Salim said that he was raised with seven siblings but that today “things have changed. We do believe that God will take care of us all, but we also need to plan for our futures.”
But upwardly mobile urban communities are more open to such perspectives than rural areas, where two-thirds of all Pakistanis live. In village life, the influences of traditional culture and Islamic teachings are stronger, and the reach of public media campaigns about baby spacing is much more limited.
Awais Hussain, 15, had to leave school after third grade to help support his family and is now an apprentice in a small tailor shop. He is among the more than 60 percent of Pakistanis under age 30, millions of whom never finish school. (Pamela Constable/The Washington Post)
Attempts to open rural family welfare offices are often met with community suspicion and political opposition, but health officials say more mothers are asking about birth control. The remaining major taboo, they said, is permanent contraceptive practices such as vasectomies or tubal ligations.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, the population nearly doubled from 17.7 million in 1998 to 30.5 million this year. The province is home to several million Afghan refugees, numerous Islamist militant groups and conservative religious leaders suspicious of foreign plots to sterilize Muslims. But their views, too, are evolving.
“Islam does not contradict the idea of family planning, but it challenges the Western concept of birth control,” said Mufti Muhammad Israr, a religious scholar in Peshawar, the provincial capital. He said Islam allows “natural family planning” via breast feeding but not “stopping the reproductive system permanently. The prophet Muhammad asked believers to marry and produce children.”
Hospital officials in Mardan, a large district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said last week that they frequently deal with cases of child malnutrition and often see mothers with several very young children. Although they said more married couples are seeking family-planning services, women still have difficulty getting their husbands to cooperate.
One pregnant housewife waiting to see a gynecologist in Mardan had a small child on her lap and a 5-year-old girl by her side. All looked weak and malnourished.
“My husband doesn’t care about my health or the health of our children. He can barely support us, but he wants more,” said Zarina Bibi, 34. She said a doctor had advised her to take a break from childbirth for several years, but she had no choice. “My husband doesn’t want birth control.”
Correction: The headline on an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the rate at which Pakistan’s population has grown.
Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this story.
WILD HORSES ARE deeply ingrained in the mythology of the American West. They represent a spirit of freedom that has long defined the nation.
But wild horses also pose a thorny management problem. A federal law passed in 1971 restricts what the government can do with the horses, even once they begin to affect the environment.
The United States Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service periodically conduct roundups (“gathers”) to thin the wild horse herds. Sometimes the animals are given birth-control drugs and returned to the range; sometimes they are corralled until they can be adopted by private citizens. Both strategies are expensive.
Periodic scandals concerning illicit slaughter of wild horses for profit have made land managers reluctant to consider bold actions, such as euthanasia or even a simpler adoption process, as reported by Slate and National Geographic. This has also created a strong distaste among the American public for aggressive management.
Large concentrations of wild horses can degrade wildlife habitats as well as the grazing land leased by livestock operators, changing plant communities and causing serious soil erosion problems. The animals also degrade fragile wetlands and water supplies, although research into these effects is limited.
Now new research on the Modoc National Forest in remote northeastern California shows that growing numbers of wild horses are devastating remote springs that are often the only water supply available to wildlife.
Laura Snell, a livestock and natural resource advisor with the University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources Service, has found that wild horses dominate the spring sites, harming water quality and even sometimes halting water output. Water Deeply recently interviewed Snell about her research.
Water Deeply: What’s the situation with the wild horses in Modoc County?
Laura Snell: We have the largest Forest Service-managed wild horse herd in the country. There are two wild horse territories there. Between those two territories, there should be somewhere between 200 and 400 horses, and there are currently over 3,000. Horses are pretty much taking over the rangeland on the Devil’s Garden Plateau.
As a result, we’re seeing a major shift from our native perennial grasses to annual grasses, which is not only decreasing the quality of grass and habitat, but it’s also increasing wildfire risk.
We’re also seeing that wild horses will select these natural spring sites over stock pond water. There’s plenty of water out on the garden for livestock and wildlife. But the wild horses select these spring sites and they will just stay on those spring sites all year round. And we’re seeing pretty major effects of everything being eaten around these spring sites until the point of bare ground – sometimes bare ground that extends like 30–50ft from the edge of the water.
We’re also seeing water quality issues. Wild horses do like to eat aquatic vegetation, as well. So when they have eaten all the grasses and things around, they will also eat all the aquatic vegetation that’s in the spring, as well. So we are then seeing pretty big decreases in our macroinvertebrates, and the species that are able to exist in these springs. So you’re going from places where you used to have mayflies and caddis flies, and places that used to be able to support ducks and birds, to where we now have snails and leeches and fly larvae.
Water Deeply: Why has the population of wild horses exploded?
Snell: Until last year, they had not conducted a wild horse gather for 10 years. The reason is the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and Forest Service stopped working together to manage horses. Eleven or 12 years ago, there were some issues in D.C. where the Forest Service didn’t pay a bill to the BLM, and the BLM said we’re done dealing with you. So this herd just continued to grow and grow, doubling every four or five years to where it is now.
Water Deeply: Are these water-related impacts from wild horses common around the West?
Snell: Yes, I believe so. My study is in Modoc County, and there is another adviser in my position in Lassen County, and he is doing a paired study in eastern Lassen County and western Washoe County (Nevada). They’re very similar in terms of natural spring conditions. You see not only the vegetation degradation, but the trail cameras also show just the amount of time that wild horses are spending at these spring locations.
We’re also getting photographic evidence of intimidation. When horses are at a spring, they are intimidating elk, deer, cattle and pretty much everything else. They will aggressively push them out.
Water Deeply: Are wild horses affecting water supply around these springs, also?
Snell: They can. We have areas where the springs are in mostly clay-based soils. And at those springs that are in more muddy-bottom areas, horses can actually create a stopper to the spring and actually either move that spring site back or they’re actually clogging the spring with their hoof action.
We have pictures of 80 horses standing in a spring at one time. When you get that many horses in a spring like that, we do have cases where horses have actually stopped the spring. When you get a lot of constant pressure on them, it can definitely stop the spring.
Water Deeply: How important are these springs?
Snell: These springs are really important. These areas are mostly sage-steppe and juniper woodland, and a little bit of pine woodland. These springs are like the only natural sources of cold water. So all these species have been using these springs, from aquatic insects up to waterfowl traveling the Pacific Flyway. We have a lot of waterfowl species that use these areas to rear young. Good quality spring water is pretty essential to make vegetation to nest in and to make bugs for those little ducks and chicks to eat.
Water-wise, the cattle can still go to stock ponds. But these special riparian areas, most of them have been fenced out for livestock for about 50 years. And now the horses have broken through fences and they’re sitting on these areas.
It’s a sad sight out there. There are only, like, 30 of these sites in about half a million acres. They’re pretty important. When you move into Washoe County, it’s the same thing. Washoe gets into a lot drier sage-steppe. So those watering areas are just essential to all life out there.
Water Deeply: And do these damaged springs affect water supply downstream?
Snell: Some of them do, but most of these don’t. The volcanic nature of this area, it’s like you get the spring for a while, then the spring kinda goes back into the volcanic rock. So they go anywhere from a few hundred feet to some that will go a half-mile or a mile into a reservoir or something.
They’re not super long. That’s partially why they get so damaged, too. It’s a very concentrated use by these large numbers of animals.
They do contribute to recreation use. Big Sage Reservoir is a large recreational use. A lot of them also contribute to smaller reservoirs and streams that are used for fishing. There’s quite a bit of fishing that happens on the Modoc National Forest.
Water Deeply: Are wild horses native to North America?
Snell: Of all the research I have read, wild horses are not native to North America in the species that they currently are. Not only that, the wild horses that exist in the Modoc National Forest are all domestic horses that were turned out when farming was mechanized – the 1920s and 1930s.
The Native Americans that live in this area do not have horses in their natural history. They’re all supportive of management of wild horses. The gather that was done last year was all on private and tribal lands. Quite a few of these spring areas are really important cultural areas for the Modoc and Pit River tribes, so they’re not really happy about the horses.
Water Deeply: What do you think is the right management solution?
Snell: Some groups say the horses are wild, and we need to treat them like wildlife. Well, we have hunting seasons for wildlife. But we’re not allowed to treat them like that.
We also don’t treat them like livestock. I really think sale of horses should be allowed. I think if there are groups that want to buy those horses and keep them, that should be fine. If there’s a group that would like to eat those horses, I think that’s fine.
We need to stop having our hands tied. That’s my opinion. We manage everything else. Why aren’t we managing horses? I truly believe, if there’s a group out there that wants to buy or adopt those horses, like dogs and cats, they should be able to.
NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 29 2017 (IPS) - Africa’s population continues to grow, putting intense pressure on available land for agricultural purposes and life-supporting ecosystem services even as the scenario is compounded by the adverse impacts of climate change.
But the adoption of land degradation neutrality (LDN) measures is helping ensure food and water security, and contributing to sustainable socioeconomic development and wellbeing, especially for Eastern African countries that face immense challenges.
LDN will also help to achieve some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Africa’s Vision 2063, launched in 2013 a strategic framework for the socioeconomic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years.
According to Economics of Land Degradation Initiative, a report by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and others, land degradation and desertification are among the world’s greatest environmental challenges. It is estimated that desertification affects approximately 33 per cent of the global land surface. Over the past 40 years, erosion has rendered close to one-third of the world’s arable land unproductive.
Africa is the most exposed, with desertification affecting around 45 per cent of the continent’s land area, out of which 55 per cent is at high or very high risk of further degradation. Dry lands are particularly affected by land degradation and with over 50 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa being arid and semi-arid lands, the livelihoods of over 400 million who inhabit these areas are at risk.
In an interview with IPS, Ermias Betemariam, a land health scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) with research interest in land degradation, landscape ecology, restoration ecology, soil carbon dynamics and spatial science, said that increasing population is an important driver of the rising demand for natural resources and the ecosystem services they provide, including food and energy.
“Africa, in particular, faces the critical challenge of its population continuing to grow at a rapid rate while natural resources, arable, grazing, forest lands, and water resources become increasingly scarce and degraded,” he said.
Betemariam noted that food is mostly produced by small-scale farmers who may not have the resources, or be in an enabling economic and policy environment, to close the “yield gap” between current and potential yields.
Hence the increase in food needs of the rising population in Africa has been met by expanding agriculture into new lands which are often marginal, semi-arid zones that are climatically risky for agriculture – changing the local landscape, economy and society.
Such change in land use has been recorded as a major cause of land degradation in Africa.
Betemariam explained that achieving SDG 15.3 (a land degradation neutral world by 2030) is critical for Sub-Saharan African countries. LDN is about maintaining and improving the productivity of land resources by sustainably managing and restoring soil, water and biodiversity assets, while at the same time contributing to poverty reduction, food and water security, and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
UNCCD says that so far 110 countries have committed to set LDN targets. The Secretariat and the Global Mechanism of the UNCCD are supporting governments in this process, including the definition of national baselines, targets and associated measures to achieve LDN by 2030 through the LDN Target Setting Programme (TSP).
“LDN is a target that can be implemented at local, national and even regional scales,” Betemariam told IPS. “At the heart of LDN are Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices that help close yield gaps and enhance the resilience of land resources and communities that directly depend on them while avoiding further degradation.”
For example, he cited the farmer-managed natural resources in Niger and livestock enclosure management and soil conservation at the Konso Cultural Landscape in Ethiopia which is registered by UNESCO.
Oliver Wasonga, a dryland ecology and pastoral livelihoods specialist at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, says there is little investment in sustainable land management, especially in the drylands, and yet many communities living in rural Africa increasingly lose their livelihoods due to loss of land productivity resulting from land degradation.
Wasonga told IPS that land degradation costs Africa about 65 billion dollars annually, around five per cent of its gross domestic product. Globally, the cost of land degradation is estimated at about 295 billion dollars annually.
Investment in restoration of degraded land is critical in enhancing household food and income security, he said, especially for the majority of Africa’s rural populace that relies almost entirely on natural resources for their livelihoods.
“This is more so for the millions of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists who inhabit the dry lands of Africa that form more than 40 per cent of the continent’s land surface. Any attempt to attain LDN is therefore key to achieving both poverty reduction and development goals,” said Wasonga.
He said there is a need to create a platform to showcase success stories that may motivate land users, decision makers, development agencies, and private investors to act better. And also to reward individuals, communities, and institutions for their outstanding efforts towards a LDN continent as an incentive to engage and invest in sustainable land management (SLM) practices.
Investment in SLM provides opportunities for not only enhancing the current productivity of land, but also offers solutions that go beyond technological approaches by including aspects of social participation and policy dialogue.
Levis Kavagi, Africa Coordinator, Ecosystems and Biodiversity at the United Nations Environment Programme, said SLM ensures that maximisation of benefits from land resources do not cause ecological damage, economic risks and social disparity. The approach combines maintaining and enhancing condition of land which is still in good health, as well as restoration of the already degraded land.
However, the success of any SLM programmes is dependent upon the governance system. A governance system that recognises and integrates customary institutions and practices is shown to yield better results than statutory interventions.
“African governments need to develop policies that promote SLM and specifically those aimed at restoration of degraded lands. There is need for ‘win-win’ approaches with multiple short- and long-term benefits in combating land degradation, as well as restoring or maintaining ecosystem functions and services, thereby contributing to sustainable livelihoods and rural development,” said Kavagi.
Involvement of land users and communities is key to success of any attempt to promote SLM and restoration of degraded lands, he stressed. Such approaches should seek integration of low-cost customary institutions and practices that are familiar to the communities as a way of decentralizing governance.
There is also a need to sensitize and motivate the private sector to invest in SLM. Payment for ecosystem services should be promoted as way of giving incentive to the communities to use land in a sustainable manner, he concluded.
Farmland is shrinking for the first time on record thanks in part to consumer choices. What does this mean for the environment and the future of food?
By Joseph Poore
IT’S AN odd juxtaposition that’s starting to pop up in far-flung places around the world. Across the hilly regions of China, the scars of agriculture are being covered by a messy mix of trees and shrubs. In parts of Iran, Australia and Kazakhstan, wild animals are reclaiming swathes of abandoned pasture. And in Portugal, Chile and Argentina, abandoned farms serve as lifelines that connect fragments of intact wilderness.
The landscapes are different but all are evidence of a startling new trend. For the first time on record, the world’s farmland is shrinking. Every two years, an area roughly the size of the UK is abandoned. Has humanity’s insatiable land grab hit a turning point? And can we use this opportunity to build a world where farming has a smaller footprint, and nature gets a chance to rebound from the huge toll we have inflicted upon it?
For most of the 20th century, agriculture constantly spread out. By the 1990s, farms occupied 38 per cent of the world’s land. The impact on ecosystems is well documented: 27 per cent of tropical forests and 45 per cent of temperate forests were cleared in the process.
How can we use the planet’s resources sustainably? Find out more in our expert talk at New Scientist Live
Deforestation is still occurring rapidly in the tropics, making way for cattle, palm and soya, but by drawing on recent data from the Food and Agriculture Organization our research is showing that an entirely different trend is emerging elsewhere. The total area of cropland and pasture is now shrinking. This is particularly true in temperate areas and drylands, but also in some parts of the tropics (see map). So far this century, more land has been left to return to nature worldwide than has been cleared.
Among the factors driving the trend are the choices we make every day as consumers. We rarely think of it while we’re standing in the shops, but preferring cotton or synthetics to wool, say, has far-reaching consequences. One hectare of land can produce 300 kilograms of wool, or 2000 kilograms of cotton, while synthetic fabrics require essentially no land.
Pastures are being rewilded as demand for wool falls
Globally, demand for polyester increased four-fold during the 1990s, and wool demand fell 40 per cent. Wool prices collapsed. Sheep farmers around the world, particularly those who were on degraded pasture or couldn’t diversify, abandoned their farms. In Australia and New Zealand, two major wool-producing countries, over 60 million hectares of pasture have been abandoned since 1990. The trend continues today.
The switch away from wool has transformed vast regions. Take south-west Australia for instance – home to the world’s largest Mediterranean woodland of fragrant eucalyptus, to dry sandy heaths, wet forests and swamps harbouring rare, colourful cockatoos, carnivorous marsupials and unique amphibians like the sunset frog. Eighty-nine per cent of the land was once cleared for crops and for pastures to sate the booming wool trade. Now, consumer preferences for cotton and synthetic fabrics, and clever manoeuvring by conservation organisations, are driving change.
North-east of Perth is White Wells, a 69,000-hectare sheep farm. The area isn’t ideal for farming – there are dense shrubs and the water supply is poor – so the farm quickly became unprofitable when wool prices collapsed. A conservation charity called Bush Heritage saw an opportunity to purchase a property that still had ecological value. They removed the last stray sheep, reduced introduced species, and renamed it the Charles Darwin Reserve. Today, it is an island of natural vegetation traversing different biogeographical regions, with salt lakes, old river systems, open acacia shrublands, and eucalyptus forests – a sanctuary for almost 700 species of plant and 230 animals, including the threatened malleefowl and shield-backed trapdoor spider.
“Intensive farming comes with an environmental burden but there is another side to the story”
In north-eastern Iran, abandoned pastures have given two iconic species a new lease on life. The region is one of the last known refuges of the Asiatic cheetah, where a population of fewer than 40 individuals is hovering on the brink of extinction. Years of hunting and expanding agriculture have contracted and fragmented their range, but the tide is turning. “Reduced grazing and pasture abandonment are becoming evident on the ground in parts of Iran,” says Mohammad Farhadinia, co-founder of the Iranian Cheetah Society. In Miandasht Wildlife Refuge, a critical area for the cheetah, livestock numbers have fallen from 50,000 in the 1990s to below 15,000 today.
This has allowed another local species, the Persian gazelle, to make a recovery. In Miandasht alone, gazelle numbers have gone from less than 300 in the early 2000s to an estimated 1300 today. The cheetah preys on the gazelle, raising hopes that it will also recover. For this, the Iranian Cheetah Society is working with the Iranian Department of Environment to buy inexpensive abandoned land and turn it into national parks. Greater awareness and anti-poaching enforcement are urgently needed to make the most of this opportunity.
Iran is a classic example of intensification. As in Mongolia and other Central Asian countries, pastoralists who eked out a living off land that provided minimal incomes have migrated to urban areas. Meanwhile, intensive systems elsewhere are occupying significantly less land to deliver the same amount of protein. Of course, intensive farming comes with its own environmental burden, such as fertiliser run-off into rivers and lakes and increased use of pesticides. But Miandasht shows another side to the ecological story. One estimate suggests that globally, farmland intensification saved 27 million hectares from being cleared between 1965 and 2004.
With careful planning, some environmental costs of intensification can be managed. Precision farming, for example, uses information on soil, the climate and crops’ potential to absorb nutrients to calculate the exact amount of fertiliser needed. Pesticides can be curbed by using integrated pest control, which mixes mechanical tools like traps with biological controls like natural predators. There are major animal welfare concerns about intensive livestock farming – particularly issues arising from confinement, breeding for short, productive lives and the use of hormones. Options to boost efficiency and improve welfare are lacking, and the only real solution may be to radically change our diets (see “The future is vegan“).
Perhaps one of the last century’s most significant changes to land use came with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Collective farms broke down, machinery and livestock were sold off, and marginal agriculture, dependent on state subsidies, quickly became unprofitable. Farm workers moved into cities, abandoning 45 million hectares of cropland and an unknown but large amount of pasture.
Saiga antelopes returned after the collapse of Soviet collective farming
Wild Wonders of Europe/Shpilenok/NaturePL.com
In the immediate aftermath, it looked as though wildlife would suffer. The saiga antelope’s prized horns (pictured above) became a key source of income for local people, and hunting drove numbers to critically low levels. The sociable lapwing, an endangered bird that migrates from the Middle East to the grass steppes of Central Asia, also suffered: it depends on grazed grass to nest and eats the insects attracted to the saiga’s manure.
In this, a team from the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Frankfurt Zoological Society saw a unique opportunity to protect two species at once. Working with the government of Kazakhstan they protected 5 million hectares centred on the saiga’s migration range in an area called the Altyn Dala. “There was room to manoeuvre because people had left the area, and the newly formed government was able to develop effective regulations,” says E. J. Milner-Gulland, chair of the Saiga Conservation Alliance. Coupled with anti-poaching enforcement and monitoring, the antelopes made an incredible recovery. They currently number around 150,000, up from 21,000 in 2003.
The lapwing’s breeding success has also increased, according to the RSPB. Unfortunately, the birds now face another challenge: being poached at their wintering grounds in Kuwait. Nonetheless, what happened in Kazakhstan shows how smart policies can turn farmland abandonment into a good news story for the environment.
For most governments, however, concerns over food security mean abandonment is seen as negative, so they design policies to avoid returning farmland to nature. Under the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy, for instance, farmers are paid for each acre maintained in farming condition – even if the land is unprofitable. And in Western Australia, the Land Administration Act makes it difficult for farmers to derive income from sources other than livestock. Policies like these were born in an era when a greater amount of cultivated land signified a better safeguard against famine. With higher yield farming and more international trade, they are increasingly in need of revision.
In Australia, there are calls for change. Partnership for the Outback, run by a number of NGOs including Bush Heritage, is seeking new legislation that would allow farmers to make money from tourism or environmental stewardship. They want conservation to be recognised as a valuable and economically viable use of land in its own right.
“There is a huge opportunity for proactive conservation agencies to help restore marginal and abandoned lands,” says Luke Bayley from Bush Heritage. This may mean completely restoring ecosystems or redesigning farms to protect biodiversity. “Another critical element of conservation is the ability to bring families back into the landscape, create economic opportunities and engage regional people.” Indeed, for conservation to succeed, it often has to deliver benefits for people.
In Portugal’s Côa Valley, upland farming was gradually abandoned after it became uncompetitive. Farmers needed a financial way out, and conservation organisations provided that by purchasing their land when no other buyers were in the market. For those looking to stay, opportunities emerged from tourists, drawn by the pristine valleys and sightings of returning deer, wolves and black vultures.
I witnessed the benefits of novel policies first hand in 2014, when doing research in Lanzhou, in China. The booming city was at the heart of a Grain for Green area, a subsidy programme which has invested more than $60 billion dollars to revegetate 32 million hectares since 1999 in an effort to alleviate poverty and restore ecosystems. Responding to flooding, soil erosion and desertification, the government paid farmers on sloping land to plant trees, shrubs and grasses. The farms were hard to mechanise. Their low yields often provided subsistence-level incomes. But the new subsidies allowed farmers to migrate to cities or derive greater off-farm income. Improving the biodiversity of these regions will take much more work, but already household incomes have risen in almost all areas under the programme.
These examples of shrinking farmland present a narrative where the return of low productivity land to natural ecosystems can be a positive, not a negative change. They paint a picture of a new agricultural system, where we embrace high yield technologies, where we don’t keep unproductive farmers producing, and where we as consumers avoid products that use large amounts of land. The beginning of this century could mark the point when we began sharing more, not less of our planet with the other species that inhabit it.
The future is vegan
Could changes in what we eat release more land from agriculture in the future? Animal products use significantly more land than vegetable equivalents to deliver the same amount of nutrition. To make 100 grams of beef protein you need between 20 and 250 square metres of land per year. Chicken requires 2 to 6 m2, and tofu 1 to 2 m2 . A litre of soya milk uses less than 0.5 m2; animal milks use more than twice that amount.
A global transition to vegan diets would remove all pasture – two-thirds of the world’s agricultural land. The extent of cropland would also shrink, because many animals are fed crops that humans can eat. They eat 3 to 20 times the amount of protein that they return for human consumption. As a result, if everyone became vegan, the extent of arable land would fall by 20 to 40 per cent. So if we were all determined to avoid animal proteins, the majority of agricultural land would be released from production, freeing up huge areas for wildlife.
Figuring out whether global biodiversity has benefited or suffered from agricultural abandonment is tricky. Intensive farming can degrade local ecosystems, but it spares land elsewhere. The same drivers that are opening up farmland for conservation in temperate regions – consumer choices and international trade – have also caused deforestation in tropical countries. The shift towards cheap palm oil, for instance, has driven massive deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia at the expense of their unique wildlife. And studies show that following abandonment, farmland is temporarily more prone to drought and fire.
But if carefully managed to avoid these trade-offs, abandonment presents an environmental opportunity. It’s well established that agriculture reduces biodiversity: a 2015 meta-analysis of 284 studies covering 11,525 sites around the world showed 20 to 50 per cent reduction in species richness on farms compared with natural ecosystems. The same study also found that cleared land could, with time, recover the same levels of biodiversity as undisturbed sites.
Finally, regenerating ecosystems can rapidly become carbon sinks – a boon in the battle against climate change: land abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union has stored away 158 million tonnes of CO2 each year, equivalent to 42 per cent of the UK’s annual emissions.
Grossman, Richard | August 17, 2017 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF
Richard Grossman. The Most Overpopulated Country. © Richard Grossman, MD.
I first learned about Conceptual Art from a wonderful lecture on genres of art. The concept idea of making Contraceptual Art immediately jumped into my head. After all, I am a population activist and my professional life has been devoted to helping people to have control over their fertility.
What is Conceptual Art? One definition is: “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work.”
What is Contraceptual Art? that has yet to be decided!
Who knows what our lives would be like if we did not have the option of safe, effective means to limit our family size! Yet there are over 200 million women worldwide who lack access to modern contraception. Fewer people will help make the world more harmonious.
Our world is already overdeveloped and overpopulated. I fear for the world that our three granddaughters will know. Will we have left them with a world of war and disease? I am saddened that we are driving species to extinction at a rate that is perhaps 1,000 times the normal rate. Will there still be tigers in the wild when our granddaughters are grown?
Whether we like it or not, this country [US] still has Victorian ideals that eschew sexuality despite living in a world where sex is used to sell everything, including chewing gum and candy bars. My hope is that contraceptual art will bring birth control out of doctors’ offices and pharmacies and into people’s minds. And, oh yes, I hope that it will get a few laughs, too!
Richard Grossman Good Year. © Richard Grossman, MD. Question: What do you do with 365 used condoms? Answer: Make them into a tire and call it a Good Year.
Richard Grossman. Barriers to Family Planning. © Richard Grossman, MDHow many “barriers” can you find?
Richard Grossman. The Most Overpopulated Country. © Richard Grossman, MD.
Following a long career as an obstetrician-gynecologist, Richard Grossman has kept busy writing the column “Population Matters!”. The Durango Herald publishes the column monthly, and it can also be found online at population-matters.org. Or, if you would like to subscribe to the column, you can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. He promises only one email a month.
Recently Grossman has turned towards the use of art to raise further awareness that, indeed, population matters. For Grossman, Contraceptual Art provides a venue for bringing the challenge of human overpopulation to the forefront in an engaging and thought-provoking way. Grossman promises he has more in the works.
Only with knowledge will humanity survive. Our search for knowledge will encounter uncertainties and unknowns, but search we must. The search must persist and adapt as humanity’s present knowledge is expanded and changed. Continued allegiance to the false belief that human population and our current economic system can grow indefinitely, runs directly counter to this search for knowledge. Those that espouse this belief hinder our search for the knowledge critical to humanity’s survival.
Since Earth and the resources it can provide humanity are finite, both population and economic growth must cease sometime in the future. To use ridiculous examples to prove a point– Earth could not support 1 trillion people for even one moment and Earth could not support an economy 1 trillion times as large as the current economy for even one moment. Therefore, the following questions arise:
1. When will growth cease?
2. How will growth cease?
We can debate when growth will cease, but we cannot debate the fact that it will cease. Those who take the position that growth in the number of people, the resources they use, and the waste they create can continue on a finite Earth are, again, arrogant fools. While new technologies, recycling and any other actions taken by humanity can reduce the amount of resources used per unit of economic activity/output, neither new technologies, recycling nor any other actions taken by humanity can convert the finite and limited resources Earth provides humanity into infinite resources that will permit economic activity and population to grow forever.
Almost every resource Earth provides humanity is finite. The more we use today the less we have for tomorrow. Theoretically, Earth provides humanity with two types of resources: renewable resources and nonrenewable resources. Nonrenewable resources include fossil fuels and minerals. Renewable resources include soil, water, forest growth, fish in the ocean, and similar items. In reality, humanity is using almost every theoretically renewable resource faster than it can be naturally replaced and, therefore, for all practical purposes, renewable resources have become nonrenewable. Well before these resources are exhausted, we will find them harder to exploit. Humanity in the past has used those resources which were the easiest to obtain, had the highest concentrations of the minerals desired, the easiest to process, and closest to the place where they would be used. In the future humanity will be forced to use resources which are harder to obtain, have lower concentrations, are harder to process, and further from the place of usage. We will therefore face the challenges of higher prices, reduced returns, and greater processing waste well before the resources are exhausted. In many cases we already are.
Yet many economists, politicians, and even environmentalists will have you believe that the economy can continue to grow in spite of the fact that resources and sinks are limited. The recent budget proposal from the Trump administration relies on the assumption of 3% growth of the U.S. economy as measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Since the economy will grow in a compound manner, a 3% annual growth rate would cause the economy of the USA to double about every 23.33 years. In 233 years there would be 10 doublings resulting in a growth factor of over 1,000 and in 466 years there would be 20 doublings resulting in a growth factor of over 1 million. In under 100 years at the same annual growth rate, there would be over 4 doublings resulting in a growth factor of over 16–2,4,8,16. The resources that will be available to the USA in under 100 years will not permit the economy of the USA to be 16 times as large as the current economy. Do you have any facts that would support the position that the economy of the USA could become 16 times as large as the current economy in under 100 years?
Instead, the evidence suggests that attempting to maintain an annual compound economic growth rate of 3% which would result in four doublings in 100 years, or a growth factor of sixteen, would result in the collapse of civilization. Why? Economic growth requires the use of physical resources. Without the use of physical resources, economic growth cannot and will not continue. It is almost certain that the earth cannot supply humanity, on an overall basis, with four times the resources it presently supplies. History suggests that resource constraints are more likely to lead to wars and disease than previously unseen economic flourishing and wellbeing.
It is not my intent to pick on Donald Trump in this essay, as the majority of candidates and major political parties, across levels of politics, have taken the position that growth is the solution to all or almost all of the problems faced today by humanity. Anyone who believes growth is a solution to any of the problems presently faced by humanity ignores the fact that Earth and the resources it can provide humanity are finite, the power of compound growth and the fact that the human population is exploding. Almost all of the problems faced by humanity today were caused, in whole or in part, by the combined impact of economic and population growth.
Which brings us to the question: when will growth cease? At what level will human population and economic production cease to grow? There are two options of the level at which each of them will peak: 1) At the current level or, 2) At some level higher than the current level. There is also the very likely possibility that growth will not only have to cease, but that the number of people and size of the economy will have to be reduced to some level lower than the current level. These options amount to a simple question: What size of the economy and population would permit humanity to survive on this planet for the longest period of time? A simple question that can be complicated for some to answer, but ultimately only has one correct answer –at the lowest population level which will permit genetic diversity so that humanity can survive and at the lowest economic level which will satisfy the reasonable needs of all of humankind. The meaning of “reasonable” is where the debate and discussion needs to take place, not the statements that have preceded it –which are where we are currently spending too much of our time and energy.
All indication is that the answer to –What size of the economy and population would permit humanity to survive on this planet for the longest period of time?– is not likely to be a level above what we are currently demanding of Earth. Which brings us to the question: How will growth cease? For population growth, I propose there are three, and only three, ways population growth will cease:
1. Wars, most likely with weapons of mass destruction, disease, starvation, civil strife and other horrors beyond the imagination.
2. Voluntary population control, which includes raising the standard of living of all of humanity, educating men and women, providing the most modern means of birth control to all humanity at no or very little cost, providing the safest and most modern means of abortion to all humanity at no or very little cost, changing the culture such that a person’s position in society is not determined by how many children he or she produces, restructuring all religions such that women are in every way equal to men, and taking all other similar actions that anyone can think of.
3. Coercive population control on a worldwide basis that would be enforced by penalties, that could range from very minor civil penalties up to and including major criminal penalties.
I am open to hearing other thoughts on additional methods through which human population growth can be curtailed, but I believe these three to be the only options. With that in mind, the first option is obviously undesirable and should be avoided. Which brings us to the two methods of reducing the number of children born –yes, two methods. Currently, we are putting all our faith in voluntary population control to the point that many people refuse to even enter discussions about coercive population control. That does not make sense. What evidence do we have that voluntary population control will reduce population growth to zero or make it negative in time to prevent the collapse of civilization? What evidence do we have that within the next 150 years there is no chance humanity will have to choose between coercive population control and the total and complete destruction of civilization? We should be prepared for that choice, and can only be if we openly discuss coercive population control.
If there is at least a 10% chance that voluntary population control will fail or if there is at least a 10% chance that humanity will face the choice between coercive population control and the total and complete destruction of worldwide civilization within 150 years, humanity must (and I have used the word “must” purposely) immediately discuss, evaluate, debate and consider all the problems and benefits of both coercive and voluntary population control so that a decision is made as to which method of population control is best for humanity. Anyone opposed to the consideration of both methods of population control must show why such a discussion will presently be more harmful to humanity than failing to have such a discussion.
To restate the position differently, there are two choices–discuss, evaluate, debate and consider both methods of population control to determine which method is best for humanity or not to have such an evaluation and discussion. Those that do not want to have such an evaluation and discussion must show why their position is better for humanity than having such an evaluation and discussion. On a personal level, I cannot think of one fact that would indicate not having such a discussion and evaluation would be more beneficial to humanity and to the survival of civilization than having such a discussion and evaluation.
Admittedly, such a discussion and evaluation may not provide sufficient evidence to guarantee the correct choice between voluntary and coercive population control. However, that should not prevent a discussion and evaluation from occurring. If, based upon today’s knowledge and facts, sufficient evidence to guarantee the correct choice between the two methods of population control is not available or cannot be agreed to, the intelligent action to take would be to have additional discussions and evaluations at later periods of time. We must make a choice between the two methods of population control based on our intelligence and the facts and knowledge available to us. We cannot and must not leave the choice between the two methods of birth control to be made by default. Default, almost certainly, will result in the elimination of the human species from the face of Earth.
At the beginning of this essay, I stated that knowledge is always better than the lack of knowledge and that those who refuse to obtain knowledge are fools. That statement applies to those who refuse to consider, evaluate, debate and discuss the two methods of population control, unless they show that such an evaluation and consideration would be extremely harmful today to humanity. The fact that a large portion of humanity would be opposed to such an evaluation and discussion should not and must not prevent such a discussion as a large portion of humanity has no understanding of the problems humanity presently faces and has no understanding of the power of compound growth. Humanity must not be ruled by those that do not have knowledge and refuse to obtain knowledge.
I could go on analyzing and describing every problem presently faced by humanity today that could cause the destruction of civilization and the deaths of billions by the year 2100. However, this essay is getting too long and if I did not convince you that humanity must start a discussion and evaluation of coercive population control today, nothing additional I could write would make you change your mind.
One last comment. Many of those who will read this essay are correctly concerned by the problems of enforcing coercive population control on a worldwide basis. I concur in your concerns that the problems will be monumental. Those problems must be part of the discussion and evaluation comparing coercive control with voluntary control. However, if humanity is faced with a final choice of coercive population control or destruction of civilization, the choice must be coercive population control and those challenges will need to be resolved. As no one can guarantee, with certainty, that humanity will not face exactly that choice within the next 150 years, those discussions need to start now.
 Noguchi, Yuki “Trump Budget Plan Relies On Optimistic Growth Assumptions, Analysts Say”
Jason G. Brent holds degrees in Engineering, Law and Business.
Last Wednesday, August 2, was Earth Overshoot Day. But unlike Earth Day or Canada Day, it’s not a time to celebrate.
As the Earth Overshoot Day website explains, it marks the time when “we will have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the whole year.” That is the definition of unsustainable and means we’re using up the biological capital that should be our children's legacy.
We would require 1.7 Earths to meet our current annual demands sustainably. It doesn’t have to be this way.
“Our planet is finite, but human possibilities are not. Living within the means of one planet is technologically possible, financially beneficial, and our only chance for a prosperous future,” says Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of the Global Footprint Network, an international research organization that uses UN statistics and other sources to calculate when overshoot day falls every year.
This year marks the earliest overshoot date yet.
Our carbon footprint more than doubled
Wackernagel was a student of University of British Columbia ecologist William Rees. They popularized the footprint concept in their 1996 book, Our Ecological Footprint. Andrew Simms of the U.K.’s New Economics Foundation conceived Earth Overshoot Day, partnering with the Global Footprint Network in 2006 on the first campaign, and with conservation organization WWF starting in 2007.
According to the website, overfishing, over-harvesting forests and emitting more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than natural sinks like forests can sequester are among the ways we overshoot Earth’s capacity. The consequences are serious.
“Impacts of ecological overspending are apparent already in soil erosion, desertification, reduced cropland productivity, overgrazing, deforestation, rapid species extinction, fisheries collapse and increased carbon concentration in the atmosphere,” it notes. “Natural capital constraints also pose a threat to economic performance and economic stability.”
Climate change is the most serious result. The Global Footprint Network says our carbon footprint makes up 60 per cent of our total ecological footprint, and it’s increasing rapidly. Basing its calculations on “the land area required to sequester carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production,” the network says our carbon footprint has more than doubled since 1970.
From beef to beans
The network also offers a mobile-friendly personal footprint calculator. Be warned: if you live in North America, your footprint will likely be much higher than 1.7 Earths, no matter how ecologically aware you consider yourself. We use far more energy and other resources than people in many parts of the world.
The site includes a range of solutions in four areas: food, cities, population and energy. In North America, reducing the carbon footprint by using less energy — especially fossil fuels — is major, but so is changing food habits. Food demand makes up 26 per cent of the global footprint.
Because raising animals for food requires far more resources and creates more emissions than growing plants, reducing the amount of meat and animal products we eat decreases our footprint. According to Oregon State University researchers, if Americans ate beans instead of beef, the U.S. could meet its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions goals, even if the country did little else and if people continued to eat other animal products.
Food waste is another major problem. One-third of the food produced worldwide is wasted or lost — as much as 40 per cent in the U.S.
Population is an obvious concern. More people require more space and resources. Strategies to stabilize population growth also have social benefits. “Educating girls and providing access to safe, affordable, and effective family planning” and “empowering women” are essential to reducing population growth and result in better economic development and health outcomes.
Because humans are increasingly urban dwellers — with 70 to 80 per cent expected to live in cities by 2050 — things like “energy-efficient buildings, integrated zoning, compact cities, and effective options for people-powered and public transportation” are crucial to reducing our footprint.
Some have criticized the Earth overshoot concept, arguing it’s not accurate or that it underestimates resource overuse. Wackernagel admits the calculations are only as good as the available data, but argues that it remains a useful way to put our unsustainable ways in perspective.
Demanding constant economic growth on a finite planet with limited ability to renew resources is a recipe for overshoot. We can and must do more to reduce our growing impact on the only home we have.
— Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington.
As western wildfires become bigger and more intense, state and federal fire agencies are using more and more aerial fire retardant, prompting concerns over fish kills, aquatic life, and water quality.
The chemicals, known as PFAS, are linked to health effects including cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, pregnancy-induced hypertension, asthma, and ulcerative colitis.
The painkiller, taken by half of pregnant women worldwide, could be contributing to rising rates of reproductive system problems and neurodevelopmental disorders like ADHD and autism.
"If we look at the rate of carbon emissions, most is emitted by the developed and industrialized countries, but the problem is poor countries like Bangladesh are the main sufferers."