You are currently browsing the archives for the Global Warming category.


From Field to Plate...

Archive for the ‘Global Warming’ Category

Sunday, February 8, 2015 @ 06:02 AM
posted by admin

A preview of the unpublished book A CIVILIZATION WITHOUT A VISION WILL PERISH: AN INDEPENDENT SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH by David Willis. CHAPTER 1: INDIFFERENCE TO POVERTY (Part 43). This blog is a continuation of the review of The End of Poverty: How We Can Make it Happen in Our Life Time, by Jeffrey Sachs, published in 2005

Chapter One: A Global Family Portrait
Malawi: The Perfect storm
As we arrive in the village, we see no able-bodied young men at all. In fact, older women and dozens of children greet us, but there is not a young man or woman of working age in sight. Where, we ask, are the workers? Out in the fields?
The aid worker who has led us to the village shakes his head sadly and says no. They are nearly all dead. The village has been devastated by AIDS, which has ravaged this part of Malawi for several years now.
There are just five men between 20 and 40 years of age left in the village. They are not there this morning because they are all attending the funeral of a fellow villager who died of AIDS the day before.
The margin of survival is extraordinarily narrow; sometimes it closes entirely. One woman we meet in front of her mud hut has 15 orphaned grandchildren.
She points to the withered crops that have died in the fields next to her hut. Her small plot, perhaps a half hectare (a little more than an acre) in all, would be too small to feed her family even if the rains had been plentiful.
The problem of small farm size and drought are compounded by yet another problem: the soil nutrients have been depleted so significantly in this part of Malawi that crop yields reach only about one ton of maize per hectare with good rains, compared with three tons per hectare that would be typical of healthy soils.
She reaches into her apron and pulls out a handful of semirotten, bug-infested millet, which will be the basis for the gruel she will prepare for the meal that evening. It will be the one meal the children have that day.
I ask her about the health of her children. She points to a child of about four and says that the small girl contracted malaria the week before. When they got to the hospital, there was no quinine, the antimalarial medicine, available that day. With the child in high fever, the grandmother and grandchild were sent home and told to return the next day.
In a small miracle, when they returned the next day after another 10-kilometer trek, the quinine had come in, and the child responded to treatment and survived.
More than one million African children, and perhaps as many as three million, succumb to malaria each year.
This horrific catastrophe occurs despite the fact that the disease is partly preventable – through the use of bed nets and other environmental controls that do not reach the impoverished villages of Malawi and most of the rest of the continent – and completely treatable.
There is simply no conceivable excuse for this disease to be taking millions of lives each year.
Our guide to Nthandire is a Christian aid worker, a dedicated and compassionate Malawian working for a local nongovernmental organization (NGO). He and his colleagues work against all odds to help villages such as this one. The NGO has almost no financing available and survives from meager contributions.
There are only poor in this village. No clinic nearby. No safe water source. No crops in the fields. And notably, no aid.
Attending school is now a hit-and-miss affair. Children are in and out of school with illness. Their attendance depends on how urgently they are needed at home to fetch water and firewood, or to care for siblings or cousins; on whether they can afford to buy supplies, a uniform, and pay local fees; and on the safety of walking several kilometers to the school itself.
We fly to the second city of the country, Blantyre, where we visit the main hospital of Malawi and experience our second shock of the day.
This hospital is the place where the government of Malawi is keen to begin a treatment program for the roughly 900,000 Malawians infected with the HIV virus and currently dying of AIDS because of lack of treatment.
The hospital has set up a walk-in clinic for people who can afford to pay the dollar a day cost of the antiretroviral combination therapy, based on Malawi’s arrangements with the Indian generic drug producer Cipla, which has pioneered the provision of low cost antiretroviral drugs to poor countries.
At the time of our visit, this treatment site is providing anti-AIDS drugs on a daily basis to about 400 people who can afford it – 400 people in a country where 900,000 are infected. For the rest, there is essentially no access to anti-AIDS medicine.
Democracy is bound to be fragile in an impoverished country where incomes are around 50 cents per person per day, or around $180 per person per year, and where the stresses of mass disease, famine, and climate shock are pervasive.
Amazingly, the Malawians have done it, while the international community has largely stood by through all of this suffering.
Malawi put together one of the earliest and best conceived strategies for bringing treatment to its dying population, and gave an enormously thoughtful response to the challenges of managing a new system of drug delivery, patient counseling and education, community outreach, and the financial flows that would accompany the process of training doctors.
Yet the international processes are cruel. The donor governments – including the United States and Europeans – told Malawi to scale back its proposal sharply because the first proposal was “too ambitious and too costly.”
After a long struggle, Malawi received funding to save just 25,000 at the end of five years – a death warrant from the international community for the people of this country.
Carol Bellamy of UNICEF has rightly described Malawi’s plight as the perfect storm, a storm that brings together climatic disaster, impoverishment, the AIDS pandemic, and the long-standing burdens of malaria, schistosomiasis, and other diseases. In the face of this horrific maelstrom, the world community has so far displayed a fair bit of hand-wringing and even some high-minded rhetoric, but precious little action.

Thursday, February 2, 2012 @ 06:02 AM
posted by admin




GOWER        2011

The Green Economics and Sustainable Growth Series


Chapter 3: Executive Brief No. 2: Climate Change


The issue of Climate Change has moved quickly over the last five years from ‘is it real?,’ to ‘is it too late?’ Leading scientists have identified the rapid rise in greenhouse gas concentration – from 270 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere at the beginning of the industrial Revolution, to over 380 ppm now – an increase of over 30% as caused by human activity. These increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap heat, and have raised the temperature on Planet Earth by almost one degree in this same period. Already the effects of even this one degree increase are being felt in changing weather patterns, melting polar icecaps and glaciers. This can potentially raise sea levels to catastrophic proportions.

The actions required are twofold. Firstly, reduce and eventually eliminate greenhouse gases being put into the atmosphere. The EU and the US have both set targets of 20% reduction by 2020, and 80% by 2050. It is estimated that this would achieve a capping of the CO2 in the atmosphere of 580 ppm CO2 and three degrees of global warming. Two degrees, however, has been identified as the maximum that can be allowed before catastrophic and irreversible Climate Change begins to occur. The challenge is to get these reduction targets consistent across the globe – for developed and developing countries – and to then ensure that they are achieved. Government, Business and People all have an important role to play in achieving these objectives using the ARROW approach – Avoid, Replace, Reduce, Offset, Watch and Monitor.

The second requirement is adaptation. Already, the impact of rising sea levels and weather patters are increasing. As temperatures continue to rise, the need to implement plans for adaptation to these changes is critical.

The current situation

Temperatures are rising: The average global temperature on Planet Earth has increased by 0.8°C from pre-industrial levels. 40% of this temperature rise took over 150 years; while the final 60% required only the last 60 years. The temperature rises after 1975 is unprecedented, with the 11 highest recorded temperatures happening in the last 13 years.

Temperature rises are linked to greenhouse gas emissions: Temperature increases have been directly linked to a similar increase in CO2 levels. The atmospheric concentration of carbon is now over 380 parts per million – against 270 ppm before the industrial revolution. On current trends the figure will pass 450ppm within a decade and will be more than 580ppm by 2050 due to increases in the emission of greenhouse gases by human beings. Amplification of the earth’s natural greenhouse effect by the build-up of greenhouse gases introduced by human activity has the potential to produce dramatic change in climate.

Human activity is causing Climate Change: In the 20th century, the near quadrupling of human population and more than tripling of per capita CO2 emissions of greenhouse gases has created a situation where it is now agreed that human activity is causing Climate Change. The impacts in the following UN diagram show the range of consequences of Climate Change.

Increasing impacts: As greenhouse gas levels and temperatures continue to rise, the damaging impacts on Planet Earth will increase.

Projected impact of climate change:

Food: Possible rising yields in some high latitude regions; Falling crop yields in many areas, particularly developing regions; Falling crop yields in many developed regions.

Water: Small mountain glaciers disappear – water supplies threatened in many areas; Significant decreases in water availability in many areas, including Mediterranean and Southern Africa; Sea level rise threatens major cities.

Ecosystems: Extensive damage to coral reefs; Rising number of species face extinction.

Extreme weather events: Rising intensity of storms, forest fires, droughts, flooding and heat waves.

Risk of abrupt and major irreversible changes: Increasing risk of dangerous feedbacks and abrupt, large-scale shifts in the climate system.

Climate Change and the impact on Planet Earth’s oceans: The National Centre for Atmospheric Research estimate that 118 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide were absorbed by the earth’s oceans between 1800 and 1994 – a major contribution to reducing the impact of greenhouse gases. However, this is causing the oceans to become more acidic as the dissolved carbon dioxide becomes carbonic acid – a corrosive agent which eats away the shell of important species in the global food chain. Coral reefs under attack may face extinction with inevitable damaging side effects on ecological balance. One hundred and fifty marine scientists from 26 countries recently signed the Monaco Declaration, identifying the twin threats of global warming and ocean acidification as ‘the challenge of the century’.

The Antarctic: The British Antarctic Survey reported in 2009 that the peninsular has warmed by more than 3°C in the past 50 years. A 1% loss of Antarctic land ice would probably raise sea levels by 65cm according to the Norwegian Polar Institute.

The tipping points: There is also concern that the changes will not be simply incremental because if certain ‘tipping points’ are reached, then major catastrophic change such as sea level rises and collapse of the Gulf Stream which warms Europe could happen very quickly. There is increasing concern that some of these tipping points may have already been reached.

Managing the impacts: Scientists around the world have also concluded that flooded cities, diminished food production and increasing storm damage all seem likely as a result of global warming and could affect the lives of billions of people. However, to date we have not taken significant action to address these potential impacts.

Impact of industrialised nations: Most of the man-made global warming pollution currently in the atmosphere has come from industrialised nations.

Impact of developing nations: Emissions from major developing countries such as China, India and Brazil are increasing rapidly, with China currently overtaking the USA as the largest emitter of CO2. If developing countries, with high population growth, follow the wasteful and inefficient western lifestyle model, the problems will clearly become worse.

Getting agreement to act: Although the UN reports conclude that the majority of scientists agree that global warming is occurring and that it is caused by human activity, there is still significant confusion about Climate Change and the remedial actions required. This has lead to significant ‘analysis paralysis’ when what is required is decisive and globally coordinated action and discussion as to who should start first. It is clearly in everybody’s interests for a globally coordinated and rapidly deployed approach to greenhouse gas reduction to take place across both developed and developing nations.

Adaptation: The impacts of Climate Change are already being felt – more destructive storms, rising sea levels and changing weather patterns. Despite this, emissions of fossil fuels continue to increase from an average of 1.3% per year in the 1990s to more than 3% per year from 2000 to 2008. Therefore, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions need to be accompanied by proactive adaptation plans in areas such as energy, water, buildings and transport.


Opportunities and Best Practice


Alternative technologies are available: Alternative non-greenhouse gas-emitting technologies are increasingly available. For example, solar, wind, geothermal power and bio-fuels.

Best practice precedents exist: The reduction in the ozone layer is an example of success when scientists and governments work constructively together on a global basis to tackle a global environmental issue.

Progress can be made: The identification of the challenge of acid rain led to coordinated political action for the introduction of emission controls on the industry and a switch to natural gas (from coal) for power generation. The result has been significant declines in emissions of sulphur dioxide emissions which are the gases largely to blame for creating acid rain. As a result of the halving of levels of acidic sulphur in British waters in the last 15 years, fish have begun to return to rivers and streams that were once acidic waterways.

Ambitious timeframes can be met: The ability to develop and roll out new technologies quickly is illustrated by the fact that only 20 years after their introduction, over half the world’s population, more than 3.5 billion people, use mobile phones. There are already over one billion computers and internet users. Rapid deployment of technology is possible where focused, globally coordinated efforts are deployed.

Governments are starting to respond: The EU’s long-term strategy is that 20% of energy must come from renewables and 10% of transport fuels will be bio-fuels. EU emissions must be reduced to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020. Many states in the USA are developing their own strategies. President Obama indicates the US could soon be leading the battle against Climate Change. He supports a Cap and Trade system to limit carbon dioxide emissions and has called for an overhaul of US industry which would require a $150 billion investment in renewable energy (see further review of Cap and Trade in the Role of Government section).

Preferred maximum increase in temperature: It has been estimated that average global temperature rise could be between 2°C and 6°C – depending on how quickly the activities impacting the rises are curbed. The estimated maximum temperature rise that Planet Earth can sustain without moving into this catastrophic change has been identified as 2°C. It is important to note that this is not a ‘safe’ level of warning; it is merely ‘less dangerous than what lies beyond’. The need for urgent action on a global scale to minimise the temperature rises is therefore critical.

What greenhouse gas emission reductions are required to stay below the 2°C threshold? A number of estimates have been made about reduction levels and these lie in the range between 60% and 90% by 2050. The EU has set targets at 80% reduction and 550 CO2 levels. Environmentalist George Monbiot, in his book Heat, recommends a much more aggressive approach of 90% by 2030 to stabilise at what could be viewed as a safer CO2 level of 450 ppm to achieve a maximum of 2°C increase. It is essential that effective targets are agreed and rapid and coordinated global action is taken to achieve these reduction levels.

How fast could change be driven? Achieving an effective balance between the risk of not changing fast enough, thereby increasing the chance of not achieving the 2°C maximum increase, and too fast, thereby not allowing the effective management of the changes required is crucial. An effective balance must therefore be achieved in driving to achieve these objectives.



There are a wide range of activities and solutions which can be used to manage Climate Change. Below are some examples on which to focus for maximum impact to be made:

Focus on high-impact countries: The top 20 high greenhouse-emitting countries contribute over 70% of current greenhouse gases and therefore are the top priority for action. There has been significant debate about whether it is the responsibility of the developed nations, which have emitted most to the greenhouse gases to date, to take action, as they commenced their industrialisation much earlier; or the emerging developing nations to curb their rapidly increasing emissions. The answer is to focus on the countries which are currently the highest emitters of greenhouse gases – both developed and developing nations.

Focus on forests: Equally important is that 20% of greenhouse gas emissions are coming from the burning of forests (that is, deforestation). Therefore, added to this list must be the urgent need to address this problem in the key regions where large-scale deforestation is taking place: the Amazon, South East Asia and Russia.

Communication: People change behaviour when they understand why it is important. Effective communication is required to enable people to understand why change is important, and that they can make a difference.

Make it easy: Making it easy for people to make these changes is a key role that can be played through government education and legislation, as well as through innovative business products and services. This can never be underestimated as ‘ease of use’, as well as understanding, is a key enabling large-scale change.



Commitment to change: EU countries, for example, are making significant progress and are an important example of best practice. However, some state governments in the US (for example, California) are also leading the way. The task is now to build on the success of these countries and states and establish targets from the post-Bali consultation process, to which all countries globally can commit themselves.

Taking direct action: In 2009, the British government announced a plan to provide cavity wall and roof insulation to all properties by 2015. 400,000 households a year will be fitted. A quarter of the UK’s total CO2 emissions come from homes. A further important policy decision was made by the British Government in 2009. A commitment was made that up to four coal-fired power stations would be fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) that takes the carbon dioxide from the burning coal and stores it underground. The real challenge is not the technology. It is creating the right environment for Government, Business and People to want to make the changes.

Combining the three agents of change: Another best practice example comes from Australia, which has legislated to phase out non-energy saving light bulbs by 2012, with a forecast 40% energy saving as a result. This is a good example of the three agents of change. Business innovation and funding developed the technology, government has created the suitable legislative environment for change, and consumers support the initiative through their buying behaviour.


The role of Government, Business and people


The contribution of government is important at all levels – international, national and state. The EU countries and an increasing number of American states are using a variety of approaches including regulation, legislation, tax and rewards.

Lead by example:


Monday, August 29, 2011 @ 04:08 AM
posted by admin

Book Review


In Part 1 of A New Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations, Clive Ponting tells us that since the fall of the Soviet Union “billions of tons of carbon dioxide have been put into the atmosphere and the threat of global warming is even more starkly apparent.” “World industrial output and levels of consumption have continued to rise at unprecedented rates. There can be no doubt that global warming is the greatest single threat that the world now faces.” “By the time that the effects of global warming become fully apparent, and that may be very soon, it will be too late to take action to avoid disaster.” “Easter Island is a striking example of the dependence of human societies on their environment and of the consequences of irreversibly damaging that environment.” “By 1600 the island was almost completely deforested and statue erection was brought to a halt, leaving many stranded at the quarry. The deforestation of the island was not only the death knell for the elaborate social and ceremonial life, it also had other drastic effects on the everyday life of the population.” “They resorted to stone shelters dug into the hillside or flimsy reed huts. Canoes could no longer be built and only reed boats incapable of long voyages could be made. Fishing was more difficult because nets had previously been made from the paper mulberry tree and that was no longer available.” “Increased exposure caused soil erosion and the leaching out of essential nutrients. As a result crop yields declined. It became impossible to support 7,000 people on this diminishing resource base and numbers fell rapidly.” “Without trees and so without canoes, the islanders were trapped in their remote home, unable to escape the consequences of their self-inflicted environmental collapse.” “When the environment was ruined by the pressure, the society very quickly collapsed with it, leading to a state of near barbarism.” “The fate of Easter Island has wider implications. Like Easter Island the earth has only limited resources to support human society and all its demands.” “Like the islanders, the human population of the earth has no practical means of escape.” “For the last 2 million years humans have succeeded in obtaining more food and extracting more resources on which to sustain increasing numbers of people and increasingly complex and technologically advanced societies.” “But have they been any more successful than the islanders in finding a way of life that does not fatally deplete the resources that are available to them and irreversibly damage their life support system?”





VINTAGE BOOKS              2007



  • The first edition of this book was published in 1991. Over the last 16 years much has changed in the world – the Soviet Union no longer exists and the Cold War has been replaced by the problems posed by the global dominance of the United States and the threat of terrorism.
  • Much has also changed in the environment, some for the better but many for the worse.
  • More than a billion extra people live on the earth than when the first edition of this book was written. Billions of tons of carbon dioxide have been put into the atmosphere and the threat of global warming is even more starkly apparent.
  • The destruction of the rainforests and other habitats has continued at an increasing pace.
  • At the end of the first edition I tried to strike a balance between pessimism and optimism when I wrote: ‘Past human actions have left contemporary societies with an almost insuperably difficult set of problems to solve.’ In the last 16 years the balance was clearly tipped in favour of pessimism.
  • How well has the world’s leadership faced up to environmental problems over the last decade and a half? World industrial output and levels of consumption have continued to rise at unprecedented rates. There can be no doubt that global warming is the greatest single threat that the world now faces.
  • Over the last few years scientists have become increasingly concerned that the world’s climate is about to reach a point where dramatic changes may happen very quickly and that these changes will be irreversible and bring in their wake major social and economic disruption.
  • By the time that the effects of global warming become fully apparent, and that may be very soon, it will be too late to take action to avoid disaster.
  • The world is now seeing the conjunction of a number of trends that emerged over the last 2 centuries, all of which are likely to lead to immense environmental problems in the next few years.
  • This book tries to show just how deep-rooted these trends are in the way human societies have evolved.


Chapter 1: The Lessons of Easter Island

  • Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited places on earth.
  • What amazed and intrigued the first European visitors was the evidence, amongst all the squalor and barbarism, of a once flourishing and advanced society.
  • Easter Island is a striking example of the dependence of human societies on their environment and of the consequences of irreversibly damaging that environment.
  • It is the story of a people who, starting from an extremely limited resource base, constructed one of the most advanced societies in the world for the technology they had available.
  • However, the demands placed on the environment of the islands by this development were immense. When it could no longer withstand the pressure, the society that had been painfully built up over the previous thousand years fell with it.
  • Crop production took very little effort and there was plenty of free time and labour which the clan chiefs could use for ceremonial activities.  The result was the creation of the most advanced of all the Polynesian societies and one of the most complex in the world for its limited resource base.
  • The Easter Islanders’ solution to the problem of transport provides the key to the subsequent fate of their whole society. Lacking any draught animals they had to rely on human power to drag the statues across the island using tree trunks as rollers.
  • Prodigious quantities of timber would have been required and in increasing amounts as the competition between the clans to erect statues grew.
  • By 1600 the island was almost completely deforested and statue erection was brought to a halt, leaving many stranded at the quarry.
  • The deforestation of the island was not only the death knell for the elaborate social and ceremonial life, it also had other drastic effects on the everyday life of the population.
  • They resorted to stone shelters dug into the hillside or flimsy reed huts. Canoes could no longer be built and only reed boats incapable of long voyages could be made.
  • Fishing was more difficult because nets had previously been made from the paper mulberry tree and that was no longer available.
  • Increased exposure caused soil erosion and the leaching out of essential nutrients. As a result crop yields declined.
  • It became impossible to support 7,000 people on this diminishing resource base and numbers fell rapidly.
  • Without trees and so without canoes, the islanders were trapped in their remote home, unable to escape the consequences of their self-inflicted environmental collapse.
  • There were increasing conflicts over diminishing resources, resulting in a state of almost permanent warfare. Slavery became common and as the amount of protein available fell the population turned to cannibalism.
  • When the environment was ruined by the pressure, the society very quickly collapsed with it, leading to a state of near barbarism.
  • The fate of Easter Island has wider implications. Like Easter Island the earth has only limited resources to support human society and all its demands.
  • Like the islanders, the human population of the earth has no practical means of escape.
  • For the last 2 million years humans have succeeded in obtaining more food and extracting more resources on which to sustain increasing numbers of people and increasingly complex and technologically advanced societies.
  • But have they been any more successful than the islanders in finding a way of life that does not fatally deplete the resources that are available to them and irreversibly damage their life support system?


Chapter 2: The Foundations of History

  • Research in a wide variety of disciplines is increasingly making it clear that life on earth and all human societies depend on the maintenance of a number of delicate balances within and between a whole series of complex processes.
  • Human history has been affected by the action of large-scale geological and astronomical forces over long periods of time, creating continental drift, volcanic eruptions, and earth quakes.
  • The evolution of animals in different parts of the world has also had major effects on human history, influencing agriculture and transport.
  • Climate has influenced crop yields, the ability of humans to settle parts of the globe, and the way plants and animals are distributed.
  • The ice ages, which have dominated the world’s climate for the last 2½ million years, depend upon the distribution of land masses in the northern hemisphere.
  • Apart from the steadily increasing energy output of the sun and the levels of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, the major factor determining climate is a series of astronomical cycles affecting the earth and its orbit around the sun.
  • Over a period of 90,000 – 100,000 years the earth’s orbit varies from being nearly circular to more elliptical. The 2nd cycle, the timing of the earth’s closest approach to the sun, is completed every 21,000 years. The 3rd cycle affects the tilt of the earth, which varies over a period of about 40,000 years.
  • It is the combination of the three long-term cycles that largely determines the earth’s changing climate.
  • The interglacial periods have normally been short. The warmest interglacial phase was about 120,000 years ago.
  • Very little of the sun’s energy is converted into matter. There is no way in which this efficiency can be improved since it depends on the amount of light falling on the earth, the laws of physics and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  • It takes thousands of years to move from bare rock through lichens and mosses to ferns, plants and eventually trees – provided there is no human interference.
  • This development of an ecosystem has occurred countless times during the earth’s history.
  • The different types of ecosystem depend to a large extent on the temperature and level of rainfall. The productivity of the different ecosystems varies greatly.
  • The most productive of all terrestrial systems are the tropical forests covering about 6% of the world’s land surface, producing about 40% of all terrestrial primary plant production and containing about half of all the plants and animals on earth.
  • Soil is the product of an ecosystem, built up over thousands of years. Fertility is built up and maintained as an active process through the interaction of plant cover, the existing soil, the work of decomposers and other environmental factors such as rainfall and temperature.
  • Once the trees and plants of an ecosystem are destroyed or badly damaged then the underlying soil is very quickly subjected to severe strain and can easily be destroyed or eroded away by the wind and rain, leaving only a degraded remnant.
  • All parts of an ecosystem are interconnected through a complex set of self-regulating cycles, feedback loops and linkages between different parts of the food chain. If one species of animal is wiped out, there will be ramifications up and down the food chain.
  • The destruction of the primary producers will constitute an attack on the base of the food chain and it will have disastrous effects on all parts of the chain.
  • Just as the plants and animals in an ecosystem are parts of a greater whole, the ecosystems themselves are part of a greater whole – the earth itself.
  • For all practical purposes the earth is a closed system. Sunlight gets in but nothing gets out. All waste products must go somewhere. This fact, combined with the limited resources available to all living things, means that the recycling of the materials necessary for life is an essential function of all ecosystems.
  • Problems can arise when artificial wastes are ‘disposed of’ by dumping at sea or discharging into the air, remaining as pollutants somewhere in the system.
  • In their relationship to the ecosystem, two factors distinguish humans from all other animals – they are the only species capable of endangering and even destroying the ecosystems on which they depend for their existence; and they are the only species to have spread to every terrestrial ecosystem and then dominated them.

The most important task in all human history has been to find a way of extracting from the different ecosystems enough resources for maintaining life – food, clothing, shelter, energy and other goods. Inevitably this has meant intervening in natural ecosystems. The problem for human societies has been to balance their various demands against the ability of the ecosystems to withstand the resulting pressures.


Chapter 3: Ninety-Nine Per Cent of Human History

Thursday, July 28, 2011 @ 04:07 AM
posted by admin




CARROLL & GRAF                       2007




This is the story of how human beings spread around the world from their original home in Africa, and of the adventures and misadventures that the human race has experienced since then. It is also the story of some of the ideas that have governed people’s lives, especially ideas about religion, about politics and about the workings of the natural world.

  • The only kind of history that is of any use is the kind that tries to explain, not only what happened, but how things happened and why things happened in the way they did.
  • But every such explanation is inevitably coloured by the background, and prejudices, of the person doing the explaining – and this book is no exception.
  • The history of humanity has been shaped by two enormous changes. The first was the emergence of settled agriculture in several parts of the world in the period we know as the Neolithic.
  • The second was the Industrial Revolution that occurred in Europe in, and around, the 18th century.
  • While giving precedence to these two transformations of the material basis of human existence, I have been able to find room for a host of other fascinating stories.

It is possible that we are close to another great transformation of human fortunes. The runaway growth of human population and industrialization during the last half century, with its implication for climate change and environmental pollution, raises the spectre of a possible collapse of civilization before some parts of the world have even begun to feel its benefits. Strictly speaking, this is the subject matter of futurology, not history. But it would be an incomplete account of the human journey that ignored such implications, and I have tried to do justice to this hugely important and very contentious topic in the final chapter.

Chapter 1: African Origins

Chapter 2: The Peopling of the Earth

 Chapter 3: Putting Down Roots

Chapter 4: The World in 4000 BC

By 4000 BC, settled agriculture was an established way of life throughout the entire length of the Fertile Crescent, in the Nile Valley, and across wide areas of central and northern China. The most significant consequence of this was a speeding-up of the rate of cultural change. To understand why this occurred, we need to think in terms of networks. ‘Networking’ sounds like a modern invention, but it is older than the first human settlements. Networking is what hunter-gatherers did 20,000 years ago, when they traded tools and information with people they met on their travels. But the number of such transactions increased when people began to live in villages only a few miles apart. When bright people could discuss ideas daily, the rate of innovation increased. When travelers met up two or three times a month, rather than two or three times a year, the rate of spread of new techniques rocketed. Whereas the way of life of scattered food gatherers might remain essentially unaltered for hundreds, or even thousands of years, these farming communities were caught up in a process of continual change. It must have been somewhere about this time that old people could first be overheard saying, ‘I remember when none of this was fields.’

  • They did this against a background of climate change that was continually opening up new areas for settlement. In the older centers of population, it was not only the number and density of villages that increased; so did their average size.
  • As they grew, the character of the largest of them altered. They became small towns: centers of trade, gossip and amusement, housing the world’s first market traders and door-to-door salesmen.
  • The informality of village life could no longer cope effectively with all that needed to be done. Organization became essential. Projects like the building of town walls called for planning and leadership.
  • Tasks such as tool making, fishing and cereal growing could be performed much more effectively if they were left to specialists working full-time at one trade.
  • It was with the development of the first towns that three notable features of our modern world – bureaucracy, occupational specialization and a boss class – appeared.
  • Depending on the environment, a hunting and gathering band of two dozen people needed a territory of anything up to 30 square miles to ensure a reliable supply of food; a farming family of the same size could get by on 50 acres.

In the short-term it must have seemed all gain but these benefits had a fearsome downside, one that would not be revealed until the process had gone too far to be reversed. Close proximity to animals meant close acquaintance with their parasites, and the diseases those parasites carried. Some of these diseases were transferable to humans. So long a people lived in scattered villages, the danger was slight. Any outbreak of disease was likely to peter out, from lack of new people to infect, before it could do much damage. But when people, and their beasts, began to live in towns, and towns began to multiply, conditions were created in which diseases could spread quickly, creating havoc in populations that had not yet acquired immunity.

  • The densest concentration of villages and towns in 4000 BC was in the Fertile Crescent.
  • From southern Palestine, through Anatolia, to the Persian Gulf, hundreds of large villages and small towns dotted the landscape.
  • Among the crops the people of this region had added to their creature comforts were domesticated varieties of two plants that grew wild there: the vine and the date palm.
  • The date palm was a cornucopia of useful products, including fresh and dried fruit, timber for making furniture and leaves for basket making.
  • The date palms also provided the material for making rafts. These river-valley people were unacquainted with the horse, and we have no evidence that they possessed carts.
  • In the absence of wheeled vehicles, and the roads that went with them, rafts were an essential form of transport for both people and materials.
  • This dependence on water transport was a key factor governing the location of many of the first towns.
  • In terms of technology, this was the age of stone. Obsidian, a black volcanic glass that could be worked to produce a fiercely sharp edge, was particularly prized, and it was traded over hundreds of miles from its source on the shores of Lake Van, on the border of present-day Turkey and Iran.
  • The lives of these town dwellers of 6000 years ago were lightened by music, song and dance. They had paintings and wood-carvings, textiles woven on the loom, jewellery and elegant hand-thrown pots.
  • These people of the Fertile Crescent had without doubt the most sophisticated culture of their day, but a plainer version of their way of life was followed right across Europe, from Spain to the Ukraine.
  • In 4000 BC, the culture of farming established on the European mainland had not yet found its way to the continent’s offshore islands.
  • Britain and Ireland had been cut off from the mainland by rising sea-levels since around 8000 BC.
  • A few thousand people maintained the hunting and gathering lifestyle their ancestors had brought with them before the seas had risen.

The farming practices of the Fertile Crescent had spread, not just north and west, but south and east as well. Prior to 5000 BC, the region that is now the Sahara had been a country of open savannah, interspersed with great lakes and teeming with wildlife, where a farming people cultivated cereals and herded wild cattle. The Nile valley, by contrast, had been a forested swamp. But rising temperatures, combined with reduced rainfall, had started a process of drying out. As the first patches of desert appeared, and the river valley became drier, the farmers and their families decamped. As they cleared the forest, they discovered that they had moved to land whose rich soil was annually refreshed by the river floods. Inspired by the example of their neighbours in Palestine, they had planted peas and beans, as well as wheat and barley. They had domesticated sheep, pigs, goats and cattle, and had become skilled at catching fish. In this rich new environment, and in their riverside villages and small towns they were now laying the foundations of a brilliant civilization.

  • In Japan, life revolved around fishing and hunting. The rise in sea-levels at the end of the Ice Age had isolated the country, and its inhabitants had developed an indigenous culture based on coastal life in small villages.
  • The seas that had cut them off from foreign ideas had in turn deprived their neighbours of awareness of their lifestyle, which included a culture of pottery-making far in advance of anything in mainland Asia.
  • One continent – Australia – was never to have an Agricultural Revolution. The rise in sea-levels had completely isolated it, and it would be thousands of years before the agricultural way of life would touch its inhabitants.
  • On a score of one to ten for the factors required for an Agricultural Revolution, the environment of most native Australians was close to one.

This whistle-stop tour has focused on two sharply contrasting kinds of existence: farming, and hunting, or hunting and gathering. But it would be a misleading history that concerned itself solely with these two. A third way of life has been followed by millions of people in the past, and is still widely practiced today. It is called nomadic pastoralism, and its practitioners have contributed to some of the most dramatic events in human history.

  • Pastoralists are livestock farmers who travel with their beasts. Nomads move their herds and flocks from place to place, to take advantage of seasonal grazing.
  • Their flocks and herds can be huge, and their own numbers can be correspondingly large.
  • Only in one part of the world, southern Russia, were there signs of a further revolution to come. They tamed the horse, and its enrolment in the list of mankind’s obedient servants was to have profound consequences.

Continued global warming had opened up new areas for colonization by plants and animals, including human animals. Settled agriculture enabled already occupied lands to support greatly increased numbers. Even the peoples who had not taken up farming had better tools and better weapons with which to harvest and hunt. As human beings improved their ability to exploit and control their environment, their numbers grew. In 6000 BC the population of the world had been about 10 million. By 4000 BC it had risen to around 30 million.

  • In 4000 BC, the world’s 30 million inhabitants probably spoke around 10,000 languages between them – about twice as many as exist today. This means that the average number of people speaking any one language was about 3000. It is a statistic that brings out with startling clarity the small size and local character of the social universe inhabitated by our ancestors of 6000 years ago.


Chapter 5: The Invention of the State

Wednesday, July 27, 2011 @ 06:07 PM
posted by admin




EARTHSCAN          2005


Chapter 7: Stabilizing Climate

In July of 2004, the US National Academy of Sciences released a research report by a team of nine scientists from China, India, the Philippines, and the United States who had measured the precise effect of rising temperatures on rice yields under field conditions. They concluded that yields typically fall by 10% for each 1-degree Celcius rise in temperature during the growing season. This confirmed what had seemed obvious to many agricultural analysts, namely that high temperatures can shrink harvests.

  • In recent years, numerous heat waves have lowered grain harvests in key food-producing countries.
  • Farmers already struggling to feed 70 million or more people each year will find it even more difficult as the earth’s temperature rises.


Rising temperatures, falling yields

  • Within just the last few years, crop ecologists in several countries have been focusing on the precise relationship between temperature and crop yields.
  • The IRRI team of eminent crop scientists noted that from 1979 to 2003, the annual mean temperature at the research site rose by roughly 0.75 degrees Celcius.
  • The team’s finding confirmed the rule of thumb emerging among crop ecologists – that a 1-degree-Celcius rise in temperature lowers wheat, rice, and corn yields by 10%.
  • They concluded that “temperature increases due to global warming will make it increasingly difficult to feed the earth’s growing population.”

An empirical analysis of the effect of temperature on corn and soybean yields was conducted in the United States. It concluded that higher temperatures had an even greater effect on yields of these crops. Using data for 1982-98 from 618 counties for corn and 444 counties for soybeans, David Lobell and Gregory Asner concluded that for each 1-degree Celcius rise in temperature, yields declined by 17%. Given the projected temperature increases in the US Corn Belt, where a large share of the world’s corn and soybeans are produced, these findings should be of grave concern to those responsible for world food security.

  • What the new research shows is that the negative effect of higher temperature on crop yields overrides the positive effect of higher CO2 levels.  Indeed, if pollination fails and there is no seed formation, then the CO2 effect on grain yields is lost entirely.
  • As temperatures rise, crop withering heat waves are becoming more and more common.


Temperature trends and effects

  • Since 1970, the earth’s average temperature has risen by 0.7 °C, or 1.3 °F. each decade the rise in temperature has been greater than in the preceding one.
  • Four of the six warmest years since record-keeping began in 1880 have come in the last six years.
  • Two of these, 2002 and 2003, were years in which the major food-producing regions saw their crops wither in the presence of near-record temperatures.

Atmospheric concentrations of CO2, estimated at 280 ppm when the Industrial Revolution began, have been rising ever since people in Europe began burning coal. They have risen every year since precise measurements began in 1959, making this one of the world’s most predictable environmental trends. As shown in Figure 7-2, atmospheric CO2 concentrations turned sharply upward around 1960. Roughly a decade later, around 1970, the temperature too began to climb; the rise since than is quite visible in Figure 7-1. Projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) show temperatures rising during this century by 1.4 – 5.8 degrees Celcius. The accelerating rise in temperature in recent years appears to have the world headed toward the upper end of that projected range of increase.

  • The warming will be greater over land than over the oceans, in the higher latitudes than in the equatorial regions, and in the interior of continents than in the coastal regions.
  • One of the higher increases is expected to be in the interior of North America – an area that includes the grain-growing Great Plains of the United States and Canada and the US Corn belt, the very region that makes this continent the world’s breadbasket.

One of the major concerns among scientists today is the accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet. If the ice sheet on Greenland – an island three times the size of Texas – were to melt entirely, sea level would rise 7 meters (23 feet), inundating not only Asia’s rice-growing river deltas and flood plains but most of the world’s coastal cities as well. This kind of massive melting, even in the case of the most rapid warming scenario, would occur over centuries, however, not years.

  • The World Bank has published a map of Bangladesh, which shows that a 1-meter rise in sea level would inundate half of the country’s riceland. It would also displace some 40 million Bangladeshis. Where would these people go?


Raising energy efficiency

If rising temperatures continue to shrink harvests and begin driving up food prices, public pressure to stabilize climate by cutting the carbon emissions that cause the greenhouse effect could become intense. The goal is to cut these emissions enough to stabilize climate and eliminate the threat to world food security from rising temperatures. Cutting emissions enough to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels is an ambitious undertaking, but given the technologies now available to both raise energy efficiency and develop renewable sources of energy, it can be done – and quickly, if need be.

  • A few examples of how to cut the use of oil and coal, the principal sources of carbon emissions, will illustrate the possibilities.
  • Motorists can reduce oil use dramatically by shifting to cars with hybrid gas-electric engines. This opens up two exciting additional possibilities
  • The first is to modestly expand the electrical storage capacity of the hybrids by adding a second battery.
  • The second is to include a plug-in recharge capacity so that owners can recharge their car batteries at night.
  • Adding a second battery and a plug-in capacity could reduce gasoline use by perhaps another 20%, for a total reduction in US gas use of 70%.

These two modest technological modifications lead to an exciting possibility on the supply side, namely the use of cheap wind-generated electricity to power automobiles. Does the United States have the wind power potential to do this? As described later in this chapter, it has enough harnessable wind power to meet its electricity needs several times over.

  • It would be a simple matter to replace the widely used old-fashioned, highly inefficient, incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent lamps that provide the same light but use less than a third as much electricity.
  • A worldwide decision to phase out incandescent light bulbs would allow literally hundreds of coal-fired power plants to be closed.
  • Not only would this help stabilize climate, but the return on investment in the new bulbs in the form of lower electricity bills is roughly 30% a year.


Turning to renewable energy sources

There are also many options for cutting emissions by harnessing renewable sources of energy, including wind energy, geothermal energy, and biomass.

  • As this chapter aims simply to give a sense of the possibilities for cutting carbon emissions, the discussion here will focus on wind as a renewable source of energy.
  • The use of wind power is growing fast because it is abundant, cheap, inexhaustible, widely distributed, clean, and climate-benign – a set of attributes that no other energy source can match.
  • North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas alone have enough harnessable wind energy to satisfy national electricity needs.
  • Design advances enable turbines to operate at lower speeds, to convert wind into energy more efficiently, and to harvest a much larger wind regime.
  • Many of the other 47 states are richly endowed with wind energy.

Europe is the model for developing wind power. Although its wind resources are modest compared with those of the United States, it is moving much faster to harness them. In its late 2003 projections, the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) shows Europe’s wind-generating capacity expanding from 28,400 megawatts in 2003 to 75,000 megawatts in 2010 and then 180,000 megawatts in 2020. By 2020, just 16 years from now, projections show that wind-generated electricity will be able to satisfy the residential needs of 195 million Europeans, half of the region’s population.

  • When the wind industry first began to develop in California, wind-generated electricity cost 38 cents per kilowatt hour. Since then it has dropped to 4 cents or below in prime world sites.
  • EWEA projects that by 2020 many wind farms will be generating electricity at 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, making it cheaper than other sources of electricity.
  • Europe is not only leading the world into the wind age, it is also leading the world into the post-fossil-fuel-age – the age of renewable energy and climate stabilization.

The impetus for that new energy economy to unfold quickly may come from an unexpected source: agriculture. The effect of rising temperatures on crop yields fundamentally broadens the responsibility for food security. Historically, food security was the sole responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture, but now the Ministry of Energy also bears responsibility. Decisions made by ministries of energy on whether to stay with carbon-based, climate-disrupting fossil fuels or to launch a crash program to develop renewables may have a greater effect on food security than do any of the decisions made in the ministries of agriculture

Data for figures and additional information can be found at

Chapter 8: Reversing China’s Harvest Decline

Thursday, July 21, 2011 @ 05:07 AM
posted by admin




EARTHSCAN          2005



Chapter 6: Stabilizing Water Tables

Although public attention has recently focused on the depletion of oil resources, the depletion of underground water resources poses a far greater threat to our future. While there are substitutes for oil, there are none for water. Indeed, we lived for millions of years without oil, but we would live for only a matter of days without water.

Not only are there no substitutes for water, but we need vast amounts of it to produce food. At the personal level, we drink roughly four liters of water a day (nearly four quarts), either directly or indirectly in various beverages. But it takes 2,000 liters of water – 500 times as much – to produce the food we consume each day.

Since food is such an extraordinarily water-intensive product, it comes as no surprise that 70% of world water use is for irrigation. Although it is now widely accepted that the world is facing water shortages, most people have not yet connected the dots to see that a future of water shortages will also be a future of food shortages.

Falling water tables

Over much of the earth, the demand for water exceeds the sustainable yield of aquifers and rivers. The gap between the continuously growing use of water and the sustainable supply is widening each year, making it more and more difficult to support rapid growth in food production.

With river water in key farming regions rather fully exploited, the world has turned to underground water sources in recent decades to keep expanding the irrigated area. As a result, the climbing demand for water has now exceeded the natural recharge of many aquifers.

  • The effects of aquifer depletion vary, depending on whether it is a replenishable or fossil aquifer.
  • Fossil aquifers include the Ogallala under the US Great Plains, the aquifer the Saudis use to irrigate wheat, and the deeper of the two aquifers under the North China Plain.
  • In Saudi Arabia, the wheat harvest peaked in 1992 at 4.1 million tons, and then dropped to 1.6 million tons in 2004 – a drop of 61%.
  • The wheat harvest in China peaked at 123 million tons in 1997, and dropped to 90 million tons in 2004 – a decline of 27%.
  • In India’s North Gujarat, wells powered by heavily subsidized electricity, are dropping water tables at an accelerating rate – 6 meters or 20 feet per year.
  • In Tamil Nadu, a state of 62 million people in southern India, falling water tables have dried up 95% of the wells owned by small farmers, reducing the irrigated area in the state by half over the last decade.
  • In the United States, the loss of irrigation water is making it more difficult for farmers to respond to the future import needs of other countries. In the southern Great Plains the irrigated area has shrunk by 24% since 1980.

In a rational world, falling water tables would trigger alarm, setting in motion a series of government actions to reduce demand and reestablish a stable balance with the sustainable supply. Unfortunately, not a single government appears to have done this. Official responses to falling water tables have been consistently belated and grossly inadequate.

Rivers running dry

While falling tables are largely invisible, rivers that are drained dry before they reach the sea are highly visible. Two rivers where this phenomenon can be seen are the Colorado, the major river in the southwestern United States, and the Yellow, the largest river in northern China. Other large rivers that either run dry or are reduced to a mere trickle during the dry season are the Nile, the lifeline of Egypt; the Indus, which supplies most of Pakistan’s irrigation water; and the Ganges in India’s densely populated Gangetic basin. (See Table 6-2.)

  • Egypt now gets the lion’s share of the Nile’s water partly because it developed much sooner than Ethiopia. But as Ethiopia begins to develop, it is planning to build dams on the upper (Blue) Nile that will reduce the flow in the lower reaches of the Nile river basin.
  • With virtually all the water in the basin now spoken for and with the combined population of the Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan projected to grow from 179 million to 358 million by 2050, the potential for the basin’s population to outgrow its water resources – setting the stage for conflict – is clear.
  • China’s construction of several huge hydroelectric dams on the upper reaches of the river system, is reducing the Mekong’s flow, directly affecting fisheries, navigation, and irrigation prospects downstream in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.


Cities versus farms

At the international level, water conflicts among countries dominate the headlines. But within countries it is the competition for water between cities and farms that preoccupies political leaders. Neither economics nor politics favors farms. They almost always lose out to cities.

  • In many countries farmers are now faced with not only a shrinking water supply but also a shrinking share of that shrinking supply.
  • In the competition between cities and farms, cities have the advantage simply because they can pay much more for water.
  • In China, a thousand tons of water can be used to produce 1 ton of wheat, worth at most $200, or it can be used to expand industrial output by $14,000 – 70 times as much
  • Agriculture is becoming the residual claimant on the world’s increasingly scarce supply of water.


Scarcity crossing national boundaries

Raising water productivity

To avoid a water crunch that leads to a food crunch requires a worldwide effort to raise water productivity.

  • After World War II, as governments assessed the food prospect for the remainder of the century, they saw enormous projected growth in world population and little new land to bring under the plow.
  • In response, they joined with international development institutions in a worldwide effort to raise land productivity.
  • The result was a rise in world grainland productivity from 1.1 tons per hectare in 1950 to 2.9 tons in 2004.

Today the world needs to launch a similar effort to raise water productivity. Land productivity is measured in tons of grain per hectare or bushels per acre, but there are no universally used indicators used to measure and discuss water productivity. The indicator likely to emerge for irrigation water is kilograms of grain produced per ton of water. Worldwide that average is now roughly 1 kilogram of grain per ton of water used.

The first challenge is to raise the efficiency of irrigation water, since this accounts for 70% of world water used. Some data have been compiled on water irrigation efficiency at the international level for surface water projects – that is, dams that deliver water to farmers through a network of canals. Water policy analysts Sandra Postel and Amy Vickers write about a 2000 review that found that “surface water irrigation efficiency ranges between 25% and 40% in India, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Thailand; between 40% and 45% in Malaysia and Morocco; and between 50% and 60% in Israel, Japan, and Taiwan. Irrigation water efficiency is affected not only by the mode and condition of irrigation systems but also by soil type, temperature, and humidity. In arid regions with high temperatures, the evaporation of irrigation water is far higher than in humid regions with lower temperatures.

  • China’s Minister of Water Resources outlined plans to raise China’s irrigation efficiency from 43% in 2000 to 51% in 2010 and then to 55% in 2030.
  • The steps he described included raising the price of water, providing incentives for adopting more irrigation-efficient technologies, and developing the local institutions to manage this process.
  • When attempting to raise the water efficiency of irrigation, the trend is to shift from the less efficient flood-or-furrow system to overhead sprinkler irrigation or to drip irrigation, the gold standard of irrigation water efficiency.
  • Low pressure sprinkler systems reduce water use by an estimated 30% over flood or furrow irrigation, while switching from flood or furrow to drip irrigation typically cuts water use in half.
  • Since drip systems are both labor-intensive and water-efficient , they are well suited to countries with underemployment and water shortages.
  • Among the big three agricultural producers – China, India, and the United States – the share of irrigated land using these more-efficient technologies ranges from less than 1% in India and China to 4% in the United States.

In many cities in water-short parts of the world, it may be time to rethink the typical urban water use model, one where water flows into the city, is used once, and then leaves the city – usually becoming polluted in the process. This flush-and-forget model that so dominates urban water systems will not be viable over the longer term in water-scarce regions. One alternative sewage system is the use of so-called dry toilets, which do not use water and which convert human waste into a rich humus, a highly valued fertilizer.

Another variation on the existing urban water use models is one that comprehensively recycles urban water supplies. Water can be used indefinitely in cities and by industry if it is recycled. Some cities are beginning to do this. Singapore, for example, which buys its water from Malaysia, is starting to recycle its water in order to reduce this vulnerable dependence.

  • Some countries can realize large water savings by restructuring the energy sector, shifting from fossil-fuel-powered thermal plants, which require large amounts of water for cooling, to renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.
  • What is needed now is a new mindset, a new way of thinking about water use. In addition to more-efficient irrigation technologies, for example, shifting to more water-efficient crops wherever possible also boosts water productivity.
  • Anything that raises the productivity of irrigated land typically raises the productivity of irrigation water.
  • Anything that increases the efficiency with which grain is converted into animal protein increases water productivity.
  • For people consuming excessive amounts of livestock products, moving down the food chain means not only a healthier diet and reduced health care costs, but also a reduction in water use.
  • Reducing water use to a level that can be sustained by aquifers and rivers worldwide involves a wide range of measures not only in agriculture but also throughout the economy.
  • Among some of the more obvious steps are shifting to more water-efficient irrigation practices and technologies, planting more water-efficient crops, adopting more water–efficient industrial processes, and using more water-efficient household appliances.
  • One of the less conventional steps is to shift from outdated coal-fired power plants, which require vast amounts of water for thermal cooling, to wind power.
  • Recycling urban water supplies is another obvious step to consider in countries facing acute water shortages.

The need to stabilize water tables is urgent, thanks to the sheer geographic scale of overpumping, the simultaneity of falling water tables among countries, and the accelerating drop in water level. Although falling water tables are historically a recent phenomenon, they now threaten the security of water supplies and, hence, of food supplies in countries containing 3.2 billion people. Beyond this, the shortfall – the gap between the use of water and the sustainable yield of aquifers – grows larger each year, which means the water level drop is greater than the year before. Underlying the urgency of dealing with the fast-tightening water situation is the sobering realization that not a single country has succeeded in stopping the fall in its water tables and stabilizing water levels. The fast-unfolding water crunch has not yet translated into food shortages, but if unaddressed, it may soon do so.

Data for figures and additional information can be found at

Chapter 7: Stabilizing Climate

Wednesday, July 13, 2011 @ 05:07 AM
posted by admin




EARTHSCAN          2005


Chapter 4: Raising the earth’s Productivity

During the last half of the 20th century the world’s farmers more than doubled the productivity of their land, raising grain yield per hectare from 1.1 tons in 1950 to 2.7 tons in 2000. Never before had there been an advance remotely approaching this one. And there may not be another.

  • The unprecedented gains in land productivity were the result of the systematic application of science to agriculture.

The strategy of systematically applying science to agriculture while simultaneously providing economic incentives to farmers to expand output was phenomenally successful. Between 1950 and 1976, the annual world grain harvest doubled, going from 630 million to 1,340 million tons. In a single generation, the world’s farmers expanded grain production by as much as they had during the preceding 11,000 years since agriculture began.

Trends and contrasts

  • The record rise in world grainland productivity since 1950 had three sources – genetic advances, agronomic improvements, and synergies between the two.
  • The genetic contribution to raising yields has come largely from increasing the share of the planet’s photosynthetic product (the photosynthate) going to seed. Shifting as much photosynthate as possible from the leaves, stems, and roots to the seed helps to maximize yields.
  • Although plant breeders have greatly increased the share of the photosynthate going to the seed, they have not been able to fundamentally improve the efficiency of photosynthesis – the process plants use to convert solar energy into biochemical energy.
  • On the agronomic front, raising land productivity has depended on expanding irrigation, using more fertilizer, and controlling diseases, insects, and weeds.
  • All these tactics help plants realize their genetic potential more fully.
  • Japan has developed a highly productive rice culture, one based on the precise spacing of rice plants in carefully tended rows.
  • Yet rice yields in Spain, California, and Australia are consistently 20% – 30% higher.
  • The reason is simple. These locations have an abundance of bright sunlight, whereas in Japan rice is necessarily grown during the monsoon season, when there is extensive cloud cover.
  • There are no high yields of any cereals – wheat, rice, or corn – in the equatorial regions. High yields come with the long growing days of summer in higher latitudes. The world’s highest whet yields are found in Western Europe.
  • Western Europe occupies a northerly latitude comparable to that of Canada and Russia, but the warmth from the Gulf Stream makes its winters mild, enabling the region to grow winter wheat.
  • Four environmental conditions – moderate winters, inherently fertile soils, reliable rainfall, and long summer days – combine to give the region wheat yields that reach 6 – 8 tons per hectare.
  • The difference in wheat yields among leading producers worldwide is explained more by soil moisture variations than by any other variable.


Fertilizer and irrigation

In 1847 Justus von Liebig, a German chemist, discovered that all the nutrients that plants remove from the soil could be replaced in chemical form. This insight had little immediate impact on agriculture, partly because growth in world food production during the 19th century came primarily from expanding cultivated area. It was not until the mid-twentieth century, when land limitations emerged, that fertilizer use began to climb. 

  • When the world was largely rural, plant nutrients were recycled as both human and livestock wastes were returned to the land. But with urbanization, this natural nutrient cycle was disrupted.
  • The shift from expanding cropland area to raising cropland productivity, coupled with accelerating urbanization, set the stage for the growth of the modern fertilizer industry.
  • It enabled farmers to remove nutrient constraints on yields, thus helping plants to realize their full genetic potential.
  • In many agriculturally advanced countries, fertilizer use has plateaued.
  • There are still some countries with a large potential for expanding fertilizer use. One is Brazil, which is not only raising land productivity but also steadily expanding the cultivated area.
  • For the world as a whole the era of rapidly growing fertilizer use is now history. In many countries, applying more fertilizer has little effect on crop yields.
  • Where fertilizer application exceeds crop needs, nutrient runoff can contaminate water and feed algal blooms that lead to eutrophication and offshore dead zones.
  • Paralleling the tenfold increase in fertilizer use during the last half of the last century was the near tripling of irrigated area.
  • During the earlier part of this period, growth in irrigation came largely from the building of dams to store surface water and channel it onto the land through networks of gravity-fed surface canals.
  • By the late 1960s as the number of undeveloped dam sites diminished, farmers in countries like India and China were turning to underground water sources.
  • Millions of irrigation wells were drilled during the remainder of the century.
  • Now the potential for building new dams is limited. So, too, is that for drilling more irrigation wells because the pumping volume of existing wells is already approaching or exceeding the sustainable yield of aquifers in key agricultural regions.

Over half of the world’s irrigated land is in Asia, and most of that is in China and India. Some four fifths of China’s grain harvest comes from irrigated land. This includes virtually all the riceland and most of the wheatland, plus part of the cornland. In India, over half of the grain harvest comes from irrigated land. And in the United States, irrigated land accounts for one fifth of the grain harvest.

  • The growth in irrigation facilitated the growth in fertilizer use. Without irrigation in arid and semiarid regions, low soil moisture limits nutrient uptake and yields.
  • The availability of fertilizer makes investments in irrigation more profitable.
  • It is this synergy between the growth in irrigation and fertilizer use that accounts for much of the world grain harvest growth over the last half-century or so.

With irrigation as with fertilizer use, the growth worldwide has slowed dramatically over the last decade or so. Indeed, in some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and China, irrigated area is now shrinking. This is also true for parts of the United States, such as the southern Great Plains. In many parts of the world the need for water is simply outgrowing the sustainable supply.

The shrinking backlog of technology

  • For wheat growers in the United States and rice growers in Japan, most of the available yield-raising technologies are already in use.
  • Farmers in these countries are looking over the shoulders of agricultural researchers in their quest for new technologies to raise yields further. Unfortunately, they are not finding much.

From 1950 to 1990 the world’s grain farmers raised the productivity of their land by an unprecedented 2.1% a year, slightly faster than the 1.9% annual growth of world population during the same period. But from 1990 to 2000 this dropped to 1.2% per year, scarcely half as fast. (See Table 4-2.) As of mid-2004, it looks as though the annual rise in grain yields from 2000 to 2010 will drop to something like 0.7%, scarcely half that of the preceding decade and far behind world population growth. This loss of momentum in raising land productivity is due not only to the shrinking backlog of technology but also in some countries to the loss of irrigation water.

  • Yields vary widely among countries. See Figure 4-4 for rice yields in Japan, China and India, 1960-2004; Figure 4-5 for wheat yields in France, China, and the United States, 1960-2004; and Figure 4-6 for corn yields in the United States, China, and Brazil, 1960-2004.

In 1990 IRRI launched a major research project to raise rice yields 25% – 50% by restructuring the rice plant. In the face of poor prospects for achieving this, the goal has now been scaled back to a rise of 5% – 10%.

  • Can genetic engineers restore a rapid worldwide rise in grainland productivity? This prospect is not promising simply because plant breeders using traditional techniques have largely exploited the genetic potential for increasing the share of photosynthate that goes into seed.
  • One major option left to scientists is to increase the efficiency of the process of photosynthesis itself – something that has thus far remained beyond their reach.
  • Thus far the focus in genetically engineered crops has been to develop herbicide tolerance, insect resistance, and disease resistance.

When genetic yield potential is close to the physiological limit, further advances in yields rely on exploiting the remaining unrealized potential in the use of basic inputs, such as fertilizer and irrigation, or on the fine-tuning of other agronomic practices, such as optimum planting densities or more effective pest controls. Beyond this, there will eventually come a point in each country, with each grain, when farmers will not be able to sustain the rise in yields.

Future options

In a world where it is becoming increasingly difficult to raise land productivity, we have to look for alternative ways of expanding output. One obvious approach is to increase the amount of multiple cropping – growing more than one crop on a field per year. Yet this is not easy, and in some East Asian countries, such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and, more recently, China, it is already declining.

  • One of the keys to exploiting this lies in reorienting agricultural research programs to develop facilitating technologies such as earlier maturing crops and farm practices that will accelerate the harvesting of the first crop and the planting of the second one.
  • Another way to expand food production is to raise water productivity. The water available for irrigation can be increased at the local level by building small water-harvesting ponds.
  • These not only capture rainfall runoff, holding it for irrigation, they also help recharge underground aquifers.

Land productivity can be raised by using crop residues to produce food. For example, the tonnage of wheat straw, rice straw, and corn stalks produced worldwide easily matches the weight of grain produced by these crops. As India has demonstrated with its world leadership in milk production, and as China is showing with its surging beef production, it is now possible to feed these vast quantities of crop residues to animals, converting them into milk and meat. In effect, this permits a “second harvest” from the same land.

In some parts of the world, such as Africa, investment in transportation and storage infrastructure can play a major role in boosting food production, enabling farmers to move beyond subsistence agriculture. This is particularly helpful in both getting inputs such as fertilizer to farmers and getting their harvests to markets.

Jules Pretty, director of the Centre for Environment and Society at the University of Essex, has pioneered a broad concept of sustainable agriculture, one that strives to develop natural, human, and social capital at the local level. It emphasizes the use of local resources. Sustainable farming, says Pretty, “seeks to make the best use of nature’s goods and services. It minimizes the use of non-renewable inputs (pesticides and fertilizers) that damage the environment … it makes better use of the knowledge and skills of farmers.”

In reviewing the results of some 45 sustainable agricultural initiatives in 17 African countries, Pretty notes that both crop yields and nutritional levels improved more or less apace. Overall, he notes that crop yields are up 50% – 100% in these projects over 20 years.

Included in the sustainable agriculture toolbox is the better use of local natural resources and processes like nutrient cycling, nitrogen fixation, soil rebuilding, and the use of natural enemies to control pests. This approach does not rule out the use of fertilizer and pesticides but seeks to minimize the need for their use. The use of leguminous plants to supply nitrogen is seen as an intrinsic part of the process. Animal manures are collected to fertilize fields and build up soil organic matter. This, in turn, increases soil moisture retention.

The emphasis on human capital leads to greater self-reliance by farmers. Learning centers and extension offices play an important role in communities with successful sustainable agriculture. With social capital, the key is getting people to work together, in groups, to better manage watersheds and local forests or to supply credit to small-scale farmers.

With this approach, communities with marginal land have succeeded not only in raising incomes and improving diets, but also in producing a marketable surplus of farm products. Highly successful though this approach is, it does require substantial support to energize local communities. Pretty notes that “without appropriate policy support, these community projects are likely to remain localized in extent, and at worst simply wither away.”

The challenge is to raise land productivity in one way or another and to design research programs to do this while protecting the land and water resource base and avoiding damage to natural systems, such as that caused by nutrient runoff.

Chapter 5: Protecting Cropland


Friday, June 17, 2011 @ 06:06 AM
posted by admin




EARTHSCAN          2005


Growth: The environmental fallout

The world economy, as now structured, is making excessive demands on the earth. Evidence of this can be seen in collapsing fisheries, shrinking forests, expanding deserts, rising CO2 levels, eroding soils, rising temperatures, falling water tables, melting glaciers, deteriorating grasslands, rising seas, rivers that are running dry, and disappearing species.

Two new challenges

As world demand for food has tripled, so too has the use of water for irrigation. As a result, the world is incurring a vast water deficit. But because this deficit takes the form of aquifer overpumping and falling water tables, it is nearly invisible. Falling water levels are often not discovered until wells go dry.

  • With 1,000 tons of water required to produce 1 ton of grain, food security is closely tied to water security. 70% of world water use is for irrigation, 20% is used by industry, and 10% is for residential purposes.
  • As urban water use rises even as aquifers are being depleted, farmers are faced with a shrinking share of a shrinking water supply.

At the same time that water tables are falling, temperatures are rising. As concern about climate change has intensified, scientists have begun to focus on the precise relationship between temperature and crop yields. Crop ecologists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have jointly concluded that with each 1-degree Celcius rise in temperature during the growing season, the yields of wheat, rice, and corn drop by 10%.

Over the last three decades, the earth’s average temperature has climbed by nearly 0.7 degrees Celcius, with the four warmest years on record coming during the last six years. In 2002, record-high temperatures and drought shrank grain harvests in both India and the United States. In 2003, it was Europe that bore the brunt of the intense heat. The record-breaking August heat wave that claimed 35,000 lives in eight nations withered grain harvests in virtually every country from France in the west through the Ukraine in the east.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that during this century, with a business-as-usual scenario, the earth’s average temperature will rise by 1.4 –5.8 degrees Celsius (2-10 degrees Fahrenheit). These projections are for the earth’s average temperature, but the rise is expected to be much greater over the land than over the oceans, in the higher latitudes than in the equatorial regions, and in the interior of continents than in the coastal regions. This suggests that increases far in excess of the projected average are likely for regions such as the North American breadbasket – the region defined by the Great Plains of the United States and Canada and the U.S. Corn Belt. Today’s farmers face the prospect of temperatures higher than any generation of farmers since agriculture began.

The Japan Syndrome

  • If countries are already densely populated when they begin to industrialize rapidly, three things happen in quick succession to make them heavily dependent on grain imports: grain consumption climbs as incomes rise; grainland area shrinks; and grain production falls.
  • The rapid industrialization that drives up demand simultaneously shrinks cropland area. The inevitable result is that grain imports soar.
  • Within a few decades, countries can go from being essentially self-sufficient to importing 70% or more of their grain.
  • I call this the “Japan syndrome” because I first recognized this sequence of events in Japan, a country that today imports 70% of its grain.
  • Initially, rising incomes permit more direct consumption of gain, but before long the growth shifts to the greater indirect consumption of grain in the form of grain-intensive livestock products, such as pork, poultry, and eggs.
  • Grainland area begins to shrink. Among the trends leading to this are the abandonment of marginal cropland; the loss of rural labor needed for multiple cropping; and a shift of grainland to the production of fruits, vegetables, and other high-value crops.
  • First, as a country industrializes and modernizes, cropland is used for industrial and residential developments. As automobile ownership spreads, the construction of roads, highways, and parking lots also takes valuable land away from agriculture.
  • Second, as rapid industrialization pulls labor out of the countryside, it often leads to less double cropping, a practice that depends on quickly harvesting one grain crop once it is ripe and immediately preparing the seedbed for the next crop.
  • With the loss of workers as young people migrate to cities, the capacity to do this diminishes.
  • Third, as incomes rise, diets diversify, generating demand for more fruits and vegetables. This in turn leads farmers to shift land from grain to these more profitable, high-value crops.
  • Japan was essentially self-sufficient in grain when its grain harvest area peaked in 1955. Since then the grainland area has shrunk by more than half.
  • The multiple-cropping index has dropped from nearly 1.4 crops per hectare per year in 1960 to scarcely 1 today.
  • Some six years after Japan’s grain area began to shrink, the shrinkage overrode the rise in land productivity and overall production began to decline.
  • With grain consumption climbing and production falling, grain imports soared. By 1983 imports accounted for 70% of Japan’s grain consumption, a level they remain at today.
  • A similar analysis for South Korea and Taiwan shows a pattern that is almost identical with that of Japan.
  • Based on the sequence of events in these three countries that affected grain production, consumption, and imports – the Japan syndrome – it was easy to anticipate the precipitous decline in China’s grain production that began in 1998.
  • The obvious question now is which other countries will enter a period of declining grain production because of the same combination of forces?
  • Among those that come to mind are India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, and Mexico.


The China factor

China – the largest country in the world – is now beginning to experience the Japan syndrome. Perhaps the most alarming recent world agricultural event is the precipitous fall in China’s grain production since 1998. After an impressive climb from 90 million tons in 1950 to a peak of 392 million tons in 1998, China’s  grain harvest fell in four of the next five years, dropping to 322 million tons in 2003. For perspective, this decline of 70 million tons exceeds the entire grain harvest of Canada.

Behind this harvest shrinkage of 18% from 1998 to 2003 is a decline in grain harvested area of 16%. The conversion of cropland to nonfarm uses, the shift of grainland to higher-value fruits and vegetables, and, in some of the more prosperous regions, a loss of the rural labor needed for multiple cropping are all shrinking China’s grainland – just as they did Japan’s.

In addition, China is also losing grainland to the expansion of deserts and the loss of irrigation water, due to both aquifer depletion and diversion of water to cities. (See Chapter 8 for further discussion of these pressures.) Unfortunately for China, none of the forces that are shrinking grainland area are easily countered.

Between 1998 and 2003, five consecutive harvest shortfalls dropped China’s once massive stocks of grain to their lowest level in 30 years. With stocks now largely depleted, China’s leaders – all of them survivors of the great famine of 1959-61, when 30 million people starved to death – are worried. For them, food security is not a trivial issue.

  • China is a fascinating case study because of its sheer size and extraordinary pace of industrial development. It has been the world’s fastest-growing economy since 1980.
  • In the deteriorating relationship between the global economy and the earth’s ecosystem, China is unfortunately on the cutting edge.
  • With water, the northern half of China is literally drying out. Water tables are falling, rivers are going dry, and lakes are disappearing.
  • The World Bank foresees “catastrophic consequences for future generations” if water use and supply cannot quickly be brought back into balance.
  • It is difficult to visualize how fast deserts are expanding. Throughout northern and western China, some 24,000 villages have either been abandoned or partly depopulated as drifting sand has made farming untenable.

On the food front, the issue within China is not hunger and starvation, as the nation now has a substantial cushion between consumption levels and minimal nutritional needs. Rather, the concern is rising food prices and the effect that this could have on political stability. China’s leaders are striving for a delicate balance between food prices that will encourage production in the countryside but maintain stability in the cities.

As noted earlier, smaller countries like Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan can import 70% or more of their grain, but if China turns to the outside world to meet even 20% of its grain needs, which would be close to 80 million tons, it will provide a huge challenge for grain exporters. The resulting rise in world grain prices could destabilize governments in low-income, grain-importing countries. The entire world thus has a stake in China’s efforts to stabilize its agricultural resource base.

The challenge ahead

It is difficult to overestimate the challenges the world faces over the next half-century. Not only are there a projected 3 billion more people to feed, but there are also an estimated 5 billion people who want to diversify their diets by moving up the food chain, eating more grain-intensive livestock products. On the supply side, the world’s farmers must contend with traditional challenges, such as soil erosion and the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses, but now also with newer trends such as falling water tables, the diversion of irrigation water to cities, and rising temperatures.

At the World Food Summit in1996 in Rome, 185 governments plus the European Community agreed that the number of hungry people needed to be reduced by half by 2015. Between 1990-92 and 1995-97, the number did decline by some 37 million from 817 million to 780 million, or over 7 million a year – but this was much less than the 20 million per year needed to reach the 2015 target. And then things got even worse. From 1995-97 to 1999-2001, the number of hungry people in the world began to increase, rising by 18 million to 798 million. This increase in hunger is not too surprising, given the lack of growth in the world grain harvest from 1996 to 2003.

  • Against this backdrop of a slowly deteriorating food situation, there is the prospect that the Japan syndrome will soon take effect in other countries, shrinking their grain harvests.
  • Because aquifer depletion is recent, it is taking agricultural analysts into uncharted territory. Water tables are falling simultaneously in many countries and at an accelerating rate.
  • Less clear is exactly when aquifers will be depleted and precisely how much this will reduce food production.
  • If the climate models projecting the effect of rising atmospheric CO2 levels on the earth’s temperature are anywhere near the mark, we are facing a future of higher temperatures.
  • We do not know exactly how fast temperatures will rise, but in a world of rising temperatures, there is added reason to be concerned about world food security.
  • In Africa the spread of HIV/AIDS is threatening the food security of the entire continent as the loss of able-bodied field workers shrinks harvest.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, disease begets hunger and hunger begets disease. In some villages, high HIV infection rates have claimed an entire generation of young adults, leaving only the elderly and children.
  • Without a major intervention from the outside world, the continuing spread of the virus and hunger that is cutting life expectancy in half in some countries could take Africa back to the Dark Ages.
  • In a world where the food economy has been shaped by an abundance of cheap oil, tightening world oil supplies will further complicate efforts to eradicate hunger.
  • Modern mechanized agriculture requires large amounts of fuel for tractors, irrigation pumps, and grain drying. Rising oil prices may soon translate into rising food prices.
  • The countries that have dominated world grain exports for the last half-century – the United States, Canada, Australia, and Argentina – may not be able to export much beyond current levels.
  • By contrast, countries such as Russia and the Ukraine should be able to expand their grain exports at least modestly.
  • The likely increases in exports from these countries are small compared with the prospective import needs of China and, potentially, India. It is worth noting that the drop in China’s grain harvest of 70 million tons over five years is equal to the grain exports of Canada, Australia, and Argentina combined.
  • The only country that has the potential to substantially expand the world grainland area is Brazil with its vast cerrado, a savannah-like region that lies on the southern edge of the Amazon Basin. (See Chapter 9.)
  • Because its soils require the heavy use of fertilizer and because transporting grain from Brazil’s remote interior to distant world markets is costly, it would likely take substantially higher world grain prices for Brazil to emerge as a major exporter.
  • Beyond this, would a vast expansion of cropland in Brazil’s interior be sustainable? Or is its vulnerability to soil erosion likely to prevent it from making a long-term contribution?
  • What will be the price paid in the irretrievable loss of ecosystems and plant and animals species?

Ensuring future food security is a formidable challenge. Can we check the HIV epidemic before it so depletes Africa’s adult population that starvation stalks the land? Can we arrest the steady shrinkage in grainland area per person, eliminate the overgrazing that is converting grassland to desert, and reduce soil erosion losses below the natural rate of new soil formation? Can we simultaneously halt the advancing deserts that are engulfing cropland, check the rising temperature that threatens to shrink harvests, arrest the fall in water tables, and protect cropland from careless conversion to nonfarm uses?

Data for figures and additional information can be found at

Chapter 2: Stopping at Seven Billion


Saturday, June 11, 2011 @ 06:06 AM
posted by admin




EARTHSCAN          2005


About the author

Lester R. Brown is President of the Earth Policy Institute, a nonprofit, interdisciplinary research organization based in Washington, D.C., which he founded in May 2001. The purpose of the Earth Policy Institute is to provide a vision of an environmentally sustainable economy – an eco-economy – along with a roadmap of how to get from here to there and an ongoing assessment of its progress. Founder and former President of the Worldwatch Institute, the Washington Post called Lester Brown ‘one of the world’s most influential thinkers.’

Front cover

Historically, food security was the responsibility of ministries of agriculture but today that has changed: decisions made in the ministries of energy may instead have the greatest effect on the food situation. Recent research reporting that a one degree Celcius rise in temperature can reduce grain yields by 10% means that energy policy is now directly affecting crop production. Agriculture is a water-intensive activity and, while public attention has focused on oil depletion, it is aquifer depletion that poses the more serious threat. There are substitutes for oil, but none for water and the link between our fossil addiction, climate change and food security is now clear.

While population growth has slowed over the past three decades, we are still adding 76 million people per year. In a world where the historical rise in land productivity has slowed by half since 1990, eradicating hunger may depend as much on family planners as on farmers. The bottom line is that future food security depends not only on efforts within agriculture but also on energy policies that stabilize climate, a worldwide effort to raise water productivity, the evolution of land-efficient transport systems, and population policies that seek a humane balance between population and food. Outgrowing the Earth advances our thinking on food security issues that the world will be wrestling with for years to come.

Preface by Lester R. Brown, October 2004

  • Assessing the world food prospect was once rather straightforward, largely a matter of extrapolating, with minor adjustments, historically recent agricultural supply and demand trends.
  • Now suddenly that is all changing. It is no longer just a matter of trends slowing or accelerating; in some cases they are reversing direction.
  • Grain harvests that were once rising everywhere are now falling in some countries. Fish catches that were once rising are now falling.
  • Irrigated area, once expanding almost everywhere, is now shrinking in some key food-producing regions.
  • Beyond this, some of the measures that are used to expand food production today, such as over-pumping aquifers, almost guarantee a decline in food production tomorrow when the aquifers are depleted and the wells go dry.
  • The same can be said for over-plowing and over-grazing. We have entered an era of discontinuity on the food front, an era where making reliable projections is ever more difficult.
  • New research shows that a 1°C rise in temperature leads to a decline in wheat, rice, and corn yields of 10%. In a century where temperatures could rise by several degrees Celsius, harvests could be devastated.
  • Perhaps the biggest agricultural reversal in recent times has been the precipitous decline in China’s grain production since 1998. Ten years ago, in Who Will Feed China?, I projected that China’s grain production would soon peak and begin to decline.
  • But I did not anticipate that it would drop by 50 million tons between 1998 and 2004. Since 1998 China has covered this decline by drawing down its once massive stocks of grain.
  • Now stocks are largely depleted and China is turning to the world market. Its purchase of 8 million tons of wheat to import in 2004 could signal the beginning of a shift from a world food economy dominated by surpluses to one dominated by scarcity.
  • Overnight, China has become the world’s largest wheat importer.
  • At the other end of the spectrum is Brazil, the only country with the potential to expand world cropland area measurably. But what will the environmental consequences be of continuing to clear and plow Brazil’s vast interior?
  • Will the soils sustain cultivation over the longer term? Will the deforestation in the Amazon disrupt the recycling of rainfall from the Atlantic Ocean to the country’s interior?
  • How many plant and animal species will Brazil sacrifice to expand its exports of soybeans?
  • Future food security now depends on the combined efforts of the ministries of agriculture, energy, transportation, health and family planning, and water resources.
  • It also depends on strong leadership that is far better informed on the complex set of interacting forces affecting food security than most political leaders are today.


Chapter 1: Pushing Beyond the Earth’s Limits

  • In 1950, there were 2.5 billion people in the world. By 2000, there were 6 billion. There has been more growth in world population since 1950 than during the preceding 4 million years.
  • During the last half of the 20th century, the world economy expanded sevenfold. The growth in the world economy during the single year of 2000 exceeded that of the entire 19th century.
  • While the world economy multiplied sevenfold in just 50 years, the earth’s natural life-support systems remained essentially the same.
  • Water use tripled, but the capacity of the hydrological system to produce fresh water through evaporation changed little.
  • The demand for seafood increased fivefold, but the sustainable yield of oceanic fisheries was unchanged.
  • Fossil fuel burning raised carbon dioxide emissions fourfold, but the capacity of nature to absorb CO2 changed little, leading to a rise in the earth’s temperature.
  • As human demands surpass the earth’s natural capacities, expanding food production becomes more difficult.


Losing agricultural momentum

  • World grain production is a basic indicator of dietary adequacy at the individual level and of overall food security at the global level.
  • After nearly tripling from 1950 to 1996, the grain harvest stayed flat for seven years in a row, through 2003, showing no increase at all.
  • The shortfalls of nearly 100 million tons in 2002 and again in 2003 were the largest on record.
  • World grain stocks dropped to the lowest level in 30 years. The last time stocks were this low, in 1972-74, wheat and rice prices doubled.
  • In 2004 a combination of stronger grain prices at planting time and the best weather in a decade yielded a substantially larger harvest for the first time in eight years
  • Yet even with a harvest that was up 124 million tons from that in 2003, the world still consumed all the grain it produced, leaving none to rebuild stocks. If stocks cannot be rebuilt in a year of exceptional weather, when can they?
  • From 1950 to 1984 world grain production expanded faster than population, raising the grain produced per person from 250 kilograms to the historical peak of 339 kilograms, an increase of 34%.
  • Since 1984 grain harvest growth has fallen behind that of population, dropping the amount of grain produced per person to 308 kilograms in 2004, down 9% from its historic high point.
  • Part of the global decline was offset by the increasing efficiency with which feedgrains are converted into animal protein, thanks to the growing use of soybean meal as a protein supplement. The deterioration in nutrition has not been as great as the bare numbers would suggest.
  • The one region where the decline in grain produced per person is unusually steep and where it is taking a heavy human toll is Africa. From 1980 through 2001 grain production per person fluctuated between 120 and 140 kilograms.
  • In two of the last three years, it has been below 120 kilograms – dropping to a level that leaves millions of Africans on the edge of starvation.
  • Several long-standing trends are contributing to the global loss of agricultural momentum: soil erosion; desertification; and the accelerating conversion of cropland to nonfarm uses.
  • Now two newer environmental trends – falling water tables and rising temperatures – are slowing the growth in world food production.
  • The high-yielding varieties of wheat, rice, and corn that were developed a generation or so ago are now widely used in industrial and developing countries alike.
  • The use of fertilizer has now plateaued or even declined slightly in key food-producing counties.
  • The rapid growth in irrigation that characterized much of the last half-century has also slowed. Indeed, in some countries the irrigated area is shrinking.
  • The bottom line is that it is now more difficult for farmers to keep up with the growing demand for grain.
  • The rise in grainland productivity, which averaged over 2% a year from 1950 to 1990, fell to scarcely 1% a year from 1990 to 2000. This will likely drop further in the years immediately ahead.


Growth: The environmental fallout

Sunday, May 15, 2011 @ 09:05 AM
posted by admin


Fifth Edition


Professor Emeritus of Corporate Strategy and Managerial Ethics

School of Business Administration University of Michigan

McGraw-Hill             2006



Chapter 1: Moral Problems in Business Management

Chapter 2: Moral Analysis and Economic Outcomes

Chapter 3: Moral Analysis and Legal Requirements

Chapter 4: Moral Analysis and Ethical Duties

Chapter 5: Why Should a Business Manager be Moral?

  • We have looked at the economic outcomes (Chapter 2), legal requirements (Chapter 3), and ethical duties (Chapter 4) as a means of resolving the moral problems of management, and have found none are completely satisfactory.
  • None of these analytical methods can give an answer that we can say with absolute certainty is ‘right’ and ‘just’ and ‘fair’ when attempting to find the proper balance between the financial; outputs and the social impacts of a business firm.
  • And none of those analytical methods can give us a means of truly convincing the other people who have been affected by those outputs and impacts that our decision was indeed the ‘most right,’ the ‘most just,’ and the ‘most fair’ in attempting to reach that balance.
  • Why should a manager attempt to be moral in his or her decisions and actions? And, particularly, why should a manager attempt to convince other people that he or she has reached the ‘most right, ‘most just,’ and ‘most fair’ decision among all of the available alternatives?
  • The answer at one level is that if we want others to worry about whether their treatment of us is ‘right’ and ‘just’ and ‘fair,’ then we have to worry about our treatment of them. Reciprocity is the most logical reason for morality.
  • But the world is filled with people who are not logical in the sense of recognizing reciprocity and the need to be consistent. Do we simply cede to them the first place in financial benefits and managerial positions? That is not a very satisfactory solution for most of us.
  • Beyond reciprocity, however, as the reason for our moral actions toward others is – or perhaps ought to be – our concern for the quality of our lives.
  • If we are concerned about the sort of profession we have entered, the sort of organization we have joined, the sort of society we are constructing, and the sort of person we are becoming, then we have to start thinking about our duties and responsibilities to others. How do we reach a balance among all those duties and responsibilities?
  • In 399 BC, Socrates was put on trial in Athens for having corrupted the youth of the city. He argued in his defense that all he had done was to ask the young people who attended his classes to consider the goals and standards of their lives. “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
  • Perhaps he is saying that everyone should examine their duties and obligations to their professions, their organizations, their communities, and themselves. If so, it is necessary to get down to basics.
  • The most basic question in ethics is: ‘Do you have an obligation to leave the world a little better than you found it, or can you simply take what you want now, and let other people worry about making up the shortfall later on?’
  • Many people do recognize an obligation to other people, but have never thought deeply about their specific responsibilities. Others choose to ignore this injunction.
  • Once again do we cede to those people the first place in financial rewards and managerial positions and hope that later they will become concerned with the quality of their lives and their obligations to others?
  • Perhaps we need something more than reciprocity of treatment and quality of life as the reason to be moral.


Trust, commitment, and cooperative effort

  • Beyond reciprocity of treatment and quality of life, the third argument in favor of moral action in management is that of cooperative effort.
  • Organizations are composed of individuals and groups who have to cooperate to be successful. In business firms we call those individuals and groups stakeholders.
  • Stakeholders include the factory and office workers, functional and technical managers, senior executives, scientists and engineers, suppliers, distributors, customers, creditors, owners, and local residents.
  • All must contribute their efforts through cooperation and innovation if that future is to be successful and secure.
  • Why should stakeholders contribute their best efforts for an organization that appears not to care about them?
  • You are a worker on the assembly line and I am the manager. The argument of this chapter is that you probably will not tell me about your idea to greatly increase efficiency and reduce cost in my factory, because you do not trust me.
  • You would think that I would take credit for the idea, ask for and receive a large bonus from the owners for having invented it, and fire a few more of your friends because they were no longer needed.
  • Perhaps earlier I should have established an attitude that everyone within the company could expect to be treated in ways that could rationally be explained to be right and just and fair. Perhaps I should have been moral.
  • Maybe the basic answer to the ‘Why be moral?’ question is the need for a manager to build trust, commitment, and effort among all of the individuals and groups associated with the organization.
  • Maybe trust is the essential first step, and perhaps we can’t get commitment and effort without that trust.
  • And maybe trust is built upon our making and explaining our decisions and actions in a way that most people can agree to be right and just and fair.
  • This is the first basic argument of this chapter, that trust requires a recognition of moral responsibility, an application of moral reasoning, and a possession of moral character or courage.


Extended organizations

Cooperation, innovation, and unification

Unify and guide

A new method of management

Case 5-1: Johnson & Johnson and the worldwide recall of Tylenol

Case 5-2: Herman Miller and the protection of the environment

Case 5-3: Merck Corporation and the cure for River Blindness

Class Assignment


Chapter 6: How Can a Business Be Made Moral?

  • The first basic argument of the previous chapter was that people throughout the firm – employees, suppliers, distributors, customers, creditors, and owners – react positively when they believe they have been treated in ways that they consider to be right and just and fair.
  • This positive reaction consists of increased trust, greater commitment, and higher effort.
  • The second basic argument of the last chapter was that it is not enough for senior executives to balance economic outcomes, legal requirements, and ethical duties in ways that they believe to be right and just and fair and then stop.
  • They have to be able to convincingly explain to others why their balance is right and just and fair and to infuse that new philosophy of management or sense of integrity throughout the full firm in order to solidly establish the trust, commitment, and effort that is needed.
  • I should like to illustrate the steps needed to infuse your philosophy throughout the firm with the wreck of the Exxon Valdez.
  • This was a moral disaster that harmed in very substantial ways the Exxon Corporation and almost all of the individuals and groups associated with that firm.
  • It was an accident that didn’t have to happen and one that could easily have been remedied far more quickly and completely than actually happened.
  • It was a disastrous accident that occurred and a recovery process that was botched because no one cared and because no one trusted the management, evidenced any commitment or effort for the firm.


Example of a moral disaster

At 9.30 pm on Thursday, the 22nd of March, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez left the oil terminal at Valdez, Alaska loaded with 1.26 million barrels of oil. The Valdez was the largest tanker owned by Exxon. It was nearly 1,000 feet long and weighed, fully loaded, 280,000 tons…..

Management of a moral company

The oil spill from the Exxon Valdez coated 750 miles of Alaska coastline. It severely impacted the livelihood of commercial fisherman, almost destroyed the food sources of native Indians, and resulted in the death of 40% of bald eagles in Alaska, killed 80% of sea otters in prince William Sound, and eliminated 200,000 birds along the coast. It nearly ruined the reputation of the Exxon Corporation, and resulted in a $2.4 billion fine by the federal government and a $2.8 billion penalty in a civil trial. Senior executives truly wish that the careless accident and delayed cleanup had never happened. The causes and consequences of that careless accident and delayed cleanup are summarized in figure 6.2 …

Philosophy of management

If the total focus of corporate management is placed on financial benefits for the stockholders, with little or no attention paid to the well being and/or rights of the other stakeholders, the result – according to this text – will be a lack of trust, commitment, and effort among those stakeholders.

This is clearly what happened at Exxon Corporation. At the time of the wreck, Exxon was being managed with sole attention to the financial well-being of the stockholders. Lawrence Rawl boasted that he was “bottom line” oriented, that he planned to fire employees and cut expenses to increase profits, with no concern for those to be fired in the company or to those to be harmed in the community. Under economic outcomes, the company did not recognize the external costs that were imposed upon the commercial fishers, the native Indians, and the active environmentalists. Under government requirements, the company did not obey the law, in the form of the spill response contract with the state of Alaska. Under ethical duties, the company was not open, honest, and truthful about their actions and did not select the greatest net benefit for society or act in a way they would be willing to have all others act. The result was a clear lack of committed effort by employees on the tanker; no one was willing to report the frequent drunken behavior by the captain or to object to the continual violations of sailing rules that jointly led to the tragic accident. The result was also a complete lack of committed effort by employees at the terminal: no one made an attempt to correct the shortage of equipment and the absence of training that led to the slow response. That lack of trust, commitment, and effort brought about, eventually, a huge cost to the company and a heavy charge to society.

Corporate values

 Organizational goals

Mission statement

Financial supports

Performance measures

Incentive payments

Prohibited procedures

Leadership actions


Case 6-1: Electrolux Corporation and the possibility of renewal

Case 6-2: Two companies in need of redirection

Case 6-3: Enron Corporation and the need for complete revision