Sunday, February 21, 2016

How to Feed the World,

                                         Comments due by Feb. 29, 2016
Virtually everyone in the scientific community agrees that ensuring sufficient food supplies for a surging human population, which is set to grow by 2.4 billion by mid-century, will require serious work. Indeed, we have not even succeeded at providing enough food for today’s population of 7.3 billion: Nearly 800 million people currently are starving or hungry, and another couple billion do not get enough micronutrients. But there is no such consensus about how to address the food-security problem.
The scientific community is split between two main approaches: “tinker with agricultural details” (TAD) and “mend societal fundamentals” (MSF). While the former approach has support from a clear majority, the latter is more convincing.
To be sure, the TAD camp has identified many important problems with current food production and distribution systems, and addressing them could indeed improve food security. Yields could be increased by developing better crop varieties. Water, fertilizer, and pesticides should be used more efficiently. Maintaining tropical forests and other relatively natural ecosystems would preserve critical ecosystem services, especially soil fertility, pollination, pest control, and climate amelioration. The trend toward rising meat consumption should be reversed. Stricter regulation of fisheries and ocean pollution would maintain the supply of marine protein essential to many people. Waste in food production and distribution should be reduced. And people should be educated to choose more sustainable and nutritious foods.
Achieving these goals, TAD supporters recognize, would require policymakers to give food security high political and fiscal priority, in order to support the needed research and action. Responsibility for launching programs to distribute food more equitably would also fall to governments.
But the TAD approach is incomplete. Not only would its short-term goals be extremely difficult to achieve without more fundamental societal changes; even if they were attained, they would probably prove inadequate in the medium term, and certainly in the long term.
To see why, let us suppose that, in 2050, the TAD goals have all been reached. More food is available, thanks to higher agricultural yields and waste-reducing improvements in storage and distribution. Improved environmental policies mean that most of today’s forests are still standing and no-fishing zones are widely established and enforced. Ecosystems are becoming stronger, with many corals and plankton evolving to survive in warmer, more acidic water. Add an uptick in vegetarianism, and it appears that the global temperature rise could be limited to 3º Celsius.
As a result, the world could avoid famines by mid-century. But, in a human population of 9.7 billion, hunger and malnutrition would be proportionately the same as they are in today’s population of 7.3 billion. In other words, even with such an extraordinary and unlikely combination of accomplishments and good luck, our food-security predicament would still be with us.
The reason is simple: Our societies and economies are based on the flawed assumption that perpetual growth is possible on a finite planet. To ensure global food security – not to mention other fundamental human rights – for all, we need to recognize our limitations, in terms of both social and biophysical factors, and do whatever it takes to ensure that we do not exceed them.
Based on this conviction, the MSF approach demands that governments take steps to empower women in all areas of society, and ensure that all sexually active people have access to modern birth control, with women free to have an abortion, if they so choose. At the same time, governments must address inequality of wealth, and thus of food, not least by curbing corporate dominance.
Short of bringing the global population down to sustainable levels, MSF reforms are the world’s only hope. But, as it stands, implementing them seems unlikely. The United States, the country that consumes the most, is moving in the opposite direction: women are struggling to hold onto their reproductive rights, wealth distribution is becoming increasingly skewed, and corporations are becoming even more powerful.
If this trend continues, in 2050, governance systems will be even more poorly equipped to deal with the fundamental problems of perpetual population and consumption growth or wealth inequality. As environments deteriorate from climate change, toxification, and loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, people will have less time and energy for governance reform aimed at reducing inequality or preserving the environment. As a result, those in power will feel less pressure to arrange systems to provide food to those who need it most.
The social-biophysical system is replete with chicken-and-egg subsystems. Given that there is no obvious single vulnerable point in the system to initiate change, governments must address a range of issues simultaneously. Key starting points include purging politics of “big money”; introducing a more progressive tax system that effectively caps the income of the extremely wealthy; ensuring that policymakers have a basic level of scientific understanding; and strengthening women’s rights, including access to free contraception.
Just as social and environmental problems can be mutually reinforcing, so can actions aimed at strengthening our social and environmental fundamentals. Only by focusing on these fundamentals, rather than merely tinkering with the details of food production, can intrinsic systemic linkages work to the advantage of future generations.


Anonymous said...

Things do seem to be getting worse before they get better. Though many nations will hopefully comply with new international standards that were set in Paris a few months ago and other standards that have been set in the past, and more and more countries adhere to these standards, best case scenario is we avoid the worst of certain problems. With regards to food security, since growth isn't likely to slow significantly in the next fifty years there is a high probability things will get worse before they get better.

The blame is often laid at the feet of capitalism, I don't disagree that this system global capitalism is mostly to blame. However, it seems unlikely to me there will be some kind of paradigm shift away from capitalism. If anything, capitalism is growing stronger and stronger. By most people, it's seen as the only option for developing nations, the one opportunity to lift people out of poverty. Whether or not that is true is beside the point to me. There is no will to change. Maybe we need to come up with creative new ways of approaching these issues. I'm not sure what this would entail. But we since it seems unlikely we'll either end capitalism or will be able to sustain perpetual growth, the world will be forced to find new solutions.

Carl Wojciechowski

Erika Anzalone said...

Famine is a current crisis and a very discussed topic in the world today. Food is already at a shortage with todays population and with the projected increase in population over the next couple years, it is going to be very hard to support the world. I am unsure how the world will be able to regenerate with this massive increase in population, but the several ideas about increasing agricultural net yield is a very scary idea, and I am unsure if they would work at all. Along with these ideas being somewhat unreliable, there will also be a need for increase fiscal capital, which is a completely different topic on its own. But our society is so flawed that the population will forever be increasing unless a huge epidemic occurs like a plague, and so the need for food is always going to increase as well. Unless we find a permanent solution to our problems of overuse of resources or limiting population growth, nothing will be achieved for our future generations.

-Erika Anzalone

Christina Marciante said...

This was my favorite article so far. It was very simple and explained everything in an understandable way. I agree with all the points. We need to distribute the wealth, enforce more policies and laws so women can have access to education and family service, and stop wasting food. We have to do all that in the United States and then have a plan for other countries too. It's incredible how much food we waste here. In my high school we would do an annual Thanksgiving potluck. After we all ate, there would be so much food left over that would be trashed. Even unopened goods. We could've easily donated that food to a homeless shelter or just give it out on the streets. We also need to start growing more food locally and eating local. Hopefully these problems will be fixed one day or start being fixed soon, but I feel like not enough people care about it. We probably won't start dealing with it until it's too late. Most of the time Americans are focused on themselves and the people close to them and don't really care about other people, especially if they're not from our country.

-Christina Marciante

Anonymous said...

This article had a lot of good information in it. Food is an issue in all countries, no country has absolutely no famine and to fix this problem it needs to try and be done at a world level, starting with policy/rules whether it is that they need to be reformed or just better enforced. But while trying to solve the issue of hunger the environment needs to be taken into account along with the nutrition of the food if they are going to genetically change it for better yield.People not only need to be fed, but it needs to be a healthy diet.

-Andy Ponticiello

Rowan Lanning said...

All metaphorical band aids on the issue of climate change ignore the root cause of the wound in the first place. It all goes back to population. It seems to me like there are two possible outcomes with this - we continue to grow as a world until famine and disease wipes out a substantial amount of humans in a population crash, like we've discussed in class, or we do something about our global fertility rate. As described here, The United States is currently on a backward progressional trend in terms of robbing (or aiming to rob) women from our reproductive, abortion, and birth control rights, increasing the already monstrous wage gap between the economic social classes and by affording corporations, who serve to gain the most from exploiting the earth for profit, more power nationally and globally. Clearly something needs to be done. The question is how? Clearly there needs to be increased education on these issues, more people (especially young people our age) need to vote not only for the presidential elections but for the midterm elections for the senate and house, and local level elections. I'm just afraid that the beurocratic principal of law won't give us enough time to figure out how to solve this issue before it's too late. I'm going to be very anxious to see the outcome of this upcoming presidential election as Bernie Sanders seems to be the only candidate willing to take climate change seriously enough.

Anonymous said...

I liked the points this article provided and I agree there needs to be a change to off set the growing amount of people going to bed hungry. The worst part of our famine problem is that there isn't a lack of food, but a lack of access to food. Many people, such as the rich in the United States, throw out pounds of food a day while other people in the United States go to bed hungry, not to mention people in less privileged countries. I'm not sure how the rearranging of wealth will work but I think that this is an option we need to look into because the problem is continuously growing and until people can stand on their own two feet they need help. I personally would take another tax on myself in a second if it meant helping some one who in a more difficult situation than I was in. Some say that this is the real world and people who can't survive in it don't deserve to be in it, but that's not quite true. The systems in this world that are keeping others from thriving are of human creation thus meaning that the humans benefiting need to help the ones that have been failed by the system.

Anonymous said...

The one above was by me, sorry for forgetting my name.

-Kaila Williams

Chase Harnett said...


I feel that the MSF method is an extension of the TAD. The MSF method clearly deals with politics and methods of governance better than the TAD. However, I feel that the MSF must also include all of the points listed in the TAD approach. There is clearly no “Silver Bullet” when it comes to the population growth and feeding the world. It is too complex of a problem to simply say that just the MSF or TAD is the solution. Certainly a blend of the two would be the strongest play. A coupling of re-distribution of wealth, empowering women, and working on the details of our agricultural system can be done. One could argue that we are already on our way and if the popularity of these topics also grows exponentially then perhaps there is hope.

However, do not think for a moment that I do not agree with the criteria of either of the two. I am sincerely optimistic about our countries potential to organize it-self sooner than later and combat the problem of food shortage and an exponentially growing population, both in our country and others over seas. In the mean time, a little optimism can not hurt.

Chase Harnett

Kaitlynn Brady said...

Food insecurity is a topic I feel that people should be more aware and conscious of in their everyday decisions. It's easy to forget the other half of the world that struggle with food insecurity everyday when you live in a country like America that has an abundance of food. Although I agree that TAD helps, but that is only a temporary fix. I think we can all make conscious decisions to support food security in little ways and make a political statement about the sustainability of our future. When I go grocery shopping, I try to only support local or organic farmers, as well as fair trade. In our capitalist society it is important to understand the consumer's role in the economy. We create supply and demand. Therefore, if we all began to support local, organic, and fair trade we create a higher demand, yielding a higher supply. This would ultimately cut out big corporations, such as monsanto, out of the food industry. By doing this, not only are we creating food security, but also healthier generations and a sustainable future.

Kaitlynn Brady

SUET SZE AU said...

Written by SUET SZE AU

This article is interesting and inspiring. It reminded me the differences of mainstream environmentalism and deep ecology, as mentioned in class.
One suggested approach to alleviate the food security problem is “tinker with agricultural details” (TAD), which obviously is an example of mainstream environmentalism. This method suggested to deal with the details of the food production and distribution system, like using better crop varieties, fertilizer, pesticides and protecting the ecology system in a better way. These things are really surface things, not the root causes. Moreover, it is difficult to achieve as it requires a lot of social changes in practice and thinking. Even though we can archive it in short run, we still face the food security problem if our population continuously grow exponentially.
On the other hand, “mend societal fundamentals” (MSF) is an example of deep ecology. Deep ecology deals with the root causes. The root cause of the food security problem is population. Therefore, the best method will be control the birth rate by contraception and even abortion. Moreover, women should be empowered by education and career opportunities. Studies show women born less children when they are more educated. I hope different governments can work more on family planning and narrowing income gap to solve the problem of food insecurity.

Johnny Lopez said...

I think this article does an excellent job at explaining the inter-related issue of food production, population growth, climate change, loss of biodiversity, and the (unrealistic) cornucopian belief about advancements in technology. The TAD (tinker with agricultural detail) not only is a superficial solution, it has investments in big businesses too. For example, organic products are now being widely advertised in supermarkets, which derails the balance of the community. Instead of having mass production of "organic" foods, shoppers should try buying their foods from local markets, farms, and grocery stores. Like any other issue, putting a "bandaid" on a wound does not heal it. Instead, it is meant to cover the affected area. The TAD is NOT a permanent solution, but it is meant to hide the fact that there is a issue at hand. Worst of all, it is the less fortunate that will take the brutal hit, with increased malnutrition and food loss. The MSF (mend societal fundamentals) approach deals with the issue at the individual. If you can convince an audience to change their ideas and make it readily & easily accessible, the outcome will be much more enduring. At this point, we are in a crucial era of environmental degradation or environmentally sustainable growth, and that is scary. As an optimist, I hope for a sustainable growth period, but I always have my doubts when I see individuals like presidential candidate Donald Trump doing well at the polls.....

Rebecca McMann said...

The key to improving almost any situation is education. So little of the population has a clear idea of what is actually going on across the world. Especially when people are not taught they go on with their lives continuing to teach bad behaviors to their children and the pattern continues. The food crisis is a real thing and people continue to have no knowledge of what is happening. Once people are aware of not just what is happening but what they can do to help things will be able to start changing. People can easily support organic farms and be mindful of what they buy and how they dispose of what they have. You cant change a problem when nobody knows that it is even happening. It is also not just the rest of the world, here in America we also have famine and we need to try and help educate enough of us that we can start to make a change. The biggest point in my book is education. Nothing will ever work unless people are made aware of problems and then made aware of how they can help make a difference.

Rebecca McMann

Megan Brown said...

This article does a very great job at explaining the issue around food production and how we as a society should change it. The thought that the world can sustain anything us humans bring to it is childish and one that needs to be changed. More education about this topic would help greatly reduce this problem.The TAD approach to food security may be a nice idea, but in reality, it will be impossible to put into place. The MSF ideals about food security, and how that will affect the world is, as the article said, earth's last hope. The food crisis is a real thing in todays world that is widely ignored. Until people realize that this is a major problem and get some education and what exactly MSF is trying to do, it seems as if it will never get put into motion. People right now are ignorant to this issue and simply don't know what is going on. To fix this issue, there must be more conversation, big news stories, and examples of what is happening and how to fix this crisis.

Fatimah M. said...

This article has made me realize a bunch of horrible things that's wrong with the society.It's sad that so many people in the world are starving and going hungry every single day. I don't even think that half the population knows about the amount of people that are starving right now, because nobody talks about it or they just don't care. I believe that the TAD approach will be very effective because it will help maintain the tropical forests which is a big problem that has occurred over and over; people chopping down the habitat of animals. The TAD approach will give the society regulations and rules to abide by, in order to preserve our resources and eliminate big amounts of waste from food production.

Ralph Green said...

After reading the article it makes you think of the world and how some people are stuffing their faces while others are going to sleep not having eaten anything in two or three days. As if it isn't obvious that's a very big problem in our world and it needs to be addressed and properly fixed. I like the tinker with agricultural detail (TAD) approach because in doing so it shows concern for our environment while at the same time trying to solve our food crisis. TAD is also more conscious of whats going on by establishing laws, rules, regulations, etc which will be very helpful in the protection of our environment. People need to not only realize the food and starvation crisis but also the destruction of our world and the waste that comes from our food and its production, it is actually a huge deal since it concerns literally our home.

Brian Frank said...

Through reading the article the only way I can see the world headed towards a sustainable community is if the plan is fast tracked and legislation in many countries change. Everyone starts the conversation by stating "come the mid-century..." which is three decades away. We live in such an advanced society where things have the capability being jumps started. First legislation need to change as far as how things were mentioned in the article that in the United States corporations are becoming to powerful and that needs to change before we can plan a world society that can feed a growing population. Once that is complete, farming needs to come back into the hands of farmers where there aren't limits on what they can do because those limits only help corporations by putting more money in their pockets and feed less people. Through that farming would be more widely encouraged for more individuals can make a living off doing so and would allow for food production to rise over coming years, hopefully prior to the mid-century.
-Brian Frank

Micah Steele said...

The political structure of the legislative process in this country is intended to protect the countries interests from knee jerk reactions to uprisings and movements. The founding father's intended that process and bureaucracy would allow for scrutiny of law proposals to guard against injustice. I suspect they never once consider that the Unite States would have to lead the global community from a flawed fundamental premise of perpetual population growth to a finite planet perspective. The situation we are in requires action and frankly the piece meal passage of legislation is not helping the planet's dire situation. I agree with the articles premise of reversing citizens united to keep wealthy interests out of the political process would be beneficial, but I would also add that congressional districts need to be ungerrymandered. If human population continues on this unsustainable trajectory its reasonable to conclude its only a matter of time before the universe corrects itself. Maybe by then we'll find some other planet to exploit.

Ariana Pdlla said...

Over population is the main reason that our society suffers from many issues. An issue which lies at the more important end of the spectrum is the issue of of sufficient food supply. With starvation being an issue in many countries that suffer from poverty, that already adds to the issue of food security. When I first began reading into the scientific communities (TAD and MSF) which worked towards different approaches on how to solve the issue of food security I thought to myself “wow these are great goals/ideas”…After reading into it, I didn’t realize how many complications dragged along after these proposals. Most of these goals could be achieved if it weren’t for the major issue of overpopulation. Unfortunately our society and economy is based on the incorrect assumption that growth is possible on our planet. We are blind towards realizing that it is important to limit ourselves. If we worked towards curbing our consumption we would be able to achieve TAD and MSF.

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