Learning from Dogs

Dogs are integrous animals. We have much to learn from them.

Posts Tagged ‘Earth Policy Institute

Turning corners, en route to Plan B.

with one comment

Nothing stays the same for very long!

I wanted to call this post Change out of hope but that title was used on March 17th so opted for Turning corners instead!

Either way, this Post is prompted by a recent item published on the Earth Policy Institute website.  While Lester Brown’s book World on the Edge is a tough read, Lester is President of the Earth Policy Institute, it’s all too easy to think that the future for humanity is wall-to-wall gloom.  So here’s the article that was recently published, reproduced here under the copyright terms of the Earth Policy Institute.

Hope turning on the wind!

Wind Tops 10 Percent Share of Electricity in Five U.S. States

by J. Matthew Roney

A new picture is emerging in the U.S. power sector. In 2007, electricity generation from coal peaked, dropping by close to 4 percent annually between 2007 and 2011. Over the same time period, nuclear generation fell slightly, while natural gas-fired electricity grew by some 3 percent annually and hydropower by 7 percent. Meanwhile, wind-generated electricity grew by a whopping 36 percent each year. Multiple factors underlie this nascent shift in U.S. electricity production, including the global recession, increasing energy efficiency, and more economically recoverable domestic natural gas. But ultimately it is the increasing attractiveness of wind as an energy source that will drive it into prominence.

Wind power accounted for just 2.9 percent of total electricity generation in the United States in 2011. In five U.S. states, however, 10 percent or more of electricity generation came from wind. South Dakota leads the states, with wind power making up 22 percent of its electricity generation in 2011, up from 14 percent in 2010. In 2011, Iowa generated 19 percent of its electricity with wind energy. And in North Dakota, wind’s share was 15 percent.

The two most populous U.S. states are also harnessing more of their wind resources. While adding more than 900 megawatts of new wind farms in 2011 to its existing 3,000-megawatt wind capacity, California was able to increase its wind electricity share from 3 to 4 percent. Texas has the most wind installations of all the states, with 10,400 megawatts. In fact, if Texas were a country, it would rank sixth in the world for total wind capacity. Figures from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the independent service operator that delivers 85 percent of the state’s electricity, show that wind’s share of electricity in the ERCOT region jumped from 2.9 percent in 2007 to 8.5 percent in 2011.

Even though the cost of generating electricity from the wind has fallen substantially, certain policies have been needed to help it compete with the longtime support and lack of full-cost accounting for fossil fuels. Through so-called renewable portfolio standards (RPS), 29 states now require a percentage of utilities’ electricity to come from renewables by a certain date. This includes 8 of the top 10 states in total installed wind power capacity. For example, California’s RPS requires one third of the state’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. But the biggest policy driver of U.S. wind power growth thus far has been the federal production tax credit (PTC) for each kilowatt-hour of electricity a wind turbine generates. When Congress has allowed the PTC to expire, as it is scheduled to do again at the end of 2012, wind installations in the following year have plummeted.

In the short term, extending the PTC will be critical for the U.S. wind industry, which boasts more than 400 turbine component manufacturers and employs some 75,000 people. Ultimately, moving away from the recurring boom-bust threat by establishing a national RPS or a carbon tax would encourage even greater manufacturing growth and wind installations.

In a country where wind resources could power the entire economy, there is still great potential to be realized. Four states in northern Germany have set the mark, with each getting more than 40 percent of their electricity from the wind. Which U.S. state will get there first?

For more information and data on wind energy in the United States and around the world, see Earth Policy Institute’s Wind Indicator, “World Wind Power Climbs to New Record in 2011,” at http://www.earth-policy.org.

Copyright © 2012 Earth Policy Institute

This video is well worth watching as well as going to that link at the end of the essay above.

Lester Brown, Thomas Friedman, and Paul Krugman discuss the need for a carbon tax in order to price carbon emissions at their true cost.

The “Journey to Planet Earth” series continues with a special program, hosted by Matt Damon, which features environmental visionary Lester Brown and author of “Plan B.” This documentary delivers a clear and unflinching message — either confront the realities of climate change or suffer the consequences of lost civilizations and failed political states.

I will see how much material there is available online with regard to that programme hosted by Matt Damon and, maybe, present some of it on Learning from Dogs.

Finally, the picture of the wind turbine at the head of this Post came from a website called www.windgeneratorblog.com.  Fancy a home wind generator?

About these ads

The potential for the USA!

with one comment

A powerful ‘good news’ story.

I am republishing in full a recent report from the Earth Policy Institute.  It underlines how wringing our hands in the face of so much doom and gloom, while perfectly understandable, can hide the fact that mankind can and does change, frequently for the better.  This EPI report is a tad ‘dry’ but still a great read.  As an incentive, let me show you the final sentence, “If so, the United States could become a world leader in cutting carbon emissions and stabilizing climate.

Here’s the full paper.
NOVEMBER 02, 2011
U.S. Carbon Emissions Down 7 Percent in Four Years: Even Bigger Drops Coming
Lester R. Brown


Between 2007 and 2011, carbon emissions from coal use in the United States dropped 10 percent. During the same period, emissions from oil use dropped 11 percent. In contrast, carbon emissions from natural gas use increased by 6 percent. The net effect of these trends was that U.S. carbon emissions dropped 7 percent in four years. And this is only the beginning.

The initial fall in coal and oil use was triggered by the economic downturn, but now powerful new forces are reducing the use of both. For coal, the dominant force is the Beyond Coal campaign, an impressive national effort coordinated by the Sierra Club involving hundreds of local groups that oppose coal because of its effects on human health.

U.S. Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions, 1950-2010, with Projection for 2011

In the first phase, the campaign actively opposed the building of new coal-fired power plants. This hugely successful initiative, which led to a near de facto moratorium on new coal plants, was powered by Americans’ dislike of coal. An Opinion Research Corporation poll found only 3 percent preferred coal as their electricity source—which is no surprise. Coal plant emissions are a leading cause of respiratory illnesses (such as asthma in children) and mercury contamination. Coal burning causes 13,200 American deaths each year, a loss of life that exceeds U.S. combat losses in 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The campaign’s second phase is dedicated to closing existing coal plants. Of the U.S. total of 492 coal-fired power plants, 68 are already slated to close. With current and forthcoming U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality regulations on emissions of mercury, sulfur, and ozone precursors requiring costly retrofits, many more of the older, dirtier plants will be closed

In August, the American Economic Review—the country’s most prestigious economics journal—published an article that can only be described as an epitaph for the coal industry. The authors conclude that the economic damage caused by air pollutants from coal burning exceeds the value of the electricity produced by coal-fired power plants. Coal fails the cost-benefit analysis even before the costs of climate change are tallied.

In July 2011, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a grant of $50 million to the Beyond Coal campaign. It is one thing when Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club, says that coal has to go, but quite another when Michael Bloomberg, one of the most successful businessmen of his generation, says so.

The move to close coal plants comes at a time when electricity use for lighting will be falling fast as old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs are phased out. In compliance with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, by January 2012 there will be no 100-watt incandescent light bulbs on store shelves. By January 2014, the 75-watt, 60-watt, and 40-watt incandescents will also disappear from shelves. As inefficient incandescents are replaced by compact fluorescents and LEDs, electricity use for lighting can drop by 80 percent. And much of the switch will occur within a few years.

The U.S. Department of Energy projects that residential electricity use per person will drop by 5 percent during this decade as light bulbs are replaced and as more-efficient refrigerators, water heaters, television sets, and other household appliances come to market.

Even as coal plants are closing, the use of wind, solar, and geothermally generated electricity is growing fast. Over the last four years, more than 400 wind farms—with a total generating capacity of 27,000 megawatts—have come online, enough to supply 8 million homes with electricity. (See data.) Nearly 300,000 megawatts of proposed wind projects are in the pipeline awaiting access to the grid.

Cumulative Installed Wind Power Capacity in the United States, 1980-2011

Texas, long the leading oil-producing state, is now the leading generator of electricity from wind. When the transmission lines linking the rich wind resources of west Texas and the Texas panhandle to the large cities in central and eastern Texas are completed, wind electric generation in the state will jump dramatically.

In installed wind-generating capacity, Texas is followed by Iowa, California, Minnesota, and Illinois. In the share of electricity generation in the state coming from wind, Iowa leads at 20 percent.

With electricity generated by solar panels, the United States has some 22,000 megawatts of utility-scale projects in the pipeline. And this does not include residential installations.

Closing coal plants also cuts oil use. With coal use falling, the near 40 percent of freight rail diesel fuel that is used to move coal from mines to power plants will also drop.

In fact, oil use has fallen fast in the United States over the last four years, thus reversing another long-term trend of rising consumption. The reasons for this include a shrinkage in the size of the national fleet, the rising fuel efficiency of new cars, and a reduction in the miles driven per vehicle.

Fleet size peaked at 250 million cars in 2008 just as the number of cars being scrapped eclipsed sales of new cars. Aside from economic conditions, car sales are down because many young people today are much less automobile-oriented than their parents.

In addition, the fuel efficiency of new cars, already rising, will soon increase sharply. The most recent efficiency standards mandate that new cars sold in 2025 use only half as much fuel as those sold in 2010. Thus with each passing year, the U.S. car fleet becomes more fuel-efficient, using less gasoline.

Miles driven per car are declining because of higher gasoline prices, the continuing recession, and the shift to public transit and bicycles. Bicycles are replacing cars as cities create cycling infrastructure by building bike paths, creating dedicated bike lanes, and installing sidewalk parking racks. Many U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, and New York, are introducing bike-sharing programs.

Furthermore, when people retire and no longer commute, miles driven drop by a third to a half. With so many baby boomers now retiring, this too will lower gasoline use.

As plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars come to market, electricity will replace gasoline. Ananalysis by Professor Michael McElroy of Harvard indicates that running a car on wind-generated electricity could cost the equivalent of 80-cent-a-gallon gasoline.

With emissions from coal burning heading for a free fall as plants are closed, and those from oil use also falling fast—both are falling faster than emissions from natural gas are ramping up—U.S. carbon emissions are falling.

We are now looking at a situation where the 7 percent decline in carbon emissions since the 2007 peak could expand to 20 percent by 2020, and possibly even to 30 percent. If so, the United States could become a world leader in cutting carbon emissions and stabilizing climate.

Lester R. Brown is president of the Earth Policy Institute and author of World on the Edge.

Copyright © 2011 Earth Policy Institute

The USA as leader of a new society.

leave a comment »

Not quite as strange as one might think.

In Paul Gilding’s book, The Great Disruption, there is a chapter called When the Dam of Denial Breaks. On page 121 Paul Gilding writes this,

To argue we are naturally greedy and competitive and can’t change is like arguing that we engage naturally in murder and infanticide as our forebears the chimps do and therefore as we did.  We have certain tendencies in our genes, but unlike other creatures we have the proven capacity to make conscious decisions to overcome them and also the proven ability to build a society with laws and values to enshrine and, critically, to enforce such changes when these tendencies come to the surface.

So don’t underestimate how profoundly we can change.  We are still capable of evolution, including conscious evolution.  This coming crisis is perhaps the greatest opportunity in millennia for a step change in human society.

The United States of America gets a lot of stick, rightly so, for it’s greedy consumption of energy, especially the use of coal.  According to the World Coal Association, the USA in 2010 produced 932 million tons of hard coal, second in the world to China that produced 3,162 million tons.

Coal mine in Wyoming

But the one thing that the USA has shown time and time again is that it has the capacity to change very quickly, especially when the country, from its leaders to its entrepreneurs, senses a global leadership opportunity.  With that in mind, read the latest release from the Earth Policy Institute, reproduced below,

AUGUST 10, 2011
A Fifty Million Dollar Tipping Point?
Lester R. Brown

At a press conference on July 21, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that he was contributing $50 million to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club, called it a “game changer”. It is that, but it also could push the United States, and indeed the world, to a tipping point on the climate issue.

It is one thing for Michael Brune to say coal has to go, but quite another when Michael Bloomberg says so. Few outside the environmental community know who Michael Brune is, but every business person knows Michael Bloomberg as one of the most successful business entrepreneurs of his generation.

The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign has two main goals. The first is to prevent the permitting and construction of new coal-fired power plants. So far 153 proposed power plants have been taken off the board. The second goal is to close the 492 existing plants. The Sierra Club lists 71 plants already scheduled for total or partial closure, most of them by 2016.

The efforts to stabilize climate will be won or lost with coal, the world’s largest source of carbon emissions. The effort to phase out coal is now well under way in the United States, the world’s second ranking coal user after China.

There are likely to be many ripple effects from the Bloomberg grant. To begin with, it may encourage other philanthropists to invest in climate stabilization.

The prospect for investment in coal, already deteriorating, will weaken even faster. In August 2010, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) announced that several leading U.S. investment banks, including Bank of America and J.P. Morgan, had ceased lending to companies involved in mountaintop removal coal mining. Now with Bloomberg’s opposition, investors will be even more wary of coal.

The Bloomberg-Sierra initiative again focuses attention on the 13,200 lives lost each year in the United States due to air pollution from burning coal. If deaths from black lung disease among coal miners are included the number climbs even higher. The number of coal-related deaths in one year dwarfs total U.S. fatalities in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. We invest heavily in protecting the lives of our troops in the Middle East, and rightly so. Bloomberg is saying let’s do the same for our people at home.

In addition, this initiative brings attention to the health care costs to society of burning coal. These are currently estimated at more than $100 billion per year, roughly $300 for every person in the United States or $1,200 for a family of four. These costs are real, but it is the American people, not the coal companies, who shoulder the burden.

Further reinforcing the urgency of phasing out coal are the more extreme weather events that climate scientists have been warning about for decades. During the first half of 2011 we watched TV news channels become weather channels. First it was a record number of tornadoes in one month, including the one that demolished Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Then, a few weeks later, an even more powerful tornado demolished Joplin, Missouri. As drought and heat sparked record or near-record wildfires in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, the lower Mississippi Basin was flooding. Searing heat waves scorched the southern Great Plains, the Midwest, and the East Coast. Intense heat has continued to break records across the country as Texas suffers its most severe one-year drought on record.

For coal, the handwriting is on the wall. Between 2007 and 2010, coal use in the United States dropped 8 percent. (See data.) Meanwhile, more than 300 new wind farms came online, totaling over 23,000 megawatts of generating capacity—the electricity output equivalent of 23 coal-fired power plants.

When people were asked in a national poll where they would like to get their electricity from, only 3 percent opted for coal. Despite the coal industry’s heavy expenditures to promote “clean coal,” it is still a loser in the public mind.

In addition to the Sierra Club, RAN, and a talented team of Earthjustice lawyers, the anti-coal movement also has allies in Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, the latter with its highly developed capacity to focus public attention on environmental issues. This was evident in May when a Greenpeace team of eight daring activists scaled the 450-foot Fisk coal plant smokestack located in Chicago and painted “Quit Coal” on it. They were drawing public attention to the deadly air pollution in the city coming from the plant.

As the United States closes its coal-fired power plants, it sends a message to the world. With Michael Bloomberg’s grant bolstering the Sierra Club’s well-organized program to phase out coal, we can now imagine a coal-free United States on the horizon. The United States could again become a world leader, this time in stabilizing climate.

Copyright © 2011 Earth Policy Institute

The United States could again become a world leader, this time in stabilizing climate.”  That would be a dream come true, a dream of unimaginable consequences.

Earth Policy Release

with one comment

Finding the right solutions for the 21st century and the next generation.

Just before presenting the release from the Earth Policy Institute that came out on the 20th, here’s a reminder about watching the film, Plan B, that I wrote about on the 4th April.  It’s a very good film from an excellent and creditable source.  You can watch it for FREE from PBS, BUT ONLY UNTIL THE END OF APRIL!

Here’s the link – Plan B, the film

Now to the release published in full on Learning from Dogs.

Earth Policy Release
World on the Edge
Book Byte
April 19, 2011

“LET NO MAN SAY IT CANNOT BE DONE”

www.earth-policy.org/book_bytes/2011/wotech13_ss5

By Lester R. Brown

We need an economy for the twenty-first century, one that is in sync with the earth and its natural support systems, not one that is destroying them. The fossil fuel-based, automobile-centered, throwaway economy that evolved in western industrial societies is no longer a viable model—not for the countries that shaped it or for those that are emulating them. In short, we need to build a new economy, one powered with carbon-free sources of energy—wind, solar, and geothermal—one that has a diversified transport system and that reuses and recycles everything. We can change course and move onto a path of sustainable progress, but it will take a massive mobilization—at wartime speed.

Whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed by the scale and urgency of the changes we need to make, I reread the economic history of U.S. involvement in World War II because it is such an inspiring study in rapid mobilization. Initially, the United States resisted involvement in the war and responded only after it was directly attacked at Pearl Harbor. But respond it did. After an all-out commitment, the U.S. engagement helped turn the tide of war, leading the Allied Forces to victory within three-and-a-half years.

In his State of the Union address on January 6, 1942, one month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the country’s arms production goals. The United States, he said, was planning to produce 45,000 tanks, 60,000 planes, and several thousand ships. He added, “Let no man say it cannot be done.”

No one had ever seen such huge arms production numbers. Public skepticism abounded. But Roosevelt and his colleagues realized that the world’s largest concentration of industrial power was in the U.S. automobile industry. Even during the Depression, the United States was producing 3 million or more cars a year.

After his State of the Union address, Roosevelt met with auto industry leaders, indicating that the country would rely heavily on them to reach these arms production goals. Initially they expected to continue making cars and simply add on the production of armaments. What they did not yet know was that the sale of new cars would soon be banned. From early February 1942 through the end of 1944, nearly three years, essentially no cars were produced in the United States.

In addition to a ban on the sale of new cars, residential and highway construction was halted, and driving for pleasure was banned. Suddenly people were recycling and planting victory gardens. Strategic goods—including tires, gasoline, fuel oil, and sugar—were rationed beginning in 1942. Yet 1942 witnessed the greatest expansion of industrial output in the nation’s history—all for military use. Wartime aircraft needs were enormous. They included not only fighters, bombers, and reconnaissance planes, but also the troop and cargo transports needed to fight a war on distant fronts. From the beginning of 1942 through 1944, the United States far exceeded the initial goal of 60,000 planes, turning out a staggering 229,600 aircraft, a fleet so vast it is hard even today to visualize it. Equally impressive, by the end of the war more than 5,000 ships were added to the 1,000 or so that made up the American Merchant Fleet in 1939.

In her book No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin describes how various firms converted. A sparkplug factory switched to the production of machine guns. A manufacturer of stoves produced lifeboats. A merry-go-round factory made gun mounts; a toy company turned out compasses; a corset manufacturer produced grenade belts; and a pinball machine plant made armor-piercing shells.

In retrospect, the speed of this conversion from a peacetime to a wartime economy is stunning. The harnessing of U.S. industrial power tipped the scales decisively toward the Allied Forces, reversing the tide of war. Germany and Japan, already fully extended, could not counter this effort. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill often quoted his foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey: “The United States is like a giant boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it, there is no limit to the power it can generate.”

The point is that it did not take decades to restructure the U.S. industrial economy. It did not take years. It was done in a matter of months. If we could restructure the U.S. industrial economy in months, then we can restructure the world energy economy during this decade.

With numerous U.S. automobile assembly lines currently idled, it would be a relatively simple matter to retool some of them to produce wind turbines, as the Ford Motor Company did in World War II with B-24 bombers, helping the world to quickly harness its vast wind energy resources. This would help the world see that the economy can be restructured quickly, profitably, and in a way that enhances global security.

The world now has the technologies and financial resources to stabilize climate, eradicate poverty, stabilize population, restore the economy’s natural support systems, and, above all, restore hope. The United States, the wealthiest society that has ever existed, has the resources and leadership to lead this effort.

One of the questions I hear most frequently is, What can I do? People often expect me to suggest lifestyle changes, such as recycling newspapers or changing light bulbs. These are essential, but they are not nearly enough. Restructuring the global economy means becoming politically active, working for the needed changes, as the grassroots campaign against coal-fired power plants is doing. Saving civilization is not a spectator sport.

Inform yourself. Read about the issues. Share the Earth Policy Institute’s publications with friends. Pick an issue that’s meaningful to you, such as tax restructuring to create an honest market, phasing out coal-fired power plants, or developing a world class-recycling system in your community. Or join a group that is working to provide family planning services to the 215 million women who want to plan their families but lack the means to do so. You might want to organize a small group of like-minded individuals to work on an issue that is of mutual concern. You can begin by talking with others to help select an issue to work on.

Once your group is informed and has a clearly defined goal, ask to meet with your elected representatives on the city council or the state or national legislature. Write or e-mail your elected representatives about the need to restructure taxes and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. Remind them that leaving environmental costs off the books may offer a sense of prosperity in the short run, but it leads to collapse in the long run.

During World War II, the military draft asked millions of young men to risk the ultimate sacrifice. But we are called on only to be politically active and to make lifestyle changes. During World War II, President Roosevelt frequently asked Americans to adjust their lifestyles and Americans responded, working together for a common goal. What contributions can we each make today, in time, money, or reduced consumption, to help save civilization?

The choice is ours—yours and mine. We can stay with business as usual and preside over an economy that continues to destroy its natural support systems until it destroys itself, or we can be the generation that changes direction, moving the world onto a path of sustained progress. The choice will be made by our generation, but it will affect life on earth for all generations to come.

Adapted from Chapter 13, “Saving Civilization,” in Lester R. Brown, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), available online at www.earth-policy.org/books/wote

Additional data and information sources at www.earth-policy.org

Plan B for Planet Earth

with 3 comments

Going for a sustainable future is not ‘pie in the sky’.

I have been attempting to write on Learning from Dogs about my experience reading the Lester Brown book, World on the Edge. In

Lester Brown's book

fact, there have been four articles written all with the title Total, Utter Madness (Pts 1 to 4.)  If you read the early chapters of Lester’s book you will have no issue with the notion of summarising the propositions that he presents as ‘total, utter madness’.

There was another article published on the 3rd March that I called, ‘Where are we off to?‘ that presented more information about the fragility of mankind on this Planet if we don’t change our ways, and soon. (There are links to all my articles from this 3rd March piece.)

But much of the second half of Lester Brown’s book is about the relative ease with which we can change the way we all live and offer the generations ahead of us a real alternative to the selfish, greedy way in which we treat Planet Earth at present.  That alternative is called Plan B.

Plan B offers the real hope of developing a sustainable relationship with our planet.  So this post is to reproduce in full a recent release by the Earth Policy Institute about wind power.

Wind: The Center of the Plan B Economy

Lester R. Brown

For many years, a small handful of countries dominated growth in wind power, but this is changing as the industry goes global, with more than 70 countries now developing wind resources. Between 2000 and 2010, world wind electric generating capacity increased at a frenetic pace from 17,000 megawatts to nearly 200,000 megawatts.

Measured by share of electricity supplied by wind, Denmark is the leading nation at 21 percent. Three north German states now get 40 percent or more of their electricity from wind. For Germany as a whole, the figure is 8 percent—and climbing. And in the state of Iowa, enough wind turbines came online in the last few years to produce up to 20 percent of that state’s electricity.

In terms of sheer volume, the United States leads the world with 35,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity, followed by China and Germany with 26,000 megawatts each. Texas, long the leading U.S. oil-producing state, is now also the nation’s leading generator of electricity from wind. It has 9,700 megawatts of wind generating capacity online, 370 megawatts more under construction, and a huge amount under development. If all of the wind farms projected for 2025 are completed, Texas will have 38,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity—the equivalent of 38 coal-fired power plants. This would satisfy roughly 90 percent of the current residential electricity needs of the state’s 25 million people.

In July 2010, ground was broken for the Alta Wind Energy Center (AWEC) in the Tehachapi Pass, some 75 miles north of Los Angeles, California. At 1,550 megawatts, it will be the largest U.S. wind farm. The AWEC is part of what will eventually be 4,500 megawatts of renewable power generation, enough to supply electricity to some 3 million homes.

Since wind turbines occupy only 1 percent of the land covered by a wind farm, farmers and ranchers can continue to grow grain and graze cattle on land devoted to wind farms. In effect, they double-crop their land, simultaneously harvesting electricity and wheat, corn, or cattle. With no investment on their part, farmers and ranchers typically receive $3,000–10,000 a year in royalties for each wind turbine on their land. For thousands of ranchers in the U.S. Great Plains, wind royalties will dwarf their net earnings from cattle sales.

In considering the energy productivity of land, wind turbines are in a class by themselves. For example, an acre of land in northern Iowa planted in corn can yield $1,000 worth of ethanol per year. That same acre used to site a wind turbine can produce $300,000 worth of electricity per year. This helps explain why investors find wind farms so attractive.

Impressive though U.S. wind energy growth is, the expansion now under way in China is even more so. China has enough onshore harnessable wind energy to raise its current electricity consumption 16-fold. Today, most of China’s 26,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity come from 50- to 100-megawatt wind farms. Beyond the many other wind farms of that size that are on the way, China’s new Wind Base program is creating seven wind mega-complexes of 10 to 38 gigawatts each in six provinces (1 gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts). When completed, these complexes will have a generating capacity of more than 130 gigawatts. This is equivalent to building one new coal plant per week for two and a half years.

Of these 130 gigawatts, 7 gigawatts will be in the coastal waters of Jiangsu Province, one of China’s most highly industrialized provinces. China is planning a total of 23 gigawatts of offshore wind generating capacity. The country’s first major offshore project, the 102-megawatt Donghai Bridge Wind Farm near Shanghai, is already in operation.

In Europe, which now has 2,400 megawatts of offshore wind online, wind developers are planning 140 gigawatts of offshore wind generating capacity, mostly in the North Sea. There is enough harnessable wind energy in offshore Europe to satisfy the continent’s needs seven times over.

In September 2010, the Scottish government announced that it was replacing its goal of 50 percent renewable electricity by 2020 with a new goal of 80 percent. By 2025, Scotland expects renewables to meet all of its electricity needs. Much of the new capacity will be provided by offshore wind.

Denmark is looking to push the wind share of its electricity to 50 percent by 2025, with most of the additional power coming from offshore. In contemplating this prospect, Danish planners have turned conventional energy policy upside down. They plan to use wind as the mainstay of their electrical generating system and to use fossil-fuel-generated power to fill in when the wind dies down.

Spain, which has 19,000 megawatts of wind-generating capacity for its 45 million people, got 14 percent of its electricity from wind in 2009. On November 8th of that year, strong winds across Spain enabled wind turbines to supply 53 percent of the country’s electricity over a five-hour stretch. London Times reporter Graham Keeley wrote from Barcelona that “the towering white wind turbines which loom over Castilla-La Mancha—home of Cervantes’s hero, Don Quixote—and which dominate other parts of Spain, set a new record in wind energy production.”

In 2007, when Turkey issued a request for proposals to build wind farms, it received bids to build a staggering 78,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity, far beyond its 41,000 megawatts of total electrical generating capacity. Having selected 7,000 megawatts of the most promising proposals, the government is issuing construction permits.

In wind-rich Canada, Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta are the leaders in installed capacity. Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, has received applications for offshore wind development rights on its side of the Great Lakes that could result in some 21,000 megawatts of generating capacity. The provincial goal is to back out all coal-fired power by 2014.

On the U.S. side of Lake Ontario, New York State is also requesting proposals. Several of the seven other states that border the Great Lakes are planning to harness lake winds.

Earth Policy Institute’s Plan B to save civilization has four components: stabilizing climate, restoring earth’s natural support systems, stabilizing population, and eradicating poverty. At the heart of the plan is a crash program to develop 4,000 gigawatts (4 million megawatts) of wind generating capacity by 2020, enough to cover over half of world electricity consumptionin the Plan B economy. This will require a near doubling of capacity every two years, up from a doubling every three years over the last decade.

This climate-stabilizing initiative would mean the installation of 2 million wind turbines of 2 megawatts each. Manufacturing 2 million wind turbines over the next 10 years sounds intimidating—until it is compared with the 70 million automobiles the world produces each year.

At $3 million per installed turbine, the 2 million turbines would mean spending $600 billion per year worldwide between now and 2020. This compares with world oil and gas capital expenditures that are projected to double from $800 billion in 2010 to $1.6 trillion in 2015.

Adapted from Chapter 9, “Harnessing Wind, Solar, and Geothermal Energy” in Lester R. Brown, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), available online at www.earth-policy.org/books/wote.

Total, utter madness, Pt 4

with one comment

Continuing the review of Lester Brown’s book World on the Edge.

Regular readers will be aware that I have been summarising each chapter of this pivotal book.  Chapters 2, 3 and 4 are part of the section that Lester Brown calls A Deteriorating Foundation.  But I am aware that wall-to-wall gloom is often too much for people to take in so I wanted to let you know that the third section, The Response: Plan B, is very much a realistic and pragmatic approach to the alternative, a planet that will let countless future generations live in harmony and sustainably.

So please take in the dire situation that we are in by reading these summaries or, better still, buy the book!

Chapter Four, Rising Temperatures, Melting Ice, and Food Security.

  • The Petermann Glacier calves an iceberg that covered 97 square miles on August 5th, 2010.
  • Scientists for some years have been reporting that the Greenland ice sheet was melting at an accelerating rate.
  • Richard Bates, from the University of St Andrews, part of a team monitoring Greenland ice melt, was reported as saying:

Dr Richard Bates, who is monitoring the ice alongside researchers from America, said the expedition had expected to find evidence of melting this year after “abnormally high” temperatures in the area. Climate change experts say that globally it has been the warmest six months globally since records began.

But he was “amazed to see an area of ice three times the size of Manhattan Island had broken off.

“It is not a freak event and is certainly a manifestation of warming. This year marks yet another record breaking melt year in Greenland; temperatures and melt across the entire ice sheet have exceeded those in 2007 and of historical records.”

  • A temperate rise of between 2C and 7C would cause the entire Greenland ice mass to melt – raising sea-levels world-wide by 23 feet (7 metres)!
  • In the United States last year saw record hot temperatures on the East Coast.
  • On September 27th Los Angeles recorded an all-time high of 113 degrees F, then the official thermometer broke.
  • A nearby thermometer survived to register a temperature of 119 degrees F, a record for the region.
  • Crop ecologists use a rule of thumb that for each 1-degree-Celsius rise in temperature above the optimum during the growing season, we can expect a 10-percent decline in grain yields.
  • Temperatures are rising much faster in the Arctic than elsewhere.  Winter temperatures in the Arctic, including Alaska, western Canada and eastern Russia, have climbed by 4-7 degrees F. over the last half-century.
  • This record rise in temperatures in the Arctic region could lead to changes in climate patterns that will affect the entire planet.
  • Even a 3-foot rise in sea level would sharply reduce the rice harvest in Asia. It would inundate Bangladesh, a country of 164 million people, submerge part of the Mekong Delta ( a region that produces half of Viet Nam’s rice).

That’s enough from me, simply because although this chapter in the book continues with many more frightening facts, I can’t continue to list them in this particular Post.  If the above doesn’t cause you to think and want to change, then a couple of dozen more facts aren’t going to do it either.

Just look at the photograph below and ponder on what we are leaving our children and our grand-children.  Indeed, if you are, say 50 years or younger, ponder on what the next few decades could offer for you.

We have to break our addiction with our modern way of living – or Planet Earth will do it for us.

A mother of an iceberg!

On Aug. 5, 2010, an enormous chunk of ice, roughly 97 square miles (251 square kilometers) in size, broke off the Petermann Glacier, along the northwestern coast of Greenland. The Canadian Ice Service detected the remote event within hours in near real-time data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. The Petermann Glacier lost about one-quarter of its 70-kilometer (40-mile) long floating ice shelf, said researchers who analyzed the satellite data at the University of Delaware. Taken from here.

Food prices are up, up and up!

leave a comment »

Interesting release from the Earth Policy Institute.

On the 3rd February I wrote a piece about the above Institute of which I had recently become aware.  That was in conjunction with the book World on the Edge that I had started reading.  Since then I have been summarising chapters on Learning from Dogs under the general heading of Total, Utter Madness.

So with food prices continuing to reach record levels around the world, with all the implications this carries for millions of families, I was interested to read the following which was emailed to me on the 15th from the EPI.

World One Poor Harvest Away From Chaos

www.earth-policy.org/plan_b_updates/2011/update91

By Lester R. Brown
Earth Policy Release
Plan B Update
February 15, 2011

Today there are three sources of growing demand for food: population growth; rising affluence and the associated jump in meat, milk, and egg consumption; and the use of grain to produce fuel for cars.

In early January, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that its Food Price Index had reached an all-time high in December, exceeding the previous record set during the 2007-08 price surge. Even more alarming, on February 3rd, the FAO announced that the December record had been broken in January as prices climbed an additional 3 percent.

Will this rise in food prices continue in the months ahead? In all likelihood we will see further rises that will take the world into uncharted territory in the relationship between food prices and political stability.

Everything now depends on this year’s harvest. Lowering food prices to a more comfortable level will require a bumper grain harvest, one much larger than the record harvest of 2008 that combined with the economic recession to end the 2007-08 grain price climb.

If the world has a poor harvest this year, food prices will rise to previously unimaginable levels. Food riots will multiply, political unrest will spread and governments will fall. The world is now one poor harvest away from chaos in world grain markets.

Over the longer term, expanding food production rapidly is becoming more difficult as food bubbles based on the overpumping of underground water burst, shrinking grain harvests in many countries. Meanwhile, increasing climate volatility, including more frequent, more extreme weather events, will make the expansion of production more erratic.

Some 18 countries have inflated their food production in recent decades by overpumping aquifers to irrigate their crops. Among these are China, India, and the United States, the big three grain producers.

When water-based food bubbles burst in some countries, they will dramatically reduce production. In others, they may only slow production growth. In Saudi Arabia, which was wheat self-sufficient for more than 20 years, the wheat harvest is collapsing and will likely disappear entirely within a year or so as the country’s fossil (nonreplenishable) aquifer, is depleted.

In Syria and Iraq, grain harvests are slowly shrinking as irrigation wells dry up. Yemen is a hydrological basket case, where water tables are falling throughout the country and wells are going dry. These bursting food bubbles make the Arab Middle East the first geographic region where aquifer depletion is shrinking the grain harvest.

While these Middle East declines are dramatic, the largest water-based food bubbles are in India and China. A World Bank study indicates that 175 million people in India are being fed with grain produced by overpumping. In China, overpumping is feeding 130 million people. Spreading water shortages in both of these population giants are making it more difficult to expand their food supplies.

Beyond irrigation wells going dry, farmers must contend with climate change. Crop ecologists have a rule of thumb that for each 1-degree-Celsius rise in temperature during the growing season, grain yields drop 10 percent. Thus it was no surprise that searing temperatures in western Russia last summer shrank the grain harvest by 40 percent.

On the demand side of the food equation, there are now three sources of growth. First is population growth. There will be 219,000 people at the dinner table tonight who were not there last night, many of them with empty plates. Second is rising affluence. Some three billion people are now trying to move up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive meat, milk, and eggs. And third, massive amounts of grain are being converted into oil, i.e. ethanol, to fuel cars. Roughly 120 million tons of the 400-million-ton 2010 U.S. grain harvest are going to ethanol distilleries.

Encouragingly, President Sarkozy of France vowed to use his term as president of the G-20 in 2011 to stabilize world food prices. Thus far the talk has been about such measures as regulating export restrictions and speculation, but if the G-20 ends up treating the symptoms and not the causes of rising food prices, the effort will be of little avail.

What is needed now is a worldwide effort to raise water productivity, similar to the one launched by the international community a half century ago to raise cropland productivity. This earlier effort tripled the world grain yield per acre between 1950 and 2010.

On the climate front, the goal of cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050—the widely accepted goal by governments—is not sufficient. The challenge now is to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020 with a World War II-type mobilization to raise energy efficiency and to shift from fossil fuels to wind, solar, and geothermal energy.

On the demand side, we need to accelerate the shift to smaller families. There are 215 million women in the world who want to plan their families, but who lack access to family planning services. They and their families represent over a billion of the world’s poorest people. While filling the family planning gap, we need to simultaneously launch an all-out effort to eradicate poverty. Once under way, these two trends reinforce each other.

And in an increasingly hungry world, converting grain into fuel for cars is not the way to go. It is time to remove subsidies for converting grain and other crops into automotive fuel. If President Sarkozy can get the G-20 to focus on the causes of rising food prices, and not just the symptoms, then food prices can be stabilized at a more comfortable level.

Lester R. Brown is President of the Earth Policy Institute and author of 
World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse.

Additional data and information sources at www.earth-policy.org

Feel free to pass this information along to friends, family members, and colleagues!

*This piece was originally published through Global Viewpoint, LA Times Syndicate, on Monday, February 9, 2011.

Small update. Some few hours after writing the above piece, the BBC News Website had an item on soaring food prices.  Here’s a taste (pardon the pun!).

The World Bank says food prices are at “dangerous levels” and have pushed 44 million more people into poverty since last June.

According to the latest edition of its Food Price Watch, prices rose by 15% in the four months between October 2010 and January this year.

Food price inflation is felt disproportionately by the poor, who spend over half their income on food.

If you want to read the February Food Price Watch report published by the World Bank, then that link is here. http://www.worldbank.org/foodcrisis/food_price_watch_report_feb2011.html

Total, utter madness, Pt 2.

with 2 comments

More on the way we are most likely treating Planet Earth.

At the start of the week the first of a shortish series of articles was published, reflecting my support of the book, World on the Edge.  Here’s what I wrote then:

I have mentioned before the Earth Policy Institute and Lester Brown’s latest book, World on the Edge.  Details of the book are here.

At the time of writing this Post (10am US Mountain Time on the 4th Feb.) I have read through to the end of Chapter 5 of the book and will have it completed soon.  It’s opening my eyes hugely!

I have decided over the next week or so to summarise each chapter, hoping that this encourages many readers of Learning from Dogs to reflect, go to the EPI website, buy the book or think about making a difference in any way that you can.

So today, I move on to the next chapter.

Chapter two, Falling Water Tables and Shrinking Harvests.

  • The term ‘fossil aquifer’ demonstrated that not all aquifers are the same.  Let me quote, “There are two sources of irrigation water: underground water and surface water.  Most underground water comes from aquifers that are regularly replenished with rainfall; these can be pumped indefinitely as long as water extraction does not exceed recharge.  But a distinct minority of aquifers are fossil aquifers – containing water put down eons ago.  Since these do not recharge, irrigation ends whenever they are pumped dry.
  • The big fossil aquifers are the Ogallala underlying the US Great Plains, the major aquifer in Saudi Arabia , and the deep aquifer under the North China Plain.
  • Saudi Arabia started drilling for water from their underground fossil aquifer when after the Arab oil-export in the 1970s, the Saudis realised that they were dependent on imported grain and set out to create self-sufficiency in grain by way of irrigation.
  • In January 2008 the Saudis announced that this huge aquifer was largely depleted!
  • From 2007 to 2010 the Saudi wheat harvest dropped from nearly 3 million tons to around 1 million tons.
  • The likelihood is that the last Saudi harvest will be around 2012.

One can’t imagine how the management of a fine and proud country such as Saudi Arabia could be so foolish!  But slightly closer to home …..

  • In most of the leading U.S. irrigation states, the amount of irrigated area has peaked and begun to decline.
  • California, historically the irrigation leader, has seen irrigated areas fall from nearly 9 million acres in 1997 to an estimated 7.5 million acres in 2010, that’s a 16% drop!  Why?
  • Aquifer depletion and diversion of water to fast-growing cities!
  • Then there’s Texas.  Their irrigated area peaked in 1978 at 7 million acres, now down to 5 million acres, a loss of 29%, as the Ogallala fossil aquifer under the Texas panhandle becomes depleted.
  • Colorado has seen its irrigated are shrink by 15%
  • Arizona’s irrigated area is shrinking.
  • Florida’s irrigated area is shrinking.

Then there’s India.  Then there’s Mexico.  And on and on.  I could quote so much more from this single chapter but – you get the message!

Here’s how the chapter ends.

Today more than half the world’s peoples live in countries with food bubbles.  The question for each of these countries is not whether the bubble will burst, but when – and how the government will cope with it. [Read that last sentence again, folks. Ed]

Will governments be able to import grain to offset production losses?  For some countries, the bursting of the bubble may well be catastrophic.  For the world as a whole, the near-simultaneous bursting of several national food bubbles, as aquifers are depleted could create unmanageable food shortages.

This situation poses an imminent threat to food security and political stability.  We have a choice to make.  We can continue with over-pumping as usual and suffer the consequences.  Or we can launch a worldwide effort to stabilise aquifers by raising water productivity – patterning the campaign on the highly successful effort to raise grainland productivity that was launched a half-century ago.

H’mmm.  Tough reading.

Amazon Drought in 2005.

The above photograph was taken from this website; here’s an extract from the accompanying article.

Food inflation is here and it’s here to stay.  We can see it getting worse every time we buy groceries. Basic food commodities like wheat, corn, soybeans, and rice have been skyrocketing since July, 2010 to record highs.  These sustained price increases are only expected to continue as food production shortfalls really begin to take their toll this year and beyond.

This summer Russia banned exports of wheat to ensure their nation’s supply, which sparked complaints of protectionism.  The U.S. agriculture community is already talking about rationing corn over ethanol mandates versus supply concerns. We’ve seen nothing yet in terms of food protectionism.

But as I wrote in the previous article, “Be worried, be concerned but don’t panic – you and I, all of us, have the collective power to sort this all out.”  Lester Brown’s book sets out some strong advice on the way forward.

To be continued, as they say.

Total, utter madness, Pt 1.

with 3 comments

The way we are most likely treating Planet Earth is almost beyond comprehension.

I have mentioned before the Earth Policy Institute and Lester Brown’s latest book, World on the Edge.  Details of the book are here.

At the time of writing this Post (10am US Mountain Time on the 4th Feb.) I have read through to the end of Chapter 5 of the book and will have it completed soon.  It’s opening my eyes hugely!

I have decided over the next week or so to summarise each chapter, hoping that this encourages many readers of Learning from Dogs to reflect, go to the EPI website, buy the book or think about making a difference in any way that you can.

Chapter One, On the Edge, sets the background:

  • Summer of 2010 sees record-high temperates in Moscow, Russia’s grain harvest shrank by 40 million tons (40%) to 60 million tons.
  • Record high temperatures in south-central Pakistan were recorded. Snow and glaciers in the Himalayas melted fast, 20 million Pakistanis were affected by the resultant flooding, 2,000 died, 6 million acres of crops damaged.
  • A 2002 study by Mathis Wackernagel concluded that, “humanity’s collective demands first surpassed the earth’s regenerative capacity around 1980.  By 1999, global demand’s on the earth’s natural systems exceeded sustainable yields by 20 percent.  Ongoing calculations show it at 50 percent in 2007.  Stated otherwise, it would take 1.5 Earths to sustain our current consumption.” [my emphasis]
  • “No previous civilisation has survived the ongoing destruction of its natural supports.  Nor will ours.”

Let’s turn to NOAA.  A few salient points from there State of the Climate - Global Review for 2010.

  • For 2010, the combined global land and ocean surface temperature tied with 2005 as the warmest such period on record, at 0.62°C (1.12°F) above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F). 1998 is the third warmest year-to-date on record, at 0.60°C (1.08°F) above the 20th century average.
  • The 2010 Northern Hemisphere combined global land and ocean surface temperature was the warmest year on record, at 0.73°C (1.31°F) above the 20th century average. The 2010 Southern Hemisphere combined global land and ocean surface temperature was the sixth warmest year on record, at 0.51°C (0.92°F) above the 20th century average.
  • The global land surface temperature for 2010 tied with 2005 as the second warmest on record, at 0.96°C (1.73°F) above the 20th century average. The warmest such period on record occurred in 2007, at 0.99°C (1.78°F) above the 20th century average.

 

Russian forest fires.

 

 

From the UK Guardian newspaper.

2010 is becoming the year of the heatwave, with record temperatures set in 17 countries.

Record highs have occurred in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine – the three nations at the centre of the eastern European heatwave which has lasted for more than three weeks – but also African, Middle Eastern and Latin American countries.

Temperatures in Moscow, which have been consistently 20C above normal, today fell to 31C (86F), and President Dmitry Medvedev cancelled a state of emergency in three out of seven Russian regions affected by forest fires.

Thousand of hectares of forest burned in the fires, killing 54 people and leaving thousands homeless. For days, Moscow was shrouded in smog, and environmentalists raised fears that the blaze could release radioactive particles from areas contaminated in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Wildfires have also swept through northern Portugal, killing two firefighters and destroying 18,000 hectares (44,500 acres) of forests and bushland since late July. Some 600 firefighters were today struggling to contain 29 separate fires.

But the extreme heat experienced in Europe would barely have registered in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Niger, Pakistan and Sudan, all of which have recorded temperatures of more than 47C (115F) since June. The number of record highs is itself a record – the previous record was for 14 new high temperatures in 2007.

The freak weather conditions, which have devastated crops and wildlife, are believed to have killed thousands of elderly people, especially in Russia and northern India. The 2003 European heatwave killed about 15,000 people.

Be worried, be concerned but don’t panic – you and I, all of us, have the collective power to sort this all out.  More about this soon.

Earth Policy Institute

with one comment

An organisation that deserves wide support.

Read it!

My copy of Lester Brown’s book World on the Edge arrived on Tuesday and already it’s opening my eyes big time.  I do recommend that you think about purchasing the book, or you may download the entire book for free – details here.

Regular visitors to Learning from Dogs will remember that there was mention in a recent Post, Group Human Insanity about Lester Brown’s new book.  I have subscribed to regular updates from the EPI and recently received the following; it’s worth reproducing in full, with the permission of the EPI.

Restoring Food Security for All
Takes Action on Many Fronts

www.earth-policy.org/book_bytes/2011/wotech12_ss5

By Lester R. Brown

Today there are three sources of growing demand for food: population growth; rising affluence and the associated jump in meat, milk, and egg consumption; and the use of grain to produce fuel for cars.

Population growth is as old as agriculture itself. But the world is now adding close to 80 million people per year. Even worse, the overwhelming majority of these people are being added in countries where cropland is scarce, soils are eroding, and irrigation wells are going dry.

Even as we are multiplying in number, some 3 billion of us are trying to move up the food chain, consuming more grain-intensive livestock products. As incomes rise, annual grain consumption per person climbs from less than 400 pounds, as in India today, to roughly 1,600 pounds, as among those living high on the food chain in the United States, where diets tend to be heavy with meat and dairy products.

When the United States attempted to reduce its oil insecurity by converting grain into ethanol, the growth in world grain demand, traditionally around 20 million tons per year, suddenly jumped to over 50 million tons in 2007. Roughly 119 million tons of the 2009 U.S. grain harvest of 416 million tons went to ethanol distilleries, an amount that exceeds the grain harvests of Canada and Australia combined. This massive ethanol distillery investment in the United States launched an epic competition between cars and people for grain.

On the supply side of the food equation, several trends are making it more difficult to expand production rapidly enough to keep up with demand. These include soil erosion, aquifer depletion, more frequent crop-shrinking heat waves, melting ice sheets, melting mountain glaciers, and the diversion of irrigation water to cities.

Farmers are also losing cropland to nonfarm uses. Cars compete with people not only for the grain supply but also for the cropland itself. The United States, for example, has paved an area for cars larger than the state of Georgia. Every five cars added to the U.S. fleet means another acre of land will be paved over—the equivalent of a football field.

The implications for China of this relationship between cars and cropland are startling. In 2009, for the first time, more cars were sold in China than in the United States. If China were to reach the U.S. ownership rate of three cars for every four people, it would have over a billion cars, more than the entire world has today. The land that would have to be paved to accommodate these cars would be two thirds the area China currently has in rice.

This pressure on cropland worldwide is running up against increased demand for soybeans, which are the key to expanding the production of meat, milk, and eggs. Adding soybean meal to livestock and poultry feed sharply boosts the efficiency with which grain is converted into animal protein. This is why world soybean use climbed from 17 million tons in 1950 to 252 million tons in 2010, a 15-fold jump.

Nowhere is the soaring demand for soybeans more evident than in China, where the crop originated. As recently as 1995, China produced 14 million tons of soybeans and consumed 14 million tons. In 2010, it still produced 14 million tons, but it consumed a staggering 64 million tons. In fact, over half of the world’s soybean exports now go to China.

Demand is climbing, but since scientists have failed to increase yields rapidly, the world gets more soybeans largely by planting more soybeans. The soybean is devouring land in the United States, Brazil, and Argentina, which together account for four fifths of world soybean production and 90 percent of exports.

Ensuring future food security was once the exclusive responsibility of the ministry of agriculture, but this is changing. The minister of agriculture alone, no matter how competent, can no longer be expected to secure food supplies. Indeed, efforts by the minister of health and family planning to lower human fertility may have a greater effect on future food security than efforts in the ministry of agriculture to raise land fertility.

Similarly, if ministries of energy cannot quickly cut carbon emissions, the world will face crop-shrinking heat waves that can massively and unpredictably reduce harvests. Saving the mountain glaciers whose ice melt irrigates much of the cropland in China and India during the dry season is the responsibility of the ministry of energy, not solely the ministry of agriculture.

If the ministries of forestry and agriculture cannot work together to restore tree cover and reduce floods and soil erosion, grain harvests will shrink not only in smaller countries like Haiti and Mongolia, as they are doing, but also in larger countries, such as Russia and Argentina—both wheat exporters.

And where water shortages restrict food output, it will be up to ministries of water resources to do everything possible to raise national water productivity. With water, as with energy, the principal potential now is in increasing efficiency, not expanding supply.

In a world where cropland is scarce and becoming more so, decisions made in ministries of transportation on whether to develop land-consuming, auto-centered transport systems or more-diversified systems that are much less land-intensive will directly affect world food security.

In the end, it is up to ministries of finance to reallocate resources in a way that recognizes the new threats to security posed by agriculture’s deteriorating natural support systems, continuing population growth, human-driven climate change, and spreading water shortages. Since many ministries of government are involved, it is the head of state who must redefine security.

At the international level, we need to address the threat posed by growing climate volatility and the associated rise in food price volatility. The tripling of wheat, rice, corn, and soybean prices between 2007 and 2008 put enormous stresses on governments and low-income consumers. This price volatility also affects producers, since price uncertainty discourages investment by farmers.

In this unstable situation, a new mechanism to stabilize world grain prices is needed—in effect, a World Food Bank (WFB). This body would establish a support price and a ceiling price for wheat, rice, and corn. The WFB would buy grain when prices fell to the support level and return it to the market when prices reached the ceiling level, thus moderating price fluctuations in a way that would benefit both consumers and producers.

One simple way to improve food security is for the United States to eliminate the fuel ethanol subsidy and abolish the mandates that are driving the conversion of grain into fuel. This would help stabilize grain prices and buy some time in which to reverse the environmental and demographic trends that are undermining our future. It would also help relax the political tensions over food security that have emerged within importing countries.

And finally, we all have a role to play as individuals. Whether we decide to bike, bus, or drive to work will affect carbon emissions, climate change, and food security. The size of the car we drive to the supermarket and its effect on climate may indirectly affect the size of the bill at the supermarket checkout counter. At the family level, we need to hold the line at two children. And if we are living high on the food chain, we can eat less grain-intensive livestock products, improving our health while helping to stabilize climate. Food security is something in which we all have a stake—and a responsibility.

#   #   #

Adapted from Chapter 5, “The Emerging Politics of Food Scarcity” and Chapter 12, “Feeding Eight Billion” in Lester R. Brown, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse
(New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), available online at www.earth-policy.org/books/wote

Additional data and information sources at www.earth-policy.org

Feel free to pass this information along to friends, family members, and colleagues!

Not much I can add to that!

UPDATE:  Just a few hours after completing the Post, I saw this on the BBC News website.

The global consumption of fish has hit a record high, reaching an average of 17kg per person, a UN report has shown.

Fisheries and aquaculture supplied the world with about 145m tonnes in 2009, providing about 16% of the population’s animal protein intake.

The findings published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) also stressed that the status of global fish stocks had not improved.

It said that about 32% were overexploited, depleted or recovering.

“That there has been no improvement in the status of stocks is a matter of great concern,” said Richard Grainger, one of the report’s authors and FAO senior fish expert.

Full article on the BBC is here.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 972 other followers

%d bloggers like this: