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OUTGROWING THE EARTH The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperature By Lester R. Brown Presented by David Quinn,

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Presentation on theme: "OUTGROWING THE EARTH The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperature By Lester R. Brown Presented by David Quinn,"— Presentation transcript:

1 OUTGROWING THE EARTH The Food Security Challenge in an Age of Falling Water Tables and Rising Temperature By Lester R. Brown Presented by David Quinn, 17th October 2007

2 Pushing Beyond the Earth’s Limits  The growth in world population since 1950 exceeds that during the preceding 4 million years.  Perhaps more striking, the world economy has expanded six-fold since 1950 - world demand for food has tripled  As the economy grows, its demands are outgrowing the earth, exceeding many of the planet’s natural capacities to provide food, water, and the basic needs of daily living.

3 Growth: The Environmental Fallout  The world economy, as now structured, is making excessive demands on the earth:  Evidence of this can be seen with: collapsing fisheries…shrinking forests…expanding deserts…rising Co2 levels…eroding soils…rising temperatures…falling water tables…melting glaciers…deteriorating grasslands…rising seas…disappearing species

4 Era of discontinuity  Nearly all these environmentally destructive trends adversely affect the world food prospect:  Two factors undermining food security  falling water tables - water use has tripled in the past 50 years  rising temperatures - Co2 emissions have increased 4 fold in the past 50 years

5 Falling Water Tables  Water tables are now falling in countries that contain over half the world’s people.  Of even more concern, the vast majority of the nearly 3 billion people to be added to world population by mid-century will come in countries where water tables are already falling and wells are going dry.  Historically it was the supply of land that constrained the growth in food production, but today the shortage of water is the most formidable barrier.

6 Rises in Temperature  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that during this century, the earth’s average temperature will rise by 1.4- 5.8 degrees.  The projections are for the earth’s average temperature, but the rise is expected to be much greater over land than over the oceans, and in the interior of continents than in the coastal regions

7  Each 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature during the growing season reduces the yield of grain—wheat, rice, and corn—by 10 percent.  Higher temperatures in mountainous regions alter the precipitation mix, increasing rainfall and reducing snowfall. The result is more flooding during the rainy season and less snowmelt to feed rivers during the dry season

8  Since 1970, the earth’s average temperature has risen nearly 0.7 degrees Celsius (1 degree Fahrenheit). The five warmest years during 124 years of recordkeeping began in 1880 occurred in the last seven years.  In 2002, record-high temperatures and drought lowered grain harvests in both India and the United States. These reduced harvests helped pull world grain production some 90 million tons below consumption, a shortfall of more than 4 percent.  In 2003, it was Europe that bore the brunt of rising temperatures. The record-breaking heat wave that claimed 35,000 lives in eight countries withered grain harvests in virtually every country from France in the west through the Ukraine in the east. The resulting reduction in Europe’s grain production of some 30 million tons was equal to half the U.S. wheat harvest.

9 Assessing the World Food Problem  No longer just a matter of trends slowing or accelerating; in some cases they are reversing direction:  Grain harvests are now falling  Fish catches are now falling  We are over-pumping, over-plowing & over-grazing

10 Tightening Food Supply  The world food supply is tightening because world grain is continuing to expand at a robust pace while production growth is slowing as the backlog of unused agricultural technology shrinks, cropland is converted to non-farm uses, rising temperatures shrink harvests, aquifers are depleted, and irrigation water is diverted to cities

11 World Grain Production Basic indicator of global food security  Tripled from 1950 to 1996  Flat for seven years in a row from 1996 to 2003  And in each of the past 4 years, production fell short of consumption  …..with shortfalls of nearly 100 million tons in 2002 and again in 2003 (largest on record)

12 China  Biggest reversal in recent times has been the precipitous decline in China’s grain production since 1998  Between 1998 and 2004, China’s grain production has fallen by 50 million tons  Now stocks are largely depleted and China is turning to the world market  In 2004, China bought 8 million tons of wheat which could mark the beginning of the global shift from an era of grain surpluses to one of grain scarcity

13 Redefining food security  For more that 40 years, international trade negotiations have been dominated by grain- exporting countries (US, Canada, Argentina & Australia) pressing for greater access to markets in importing countries  Now the world may be moving into a period dominated not by surpluses but by shortages…..

14 Tightening food security  The exclusive province of agricultural ministers—is a far more complex issue.  Decisions made in ministries of energy can have a greater effect on future food security than those made in ministries of agriculture.  Policies formulated by ministers of water resources can also directly affect food production and food prices.  Ministries of health and family planning may also have a greater effect on future food security than ministries of agriculture.

15 The Challenge Ahead  The three principal steps needed to secure future world food supplies are worldwide efforts to raise water productivity, cut carbon emissions, and stabilize population.  If countries do not act quickly to raise water productivity, falling water tables could soon translate into rising food prices.  Given the effect of rising temperatures on crop yields, the urgency of cutting carbon emissions sharply cannot easily be overstated.

16  “We have inherited the mindset, policies, and fiscal priorities from an era of food security that no longer exists. The policies that once provided food security will no longer suffice in a world where we are pressing against the sustainable yields of oceanic fisheries and underground aquifers and the limits of nature to fix carbon dioxide. Unless we recognise the nature of the era we are entering and adopt new policies and priorities that recognise the earth’s natural limits, world food security could begin to deteriorate. If it does, food security could quickly ellipse terrorism as the overriding concern of governments”


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