The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released its Fifth Assessment Report on the Physical Science Basis for Climate Change. It summarizes what scientists now know about the causes and extent of climate change.
It concludes that it is “extremely likely” that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century, and that the observed changes “ are unprecedented over decades to millennia.”
“Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is projected to be likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 in all but the lowest scenario considered, and likely to exceed 2°C for the two high scenarios,” said Co-Chair Thomas Stocker. “Heat waves are very likely to occur more frequently and last longer. As the Earth warms, we expect to see currently wet regions receiving more rainfall, and dry regions receiving less, although there will be exceptions.”
The report finds with high confidence that ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010.
Headline messages in the IPCC report:
- Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
- Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years.
- Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0-700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010, and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971.
- Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent (high confidence).
- The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.
- The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification.
- Total radiative forcing is positive, and has led to an uptake of energy by the climate system. The largest contribution to total radiative forcing is caused by the increase in the atmospheric concentration of CO2 since 1750.
- Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident from the increasing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, positive radiative forcing, observed warming, and understanding of the climate system.
- Climate models have improved since the AR4. Models reproduce observed continental-scale surface temperature patterns and trends over many decades, including the more rapid warming since the mid-20th century and the cooling immediately following large volcanic eruptions (very high confidence).
- Observational and model studies of temperature change, climate feedbacks and changes in the Earth’s energy budget together provide confidence in the magnitude of global warming in response to past and future forcing.
- Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown since AR4. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
- Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.
- Global surface temperature change for the end of the 21st century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to 1850 to 1900 for all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. It is likely to exceed 2°C for RCP6.0 and RCP8.5, and more likely than not to exceed 2°C for RCP4.5. Warming will continue beyond 2100 under all RCP scenarios except RCP2.6. Warming will continue to exhibit interannual-to-decadal variability and will not be regionally uniform.
- Changes in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform. The contrast in precipitation between wet and dry regions and between wet and dry seasons will increase, although there may be regional exceptions.
- The global ocean will continue to warm during the 21st century. Heat will penetrate from the surface to the deep ocean and affect ocean circulation.
- It is very likely that the Arctic sea ice cover will continue to shrink and thin and that Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover will decrease during the 21st century as global mean surface temperature rises. Global glacier volume will further decrease.
- Global mean sea level will continue to rise during the 21st century. Under all RCP scenarios the rate of sea level rise will very likely exceed that observed during 1971–2010 due to increased ocean warming and increased loss of mass from glaciers and ice sheets.
- Climate change will affect carbon cycle processes in a way that will exacerbate the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere (high confidence). Further uptake of carbon by the ocean will increase ocean acidification.
- Cumulative emissions of CO2 largely determine global mean surface warming by the late 21st century and beyond. Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if emissions of CO2 are stopped. This represents a substantial multi-century climate change commitment created by past, present and future emissions of CO2.
Russia’s Federal Security Service has announced that they’ve seized the Arctic Sunrise and its crew following a protest against oil drilling in Arctic waters. The Greenpeace ship has now been towed to port in Murmansk where an investigation will be conducted. A Russian official have said that the Greenpeace activists, totaling 27 or 30 depending on source, could face piracy charges.
Greenpeace are strongly rejecting these allegations and describes them as a desperate attempt to justify the illegal boarding of their ship in international waters.
“The suggestion that Greenpeace engaged in piracy this week smacks of real desperation,” said Greenpeace International’s General Counsel Jasper Teulings. “The activists climbed Gazprom’s Arctic oil platform for a completely safe and peaceful protest against dangerous drilling, carrying only banners and rope. Piracy laws do not apply to safe and peaceful protests.”
“Over a day after our protest the Russian Coast guard boarded our ship outside of territorial waters, where there is right of free passage, with no legal justification whatsoever,” Teulings added. “This looks like a retrospective attempt to create that justification and avoid embarrassment.”
Greenpeace organized protests outside Russian embassies on 20 locations around the world today following the boarding. They have also called on people to contact Russian embassies and demand the immediate release of the ship and its crew. So far about 400 000 letters have been sent.
“We will contest these allegations strongly and we continue to demand the release of our activists and the ship,” Teulings said.
So where did the action take place on the Arctic Sunrise? Check out this interactive picture below:
The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is in the process of finalizing its next report, due to be released in four volumes between Fall 2013 and Spring 2014. These reports, which have come out every seven years over the past several decades, represent the combined consensus views of thousands of climate scientists.
Draft copies of some of the reports are now being leaked. While the IPCC correctly responds to criticism of these as premature, since they are by no means finalized yet, there are some things we can already be certain of.
1. The certainty on the part of the vast majority of climate scientists that global warming is real and is at the very least primarily caused by human action has been growing with each new IPCC report. That trend will continue in the upcoming report. All the criteria for such certainty have long ago passed 90 percent, and just keep getting confirmed by new scientific study, by extreme weather events in the real world, by unprecedented droughts in many parts of the world, by the increasing acidity of the world’s oceans, and much more.
2. Because the IPCC works on the basis of summarizing thousands of other scientific studies, it tends to be both wide-ranging in outlook and also somewhat conservative in its predictions. In each report, seven years apart, the “worst-case” predictions of the previous report have become the “most likely” predictions. This too will continue, as new studies confirm and deepen our collective knowledge about the world’s climate system, how it works, how it is interconnected to all other natural systems (water, oceans, soil, plant life, etc.), and how changes in each of these systems affect all the others.
3. It appears that this latest report will include consideration for the first time of the impact on sea levels from the melting of ice in Greenland, predicting even higher sea level increases than in previous reports. However, it still will not include consideration of the impact on climate change of the melting of the permafrost across the top of the Northern Hemisphere. This is important because this melting releases massive amounts of previously frozen methane and carbon dioxide. This can exacerbate global warming caused by direct human interference in the climate, creating a feedback loop that will make greenhouse gas emissions much worse, and from a source that humans do not have any control over.
4. As each year passes, it becomes more difficult and more expensive to institute measures to reduce global warming. This creates a political paradox – the more we need such measures, the more proof there is of the reality of climate change, the more time passes, then the measures we need to take become more expensive and more massive, and the political will to do the right thing becomes more difficult. With each step toward certainty, the right-wing cries against reality become more shrill – another trend with no end in sight.
5. We can be certain that at least some of the press coverage of the final report will focus on anything that can be used to downplay the significance of the problem. This report will likely discuss the phenomenon that increases in average air temperatures have slowed over the past few years, and deniers will seize on this to undercut the need for change. But since all the world’s natural systems are integrated at every level, average air temperatures, which are still increasing, are only one part of a very complex equation. If you take into account the rapidly increasing acidity of the ocean, which results from the ocean absorbing carbon dioxide, there has been no slowing of the impacts climate change is making on the real world. But some press coverage will focus on any piece which, taken out of context, can be used to make people feel that the situation is not as bad as it really is.
6. Similarly, right-wing efforts to discredit climate change science, in addition to becoming increasingly shrill, also rely on overly simplified nonsense. Every year, when there is still a winter it will be used to claim that “global warming isn’t real – we still have winter!” But this ignores how climate change works. It doesn’t eliminate seasons, it makes the high temperatures greater. Just because we still have beaches in Florida doesn’t mean that sea levels aren’t increasing, and that increase will speed up over the coming decades. Right-wingers also focus on what is happening this year or next, to the exclusion of looking at the real long-term trends in the climate. This year may be about the same as last year in terms of the number and intensity of forest fires, for example, but the more than five decade long trend is for more forest fires burning at greater intensities. This winter may or may not be warmer than last year’s, but the long-term trend is for Autumn to last longer and Spring to arrive earlier.
7. As many have pointed out, the right-wing attacks on climate science have little or nothing to do with the science itself; they are based on a rejection of what will be required to combat global warming. Government action on a large scale is required, as are restrictions on what businesses can do especially regarding greenhouse gas emissions. When right-wingers sneer at the science, they are really fearful of what will happen to their financial supporters in the fossil fuel industries.
We can predict, with 100 percent certainty, that the upcoming IPCC report will confirm that global climate change is real, it is getting worse, it is caused mostly or entirely by human activity, and that we need to act to combat it – to reduce emissions, to adapt to the coming crises a warming world will bring on top of the huge impacts we have already seen.
This article was first published in People’s World by Marc Brodine.
It’s been more than 48 hours since armed Russian security officers boarded the Arctic Sunrise and arrested around 30 Greenpeace activists following a protest against oil drilling in Arctic waters. Details are still sketchy but the Greenpeace ship is apparently now being towed by the Russian coastguard to the nearest harbor with the ship’s crew being held onboard at gunpoint.
“They used violence against some of us, they were hitting people, kicking people down, pushing people,” said Faiza Oulahsen in a phone call from the ship before communications were cut.
Russian officials have accused Greenpeace of “aggressive and provocative” behavior during the oil drilling protest earlier this week. Liliya Moroz, a representative of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the Murmansk region, has said to local media that the activists could now face terrorism or piracy charges. If charged with terrorism the activists could face a minimum of 10 years in prison. Greenpeace have been unable to make contact with their activists onboard the Arctic Sunrise and they have not yet received no official confirmation from Russian security services.
“This is the clear detention of people against their will,” said Vladimir Chuprov, head of the energy department at Greenpeace Russia. “Terrorism is a very serious crime.”
FSB has said that they’ve been co-ordinating actions with the Russian foreign ministry and energy giant Gazprom “to protect the safety of the crew on the platform and defend the interests of the Russian Federation in the Arctic region.”
“The regional press office of the FSB in Murmansk told Russian agencies that it had received information from representatives of the Prirazlomnaya platform earlier in the week that they feared a terrorist act was about to be carried out, and said that activists were approaching the rig with an “unidentified object that looks like an explosive device”,” the Guardian writes.
But Greenpeace says these accusations are dishonest because the “unidentified object” was their safety pod, and it was brightly coloured and branded with the environmental organization’s famous logo. Greenpeace have also said that the boarding was illegal because their ship was on international waters and outside the jurisdiction of Russian authorities.
Jasper Teulings, a Greenpeace lawyer told Reuters that “the only reason the ship can be boarded inside the EEZ, (exclusive economic zone) is when there is suspected breach of fisheries regulation or suspected substantial discharge in violation of environmental regulation. Neither is the case. Other grounds could be piracy or slavery, so it’s clear that none of these apply.”
Teulings also stressed that “the situation at the moment is actually unclear,” and that we don’t know yet whether the Greenpeace ship have been seized. “We would be surprised if it had been [seized], because that would have been illegal,” Teulings said. “We do know that the ship is being held by the coastguard, and we are taking every step in our power at this moment, including international diplomacy, to ensure the swift release of the activists and we are in touch with their families.”
Nuclear power generation in the United States is falling. After increasing rapidly since the 1970s, electricity generation at U.S. nuclear plants began to grow more slowly in the early 2000s. It then plateaued between 2007 and 2010—before falling more than 4 percent over the last two years. Projections for 2013 show a further 1 percent drop. With reactors retiring early and proposed projects being abandoned, U.S. nuclear power’s days are numbered.
The nuclear industry’s troubles began well before the 1979 accident at Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear plant sowed public mistrust of atomic power. In 1957, the country’s first commercial nuclear reactor was completed in Pennsylvania. By the mid-1960s, excitement over an energy source predicted to be “too cheap to meter” had created a frenzied rush to build reactors. But utilities soon pulled back on the throttle as the realities of construction delays and cost overruns sank in. Annual orders for new reactors, which peaked at more than 40 in 1973, fell sharply over the next several years. The two reactor orders placed in 1978 would be the last for three decades.“If the reactors now under construction in Georgia and South Carolina actually come online, they are projected to generate electricity that is much more expensive than nearly any other source, including wind and solar power.”
Of the 253 reactors that were ordered by 1978, 121 were canceled either before or during construction, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ David Lochbaum. Nearly half of these were dropped by 1978. The reactors that were completed—the last of which came online in 1996—were over budget three-fold on average.
By the late 1990s, 28 reactors had permanently closed before their 40-year operating licenses expired. A number of factors played a role in this, including cost escalation, slower electricity demand growth, and a changing regulatory environment. Despite these closures, the United States was still left with 104 reactors totaling some 100 gigawatts (100,000 megawatts) of generating capacity—by far the most of any country.
Then, spurred on by new tax credits and loan guarantees promised in the 2005 Energy Policy Act—as well as by high prices for natural gas, a competing fuel—the industry has recently had visions of a “nuclear renaissance.” By 2009, utilities were planning more than 30 new reactors. But in the years since, the vast majority of these plans have been shelved. Even with huge subsidies, private lenders still see new nuclear projects as too risky to finance. Meanwhile, the U.S. shale gas production boom sent natural gas prices plummeting, further darkening nuclear’s prospect.
In 2012, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved four new reactors for construction, two each at the Vogtle plant in Georgia and the Summer plant in South Carolina. These reactors are all of the same commercially untested design, purportedly quicker to build than previous plants. Both projects benefit from fairly new state laws that shift the economic risk to ratepayers. These “advanced cost recovery” laws, also passed in Florida and North Carolina, allow utilities to raise their customers’ rates to pay for new nuclear plants during and even before construction—regardless of whether the reactors are ever finished.
Construction at both sites began in March 2013. Even as the first concrete was poured at the $14-billion Vogtle project, it was reportedly 19 months behind schedule and more than $1 billion over budget. The Summer project, a $10 billion endeavor, also quickly ran into problems. In June its owner, Scana Corp., admitted that it was running about a year behind and faced $200 million in additional costs. With these delays, the earliest projected completion date for any of these reactors is some time in late 2017.
The only other reactor currently under construction in the United States is Watts Bar 2 in Tennessee. It broke ground in 1972 and, after being on hold for two decades, was finally scheduled for completion in 2012. But that year, the owner—the Tennessee Valley Authority—announced it would be delayed again until 2015 and that the cost of the project would rise by up to 80 percent, to $4.5 billion.
Several utilities have recently dropped plans for new reactors or for “uprates,” where an existing reactor’s generating capacity is increased. For example, in May 2013 Duke Energy suspended its application to the NRC for two proposed reactors in North Carolina, citing slow electricity demand growth. Then in August, Duke pulled plans for a two-reactor, $24.7-billion project in Florida, on which it had already spent—and mostly recovered from its ratepayers—$1 billion. The company worried that mid-2013 amendments to the state’s advanced cost recovery law would make it more difficult to fund ongoing projects with higher customer bills.
In June, the nation’s largest nuclear utility, Exelon, canceled uprate projects at plants in Pennsylvania and Illinois. (These are two of at least six uprates dropped by utilities in 2013 as of early September.) Just over a month later, the French utility Électricité de France (EDF) announced it was bowing out of a partnership with Exelon that operates nuclear plants in New York and Maryland. In fact, EDF will no longer pursue U.S. nuclear projects at all, instead focusing its U.S. efforts on renewables.
This year has also already witnessed the permanent shutdown of four reactors totaling 3.6 gigawatts of capacity. The first to fall was Duke’s Crystal River reactor in Florida. Although the plant was licensed to run until 2016, Duke decided to close it rather than pay for needed repairs. Then Dominion Energy’s 39-year-old Kewaunee reactor in Wisconsin closed, citing competition from low gas prices. It had recently been approved to operate through 2033. And in June, Southern California Edison shuttered its two San Onofre reactors after 18 months of being offline due to a leak in a brand new steam generator. These retirements leave the United States with 100 reactors, averaging 32 years in operation. (France is second, with 58 reactors.)
More closures will soon follow, particularly among the roughly half of U.S. reactors in so-called merchant areas where nuclear competes with other technologies and prices are set by the market. A 2013 report by Mark Cooper at the Vermont Law School indicates that there are nine merchant reactors that, like Kewaunee, were granted 20-year life extensions but are especially at risk of closure. Epitaphs are already being written for two of them: Vermont’s lone nuclear power plant will close in 2014, and the country’s oldest reactor, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, will retire by 2019.
“Regulated” areas, where state authorities set electricity prices such that nuclear operators are guaranteed a profit, contain the rest of the U.S. reactors. Even for many of these plants, the economics may not allow for survival much longer. According to Credit Suisse, the cost of operating and maintaining the aging reactor fleet is rising at 5 percent a year and the nuclear fuel cost is growing even faster, at 9 percent annually. Wind and solar power costs, on the other hand, continue to drop as their electric output grows rapidly.
Dealing with nuclear waste is another expensive proposition. Over the past 30 years, the U.S. government has spent some $15 billion trying to approve a central repository for nuclear waste, and for most of that time the only site under consideration has been Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. Amid concerns about the site’s safety and its extreme unpopularity in Nevada, the Obama administration has moved to abandon the project entirely and explore other options.
A federal appeals court ruled in August 2013 that the NRC must resume reviewing the site’s suitability. In the meantime, the waste keeps accumulating. The 75,000 tons of waste now stored at 80 temporary sites in 35 states is projected to double by 2055. All this has implications for nuclear power’s prospects for expansion: nine states, including California, Connecticut, and Illinois, have prohibited new nuclear plants until a solution to the waste issue is found.“New nuclear plants are simply too expensive to replace the aging fleet.”
The low level of liability for nuclear operators in case of an accident also puts taxpayers on the hook. Plant owners pay into an insurance pool of just $12 billion; the public would cover any further damages. For comparison, cleanup and compensation for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan is projected to cost at least $60 billion. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that a catastrophic accident at New York’s Indian Point plant could cost 10 to 100 times that amount. This risk will be underscored on September 29, 2013, when one of Indian Point’s two reactors becomes the first ever to operate with an expired license.
If the reactors now under construction in Georgia and South Carolina actually come online, they are projected to generate electricity that is much more expensive than nearly any other source, including wind and solar power. New nuclear plants are simply too expensive to replace the aging fleet. And with uprate proposals for existing reactors being pulled, it appears the industry cannot depend on this option to increase capacity much either.
The NRC has approved 20-year operating life extensions for more than two thirds of existing U.S. reactors; most of the rest will probably be granted extensions as well. Even if these units reach the end of their licensed life—which past experience says is unlikely—if no new plants come online to replace them, the last U.S. reactor will be shut down by the late 2050s. Any industry hopes ride heavily on the success of the Vogtle and Summer projects. As U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in a recent interview, if these plants now under construction keep racking up huge cost overruns and delays, “it is very hard to see a future for nuclear power plants” in the United States.
By J. Matthew Roney. Data and additional resources available at www.earthpolicy.org.
30 Greenpeace activists, who had been part of a peaceful protest against energy giant Gazprom, are currently being held at gunpoint by Russian security officers who stormed the group’s ship on international waters.
Russian officials and representatives from Gazprom have accused the activists of participating in terrorism. Greenpeace dismisses these accusations and says the boarding by Russian security forces was illegal because their ship was circling Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya platform inside international waters and outside the jurisdiction of Russian authorities.
The illegal boarding of the Greenpeace ship, named Arctic Sunrise, comes only a day after two other Greenpeace activists were arrested as they protested Arctic oil drilling on the Gazprom platform, Prirazlomnaya, in the Pechora Sea off the Russian coast. They were held overnight without charges or legal representation aboard a Russian Coast Guard vessel.
It’s been nearly 24 hours since the boarding of the Arctic Sunrise and there have been no official response from Russian authorities regarding the action. Greenpeace International has not received any formal confirmation of possible charges, and the activists have been denied access to legal or consular assistance.
“The safety of our activists remains our top priority and we are working hard to establish what is facing them. They have done nothing to warrant this level of aggression and have been entirely peaceful throughout,” said Arctic campaigner Ben Ayliffe. “The real threat to the Russian Arctic comes not from the crew of the Arctic Sunrise but from Gazprom, one of the most reckless oil companies in the world today.”
Greenpeace has organized protests at Russian embassies on 20 locations around the world today in support of the arrested Greenpeace activists. Greenpeace demands the immediate release of their activists and an end to Arctic drilling.
This past weekend Australians gave (with some help from Murdoch) Tony Abbott, the leader of the Australian Liberal Party, a landslide victory in the country’s 2013 federal election. But environmentalists fear that the conservative leader, who has said that climate change “is absolute crap”, will destroy decades of hard-fought environmental and climate policies.
In 2009, Abbott said that “the argument [behind climate change] is absolute crap.” Since then his climate denialism has softened up a bit. Now in 2013 he says that “I think that climate change is real, humanity makes a contribution.” So instead of just bluntly denying climate change, Abbott now only denies the need to act on it. So it’s no wonder that some commentators and environmentalists have likened Tony Abbott and his policies to the same anti-science and climate denying stances that Sarah Palin or Rick Santorum advocates.
Abbott has already promised that, if elected, he will repeal the carbon tax that was introduced in 2011 by Julia Gillard and her former ruling Labor Party. The historic carbon-pricing legislation was supported by the Greens and has charged industries and energy companies for their emissions. Instead Abbott plans to replace the carbon-pricing legislation with his Direct Action program. The program is meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five percent from the levels in 2000 by 2020. Abbott himself says that his climate policies will “take strong and effective action to tackle climate change, action that doesn’t damage our economy.”
But critics say that even this meager reduction target will be impossible to reach. Among others, George Monbiot has said that the Direct Action program “is incapable of delivering the cuts it promises, absurdly underfunded and surrounded by a swarm of unanswered questions.”
“Were it to become big enough to meet its promises, it would be far more expensive than a comparable carbon trading scheme, which Abbott has falsely claimed would incur “almost unimaginable” costs. But it won’t be big enough, because he refuses to set aside the money it requires. Direct Action is a program designed to create a semblance of policy, in the certain knowledge that it will fail to achieve its objectives,” Monbiot writes.
Australia is the world’s biggest coal exporter and despite commitments from Australia to limit global warming to below two degrees, the country’s coal export are planned to expand by more than double current levels in the coming years. Both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard from the Labor Party has rightfully received criticism for their inaction on climate change. But with Tony Abbott as the new Prime Minister, the climate outlook in Australia looks even bleaker than before.
The opening of the San Francisco Bay Area bike share on August 29, 2013, brings the combined fleet of shared bikes in the United States above 18,000, more than a doubling since the start of the year. The United States is now home to 34 modern bike-sharing programs that allow riders to easily make short trips on two wheels without having to own a bicycle. With a number of new programs in the works and planned expansions of existing programs, the U.S. fleet is set to double again by the end of 2014, at which point nearly 37,000 publicly shared bicycles will roll the streets.The largest bike share in the United States is in New York City, where some 6,000 bicycles are available at 332 stations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The program opened at the end of May 2013, and in less than 3 months hit 2 million trips. On busy days, each bike gets checked out seven times or more, a remarkably high borrowing rate. The city ultimately hopes to expand the program to other boroughs and grow to 10,000 bikes.
The other large bike-sharing debut in 2013 was in Chicago, where 1,500 Divvy bikes now grace the streets. The program hopes to double to 3,000 cycles by the end of the year, ultimately growing to 4,000 strong—reinforcing the city’s efforts to dramatically boost biking. In addition to making shared bikes readily accessible transit, Chicago plans to extend the path and trail network to within a half-mile of all residences.
Before New York and Chicago came on the bike-sharing scene, Washington, DC, held America’s top spot. Its program has grown to over 2,000 bikes, spreading into neighboring communities. Transport planners from cities around the country have made the pilgrimage to Washington to ride one of the cherry-red Capital Bikeshare bikes and see firsthand how the popular program works. Since 2007, biking in the nation’s capital doubled to 3.5 percent of all commuter trips, and bike sharing has made it more convenient to travel the expanding web of marked cycle lanes.
Other large bike shares include Nice Ride in Minneapolis and St. Paul (1,550 bikes), Hubway in the Boston area (1,100 bikes), and DecoBike Miami Beach (1,000 bikes). Aspen, Columbus, Fort Worth, and Salt Lake City are among the more than a dozen programs that opened in 2013, joining a list of cities that have enjoyed bike sharing for longer, including Denver, San Antonio, Chattanooga, Madison, and Fort Lauderdale.
On the international scene, the United States is just catching Europe and Asia’s bike-sharing tailwind. Worldwide, more than half a million cycles can be picked up in well over 500 cities in 51 countries. Italy and Spain have the greatest number of programs, while China is home to two thirds of the global shared bike fleet.
New York is the only American city to make it onto the list of the world’s 20 largest bike-sharing programs. In fact, five cities have more shared bikes than the entire U.S. fleet. Four of them are in China, where Wuhan reportedly has some 90,000 shared bikes for its 9 million people. Hangzhou has 69,750 bikes that are well integrated with that city’s mass transit.
The world’s third largest bike share is Vélib’ in Paris, the first large-scale program to gain worldwide attention. Since its 2007 launch, riders have taken 173 million trips. According to the program, one of the nearly 24,000 Vélib’ bikes gets checked out every second of the day. Vélib’ claims to have the highest bike density among the world’s top programs, with one bike available for every 97 city residents.
Within the next year, the U.S. bike-sharing fleet will have caught up with Paris. New entries in Florida could push the country past that mark, with launches expected in Miami (500 bikes, an expansion from Miami Beach), St. Petersburg (300 bikes), and Tampa (300 bikes). Phoenix is also hoping to launch a 500-bike program that will double in size as neighboring cities join in. Rollouts hoped for in 2014 include large offerings in Los Angeles (some 4,000 bikes) and San Diego (1,800 bikes), as well as 500+ bike programs in Portland (Oregon), Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Seattle, along with a number of smaller markets.
The new San Francisco Bay Area scheme is starting out relatively diffuse, with 700 bicycles split between San Francisco and other cities along the 50-mile rail line south to San Jose. Planners note that it ultimately could grow to a network of 10,000 bikes, better allowing rail riders to travel the first and last mile or so of their commute on two wheels. As communities continue to improve their biking infrastructure and as enthusiasm for an efficient, environmentally friendly, healthy, and enjoyable form of transportation grows, bike sharing has a bright future in the United States.
(For full list of current and planned U.S. bike-sharing programs, click here.)
For more information on bike-sharing in the United States and globally, see “Dozens of U.S. Cities Board the Bike-Sharing Bandwagon” and “Bike-Sharing Programs Hit the Streets in Over 500 Cities Worldwide,” by Janet Larsen.
This is the final part of a series of articles that have taken a closer look on the relationship between increasing human population levels and the food production system that sustains human livelihoods. This part examines current and future food levels as well as summarizing all the previous parts.
Despite the predictions from populationists, the global agricultural production has grown and even exceeded the population growth rate. Global crop production has had an average annual growth rate of one percent for the past 20 years. This can be exemplified in the slow, although steady, increase in average food per capita availability, which has increased from around 2220 kilocalories per person/day to about 2790 kilocalories between early 1960 and 2006. The largest increase can be seen in developing countries where food availability has jumped from 1850 kilocalories per person/day to over 2640 kilocalories. In 2010, the global food system produced more than 13 quadrillion calories; on a per capita daily basis this equals 5359 kilocalories.
Globally, food production has increased by 18 percent over the past two decades and for the past 50 years crop production growth has seen a threefold increase. Interestingly, arable land has declined, at an accelerating rate, with about 40 million hectares since the 1980s in developed countries. At the same time arable land has increased with around 107 million hectares in developing countries. This has resulted in a global increase of 67 million hectares of arable land. Therefore, the increased growth in crop production in the developed world can be attributed to yield improvements and more intensive farming methods. Only a smaller part of the increase can be attributed to an expansion in arable land. FAO believe that the potential to increase crop yields further is substantial and that a future peak yield seems unlikely. FAO’s future predictions are hence more positive than the estimates from UNEP earlier. According to FAO there remain significant opportunities to increase food production in developing countries. Especially in Africa which is far behind other regions in its food production capacity. But they also stress the importance of “considerable” public intervention and investment to be able to reach the required yield increases. The majority of these investments are needed in agricultural research, but more are also required to mitigate environmental damage and prevent further environmental degradation.
With all this talk about yield levels and ratios it’s easy to forget that yields aren’t everything when it comes to increasing global food availability. There are other ways that can help improve global food security.
Because overall population growth is slowing down FAO predicts that total global food demand will decrease. Unfortunately, deep-rooted poverty plays a large part in this slowdown in global food demand. However, FAO expect that the demands from the bio-based economy, such as the production of biofuels, will continue to increase. This development is a double-edged sword. The further expansion of the bio-economy will offer “considerable growth potential” for the agricultural sector and supply farmers with new income possibilities. But it will also create rising food prices and put pressure on an already strained environment and natural resource base. The topic of biofuels has been covered in previous chapters, so it won’t be delved into further here. But another large part of our total cereal production is being diverted away from our plates. While only having around 18 percent of the world’s population, OECD countries in the rich world consumes 37 percent of the total global production of cereal. The reason for this large share is mainly due to the high levels of meat consumption in these countries. More than half of the total amounts of cereals consumed are being used to feed our livestock and animals in the meat industry. So by reducing our consumption of meat and biofuels we could increase the availability of food worldwide. But the production of biofuel is estimated to expand and the demand for meat shows no slowing down. Current models show that by 2050 an additional 550 million tonnes of cereals are needed to just feed our livestock. That same amount could have instead fed as many as 3.4 billion people.
Another way is to reduce food losses and waste. It’s estimated that approximately one-third, or about 1.3 billion tonnes every year, of the food produced for human consumption is being wasted or lost in the production process. Consumers in Europe and North-America waste between 95-115 kg per year/capita, while consumers in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa only waste around 6-11 kg per year/capita. In developed countries with medium- and high-incomes most food is wasted at the consumer level. This is food that is being wasted even though it is still suitable for consumption. In low-income countries in the developing world most of the food is lost in the production process before it even reaches the market. FAO takes this matter seriously. The UN agency considers food losses to be a “significant cost” to the world economy and serious threat to global food security and availability.Population or Environmental Food Crisis?
In the beginning of this series, Population or Environmental Food Crisis, I asked if it’s possible for organic agriculture, in the face of intensifying environmental degradation and fears of rising population numbers, to reach global food security and sustain human livelihood. The previous parts has shown that Malthus and other populationists have been wrong in their doomsday predictions and that they have misjudged the possibilities of technological advancements to increase our food production. But just as I’ve shown, this technology has unfortunately created environmental problems that now threatens valuable ecosystems, our resource base and our very ability to sustain more people. It’s clear that a different approach to agriculture is needed so that a smarter food production increase can take place.
I’ve been able to conclude that the claims from populationists that we would somehow face a population crisis to be unfounded and excessive. Demographic data shows that global population levels are increasing, but they aren’t increasing exponentially and nowhere near those levels that populationists are warning about. The data compiled in the previous parts shows how human population growth is actually starting to slow down and that the growth is expected to stabilize by 2100 with around 10 billion people. In fact, this development has sparked fears about a potential ageing crisis with severe implications for developed countries such as Japan. If the population theories from Malthus-inspired thinkers like Ehrlich were to be true we would see a global population that is just getting younger and younger. But instead the global median age is increasing and data shows that people aged 60 or older is the group that is growing the fastest today.
The food price crisis of 2008-2009 has been explained as the result of an energy crisis and that it didn’t take place because of uninhibited population growth, like populationists have claimed. A closer look was also taken on undernourishment and malnutrition. While large portions of people around the world are still undernourished we are now experiencing a nutrition transition characterized by overnutrition and obesity. Overweight people has now actually surpassed the number of undernourished people in the world.
We could also see how global food production is growing and how it has even exceeded population growth rate. But if we are to satisfy the projected food demand from a growing population we need to increase our global food production with 70 percent by 2050. This is no easy task, and it doesn’t help that food prices are expected to rise and become more volatile from escalating environmental degradation. To avoid this we need to make changes to our food production system as well as re-thinking our own consumption patterns.
Theoretically it’s probably possible to increase yields and make the global food system more productive by further intensifying the use of external inputs such as pesticides and chemical fertilizers, which Borlaug among other advocates. But this could potentially have devastating effects on our environment, food prices and population levels. Even populationists, such as Kaplan and Ehrlich, warn that such practices could do more harm than good. Instead organic farming has been put forward as the solution to our growing environmental problems and broken food system. But populationists are opposing this alternative agriculture method as they believe it will be unable to adequately sustain human livelihood on a global scale.
In an effort to find an answer to this, several studies on organic and conventional yield levels have been explored. The result is far from unanimous, but a large part of the studies shows promising results for proponents to organic agriculture. Several side-by-side studies seem to support the claims that it’s possible for organic farming to sustain current and even future population levels. Considering the findings in this thesis, it’s no surprise that national and international bodies are now seeing organic agriculture as a viable option in food security discussions. It’s obvious that the potential for conventional agriculture to be converted to organic farmland around the world is vast. As can be seen from developments in Europe, this conversion is taking place, albeit to a varying degree and speed, with a few countries having done more progress than others. Despite this, organic farming still plays a shockingly tiny role in the global food production system. It’s clear that the easiest way to safeguard food availability for current and future generations is to reduce the production of biofuels and our consumption of meat – both being responsible for taking away considerable farmland from crop cultivation.
So, the answer to the question, if it’s possible for organic agriculture to sustain human livelihood, is a probable yes. Organic farming seem to be capable of sustaining global human population levels while lessening the negative effects the agricultural sector has on our environment. It also seems that organic agriculture can withstand the effects of climate change much better than their conventional counterparts. But organic farming has a long and difficult road ahead. Considerable conventional farmland need be converted to organic land. Furthermore, a substantial increase in investments into research and development of alternative agricultural practices and yield increasing methods are also needed. But there’s no question about it, we need to increase our food production in a smart way, with or without an imminent population crisis. Luckily for us, this seems to be possible.
This is part six of a series of articles that take a closer look on the relationship between increasing human population levels and the food production system that sustains human livelihoods. While part five examined conventional agriculture, this post will look on the possibilities and realities of organic farming to feed a growing population.
Organic farming is an agriculture system that has a more holistic approach in which it uses methods that are designed to be less damaging to ecosystem services and the natural resource base. Organic farming does this by emphasizing the overall health of the agro-ecosystem by promoting and enhancing local biodiversity and biological activity in the soil, recycling its own waste from crops and livestock so that it can return valuable nutrients to the land, improving and maintaining soil-fertility, minimizing all forms of agriculture-related pollution and its impact on the environment, among other things. Instead of synthetic materials and off-farm inputs organic farmers are keener on using on-farm resources and management practices which involve cultural, biological and mechanical methods. This does not mean that organic farming is hostile towards technology. Organic farmers have no problems with utilizing modern technology selectively while avoiding those practices or technological elements which are risky and possibly harmful for the environment. While conventional agriculture is free to use various practices, organic farming is subject to both national and international regulations which limit them in their options and practices. These certification standards and regulations may differ depending on country and region, but they all restrict the use of pesticides, fertilizers and certain forms of genetically modified crops organisms.
As the demand for healthy food and environmental concerns are becoming more important for consumers around the world, alternative approaches to agriculture have become less alternative and more mainstream. Organic farming enterprises are emerging from the now profitable business and its products are no longer restricted to niche health food stores or farmers’ markets. Despite this recent progress for alternative agriculture practices, the skepticism against organic farming is still strong. Ehrlich predicted that the use of pesticide and conventional practices would intensify, and that the ecological aspect of agriculture would be “ignored more and more” as population numbers increased and produce became scarcer. Critics argue that organic agriculture isn’t more environmentally friendly as it requires more land to be converted to farmland to be able to reach similar yields levels as conventional farming. Critics also argue that vegetables that have been organically grown in greenhouses around Europe are much less sustainable than their conventional counterparts from Africa. Many people are also skeptical to claims that organic food is healthier or that it would contain more nutrients. Most of the criticism against organic farming revolves around the smaller yields the alternative system produces compared to the more conventional methods.The Possibilities of Organic Farming
The UNEP report mentioned in part five forecasts that food will rise in demand as human population grows by about two billion more individuals, incomes increases and the growing consumption for meat continues unhindered. The report warns that although global food production “rose substantially in the past century”, mainly thanks to agricultural expansion as well as fertilizers and irrigation, yields have in the last decade nearly stabilized for cereals. According to their estimates it’s “uncertain” that further yield increases can be achieved. If they are possible to achieve, they will most likely be too small and thus unable to keep pace with the growing food demand. UNEP blames the leveling of yield increases partly on a lack of investments in agricultural research and development. But more so they warn about the negative effects on future crop yield levels that urban expansions, soil and environmental degradation, increased biofuel production, and anthropogenic climate change will have. The combined effects of all these has the potential to reduce projected yields by 5-25 percent by 2050. This would cause food shortages, with food production being up to 25 percent short of demand, and prices that are 30-50 percent higher than today. This scenario could be averted if we manage, while increasing yields, to optimize our food chain system. This is possible to accomplish by minimizing the loss of food energy from each step of the food production chain – from harvest and process to consumption and recycling. But more importantly, we need a “major shift” towards “more eco-based production” (read: organic farming) that can help reverse soil degradation, conserve biodiversity and protect ecosystem services.
One study, which examines the relative yield performance between conventional and organic agriculture systems from 66 previous yield studies, shows that organic yields are on average 25 percent smaller than conventional ones. The results in the analysis ranged from 5 percent to 34 percent smaller yields, depending on contextual conditions, for organic farming. This would indicate that organic agriculture requires additional land to be converted into farmland for it to reach similar yield levels as conventional agriculture.
A 13 year side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional corn-soybean systems, at the Iowa State University in the US, shows that organic farms can provide similar yields as conventional agriculture, while at the same time resulting in higher economic returns for the organic farmer. Another similar study is the 30 year side-by-side trial of organic and conventional corn and soybean yields by the Rodale Institute. The Farming Systems Trial (FST) started in 1981 to study the transition from conventional to organic farming procedures as well as compare yield levels between the two agriculture methods. During the first few years of the transition there was a decline in yields for the organic crops. Later on the organic yield levels saw a rebound and today the yield levels match, or in some cases even surpasses the conventional crop yields. Especially interesting are the findings that organic yields will outperform conventional crop yields during years of drought. Studies done on data from the FST confirm this to be the case. A review of the FST by David Pimentel and others from the Cornell University shows that organic agriculture produces the same corn and soybean yields as more conventional farms. During the drought years of 1988-1998, the organic crop yields were 22 percent higher than conventional yields in the trial. Organic farmers in the US say that they have fared better against the recent drought this past summer which severely damaged crops, reduced crop yields and drove up food prices.
A 21 year study of organic and conventional farming systems in Switzerland may show what kind of performance we could expect to see from organic agriculture in Central Europe. The result from the study indicates that organic farming systems in Europe would see cereal crop yields that are on an average 20 percent lower than their conventional counterparts. But at the same time the nutrient input for the organic systems were 34-51 percent lower than in the conventional systems. That results in crops that require 20-56 percent less energy during their life-span, or 36-53 percent lower energy intakes per acre of farmland for organic crops. Therefore, the authors of the study still consider organic agriculture to be an “efficient production” method. The study could only find minor quality differences between the food systems. The organically managed soils showed a greater biological activity and a better floral and faunal diversity than the conventional managed soils. Their conclusion is that organic farming is “a realistic alternative” to conventional agriculture. Profits for the organic farm remained similar to its conventional equivalent. This would indicate that organic farmers could see financial gains from converting to organic agriculture as they need to spend less money on expensive off-farm inputs.
Another study, which compiled data on the current global food supply as well as comparative yields between organic and conventional farming methods, also suggest that its possible for organic agriculture to feed both current and future human populations. The purpose of the study was to try and estimate how much food could be produced after a hypothetical global shift to organic farming. From a plethora of various other studies comparing crop yields between organic and conventional farms, the authors of the study calculated a dataset of 293 examples of global yield ratios for all the major crops in both the developed and developing world. The results showed that organic farming would give smaller yields in the developed world while the organic yields in the developing world would be larger than their current conventional yields. Two different models were then constructed.
The first model applied the yield ratio for developed countries to the entire world, the model assumed that regardless of location all farms would only get the lower developed-country yield levels. For the second model the authors applied the lower organic yield ratios from the developed world to developed countries, the higher organic yield ratios which were measured earlier for the developing world was then applied to those respective countries. The results from the first conservative model indicated that organic farming would generate 2641 kilocalories per person/day. This is a good result, especially considering that the current food supply provides 2786 kilocalories per person/day and that the average caloric requirement for adults is between 2200-2500 kilocalories. The result from the second model was even more promising. It showed that organic farming on a global scale could generate 4381 kilocalories per person/day. This would result in a 75 percent increase in food availability for the world’s current population. The results from model two would also result in a food production that could sustain a much larger human population. This increase in food quantity would be possible to achieve while maintaining the current agricultural land base. Organic farming methods could even have the potential to reduce total agricultural land base. If properly intensified, organic agriculture “could produce much of the world’s food” and improve food security in developing countries.
But for this transition, from conventional to alternative, to be possible we need to overcome numerous agronomically and economically challenges. The authors of the study calls for increased investments in agricultural R&D. Considering that for the past 50 years most agricultural research has been focused on conventional methods there is huge potential for comparable improvements in yield increasing procedures and pest management methods for organic farming. This is especially the case in developing countries which only spend US$0.55 for every US$100 of agricultural output on public agricultural research and development. This can be compared to US$2.16 for developed countries.
Small farms are being highlighted in many of these studies as an important way to reach global food security. Both in developed and developing countries the production per unit area is greater on smaller farms. Therefore an increase in small farms would have positive effects for global food availability. In fact, and despite the large modern industrial-like farms of today, around 70 percent of the world’s food comes from small farms. The widely held belief that the large monocultural farms are the most efficient and productive is a myth; it’s actually the smaller farms, many of whom are located in developing countries that are the most efficient in their production. Small farmers manage to maximize the use of their land by using integrated farming systems which involve using a wide variety of crops as well as livestock on the farm. This combination helps provide a range of food and animal products to the local economy as well as supplying the farmer with manure for improving soil fertility. Larger farms might have higher yields per acre of a single crop, but overall the total production per acre of all crops and animal products combined is much higher on smaller farms. This way small farms helps to strengthen the local economy and environment while also improving food security worldwide.The Realities of Organic Agriculture Today
Despite these promising possibilities for organic farming the reality is that organic farming still plays a very insignificant role in our global food production system.
Total global arable land, which include both crop cultivation and pastures for livestock, is around 13 805 000 km². Of this only 0.9 percent, or around 370 000 km², are organic. In 2010 only seven countries had more than a total of ten percent organic agricultural land. In the beginning of the 21st century, some 17 million hectares of land (nearly 170 000 km²) were dedicated to organic farming globally. In North America around 1.3 million hectares of farmland were farmed organically. The majority, around 45 percent, were located in Oceania, mainly Australia. Europe had 25 percent and Latin America shortly followed with 22 percent. The highest share could be found in the EU with more than three percent of total agricultural land area dedicated to organic farming.
When it comes to organic farming policy, the “EU leads the world.” Various policies and political mandates in support of organic development have been in place in the EU since late 1980. In 1991, ten years before the equivalent US legislation came; the EU introduced consistent labeling of agricultural products and food across all member states. In the past two decades the amount of EU land dedicated to organic agriculture has seen a dramatic increase. Organic farmland increased five-fold just during 1993-2000. This development is expected to continue thanks to continued growth in consumer demand for organic products and various government incentives and mandates. Total organic land area, i.e. fully converted land area as well as land area under conversion from conventional to organic farmland, in EU27 increased from 3.6 to 4.1 percent 2005-2007. In 2008, organic farmland covered a total of 7.8 million hectares. The total organic area continues to show an upward growth trend in the union. During 2006-2007 the increase was 5.9 percent. 2007-2008 organic farmland increased with 7.4 percent. The five member states with the largest organic area for EU27 is Spain (1.3 m/ha), Italy (1.0 m/ha), Germany (0.9 m/ha), UK (0.7 m/ha) and France (0.6 m/ha). Figure 6 shows how the size of organic farmland varies greatly from one member state to another with some states making more progress than others. The graph shows how Sweden’s farmland has increased from 5.9 percent to 14.3 percent during 2000-2010. Other countries haven’t seen a similar development during this period. The UK increased their share with less than one percent, going from 3.3 to only 4.1 percent.
This is part five of a series of articles that take a closer look on the relationship between increasing human population levels and the food production system that sustains human livelihoods. Part five and six examines the current state of the agriculture sector around the world. This post will focus on conventional forms of agriculture, it upsides and downsides, while part six looks on the possibilities of organic farming to feed a growing population.
We cannot ignore the basic fact that population growth, along with rising incomes and urbanization, is the main socio-economic factor for increasing global food demand. Even if the total demand for food is estimated to grow more slowly this century, substantial increases in the global food production is required. To be able to satisfy the projected food demand during this half of the century we need to increase global food production by 70 percent by 2050. Preferably we need to do this without further degrading our already fragile ecosystems and natural resources.
Our planet has considerable land reserves which in theory could be converted to arable land to satisfy future demands from a growing population. But the extent to which this is possible, or even preferred, is limited. Most of these land reserves are situated in only a few countries in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa where the lack of proper infrastructure could, at least in the short-term, limit their contribution to the global food production system. But more importantly, large parts of these land reserves have important ecological functions that will be destroyed if turned into arable land. Considering these limitations, FAO projects that the global area of arable land will be expanded by five percent, or around 70 million hectares, by 2050. The environmental food crisis is a term that comes from UNEP and a report which the organization commissioned in 2009 in response to the food price crisis. The report concluded that food prices will increase and become more volatile from escalating environmental degradation.Conventional agriculture
Conventional agriculture has had both positive and negative effects for human society. Technological innovations since the 19th century have managed to completely transform rural landscapes, populations and agriculture productions in the developed world. The key element of this transformation was the change from “on-farm” to “off-farm” resources. Thanks to new technological advances it became more economically profitable to replace human labour with machinery. Equally profitable became it to enhance the farm’s soil fertility by just buying chemical fertilizers. The use of pesticide allowed farmers to protect their crops from pests while making large-scale agricultural systems more easily managed. These technological advancements have increased the productivity of the agriculture sector which in turn has led to food becoming more abundant and cheaper for consumers. The labour force which was replaced by machinery could also be employed in other production areas, and thus the total wealth of society increased. But this development has had socio-economic and environmental effects. The population decline in rural areas has led to major structural changes in which formerly agricultural regions now have unemployment levels above average and difficult social conditions. The technological transformations, in which agricultural systems have been detached from their natural roots, are especially evident in factory farms where livestock are involved. Just consider the housing of hens in battery cages and how little, if anything, it resembles the natural environment. As conventional farms are looking more like factories with industrial-like production systems, concerns for animal welfare and environmental health is becoming more and more significant in developed and affluent societies.
There is no denying that the negative effects of conventional agriculture are far reaching. Reports show that 15 out of 25 ecosystem services, such as water supply or various forms of food production like seafood, are already degraded or used beyond sustainable levels. Actions taken to further intensify the use of the natural resource base and these other ecosystem services will often cause the degradation of other areas and services. The intensification of our food production system has caused loss of tropical forest and biodiversity, soil nutrient depletion, erosion, desertification, and depletion of freshwater reserves. Considering that irrigated agriculture is an extremely productive food system, it covers only one fifth of arable land but contributes nearly 50 percent of global crop production, it’s worrying that fresh water reserves are being depleted at an alarming rate. All in all, conventional agriculture is said to be responsible for 75 percent erosion in biodiversity, land degradation and water destruction. Long-term projections do suggest that the world’s natural resource base should be adequate to meet future demands, but only if the degradation of our ecosystem services are stopped, or at least significantly slowed down.
The conventional food system is also responsible for massive greenhouse gas emissions. In the US alone, the conventional food system is with its 19 percent just behind cars when it comes to total usage of fossil fuels. Globally, our food production system is responsible for around 37 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere. In the 1940s our food production system produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of energy we invested. Today it takes 10 calories of energy to produce a single calorie of food. This transformation is not hard to imagine considering how much fossil fuels are required in every process of the industrial food production system. Conventional agriculture requires chemical fertilizers and pesticides which are made with the help from natural gas and petroleum, it also requires heavy farm machinery and the whole procedure involves energy intense food processing and packaging, as well as fossil fuel-powered transportation systems to reach consumers worldwide.The green revolution
Despite its name, the Green Revolution should not be mistaken for an alternative or organic agriculture practice. It’s quite the opposite. The Green Revolution can be seen as a neo-agricultural version of conventional farming practices of the 1960-1970s where the main aim is large-scale environmental modification. The Green Revolution involves the development, practice and distribution of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified grains, and large-scale irrigation infrastructure – all being practices that requires a heavy and constant input of fossil fuels.
Norman Borlaug, whom was considered to be the father of the Green Revolution, continuously advocated for the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers as a solution to growing populations and environmental degradation. Borlaug rejected claims that organic agriculture would be better for the environment as “ridiculous”. Because organic farming resulted in lower yields Borlaug predicted that more land and forests would be required to be cultivated if we wanted to be able to maintain the same yield levels for organic farming as the ones achieved from more conventional methods. If we intensify our farming practices we can leave more land for the rainforest, Borlaug’s thinking went. There’s truth to this. Thanks to the “seed and fertilizer” practices of the Green Revolution, global cereal production tripled between 1950-2000 while land use only increased by 10 percent during the same period.
UNEP’s assessment for the future development of our food production system states that any future system will be dependent on and “must contribute positively” towards the realization of “healthy ecosystems and resilient communities”. Clearly, the Green Revolution and conventional agriculture has no place in such a food system.
In 2007, food prices increased dramatically and the world quickly ushered in a global food crisis that lasted until late 2009. The global price increase mainly affected basic food commodities such as wheat, rice and corn, but not so much products such as coffee and cacao. The effects were felt fast and hard, especially in developing countries where much of the food was being imported and where people, who already spent half or more of their income on groceries, couldn’t afford a doubling of food prices. Riots started to take place in many cities around the world by people who no longer could afford to buy enough food to themselves and their families. In the developing countries worst affected, the national governments tried to counter the food price crisis with various political and economic means. They reduced taxes on cereals and lowered the tariff on imports of food and/or introduced various food subsidizes for their citizens. Many developing countries, including China and India, also introduced export restrictions on their own agricultural and food products – sparking heavy criticism from the US and IMF.
Looking back at the events it’s easy to see that it was just a bubble and that food prices, almost as quickly as they had come, went back to their previous levels again. But back then, in the middle of it, many people claimed that the crisis was a sign of things to come, and that overpopulation was the main culprit. In a discussion on Nightwaves on BBC Radio 3, Susan Blackmore, a neuroscientist, and Professor John Gray, from the London School of Economics, discussed overpopulation and its link to the then ongoing food crisis. Both agreed that the “fundamental problem” is that there are just “too many people”, with Blackmore adding that she hoped, “for the planet’s sake”, that a global disease, such as the bird flu, would come and “reduce the population”. In a TV interview, Britain’s Prince Phillip said that it was the demand for food from “too many people” that had caused the food price crisis.
According to recent figures, around 870 million people were undernourished during 2010-2012. Those numbers equal 12.5 percent of the global population. The majority of these people live in developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Western Asia and Northern Africa. As can be see in the figure above, this number is a reduction since early 1990’s levels when around 19 percent of the global population was undernourished. So progress in food security has been made. But from the numbers one can also see that most of this progress was accomplished before the global food price crisis in 2007-2008. Since then, the reduction in undernourished people has slowed down and leveled off. Despite this, the actual increase in global hunger was less severe than previously expected. The FAO, WFP and IFAD concludes in their 2012 report on food insecurity that “it is clear” that the previous achievements in reducing hunger has “slowed considerably since 2007”, and that it’s doubtful that the Millennium Development Goals, as well as previously stated hunger targets and commitments in several regions around the world will be achieved in the near future. These failures in reducing undernourishment can be blamed on political instability due to wars and conflicts. But a lack of political will to prioritize hunger reductions, weak government structures and institutions such as the absence of proper transparency and food programs, both on a regional and global level, can also be blamed for the failure.
The food price crisis, nor the halt in the reduction of global hunger, had nothing to do with overpopulation and inadequate food production – such as the scenario populationists are constantly warning about. In fact, both 2007-2008 were pretty normal years for farmers. Their yields varied no more than usual and the total world food production continued to grow by 1-2 percent per year – the same pace as it had done for the past decade. It’s true that farmers had troublesome years during 2006-2007 in Australia due to drought, and that the EU and Ukraine produced much less wheat than estimated before 2007. But this reduction was offset by unusually good harvests in Russia, USA, Argentina and Kazakhstan. In fact, the total amount of wheat on the global market increased by around 5 percent which resulted in record yields in 2006-2007. Demands from large populous nations such as China and India had no effect on the rising food prices either as the two nations are both net exporters of cereals.
Instead, rising oil prices and growing productions of biofuels were to blame for the food price crisis. Fossil energy in the form of oil is an important component in the modern agriculture industry, so it’s not surprising that changes in oil price will have effects on the price of food for consumers worldwide. In this case it was the increasing costs involved in the highly energy intense production of nitrogen fertilizers for agriculture that in turn resulted in increased food prices. The second reason was the growing production of biofuels from agricultural commodities. To put things into perspective and to show just on what massive scale global biofuel production is on let’s take the US as an example: About 25 percent of the US corn production is now used in producing ethanol – which is far more than the country’s entire total corn export. Globally, biofuel production, which is based on agricultural commodities, has more than tripled 2000-2008. Today it accounts for more than two percent of the global consumption of transport fuels. Another example: In 2007-2008, roughly 10 percent of the total usage of coarse grains was used in the production of ethanol. Jean Ziegler, UN’s independent expert on the right to food, has called the production of biofuels from food crops a “catastrophe for the hungry people” and a “crime against humanity”. In light of the food price crisis the FAO convened a three-day meeting with experts in Rome, Italy, in June of 2009. They came to the conclusion that the food price crisis was a result of increases in energy prices, and that it shows how energy and agricultural markets are becoming more intertwined with each other. In their report they warn that a further rise in biofuels production would be “a real risk” for global food security. They therefore urge that policies that promote the use of agricultural commodities for biofuels production “should be reconsidered” so that the competition between food and fuels can be mitigated.
These malnutrition numbers represents people who don’t get their minimum energy intake, which FAO considers to be about 1900 calories per day/person, the exact amount of calories varies depending on region, age and gender. The human body needs a diet of enough variation between vitamins, fat, proteins and minerals. So just because one gets enough of calories doesn’t mean one has a balanced and satisfactory diet. It’s estimated that at least one billion people suffers from this “hidden hunger” which is characterized by various forms of nutrient shortages, which turns into deficiency diseases and often develops into chronic sickness. Here’s the twist. We are currently experiencing a nutrition transition, characterized by overnutrition and obesity, which affects all societies around the world. As urbanization increases and people’s incomes grow bigger, more people are gradually adopting a lifestyle which involves not just reduced physical activity but also a more energy-dense diet, which consists of semi-processed foods which are higher in saturated fats, sugars and cholesterol. Obesity has more than doubled since the 1980’s and the majority of adult obesity can be found in developed countries, with the US being a prime example. As a result of this transition, the number of overweight people has reached more than 1.4 billion people worldwide. This surpasses the number of undernourished people in the world.
This is part three of a series of articles that take a closer look on the relationship between increasing human population levels and the food production system that sustains human livelihoods.
Part two has shown that the claim that population growth happens at an exponential rate is a common theme among populationists and Malthus-inspired thinkers. It has also showed how little faith Malthus and other populationists has on technology and scientific advancements as well as government regulations to increase our food production. Modern population theory has also seen a shift in focus. While Malthus and older scholars talked mainly about population levels and its relation to our agricultural food production system, modern populationists often has an environmental aspect to their arguments. Kaplan and especially Ehrlich can be used as examples of this as they often emphasizes the environmental damage which is caused by technologies such as the Green Revolution and an increasingly growing agriculture sector. Part three and four will examine many of the claims from populationists to see if the current situation is a gloomy as they say.
This chapter looks on how population levels have progressed historically till today and what kind of future population growth we might expect. This will help us evaluate the severity of the population problem.
In 1830, the global population had reached one billion. This is about 50 years after Malthus published his first population essay. Roughly 100 years later the global population had increased with another billion. By 1960, or about 30 years later, the human population had grown to three billion. 15 years later in 1975 the fourth billion was added. Global population numbers reached five billion people only 12 years later. And at the end of October 2011, the UN announced that we had reached seven billion people. One can see how global population numbers have progressed since the 1950s and are projected to develop till 2050 in the figure below.
From a first quick look it might seem that global population levels are increasing. But a closer look reveals how global population growth is now starting to slightly decrease in speed. Malthus warned in his population theory that human population would increase in an exponential ratio. Ehrlich also warned about the dangers of an exponentially growing population. But as we can see from the graph above, no exponential population growth has taken place. Instead we can see a more linear development.
Another figure, which displays estimated and projected world population growth in percentage, shows a completely different picture than the previous graph. Here we can see a downward trend in global population growth. In fact, we can see how the world’s population growth actually peaked and started to slow down around 1963 – five years before Paul and Anne Ehrlich published their population theory. Since around 1990 we can see a constant decrease in world population growth taking place. If this downward trend continues the population growth rate will have slowed down considerably by 2050. Again, no exponential or geometrical growth is taking place. Joel Cohen, a leading expert in population sciences, even goes as far as saying that human population “probably never has and probably never will” grow exponentially.
UN population data offer four different scenarios for the future depending on different projections, the next figure shows these in more detail. One scenario, labeled constant fertility is the closest thing we get to an exponential population growth similar to what Malthus and other populationists have warned about. But this development is deemed unlikely and the UN predicts that the medium scenario is the most probable outcome. There’s also a high and a low scenario connected to the medium projection, where population levels either increases more or less than anticipated.
According to the medium scenario, global population is projected to increase with 2.3 billion to reach a total world population of 9.3 billion people by 2050. The majority of this population growth will take place in developing countries. 50 years later the global human population is projected to have reached 10.1 billion people. The majority of people, around 87 percent, will by 2100 live in the less developed regions in the world, while 27 percent of these will live in the least developed regions. Again, it’s worth noting that these long-range population projections are extremely difficult to calculate correctly and in a reliable way. But if we are to trust the UN data, human population growth is expected to stabilize by 2100 at around 10 billion people.
Another variable to look at is the total fertility rate, namely the number of living children each women will have during her lifetime. Globally, replacement levels average around 2.3. In rich countries, where child mortality levels are low, the replacement level is about 2.1. In poorer countries which lack proper medical facilities and systems the number is obviously higher. Population levels will increase if the total fertility rate is higher than the replacement levels and vice versa. In many often rich and developed countries today, the total fertility rate is actually below the replacement levels. But this does not mean that the country’s population levels won’t see any further growth. The population will continue to grow for decades even though the total fertility rate has fallen well below the replacement levels. In other words, a reduction in birth rates is a demographic momentum which won’t have any short-term effects on population levels. Many European countries today have fertility rates that are well below replacement levels. This has caused some demographers to project that by 2060 the total population in Japan could fall by nearly 50 percent and by around 25 percent in Europe.
This is why we recently could hear a lot of warnings about depopulation in the media, some even going as far as claiming that parts of Europe could become “almost deserted” in the years to come. Such cries rightfully seems alarmist but governments and institutions in developed countries are taking these warnings seriously. Just consider EU who recently issued a union-wide Blue Card, similar to the more well-known Green Card used by the US, in an effort to attract skilled workers from countries outside the union. UN data shows that populations aged 60 or older is the group that is growing the fastest globally today. In the developing world this population ageing will drastically increase in the coming decades. It is projected that population aged 60 or over will increase at annual rates of more than 3 percent. Another indicative of global population ageing are the increases in median age around the world. In 2011, 22 countries had a median age higher than 40 years. Japan had the oldest median age of 45 years. Germany was a close second with a median age of 44.7 years. According to the UN, “the implications of population ageing cannot be dismissed.”
Part four takes a closer look on rising food costs and explains what actually caused the food price crisis in 2007-2008 (Hint: It wasn’t actually because of a lack of food).
This is part two of a series of articles that take a closer look on the relationship between increasing human population levels and the food production system that sustains human livelihoods. Part one can be found here. Part three will be published tomorrow. This chapter will take a closer look on popular overpopulation theories, both from the early days of Malthus and to more modern flavors of population theory.
Three theories and their scholars, Malthus, Ehrlich and Kaplan, are introduced in this chapter. What these theories have in common is that they played an important role in either reviving the overpopulation debate once again, which was the case with Ehrlich, or they helped influence the political discourse at the time, which was the case with Kaplan. Please note that these theories will not be explained in full and I will not bring up much criticism against the specific theories (trust me, there is plenty of that). If you are interested in learning more about the theories there is a plethora of articles, books and whatnot that delves much deeper into them. Google Scholar is great source of information if you, for example, want to read more about Malthus’ arguments against relief and help for the poor and hungry.
These three, and many other authors, discusses in different ways how overpopulation is a threat to humanity and how we cannot avoid a devastating demographic overshoot. Their numbers on how many people the world can support strongly varies depending on what sort of progress they believe we have made and will do when it comes to technology and science, how much we have already degraded our water and food resources, and so on. But what they all have in common is a belief that a population catastrophe will happen once the natural limits are reached. Though, some authors have managed to push this idea more successfully than others.Malthus’ theory of population
Thomas Robert Malthus, born in 1766, was a British reverend and a scholar. Today he is still widely known for his controversial ideas about population levels and their limits. Malthus’s population theory can be said to be the starting point of a rather passionately demography debate among academics and ordinary people alike – a debate which is still very much alive today.
Malthus anonymously published An Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798 where he warned about the problems with a bigger and an ever increasingly growing human population. This first essay, or edition, was more of a polemic pamphlet where Malthus tried to debunk the optimistic and utopian visions on the future by contemporary writers and thinkers who were inspired by the ongoing revolution in France. Malthus later on made new and more detailed editions to his population theory. In fact, Malthus added a total of four subsequent editions to his theory. The first one was added in 1806, the second only a year after, the next one in 1817, and finally in 1826 the fourth edition was added. These four editions are often called the “second essay”. A summary view on his theory was also added later in 1830. Even though Malthus added new editions to his population theory, the greater part of his finished work still consists of material stemming from the first essay. Despite being more of a polemic essay than a scientifically supported thesis – or perhaps because of that – Malthus’s first essay was widely popular among fellow academics and the general public. Malthus work was more detailed and methodological in his later editions. For the second essay he made study tours in Scandinavia, Russia, France and Switzerland – all being countries who were at that time open to British tourists.
Malthus makes two hypothesizes about the nature of the world, which he both claim to be true:
“I think I may fairly make two postulata. First, That food is necessary to the existence of man. Secondly, That the passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state (Quoted from Malthus, 1798:70).”
According to Malthus, we humans have, and will always have, a very strong urge to copulate. Because of this, overpopulation of the human race will swiftly become fact. The problem then lies in our capacities to produce food, or more precisely our inability to feed ourselves. Malthus claimed that our fondness of breeding is stronger than our food production capabilities and technologies to feed such a large population.
“Assuming then my postulata as granted, I say, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man (Quoted from Malthus, 1798:71).”
If left unchecked the human population will increase in a geometrical ratio while our food production can only increase in an arithmetical ratio, Malthus warned. In a geometrical ratio the growth effectively doubles every time (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32 etc) while an arithmetical ratio goes from 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on. According to Malthus, these numbers clearly shows the immensity and power of the first variable in comparison to the second and much weaker variable.
If the human population grows faster than the food production, various checks, such as famine or wars, will rebalance the situation so that the human population is kept on level with the means of subsistence. Malthus divides these population checks into two main categories: preventive and positive checks. Later on Malthus makes further distinctions between these two categories and adds the checks of vice, the checks of misery and the check of moral restraint.
Moral restraint, which is defined by Malthus as abstinence from marriage, belongs to the preventive category. Malthus advocated for a strict moral conduct towards sex. While not approving of abortion he saw contraception as a preventive check, one which belongs to the vice category. Both the checks of vice and misery belongs to the positive category. These are population checks that prematurely shorten the human life span either through insufficient food and/or bad clothing due to poverty, “unwholesome occupations” (i.e. jobs where there is a high probability of dying from unhealthy activities), diseases and epidemics, wars and plague. All these various positive checks can be divided into either the vice or misery subcategory. Those checks that appear to arise from the laws of nature, such as epidemics and famine, belong exclusively to the misery category. The other checks, those that we bring upon ourselves, such as wars, are more of a mixed nature. According to Malthus, these are checks which could be in our power to avoid. Therefore their cause is vice and their consequences are misery. If preventive checks are insufficient to rebalance the situation, then the “necessary work” will be done by war, pestilence and famine – the positive checks on overpopulation. War could therefore be seen as an “alternative” to moral restraint.
Malthus didn’t see any way by which we humans could escape from the laws of nature and avoid this fate. No charity or “fancied equality” among people could help or lessen this fact. Extensive agrarian regulations would be of no help against the severe challenges that would come from unhindered human population growth, not “even for a single century”. Throughout the essay one can unmistakably see how little faith Malthus has to agrarian regulations, new agricultural technologies and scientific advancements which could help improve yields. Malthus discarded agrarian controls and regulations from the state and advocated private property and ownership as the only viable solution to obtain large yields. Likewise Malthus saw the invention of new agriculture machinery as a mere convenience or luxury for the farmers, instead of a method to improve yields and an escape from the laws of nature and the checks on population. Often when the topic of the potential for new technologies arises in the essay he points out the physical limitations which man, and other animals, is subjected to.
Malthus’ population theory was not just popular among the general public, it also influenced, as well as provoked, many contemporary academics and scholars. Some of the more well-known of these were Charles Darwin, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In various works, Darwin notes how Malthus and his population ideas had inspired him in his own development of the theory of evolution. Marx and Engels responses towards Malthus theory of population were a bit more resentful. Engels describes Malthus theory as “this vile, infamous theory, this revolting blasphemy against nature and man.” Marx was not kinder in his responses to the population theory, calling Malthus “a shameless sycophant of the ruling class”.Modern Overpopulation Theory
As we could see in the previous chapter, Malthus both provoked and influenced many academics and scholars. His theory of population might have been proven wrong, but his work did inspire to a whole host of different Malthusian theories. In this chapter some of these more modern overpopulation theories are presented.
In a cover story, titled The Coming Anarchy, published in February 1994 in the distinguished Atlantic Monthly magazine, Robert Kaplan presented his gloomy and Malthusian inspired vision of a future world stricken by the horrendous effects of overpopulation. According to the article, the world is headed towards violent anarchy where states and societies will collapse and be replaced by private armies and organized criminals. This “downward spiral of crime and social disintegration” was blamed on the environmental degradation of our natural systems and a demographic explosion, i.e. overpopulation. Kaplan argued that the violence and chaos that were taking place in West Africa would spread to other regions of the world. As the violence and ecological problems spread, more and more people will be forced to seek shelter in urban environments. This in turn will create even more social disintegration, ecological degradation and violent conflicts. Kaplan therefore believed that the population crisis and the degradation of our environment would become the main national-security issue for the US and other developed countries in the coming century.
Kaplan’s article was written during some of the worst and bloodiest moments in the history of Africa. Less than two months after the publication of his article the Rwandan genocide took place. So it’s not that surprising that Kaplan’s population theory was taken seriously by the US administration and former President Bill Clinton, who himself specifically cited the article in a speech to the National Academy of Sciences in June 29, 1994. Later on Kaplan’s article “became practically de rigueur citation for Cabinet members appearing before Congress.
In 1968 Paul Ehrlich presented, with the publication of The Population Bomb, his own Malthusian inspired population theory. The book has significance, mostly because it helped revive the demographic debate once again. But also because, compared to many similar efforts at the time, this contribution dwelled deeper into not just overpopulation but also into the link between growing population numbers, overconsumption and environmental destruction. Ehrlich had been making the rounds in the US media trying to lift the population issue into the medial and political spotlight again. Because of this he was approached by David Brower, founder of the American environmental organization the Sierra Club Foundation, who suggested that Ehrlich should publish his theory in time to influence the upcoming presidential election. Paul collaborated with his wife Anne Ehrlich on the book and future revisions on their theory. But because the publisher insisted on a single author, only Paul Ehrlich was credited for the book.
Their reasoning has many similar characteristics to Malthus’s thinking on overpopulation. While acknowledging our genetic urge to copulate, Ehrlich blamed the dramatic population growth on industrialization, and more importantly improvements in medical science. Medical science, especially its effective public health programs, has improved the lives of countless of people and drastically helped to increase birth rates. The Green revolution and the ever increasing industrialization have both played important roles in increasing human population levels. But “the development of medical science was the straw that broke the camel’s back”.
While recognizing the potential the Green Revolution has for increasing food production and staving off future famines, Ehrlich also warned about the environmental downsides of the Green Revolution. Ehrlich believed that the Green Revolution would bring both developmental and socio-economic problems as well as potentially severe environmental consequences – especially when it comes to its heavy use of water, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Ehrlich warned that the implementation of the Green Revolution in developing countries would result in the same environmental disruptions that is the case today in more developed countries. Kaplan notes how much of India’s economy and food production relies on dramatically shrinking natural resources and declining water levels, as well as the high levels of urbanization and violence among the different ethnic and religious groups. With all this, Kaplan says, “it is difficult to imagine that the Indian state will survive the next century.” Kaplan links the declining water levels with the Green Revolution. While having successfully increased India’s yields, the Green Revolution also comes with severe environmental drawbacks. Moreover, Kaplan also warns about possible future effects that climate change can have on the country’s agriculture sector.
According to Ehrlich there are only two solutions to the population problem, the first one being the “birth rate solution” where famine, wars or pestilence increases the death rate. This “solution” is similar to the positive checks that Malthus talked about. The second solution, and the one which the authors advocated for, is population control where we humans intentionally and actively take measurements to reduce global birth rate. There would be no environmental or food crisis to speak of if the human population was reduced to around one or half a billion individuals. Sure, we would also need to make some minor changes in our technology usage as well as improving and making the distribution of the world’s resources more just and fair. But population control would still be the only real solution in avoiding the “final collapse”.
When Paul and Anne Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb their views on the future were bleak. They warned that the world was on the verge of a Malthusian style catastrophe and that the “battle to feed humanity” had already been lost. They proclaimed that the birth rate solution with its wars, famines and diseases would most likely be the agency most responsible for reducing human population levels in the coming decades. Several decades has passed since the book was released, but they are still confident that the collapse will come – any time now – especially considering the rising levels of consumption globally.
Fears about an imminent population crisis has popped up into the spotlight now and then since Malthus introduced his theory in the late 18th century. The most recent appearance was in 2011 when the world population reached seven billion. Before then, the population problem was intensely debated during the food price crisis of 2008-2009. The causes to the food price crisis was also debated in Sweden. Here it was Marit Paulsen, the somewhat well-known Swedish politician, who connected the rising food prices to overpopulation and claimed that organic agriculture couldn’t sustain the growing numbers of people. Only large-scale agro-industries and more pesticides could maintain a sufficient food production, Paulsen claimed.
In 2011 the world’s population passed the seven billion mark. By 2050 the human family is expected to reach nine billion individuals. Many believe that we are in the midst of a population crisis that already has far-reaching effects on our society and our environment.
Globally, almost 900 million people are chronically undernourished today, and more than 1.4 billion people are estimated to suffer from malnutrition. Despite various UN goals to halve hunger in recent years there just seems to be no end in sight. At the same time, ecological degradation is getting worse. We can see how important and unique ecosystems are being destroyed, we can see the alarming loss of biodiversity, we can see how desertification and soil erosion is spreading, we can see the worrying signs of depletion of freshwater reserves, and we can see the devastating effects from the increasing quantities of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that we are spewing out. Our food production system and our agricultural practices play a central role in both worsening and lessening the effects of environmental degradation. So it seems we are facing an environmental food crisis as well.
The main argument brought forward by populationists and Malthus-inspired thinkers is that we cannot feed a growing population and that, if we haven’t already, we will soon reach our carrying capacity. War, pestilence and famine will follow and wreak havoc around the world, they warn. Others believe that more alternative and environmentally friendly agricultural practices can help us sustain population numbers while at the same time safeguarding our environment from further degradation. Populationists have always been pessimistic about our possibilities to sustain current and future populations let alone to do it from organic farming, which they argue will give us smaller yields than what we get from more conventional agriculture. But which side of this debate is correct?
Is it possible for us to convert to more environmentally friendly agricultural practices that can help stop, or at least slow down, ecological degradation while at the same time being able to feed a growing number of humans?
That’s a pretty big question to try and explain. Therefore I will divide everything up into smaller and more manageable chapters and parts. The first part, which is posted here, will take a closer look on popular overpopulation theories, both from the early days of Malthus and to more modern flavors of population theory.
- Part 2: Popular overpopulation theories
- Part 3: Population levels for today and tomorrow
- Part 4: The end of cheap food
- Part 5: Conventional agriculture
- Part 6: Alternative agriculture
- Part 7: Reaching food security today and tomorrow
Prime Minister David Cameron says in today’s Telegraph that Britain “cannot afford to miss out on shale gas”, and that the benefits of fracking far outweighs any of the potential dangers – many of which he claims are only misconceptions or downright “myths”.
In the article, Cameron writes that he wants to see fracking in all parts of Britain – and not just in the less populated areas in the north. “It’s been suggested in recent weeks that we want fracking to be confined to certain parts of Britain. This is wrong,” he said. “I want all parts of our nation to share in the benefits: north or south, Conservative or Labour. We are all in this together.”
Fracking is a controversial method of extracting gas. The word fracking comes from its technique, which involves fracturing rocks deep underground with water and chemicals to extract natural gas. The British Geological Survey has estimated that there could be around 1300 trillion cubic feet of gas in northern England alone. Cameron claims that only 10% of that is the equivalent of 51 years’ worth of gas supply. Besides cheaper gas and energy bills for the British people, Cameron also promises that fracking will bring money to local neighborhoods and create new jobs in a struggling economy. He estimates that around 74 000 news jobs, in and around the gas sector, could be created. “If neighborhoods can see the benefits – and are reassured about its effects on the environment – then I don’t see why fracking shouldn’t receive real public support,” Cameron said.
“The Prime Minister’s claim that UK shale gas will reduce energy prices doesn’t stack,” Greenpeace Energy Campaigner Leila Deen said in a response Cameron’s pro-fracking comments. “Experts from Ofgem to Deutsche Bank to drilling company Cuadrilla itself agree UK shale will not bring down bills, because unlike the US, the UK is part of a huge European gas market,” she said. “The government must come clean about where its getting its advice from, and the role shale gas lobbyists are playing in it.”
Fracking will bring potential dangers to the local environment, the climate and people’s health. Fracking is a fossil fuel which production creates greenhouse gas emissions. It’s no more different than coal and more conventional gas – in fact, its carbon footprint could even be worse than coal. Considering all the chemicals involved in the fracking process and the numerous reports of gas leaking into people’s water supply, fracking could also become a real threat to people’s health.
In the US, at least eight states have reported surface, ground, and drinking water contamination due to fracking. In Pennsylvania alone, over 1,400 environmental violations have been attributed to deep gas wells utilizing fracking practices. Fracking will also bring pollution from truck traffic, chemical contamination around storage tanks, and habitat fragmentation and damage from drilling in environmentally sensitive.
But Cameron claims that fracking is safe for both the public and the environment. “There is no reason why the process should cause contamination of water supplies or other environmental damage,” Cameron said. At least if it’s “properly regulated.” And if “any shale gas well were to pose a risk of pollution, then we have all the powers we need to close it down,” Cameron promises. “Our countryside is one of the most precious things we have in Britain and I am proud to represent a rural constituency. I would never sanction something that might ruin our landscapes and scenery.” But, Cameron added, “the huge benefits of shale gas outweigh any very minor change to the landscape.”
If Cameron gets what he wants, which is thousands of shale gas pads scattered across Britain, he will just lock Britain into another form of fossil fuel addiction for another generation. And we cannot afford that. We need truly green and renewable energy sources.
It’s just about impossible to find any qualified scientist who denies (or even doubts) that climate change is real and dangerous, that human action is the primary cause, and that it can’t be stopped without substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
This week, another major scientific organization issued a firm statement supporting the scientific consensus.
Last year, an official statement on climate change by the American Geophysical Union said it was was real and “tied to energy use.” This week, the the 61,000 member organization revised its position to be “more reflective of the current state of scientific knowledge.” It puts the blame firmly on human action, and calls for “urgent action” including “substantial emissions cuts.”
As I’ve said before, the so-called climate change skeptics are really climate science deniers. Their opinions do not merit consideration in any rational forum.
Here’s the AGU’s official position statement (pdf) on climate change, published August 5, 2013.Human-induced climate change requires urgent action
Humanity is the major influence on the global climate change observed over the past 50 years. Rapid societal responses can significantly lessen negative outcomes.
Human activities are changing Earth’s climate. At the global level, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases have increased sharply since the Industrial Revolution. Fossil fuel burning dominates this increase. Human-caused increases in greenhouse gases are responsible for most of the observed global average surface warming of roughly 0.8°C (1.5°F) over the past 140 years. Because natural processes cannot quickly remove some of these gases (notably carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere, our past, present, and future emissions will influence the climate system for millennia.
Extensive, independent observations confirm the reality of global warming. These observations show large-scale increases in air and sea temperatures, sea level, and atmospheric water vapor; they document decreases in the extent of mountain glaciers, snow cover, permafrost, and Arctic sea ice. These changes are broadly consistent with long-understood physics and predictions of how the climate system is expected to respond to human-caused increases in greenhouse gases. The changes are inconsistent with explanations of climate change that rely on known natural influences.
Climate models predict that global temperatures will continue to rise, with the amount of warming primarily determined by the level of emissions. Higher emissions of greenhouse gases will lead to larger warming, and greater risks to society and ecosystems. Some additional warming is unavoidable due to past emissions.
Climate change is not expected to be uniform over space or time. Deforestation, urbanization, and particulate pollution can have complex geographical, seasonal, and longer-term effects on temperature, precipitation, and cloud properties. In addition, human-induced climate change may alter atmospheric circulation, dislocating historical patterns of natural variability and storminess.
In the current climate, weather experienced at a given location or region varies from year to year; in a changing climate, both the nature of that variability and the basic patterns of weather experienced can change, sometimes in counterintuitive ways — some areas may experience cooling, for instance. This raises no challenge to the reality of human-induced climate change.
Impacts harmful to society, including increased extremes of heat, precipitation, and coastal high water are currently being experienced, and are projected to increase. Other projected outcomes involve threats to public health, water availability, agricultural productivity (particularly in low-latitude developing countries), and coastal infrastructure, though some benefits may be seen at some times and places. Biodiversity loss is expected to accelerate due to both climate change and acidification of the oceans, which is a direct result of increasing carbon dioxide levels.
While important scientific uncertainties remain as to which particular impacts will be experienced where, no uncertainties are known that could make the impacts of climate change inconsequential. Furthermore, surprise outcomes, such as the unexpectedly rapid loss of Arctic summer sea ice, may entail even more dramatic changes than anticipated.
Actions that could diminish the threats posed by climate change to society and ecosystems include substantial emissions cuts to reduce the magnitude of climate change, as well as preparing for changes that are now unavoidable. The community of scientists has responsibilities to improve overall understanding of climate change and its impacts. Improvements will come from pursuing the research needed to understand climate change, working with stakeholders to identify relevant information, and conveying understanding clearly and accurately, both to decision makers and to the general public.
The People’s World has obtained internal documents produced by the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council outlining a new ALEC plan to kill clean energy programs across the nation. The operation involves the top U.S. energy companies and hundreds of state lawmakers from one end of the country to the other.
The documents were given to People’s World Aug. 7 by Nick Surgey, director of research for the Center for Media and Democracy. Surgey was one of several leaders of organizations who spoke at a public forum here Wednesday night, just 16 hours before what is expected to be the largest demonstration ever against ALEC, which is celebrating its 40th Anniversary at Chicago’s posh Palmer House Hilton.
Activists, among them hundreds of union members, packed the University Conference Center here last night to hear a variety of speakers including Robert Reiter, secretary treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, which represents some 500,000 workers in northern Illinois.
“It is clear ALEC is working in secret to push state policies in an extreme right direction,” said Reiter, “but the good news is that America’s working families are standing up to this corporate driven agenda. They are no longer getting away with their secrecy. They face big demonstrations now whenever they meet.”
One of the internal ALEC documents is a schedule of unpublicized meetings that ALEC is holding here Thursday, bringing together representatives of top fossil fuel corporations with scores of GOP legislators to fashion a new bill to clean kill clean energy programs.
This schedule is almost completely at variance with the official schedule that ALEC has posted on the Internet and distributed to members showing up at Palmer House for the ALEC conference. The official schedule makes no mention of the planned meeting of representatives of top fossil fuel corporations with scores of GOP legislators to fashion a new bill to kill clean energy programs.
All the internal documents have been stamped with statements saying they are the property of ALEC and cannot be copied or distributed, and that ALEC is not subject to disclosure under any Freedom of Information or Public Records Act. “Its incredible that lobbyists working to win over elected officials who should be accountable to the public could make this kind of claim,” Surgey noted.
The closed-door session on energy are needed, in ALEC’s view, because fossil-fuel backed efforts to eliminate clean energy laws in many states have failed, including this year in Kansas, North Carolina and Missouri.
ALEC’s energy task force director, Todd Winn, has, according to various sources, told Republican legislators gathering here that rolling back renewable energy standards would be a top priority for 2014. One of the bills that will be discussed at today’s closed-door meeting is called the “Electricity Freedom Act.”
Another of ALEC’s “confidential,” but no longer secret, energy bills, the “Market Power Renewable Act,” will also be discussed at that meeting. The Market-Power renewable Act is described by The Center for Media and Democracy and by Common Cause as a “stealth attack” from fossil fuel interests that fund ALEC. It’s real purpose is to weaken laws that have spurred the growth of wind and solar energy projects across the country by allowing fossil fuel utilities to purchase renewable energy credits from outside the state. This would allow large hydropower plants, biomass and biogas into the state’s energy conservation law. The result of passage would be fewer jobs and less clean energy investment in the states in the short term.
It would eliminate the clean energy requirements altogether by 2015.
While the forum of labor and community activists was taking place, corporate lobbyists from BP, Exxon/Mobil; Shell and other energy giants were wining and dining several hundred GOP state lawmakers at a lavish party held “under the stars” at the Chicago Planetarium.
Lawmakers and their families were treated to gourmet meals, champagne, wine, liquor, beer and free peeks into the giant telescope. The press, constituents, voters and anybody else without an invitation were barred.
Corporate members of ALEC, according to another of the internal documents obtained, paid $40,000 apiece to participate this weekend while legislators pay only $100 to become members of ALEC. A recent Common Cause complaint to the IRS notes ALEC pays no taxes on the money it takes in and, in fact, bills the taxpayers for the cost of wining and dining the state legislators.
One of the confidential documents shows that there will be a closed-door session Thursday to churn out a bill that would kill attempts by cities and municipalities to raise the minimum wage. “The idea is to generate state laws that pre-empt towns and cities form passing ordinances that raise the minimum wage,” said Rey Lopez-Calderon, executive director of Common Cause Illinois.
The ALEC bill comes on top of 117 bills introduced this year alone that fuel a race to the bottom in wages, workers rights, according to Reiter of the Chicago Federation of Labor. “We will be having some important street action here in Chicago,” he said, referring to demonstrations planned around the Palmer House this afternoon. “Its not just about union members. ALEC is a threat to the entire 99 percent and that includes not just union members but all workers and it also includes everyone from the homeless on up to well paid doctors and professionals.”
This article was first published in People’s World by John Wojcik.
Kumi Naidoo, who is the current International Executive Director of Greenpeace, answered questions on Reddit yesterday. There were a lot of internet trolls and plenty of downvotes going around. Here are some of the more interesting questions and answers.Who is Kumi Naidoo?
Naidoo has been a political and environmental activist his whole life. Born in South Africa, Naidoo became involved in the country’s liberation struggle at the age of 15. As a result of his anti-apartheid activities, he was expelled from high school. In 1986, Naidoo was arrested and charged for violating the state of emergency regulations. He went underground for one year before finally deciding to live in exile in England. After Nelson Mandela’s release in 1990, Naidoo returned to South Africa where he, among many other things, worked on the legalisation of the African National Congress. From 1998 to 2008, Naidoo was the Secretary General and Chief Executive Officer of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, which is dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. Naidoo has worked for Greenpeace for several years. He was involved in the development of Greenpeace’s work in Africa and became a board member of Greenpeace Africa when it opened offices in Johannesburg and Kinshasa in 2008. But he is probably most known for his recent actions in the Arctic where he climbed an oil rig last August in the Russian Arctic to protest against Gazprom’s plans to drill there. A year before that he was arrested in Greenland and spent 4 days in prison after entering an exclusion zone and scaling an oil rig, operated by Cairn Energy off the coast of Greenland. Naidoo became Greenpeace International Executive Director in 2009.What is Reddit?
Reddit is a social networking and link-sharing site where registered people can submit content, post comments, and vote stories and links up or down to rank the posts after popularity. Reddit consists of a few large “subreddits” such as the politics, aww, and the atheism “subreddit”. Users are also able create their own communities on the site and join other “subreddits” with content they prefer to see. One of the most popular “subreddits” is IAmA (“I am a”) where users prompt others to AMA (“Ask me anything”). For example, both Barack Obama and Jill Stein, who was the Presidential nominee of the Green Party in the 2012 US election, have done AMAs on Reddit in the past.Naidoo’s AMA
Reddit user baghii asked: Hi Kumi, I saw your video about helping to end violence against women, how do women’s rights connect with your work on environmental issues?
Hi Baghii, Even the CIA and Pentagon now accept that the biggest to future peace and security will come from the impacts of climate change. We know that all conflicts affect women and children disproportionately. And it that sense the struggle for climate justice and the struggle for gender justice are intertwined. There are several other examples to. Working for sustainable agriculture in Africa is not possible without taking into account that the majority of African farmers are women.
darkestsideofthemoon asked: While you advocate sustainability and homegrown foods, why not outright veganism or at the least vegetarianism?
At Greenpeace we want the world to switch to ecological farming in order to get out of fossil-energy dependency in agriculture, GE and toxic pesticides while feeding everyone with a healthy diet. We need also to reduce the huge food waste (at least 30% of the food produced in the world never feed anyone) as well as reduce meat (over)consumption especially in continent or countries like north-America and Europe. Obviously vegetarians and vegans should be congratulated for their contribution and more people should also be encouraged to do so. Current meat-eaters should also be encouraged to reduce their meat consumption and shift to meat that is fed with organic products and that guaranty better animal treatment. However, we have also to acknowledge that some animals (raised on pasture) are also required for fertilization of the soil and help with some of the tasks especially as we need to get out of our oil-dependency. You can read our document on ecological livestock here.
Bananamoneyad asked: What is the most effective method of advancing a cause? It seems that you’ve worked for a number of different causes, i.e. anti-apartheid, women’s rights, and now environmental issues. Are protests actually effective, or other methods such as lobbying and communicating directly to the corporate or government level a better use of time?
We always need a toolbox or menu of activism that has several elements. Effective activism is about aligning these different strategies. However, without peaceful civil disobedience I do not think we can push our governments and business leaders to change as fast as the science says we MUST CHANGE.
surfstoked4 asked: What’s the one thing you do consistently (personally) that you feel has a biggest impact on the environment?
Invest and engage with young people because they genuinely “get” climate change and I think it is young people who will save this planet and sadly it is the adult generation that is living with no sense of intergenerational solidarity.
pierluc asked: When I talk to Greenpeace members or employees (I am an ex-one), they often talk about Greenpeace’s victories (obviously). So here’s my question: what do you consider to be Greenpeace’s biggest failure?
Greenpeaces’ biggest failure is that it’s still necessary
No question, Greenpeace as an organization with human beings serving it has made tactical and other errors of judgment over time. However, history has shown that Greenpeace has been at least 20 years ahead of time in terms of raising the alarm on pressing environmental, social and security issues. Different people will answer your question differently. For me the biggest error we made in the early days was not always working in a harmonious partnership with Indigenous peoples and I am pleased that we are building bridges and are working with indigenous peoples who have been the best stewards of the environment historically.
logicop asked: Do you believe reducing human population growth is critical to curbing climate change?
Our planet is reaching various boundaries which cannot be further extended. Reducing population growth will help. But equalizing consumption patterns is equally important. On average it takes about 50 Africans to equal the consumption of only one person in the developed world. Reducing population growth is best served by pushing for gender equality and women’s empowerment. [Editors note: Naidoo’s answer has been changed because he had it backwards. His original comment can be found here.]
BENWILEY4000 asked: What happened in your life that made you want to climb oil rigs and not just sit around like a normal person? p.s. proud member of the greenpeace usa student network here!
I read a Mahatma Gandhi quote as a teenager that said: We shall pass this way but once, any good therefore that we can do, or any kindness we can show, let us do it now. Let us not neglect it or defer it since we might never walk this way again. I have also lost friends and family in the struggle for justice in my own country and elsewhere and their memory inspires me to keep on struggling for environmental and social justice.
I never really wanted to climb an oil rig in the arctic — really not a natural place for a boy from Durban. There are many trite answers all of which are in there way true: for example ‘for evil to triumph all it takes is for good men and women to do nothing”. i paraphrase of course. The insanity of arctic oil drilling cannot go unchallenged. The thought that we would misinterpret the melting of the arctic ice as an invitation to drill and spill rather than a warning to stop burning fossil fuels is a defining moment for our civilization. We need to heed that warning, we need to take action, and we need to say to the oil industry ‘you go no further’.
I grew up under apartheid, inaction was not an option. While times where hard, lives were lost, the cause was just and inspirational. Those memories and the great many friends and inspirations drive me on.
It’s great to hear from a fellow activist and member of our great US student network. It’s important to remember that an activist’s life is not always about sacrifice and hardship, it’s about celebrating life, about collaboration and great friendships that last a life time. And I genuinely believe that activism can be fun and even sexy
Splenda asked: I haven’t seen Greenpeace saying much about global warming’s “new math “–the idea that we can only burn carbon at present rates for less than ten years, and that we must write off 80 percent of fossil fuel reserves completely. Why not?
Global warming’s “new math” makes clear that we simply cannot allow much of the fossil fuel reserves to burn. A report we published this year “The Point of No Return” identified the 14 biggest fossil fuel projects in the world that must be stopped to avoid catastrophic climate change. And that’s why we’re working, alongside many allies, to stop fossil fuel extraction and transport projects like Arctic drilling, tar sands development and the Keystone XL pipeline, and massive coal mining and export proposals in the United States and Australia.
dsfgorg asked: Are you scared at some point that greenpeace will be too big for its own good? With that I mean the massive machinery that needs to operate it with desk-people rather then activists?
Great question and one we constantly ask ourselves. As an organization it is always possible to lose sight of your purpose and get caught up in your own survival, to get caught up in the systems needed keep the organization healthy. Fortunately, we have a great many passionate and involved activists, volunteers and supporters who help us keep it real and maintain the balance. Our staff certainly don’t just sit behind their desks, most of them can’t wait to get out and take action, after they have completed the meticulous research and arrangements to make sure nonviolent direct action happens at the right time, in the right place for the maximum change.
Take a look at our web sites you will see that every day, together with our supporters, we are out in the world taking action for change.
sehric asked: With the increased attention being paid to geoengineering techs (specifically research programs into Solar Radiation Management) at universities and gov agencies in the US, Canada, Europe and China, and the funding coming from folks like Gates Foundation, Exxonmobil, etc, and even inclusion in the new IPCC AR5 draft, isnt it time that civil society engage the public on this?
Climate change is a geoengineering experiment with very frightening consequences. We need to work with nature not against it. We should harness its energy rather than seek to control it. Geoengineering is an extremely dangerous distraction from what we actually need to do to stop runaway climate change. What are the chances that governments will suddenly be strong and brave enough to act on behalf of people and the planet just because some miracle technology emerges? The reality is, we already have the technology to solve the problem—renewable energy like wind and solar, and systems that put people and the environment first.
ggsmith asked: I’ve seen videos of you guys dancing and partying on your yacht and wearing stupid costumes, accosting people on the street. Isn’t that immature? Do you think that stuff is effective?
The video that was done on the Rainbow Warrior to gangnam style was in my judgment a good attempt to take our message of Ocean protection to people who are not thinking about activism or environment but appealing to their own interests. Gangnam style took the world by storm and we were using the video to reach out to the supporters of that. I have learnt that good activism is not about trying to be pious and too serious but connecting to people’s consciousness rather than projecting our consciousness on the people we are trying to mobilize.
agoldwynn asked: How are you thoughts about Greenpeace being considered as the New World Order Propaganda?
Greenpeace was influenced by the quaker movement in since its early days which calls for BEARING WITNESS against injustice. We base all our interventions on objective science and research. Do we occasionally get things wrong? Of course we make mistakes. But we do not engage in conscious misleading of people like some of our governments and businesses often do.
mrdarren asked: Given that we’ve seen recent violence directed towards the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender) community in Russia – apparently condoned by the authorities who have pushed through anti-LGBT legislation – and that this appears to be part of a wider move by the Russian authorities to close down democratic space – a move which has also impinged on the rights of NGOs to act within Russia’s borders to protect Russia’s wider interests – do you, Kumi, who has been active in Russia against the incursions on the Polar region, see linkages between the environmental and social justice movements, especially around the issue of sexual self-expression?
The links between social justice and environmental justice is fundamental and at Greenpeace we have been arguing that there must be a connection between human rights, environmental sustainability and poverty. To try and restrict rights of the LGBT community is fundamentally wrong and I have been personally inspired by the resistance we have seen to these moves and the inspiring solidarity offered by people around the world to those who have been victims of such homophobic interventions, which I consider conscious distractions from the real issues facing Russia and the world.
IrishPidge asked: Greenpeace and most of the broader environmental movement has long been opposed to nuclear fission, for reasons of safety, proliferation, grid integration etc. Any thoughts on what GP’s attitude is likely to be to potential future tech like nuclear fusion? Does any sort of nuclear reaction necessitate a negative response, or do you think changing tech leads to changing attitudes?
Even those who truly believe in nuclear fusion, admit that it will not be available for large scale energy production in the next 50 years or so. Irrespective of the potential dangers that are associated with the technology (there is no knowledge yet on e.g. the amounts of nuclear waste), we do not have the time to wait and see whether this will work or not. We need to shift our energy system to a clean and sustainable one in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and we need to do it now.
We have the solutions to our energy needs now, we have renewable energy sources that will not only meet our needs, and they will fuel economic development and can be deployed in developing countries to help lift whole populations out of poverty. Fusion can’t do that. It can’t do it now. Why would we wait for yet another nuclear promise when we can take a renewable energy guarantee.
The full AMA with all the questions and answers can be found here on Reddit.
Is the polar bear, pictured above, one of the first documented cases of a polar bear dying because of the devastating effects of man-made climate change? Dr Ian Stirling, renowned polar bear expert, thinks so.
A new climate report released yesterday shows that the Arctic lost record amounts of sea ice last year. And this is forcing animals to travel further away from their natural territories in search of food. Especially hard-hit are polar bears who feed almost exclusively on seals which they can only hunt on sea ice. “From his lying position in death the bear appears to simply have starved and died where he dropped,” Stirling said. “He had no external suggestion of any remaining fat, having been reduced to little more than skin and bone.”
The polar bear had in previous years been found and examined in the southern part of Svalbard by scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute. Back then he appeared healthy. But in July, the same polar bear had managed to travel 250 km to the northern parts of Svalbard – an unusual far journey away from its normal hunting grounds. Stirling believes that the lack of ice forced this polar bear to travel this far away in an unsuccessful attempt to search for food.
“The sea ice break up around Svalbard in 2013 was both fast and very early,” Prond Robertson, at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute said. And previous years had been just as bad. “Warm water entered the western fjords in 2005-06 and since then has not shifted,” Robertson said.