Climate change is so unfair to us. It already contributes massively to global food insecurity with killer droughts, awful floods, and downright disgusting insect outbreaks. Doesn’t climate change know that the planet’s population is going to balloon in the next 40 years? Doesn’t it realize we’re going to have to figure out how to feed way more people with diminishing resources?
And, as if that wasn’t enough, the agricultural practices we currently have in place only make climate change stronger and more unpleasant. (Methane, the stuff that comes out of the world’s 1.3 billion cows, is a much more destructive greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide that comes out of cars.) It’s the worst kind of feedback effect: As we increase food production to feed everyone, we are also killing off our means of doing so for all the future humans.
Cue the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, an independent team of scientific leaders from 13 countries, including the US. The commission recently released a large and thorough set of recommendations for policy makers on how to address food insecurity without killing the planet. And there’s reason to hope, if not believe, that this grand scheme is actually doable.
The meat of the report is heady stuff, spanning everything from practical changes in farming practices to global dietary transformation. To achieve such a massive objective, governments are going to have to commit to this crazy self-preservation thing. Industry, across every sector, is going to need to get involved. It’s all about coordination, and the report outlines who has to do what and how (PDF).
Some of the recommendations feel like common sense but require significant financial investment. For example: sustainably increasing the farming capacity on existing agricultural land, eliminating damaging farming practices that waste natural resources and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, and encouraging eating habits that won’t eventually kill you and the planet. But this is not new information. Numerous studies have focused on agriculture and climate change but have failed to produce any policy changes on the ground. The Commission’s job was to comb through already existing data and use it as evidence to support their recommendations.
If you’re in a rush or aren’t the “reading type”, you can watch this slick video instead
A recent book by Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and International Livestock Research Institute also outlines how simple policy streamlining and old-school social networking can create significant change, which could help with the implementation.
With a reasonable amount of commitment and a detailed road map we can put climate change in the shame corner with the funny hat and get on with our earth-bound lives. Of course, there’s no way to enforce these recommendations, and the costs are huge. But, as is always the case with systems as massive as the climate and the food supply, the longer-term costs of not acting to make food sustainable are bigger. And barring some magic technological breakthrough, they won’t be getting any smaller.
It comes down to this: We either choose to work on new ways to keep making and eating food now, or we’re forced to do so in the future by the mess we’ve made. And there won’t be a nice guidebook for that.