Changes need to happen to agricultural practices, human consumption habits and forestry management.
OTTAWA — Canada will not be spared the impact of food shortages and price shocks if global warming is not kept below 2 degrees Celsius, a new report on land use and climate change suggests.
The report, released Thursday by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, delivers stark warnings about the need for drastic changes to agricultural practices, human consumption habits and forestry management to prevent an escalation in the climate-change-related floods and forest fires that could lead to a global famine.
The Paris climate change agreement is straining to keep global warming below 2 C and as close to 1.5 C as possible, and Thursday’s report is the third in 10 months to lay bare the consequences if it fails. It also comes a week after the planet experienced its hottest month ever in July, following the warmest April, May and June on record.
Food shocks and disruptions
At warming above 1.5 C, the report predicts periodic food shocks, significant and widespread melting of permafrost and an increase in the length of wildfire seasons.
Above 2 C, there will be sustained disruptions in food supplies all around the world, widespread increases in wildfire damage and detectable losses of soil and vegetation that can be attributed to climate change.
It is projected that for every degree of global warming, the world’s yield of wheat will fall six per cent, corn by 7.4 per cent, and rice and soybeans both by a little more than three per cent each. Together those four crops account for two-thirds of the calories consumed by people, and with the population growing by 80 million people each year on average, the world needs to produce more food, not less.
Werner Kurz, a senior research scientist at Natural Resources Canada and one of two Canadians among 108 scientists who co-authored the report, said he doesn’t think most people understand the magnitude and pace of climate change, but he also said he believes reports like Thursday’s must be used to deliver potential solutions, not just nightmares.
“As scientists we need to be careful in sort of communicating doomsday scenarios because if we create a fearful world, then inaction will be the consequence,” he said. “People will be paralyzed and fearful.
“What instead this report is trying to do — and I hope is successful in achieving — is to, yes, lay out the consequences of inaction, but also then highlight the many opportunities we have for action and the co-benefits this has for livelihoods, for water.”
Kurz said to slow global warming, people need to burn fewer fossil fuels and improve how land is used, so that it not only contributes fewer greenhouse emissions, but also absorbs more of them.
The report suggests agriculture, forestry and other land use activities contributed almost one-quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activity between 2007 and 2016.
That includes changing human diets to be more plant-based and less meat-based, because plant-based proteins require less farmland.
Forests aren’t carbon sinks
It also means diversifying the kinds of trees being planted in forests rather than focusing entirely on coniferous trees, which burn differently than deciduous trees. Using more wood to build things like houses and buildings and replanting with more diverse species can help regenerate forests, which become bigger risks for fires when they are old, he said.
But Kurz, whose job for Natural Resources Canada is to track the contributions forests make to Canada’s emissions, said there is a vicious cycle in play where climate change has made more forests vulnerable to burning, but that burning is then contributing to more climate change.
Catherine Abreu, executive director of the Climate Action Network Canada, said the idea of diversifying forests is critical to improving their management.
“Canadians and Canadian governments tend to think of our forests as carbon sinks rather than sources of emissions, but we know that has been false now for a couple of years,” she said.
Kurz acknowledged that the changes needed likely won’t come easily for many people, but he said understanding the implications of not doing it should help.
“What we need to realize is that how we choose to live will have an impact on future climate.”
The title is Civilization Critical: Energy, Food, Nature, and the Future. The book charts the past, present, and possible futures of our global petro-industrial consumerist civilization. It looks at how we produce our food and how we fuel and provision the incredibly powerful systems of industry. The book includes chapters on energy, the Industrial Revolution, transport, farming, efficiency, and progress.
Most important, Civilization Critical provides a wholly new analysis of our problems and their potential solutions—new ideas about material and energy flows and the structure of global civilization. The book argues that a nineteenth- and twentieth-century transition to linear systems and away from the circular patterns of nature (and of allprevious civilizations) is the foundational error—the underlying problem, the root cause of climate change, resource depletion, oceans full of plastics, and a host of mega-problems now intensifying and merging, with potentially civilization-cracking results.
So? Are we doomed? No. Doom is a choice. One we’re currently making, but there are other options. The book concludes that we face a momentous decision. On the one hand, we possess a profusion of technologies and options that can deliver us from our predicament: solar panels, wind turbines, electric transport, low-emission agriculture, aggressive recycling, increased economic equality and security, and improved systems of governance. On the other hand, we remain committed to increasing consumption and economic growth such that current plans—two to three percent economic growth per year—will cause the global economy to grow eight times larger in the coming century. We possess powerful means of destruction, but also of deliverance. Civilization Critical lays bare our choice, and the very negative or very positive outcomes within our grasp.
Every day, one in nine people around the world go hungry. That’s more than 820 million people who do not have enough food to support a healthy, productive lifestyle – despite the fact that the world produces enough food to feed every single one of us.
On October 16, 1945, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) was established. The organisation’s logo is a blade of wheat and its Latin motto, “fiat panis”, translates to “let there be bread”; an apt representation of the work the FAO has undertaken since its inception, with the lead focus of eliminating world hunger.
For almost four decades, October 16 has been celebrated to raise awareness of the FAO’s main working areas, including building sustainable agriculture and fishery industries, eliminating poverty, implementing inclusive agriculture foundations and the aforementioned goal of reducing, and eventually abolishing malnutrition, food insecurity and hunger.
To mark World Food Day, Al Jazeera looks back at some of our most memorable food-related documentaries, from the celebration of the intrinsically-linked relationship between food and culture to the problems with inflation on the most basic of foodstuffs and the politics of food in the heart of conflict zones.
A Taste of Conflict: The Politics of Food in Jerusalem
South Korea: Kimchi Crazy
Hungry for Change: New York’s Food Insecurity Crisis
“What we need is food grown with care, by and for people who care.”
Jean-Martin Fortier (JM) is a farmer, educator and best-selling author specializing in organic and biologically intensive vegetable production. His award-winning book, The Market Gardener, has inspired hundreds of thousands of readers worldwide to reimagine ecological human-scale food systems. His message is one of empowerment in order to educate, encourage and inspire people into pursuing a farming career and lifestyle.
He his the co-founder, with his wife Maude-Hélène Desroches, of Les jardins de la grelinette, an internationally recognized micro-farm in Southern Quebec known for its high productivity and profitability. Since 2015, he is the farm director at Ferme des Quatre-Temps, an experimental farm in Hemmingford, Quebec. This ambitious project was initiated by a group of philanthropists and practitioners of organic farming with the aim of paving the way towards a more ecological and nourishing food system for Quebec.
As an educator, JM places a strong emphasis on intelligent farm design, appropriate technologies and harnessing the power of soil biology as key components of successful farming. A storyteller who weaves the technical aspects of farming with anecdotes from his farm, he has facilitated hundreds of workshops, seminars and conferences in Canada, Europe, Australia and the United States. His methods and practices are featured in The Market Gardener’s Toolkit, an educational documentary produced by Possible Media, and in The Market Gardener’s Masterclass, an online course for professional growers.
Climate & Capitalism – Eric Holt-Giménez – July 11, 2018
The fragmentation, depolitization, and neoliberal co-optation of the food movement, however, is rapidly changing with the crumbling of progressive neoliberalism. The rise of racial intolerance, xenophobia, and organized violence from the far-right has raised concerns of neofascism, worldwide, and prompted all progressive social movements to dig deeper to fully understand the problems they confront.
Many people in the Global South, especially poor food producers, can’t afford not to understand the economic forces destroying their livelihoods. The rise of today’s international food sovereignty movement, which has also taken root among farmers, farmworkers, and foodworkers in the United States, is part of a long history of resistance to violent, capitalist dispossession and exploitation of land, water, markets, labor, and seeds.
In the Global North, underserved communities of color — historically subjected to waves of colonization, dispossession, exploitation, and discrimination — form the backbone of a food justice movement calling for fair and equitable access to good, healthy food.
Understanding why people of color are twice as likely to suffer from food insecurity and diet-related disease, even though they live in affluent Northern democracies, requires an understanding of the intersection of capitalism and racism. So does understanding why farmers go broke overproducing food in a world where one in seven people are going hungry.
As the middle class in the developed world shrinks, much of the millennial generation, underemployed and saddled with debt, will live shorter lives than their parents, due in large part to the epidemic of diet-related diseases endemic to modern capitalism. The widespread “back to the land” trend is not simply a lifestyle choice, it also responds to shrinking livelihood opportunities.