Wednesday, 31 October 2012



October 29/30 2012, Hurricane Sandy, a weather system covering over 1000 square miles of the Atlantic Ocean, is busy wreaking havoc across the eastern coasts of North America.
Its size and energy has revealed clearly to the tenants of the ‘millionaire cities’ of the USA and Canada how helpless they are in the face of climatic catastrophe. For example, it is reported that 7.4 million people are without electric power, and 12,000 flights have been cancelled, and all airports closed. In New York, all people have been told by Mayor Bloomberg to stay home! Upstairs!
Its size and energy has shown that rich communities in New York, New Jersey and Washington DC are as subject to storm destruction as the poor villages of Haiti and Cuba.
Its size and energy has restarted the debates in the USA about climate change and global warming.


Global warming and climate change are linked to the pollution of the atmosphere by human action.  Pollutants stop heat escaping from the biosphere, and increase the temperature differences between the tropics and the polar zones, and the upper and lower atmosphere. The greenhouse gas emissions of carbon dioxide from plants and fossil fuels; methane from animals;  chloroflourocarbons, CFCs, from refridgerants; and sulfur dioxide from volcanoes and other sources of geo-thermal energy release excess heat energy into the atmosphere . Atmospheric carbon dioxide comes from the decay of plants, volcanic eruptions, waste products of animal respiration. It is removed by photosynthesis in plants, and dissolved in water. It stays in the atmosphere for 100 years. These emissions are recorded as particles per million: 450ppm is critical, and 600 is catastrophic. This year it has been reported that 400ppm have been found above the Arctic, and that 395ppm will become normal, leading to significant climate change, and weather extremes.
Will it be possible to limit the pollution of the atmosphere by controlling gas emissions from farming, forestry, fisheries, fossil fuels like petroleum and coal and timber? At the moment, by products of farming create a lot of gases and pollutants. For example, many supermarkets and food commodity companies grow foods which are transported by lorries and shipping across the globe all year round.
Extensive attempts have been made to produce bio-ethanol from maize and other crops, and to limit the use of fossil fuels. But these attempts have resulted in increasing competition for land and crops, food and fuel, and water supplies, making the conditions worse in parts of Africa, Brazil. 


At this time, October 2012, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Health Organisation,  the United Nations Environment Programme and other agencies of the United Nations, as well as other environmental groups, have decided to promote sustainable farming by linking what farmers grow with what people eat: sustainable diets.

If many people want to eat meat, then the farmers will rear cattle, sheep, goats, chickens. And the production of methane will increase.

If people want to have milk, cream, yoghurts, then farmers will produce dairy products,
with cows grazing on grasslands creating methane and carbon dioxide.

The evidence is that as communities become wealthier, meat consumption increases, using more resources such as land and water to raise sheep, poultry, cattle.
Ironically, as people become more affluent they adopt poor eating habits such as ‘take-away foods’, ‘fast foods’ leading to poor nutrition, obesity, poor health. The so-called ‘western food model’ with high meat, high salt, high sugar, low fibre, low nutrient content has led to 2 billion people being overweight and obese. The increasing competition for land and crops has resulted in 1 billion people suffering from hunger and malnutrition, and 2 billion showing under nutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies [2011]
While there is no agreement on the nature of sustainable diets, there is agreement that there should be less meat and dairy products, and more vegetables and fruits.
The Mediterranean diet is held up as a model: with olive oil, wine, nuts, fruits, vegetables, pulses, beans, herbs, spices, low fat yoghurts, meats: all locally grown.

It has been realized that farmers produce what they can sell, what people eat. So if we want to alter what is grown on the farm, we have to alter what people eat. When people eat more fruit and vegetables, farmers will grow  more. The argument is that :
Sustainable diets lead to sustainable farming and encourage local foods at local farmers markets.

Current practices which use chemical fertilizers, as part of  industrial scale monocrop  farming, with irrigation  and global transport and international storage, undercut basic natural conditions, including water, soil formation, biodiversity.
Current practices have side effects such as ground water contamination; pollution of surface waters; green house gas emissions; soil erosion, degradation.
Threats to agriculture arise from competition for water; competition for land such as
 bioenergy crops or food crops or expanding cities; and climate change.
Food waste and loss is huge! Globally, 1.3 billion tonnes per year, an estimated one-third of food produced for human consumption, is lost or wasted in storage or transport.
Current practices will have to change.

Sustainable food systems are part of a ‘Green Economy’.
Sustainable diets aim to reduce the impact of food production on resources and the environment by encouraging consumption of foods that require smaller amounts of  resources than others; a plant based diet that enhances the nutrition of diets so that fewer people suffer from diseases, malnutrition, or obesity.

A sustainable diet is one which is good for humans and the eco-sphere both in the present and
the long term and take into account factors such as
environmental: including biodiversity, energy, climate change, water, land use, and
soil preservation;
public health: including food safety, nutrition, equality of access, and waste reduction;
socio-cultural: including acceptability, ethical and moral, identity, information, and
economic: including affordability, accessibility, true price, productivity, efficiency,
employment and waste reduction;
qualitative: including taste, pleasure, appearance, perceived value, freshness, and
These factors are often addressed in food policy and supply practice as separate ‘single issues’ when they need to be viewed coherently, as an integrated policy framework.

The challenge for the twenty-first century is to produce sustainable diets that are
biodiversity-promoting, food-based diets meeting nutrient requirements while conserving and
promoting sustainable ecosystems and human wellbeing, optimizing natural resources and
respecting environment carrying capacity. Sustainable diets require a strong emphasis on local production, distribution and consumption, to reduce embedded energy, while others stress the need to prioritize incomes of farmers, associated workers as well as of the food industry or respecting and protecting cultures of consumers and communities.

In this regard,  the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) of the United Kingdom Government  suggested a new definition of food security in terms of “genuinely sustainable food systems where the core goal is to feed everyone sustainably, equitably and healthily; which addresses needs for availability, affordability and accessibility; which is diverse, ecologically-sound and resilient; which builds the capabilities and skills necessary for future generations” [2009]
According to FAO, sustainable diets are defined as “those diets with low environmental impacts which contribute to food and nutrition security and to healthy life for present and future generations. Sustainable diets are protective and respectful of biodiversity and ecosystems, culturally acceptable, accessible, economically fair and affordable; nutritionally adequate, safe and healthy; while optimizing natural and human resources” (FAO, 2010).

A Green Economy
UNEP defines a green economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. In a green economy, growth in income and employment should be driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource
efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. These investments need to
be catalysed and supported by targeted public expenditure, policy reforms and regulation changes. The development path should maintain, enhance and, where necessary, rebuild natural capital as a critical economic asset and as a source of public benefits, especially for poor people whose livelihoods and security depend on nature. The concept of a “green economy” does not replace sustainable development, but there is now a growing recognition that achieving sustainability rests almost entirely on getting the economy right.

UNEP: Towards a Green Economy, 2011
UNEP: Avoiding Future Famines, 2012
FAO: Sustainability Diets and BioDiversity 2012

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