“We must be clear about our agenda, which includes promoting sustainable, local economies, reforming our food systems, distributing resources in a more just and humane fashion, and ensuring that our human populations are below the carrying capacity of our planet through access to voluntary birth control, and equal access to education and work for women. “ Pagan Statement on the Environment (http://ecopagan.com/) (Emphasis mine)
Today I want to talk about the second Sustainable Development Goal, as put forward by the UN: Zero Hunger. There is quite a bit to discuss here, and inevitably I am not going to be able to cover every aspect that goes into this. There is so much data and information, and so much to say on this topic. Many others have said it way better than I can. There are some great resources out there in internet land, and I encourage you to seek those out. This is a collective effort after all.
Before I get into the real meat of this post, there are a few notes I want to put out there before we go deeper. As is pointed out in the quote at the beginning of this post, these issues are all intertwined. Sometimes it is hard to separate all these different topics and discuss them discretely. These are holistic topics, and one often informs all the others. I think that is a good thing in the long run. It just means we have a lot of work to do.
Just as an example, you will notice that both population and food systems are mentioned in the opening quote, as well as women’s rights. Population and agriculture especially are very much intertwined, especially since the industrial revolution. Agriculture alone gave us the option to reliably sustain a stable population. But even so, the total population of the world has exploded since the industrial revolution.
One of the biggest things we can do is to help is stabilize our population growth, in addition to ensuring everyone has enough to eat. While these issues will be discussed more in future posts, one example covered above is providing access to universal voluntary birth control.
This alone has all kinds of issues with it, because more people means more mouths to feed and more resource use. But, population alone doesn’t tell the whole story. As the article linked points outs;
“Citizens of more affluent nations leave a much greater footprint on our planet than people living in poorer countries – although there are exceptions. Copenhagen is the capital of a high-income nation – Denmark “ – BBC
That means those of us in the US. We have a huge footprint compared to many other people across the globe. That will have to change, but that is a topic for another time. As the UN has pointed out, we could be pushing 10 billion people on the planet by mid century, and that means we are going to have to face the challenges created by that.
There are a lot of facets to this, which I will cover in later parts of this series. For the purpose of this post, we have to figure out how to feed our current population with sustainable food system, as well as plan for the future as well. With guidance from the Sustainable Development Goals, social democracy, and Drawdown, we can start to see how we might handle these challenges.
Sustainable Development Goals;
I encourage you to visit the UN site about these goals linked below. There is much more there than I have the space to cover here. But as a brief selection, the SDG’s provide this general outline on how to shape a world that does not have to worry about hunger.
“ – By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round
– By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women and older persons
– By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment
– By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality”
The SDG’s are often considered to be very ambitious, and it certainly is a possibility that we may not be able to reach these goals. But having a goal to shoot towards I think is just as important as whether or not we succeed or fail. It means we are trying, and that counts in my book.
Most of these goals speak for themselves, and will require a great variety of local, regional and global policy to meet. They will require a hard look at ourselves, and a lot of global cooperation. The first two goals are pretty straight forward, make sure all people are fed; especially marginalized or impoverished people as well as children. Malnutrition is a huge problem, because it stunts growth, and also is a big problem for pregnant women as well.
The third and fourth goals are more relevant to our purpose here, and more directly applicable through the solutions proposed by Drawdown. Under current projections our population is expected to grow, and we will need to be able to feed that population across the globe. While I think it is just as important that we stabilize our population growth, we also have provide for the needs of the people. The third goal really centers the importance of small-scale producers, which are often women and indigenous people. Their skills and knowledge in sustainable agriculture are necessary and important for a sustainable food system.
The fourth goal above is an important one, and can be addressed with some of the solutions from both social democracy as well as Drawdown. Let’s explore those ideas in a little more depth shall we.
“Combined, the Nordic countries were the 6th largest donor to WFP in 2014 and among WFP’s top multilateral donors. “ – UN World Food Program
The Nordic countries are doing their part to alleviate world hunger, but this is not the whole story to be sure. Just as an example , the USA is the single largest donor. This kind of funding goes into feeding people across the world, especially in low-income countries in the global South. It is also noteworthy that the World Food Program has a office in Copenhagen, which has been ranked as one of the greenest cities in the world. That is surely a model worth exploring.
Such efforts are important and should be encouraged, but there is a lot more work to be done. Just as an example, overall the USA lags well behind the Nordic countries and Europe.
“Based on the data available, though, the report finds that Scandinavian countries — Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland — win the honors. Sweden was already “84.5 percent of the way to the best possible outcome across the 17 [Sustainable Development Goals],” the report found, ranking number one in the world – and receiving a corresponding score of 84.5. The other three Scandinavian nations then filled out the top four slots, followed by many European nations. “ (Washington Post )
The Nordic countries in particular, and Europe more generally are well ahead of the curve on building a less hungry and more sustainable world. How did the US fair?
“The United States, in contrast, ranked 25th, with a score of 72.7. It fared considerably worse than a comparable neighbor, Canada, which ranked 13th, with a score of 76.8. “ (Washington Post )
The logical follow up question is why?
“These poor rankings were doled out because (among other things) the U.S. has too many people below the poverty line, too much adult obesity, too little renewable energy, too many homicides and people in prison, and so on and so on
the poor score of the United States underscores that while we’ve done exceedingly well economically, we’ve neglected the social and the environmental dimensions of progress — issues ranging from equality to ecosystem preservation.” (Washington Post )
Right there gets at the real heart of the matter. While the USA is a powerhouse of an economy, and the largest military in the world, we are behind the ball in many important measures. We are not doing nearly enough as a country to take care of our poor, our hungry, and to provide access to nutritional food either. We have not had a great record so far on social or environmental issues, and there is certainly a lot of room for improvement.
Let’s look at some specific solutions that not only help to alleviate hunger, but also go a long way to fighting climate change and create sustainable food systems.
The applications for Drawdown here are immense, because we need a radical change in our food systems, not only to combat hunger, but also to live sustainably. Pretty much the entire “Food” sector could apply here. As such, I am limiting myself to the some of the most impactful solutions.
Reduced Food Waste
#3 Solution 70.53 gigatons CO2 reduction by 2050
A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions… Beyond addressing emissions, these efforts can also help to meet future food demand.”
Especially in the US, we throw out a ridiculous amount of food. As the above quote points out, this is a waste in a whole lot of ways, of time as well as energy. Plus, in many cases, perfectly good food is thrown out, food that could just benefit some of our most vulnerable. In addition to contributing to climate change, reduction of food waste could go a long way into combating hunger as well. As the page on Drawdown points out, there is a lot of nuance in why food goes to waste. We need to take a hard look at these aspects and see where we can do better.
Plant Rich Diets
#4 Solution 66.11 gigatons C02 reduction by 2050
“Shifting to a diet rich in plants is a demand-side solution to global warming that runs counter to the meat-centric Western diet on the rise globally. That diet comes with a steep climate price tag: one-fifth of global emissions. If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.”
There is no real getting around this one. How we raise and tend our livestock in industrial factory farms is absurd, from just about every level you can think of. CAFOs are often inhumane, and contribute huge amounts of emissions and pollution. I can’t go into all that here, but suffice to say there is a quite a bit of work to be done.
I’m not advocating veganism or vegetarianism here, though these are noble goals to be sure. I’ll confess straight out that I’m a happy little omnivore. That being said, my family is doing all we can to eat less meat, and that is a start.
#11 Solution 23.15 gigatons C02 Reduction by 2050
“Conventional wisdom has long held that the world cannot be fed without chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. Evidence points to a new wisdom: The world cannot be fed unless the soil is fed. Regenerative agriculture enhances and sustains the health of the soil by restoring its carbon content, which in turn improves productivity—just the opposite of conventional agriculture. “
There is so much that could be said here, and alas I don’t have the space to detail all of it here. There are so many ideas and options out there that we seriously need to explore, of which Regenerative Agriculture is just one. It is vitally important to our environment and our water ways that we reduce synthetic chemical and fertilizer use. Such chemicals often leads to toxic algae blooms, and the declining health of our water systems.
#16 Solution 17.35 Gigatons of C02 reduction by 2050
“Plows are absent on farms practicing conservation agriculture, and for good reason. When farmers till their fields to destroy weeds and fold in fertilizer, water in the freshly turned soil evaporates. Soil itself can be blown or washed away and carbon held within it released into the atmosphere. Tilling can make a field nutrient poor and less life-giving.”
Large mechanized industrial farm systems have really done their fair share of damage, and it is well past time we start rethinking those methods. So much harm to our environment can be prevented if we change how we do so many things, agriculture is just one. Conservation Agriculture spares the plow, and in that way protects the health of both the soil as well as increasing resiliency.
#17 Solution 17.2 gigatons of C02 reduction by 2050
“Plowed under during the twentieth century to make room for industrialized methods of farming, tree intercropping is one of dozens of techniques that can create an agricultural renaissance—a transformation of food-growing practices that bring people, regeneration, and abundance back to the land. “
It should go without saying that planting and growing more trees will help in the work ahead. Trees are often removed on farmland, and agriculture since it’s invention is responsible for mass deforestation. Bringing back some of those trees can help by creating carbon sinks, wind breaks, and overall benefits to the health of the soil.
There is so much more I could talk about; composting, permaculture, urban forests, urban gardens, the whole works. Sadly, this piece is already longer than I had expected. As such I will wrap this up and I hope you join me next time when we explore the third goal; Good Health & Well-Being.
As always, thanks for reading!