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Global food system crisis

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Paul West of the Global Landscapes Initiative at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment tackles humankind’s toughest question: “How do we sustainably feed an ever-increasing population?

Today, over a billion people are malnourished and another billion are overweight. The current agricultural system is failing two of every seven people on the planet. And the current trends—population growth, more people eating meat, and more crops being used for fuel—are only increasing stresses on the food system.

We need to double crop production by 2050 to meet these growing needs. A changing climate only adds to the challenges. We clearly need new approaches for meeting people’s needs both now and in the future.

Agriculture and greenhouse gases

Agriculture accounts for nearly a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. By far, the biggest source is deforestation—particularly in the tropics— to expand croplands and pastures. When forests are cleared and burned, the carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

Agricultural expansion is most rapid in the tropics, where lush forests typically store more than double the amount of carbon as similar areas of forest in more temperate parts of the world. The next biggest sources of greenhouse gases from agriculture are methane from rice and cattle production, and nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer.

Fortunately, emissions from these big sources can be greatly reduced. Programmes like Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) provide incentives for conserving forests. But these programmes will only reduce the need for food if yields are increased on existing agricultural lands.

Our team estimated that we could increase crop production by 58% on existing lands by closing the yield gaps through improved fertiliser and water management. Recent reports suggest that the most practical means for reducing methane emissions is to occasionally dry out rice fields that are normally permanently flooded.

Nitrous oxide emissions are about 1% of nitrogen applied as fertilizer and manure. Although emission will always exist—nitrogen is vital to plant growth—they can be reduced through more efficient application rates, timing and the form of nitrogen used.

In the long-term, nitrous oxide emissions could be reduced by breeding crop varieties to use nitrogen more efficiently. Most crops currently use less than 50% of the applied nutrients. In the case of nitrogen, excess fertilizer rapidly leaches out of the soil, which is both inefficient and causes water pollution in local streams and lakes as well as downstream coastal areas.

Video: The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment is discovering solutions to Earth’s biggest problems, including the big question of how are we going to feed a growing world without destroying the planet?

Targeting investments

Tremendous change can happen in the short-term. The key is to focus those regions that suffer high rates of hunger and malnutrition but offer superior potential to increase yields by changes in management of the soil nutrients and water. Such an approach makes it possible to help those in need not only in the short-term but also in the long-term through increased self-sufficiency.

Food availability in these regions could also be increased by using what we produce more efficiently. Currently, 30-40% of food is wasted. In developing countries, the loss is usually caused by spoilage during transportation or storage. In industrialized nations, wastage occurs further down the supply chain—in the food industry, in grocery stores and in our refrigerators.

Although the payoff is not immediate, we also need to invest in improving several staple crops in the developing world, such as cassava, sweet potato and millet. The current emphasis for improvement is on crops like maize and soybeans, where the greatest yield gains have been in industrialised countries for use as animal feed.

Improvements in seed quality will certainly be beneficial, but genetic improvements alone will likely not solve our problems. Many gains in resource efficiency and improved nutrition will need to happen through changes in farm management, crop selection and our diets.

Big opportunities, difficult changes

As developing countries increase their wealth, many more people add meat to their plates. We already use 40% of the world’s crop production to feed animals. Eating less meat offers one of the biggest opportunities for increasing food availability. Why? It takes a great deal of calories to produce meat.

Between 30-40 calories of feed are needed to produce a calorie of boneless beef. Other meats, such as poultry and pork are more much more efficient, but still not one calorie in, one calorie out. Small changes go a long way; eating one less portion of beef a week reduces greenhouse gases more than buying only local food all year round.

Rallying the troops

Meeting the needs of our current and future population in a sustainable way is likely humanity’s greatest challenge. In over 10,000 years of farming, we’ve learned how to produce food at current levels. And now we need to double production within the next 40 years. That’s a staggering task ahead of us, but one that we can meet. We simply have to.

Archimedes said, “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I can move the world.” We stand here now with five big levers with which to double food production and halve environmental impact: increasing yields on current croplands, halting tropical deforestation, using fertilizers and water more efficiently, reducing waste, and eating less meat.

Governments, corporations and non-profit groups are dedicating more resources to these issues. By concentrating those five big levers on crops and areas that offer the best chance to improve production and benefit the environment is the most effective path forward.

Further reading:

Climate-smart agriculture: responding to the challenge

Global biodiversity conservation is “necessary for lasting economic development”

Seven billion reasons to consider our ethical and environmental impact

The role of agriculture in promoting a sustainable economy

Paul West is an ecologist finding ways to feed the future while sustaining our planet. Through his job as chief collaboration officer at UMN’s Institute on the Environment, he works to get science out of the ivory tower and into the hands of people affecting change on the ground. Follow him on twitter @coolfireconserv.

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Ways Green Preppers Are Trying to Protect their Privacy

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Environmental activists are not given the admiration that they deserve. A recent poll by Gallup found that a whopping 32% of Americans still doubt the existence of global warming. The government’s attitude is even worse.

Many global warming activists and green preppers have raised the alarm bell on climate change over the past few years. Government officials have taken notice and begun tracking their activity online. Even former National Guard officers have admitted that green preppers and climate activists are being targeted for terrorist watchlists.

Of course, the extent of their surveillance depends on the context of activism. People that make benign claims about climate change are unlikely to end up on a watchlist, although it is possible if they make allusions to their disdain of the government. However, even the most pacifistic and well intentioned environmental activists may unwittingly trigger some algorithm and be on the wrong side of a criminal investigation.

How could something like this happen? Here are some possibilities:

  • They could share a post on social media from a climate extremist group or another individual on the climate watchlist.
  • They could overly politicize their social media content, such as being highly critical of the president.
  • They could use figures of speech that may be misinterpreted as threats.
  • They might praise the goals of a climate change extremist organization that as previously resorted to violence, even if they don’t condone the actual means.

Preppers and environmental activists must do everything in their power to protect their privacy. Failing to do so could cost them their reputation, future career opportunities or even their freedom. Here are some ways that they are contacting themselves.

Living Off the Grid and Only Venturing to Civilization for Online Use

The more digital footprints you leave behind, the greater attention you draw. People that hold controversial views on environmentalism or doomsday prepping must minimize their digital paper trail.

Living off the grid is probably the best way to protect your privacy. You can make occasional trips to town to use the Wi-Fi and stock up on supplies.

Know the Surveillance Policies of Public Wi-Fi Providers

Using Wi-Fi away from your home can be a good way to protect your privacy.However, choosing the right public Wi-Fi providers is going to be very important.

Keep in mind that some corporate coffee shops such a Starbucks can store tapes for up to 60 days. Mom and pop businesses don’t have the technology nor the interest to store them that long. They generally store tips for only 24 hours and delete them afterwards. This gives you a good window of opportunity to post your thoughts on climate change without being detected.

Always use a VPN with a No Logging Policy

Using a VPN is one of the best ways to protect your online privacy. However, some of these providers do a much better job than others. What is a VPN and what should you look for when choosing one? Here are some things to look for when making a selection:

  • Make sure they are based in a country that has strict laws on protecting user privacy. VPNs that are based out of Switzerland, Panama for the British Virgin Islands are always good bets.
  • Look for VPN that has a strict no logging policy. Some VPNs will actually track the websites that you visit, which almost entirely defeats the purpose. Most obviously much better than this, but many also track Your connections and logging data. You want to use a VPN that doesn’t keep any logs at all.
  • Try to choose a VPN that has an Internet kill switch. This means that all content will stop serving if your VPN connection drops, which prevents your personal data from leaking out of the VPN tunnel.

You will be much safer if you use a high-quality VPN consistently, especially if you have controversial views on climate related issues or doomsday prepping.

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How Going Green Can Save Your Business Thousands

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Running a company isn’t easy. From reporting wages in an efficient way to meeting deadlines and targets, there’s always something to think about – with green business ideas giving entrepreneurs something extra to ponder. While environmental issues may not be at the forefront of your mind right now, it could save your business thousands, so let’s delve deeper into this issue.

Small waste adds up over time

A computer left on overnight might not seem like the end of the world, right? Sure, it’s a rather minor issue compared to losing a client or being refused a loan – but small waste adds up over time. Conserving energy is an effective money saver, so to hold onto that hard-earned cash, try to:

  • Turn all electrical gadgets off at the socket rather than leaving them on standby as the latter can crank up your energy bill without you even realizing.
  • Switch all lights off when you exit a room and try switching to halogen incandescent light bulbs, compact fluorescent lamps or light emitting diodes as these can use up to 80 per cent less energy than traditional incandescent and are therefore more efficient.
  • Replace outdated appliances with their greener counterparts. Energy Star appliances have labels which help you to understand their energy requirements over time.
  • Draught-proof your premises as sealing up leaks could slash your energy bills by 30 per cent.

Going electronic has significant benefits

If you don’t want to be buried under a mountain of paperwork, why not opt for digital documents instead of printing everything out? Not only will this save a lot of money on paper and ink but it will also conserve energy and help protect the planet. You may even be entitled to one of the many tax breaks and grants issued to organizations committed to achieving their environmental goals. This is particularly good news for start-ups with limited funds as the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is keen to support companies opening up their company in a green manner.

Of course, if you’re used to handing out brochures and leaflets at every company meeting or printing out newsletters whenever you get the chance, going electronic may be a challenge – but here are some things you can try:

  • Using PowerPoint presentations not printouts
  • Communicating via instant messenger apps or email
  • Using financial software to manage your books
  • Downloading accounting software to keep track of figures
  • Arranging digital feedback and review forms
  • Making the most of Google Docs

Going green can help you to make money too

Going green and environmental stability is big news at the moment with many companies doing their bit for the environment. While implementing eco-friendly strategies will certainly save you money, reducing your carbon footprint could also make you a few bucks too. How? Well, consumers care about what brands are doing more than ever before, with many deliberately siding with those who are implementing green policies. Essentially, doing your bit for the environment is a PR dream as it allows you to talk about what everyone wants to hear.

Going green can certainly save your money but it should also improve your reputation too and give you a platform to promote your business.

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