Freak Storms, De Blasio, and the Food-Climate Issue in NYC

Typhoon Haiyan and the increasing occurrence of other extreme weather phenomena in recent years are evidence of the impact human activity has on the climate [see IPCC report]. This underscores the dire need for collective global action to slow and even reverse climate change. Incidentally, delegates from around the world are meeting in Warsaw this week for COP19, the main UN climate change conference of 2013; the destructiveness of Haiyan underscores the importance of these talks.

But if past climate talks are any indicator of the progress we can expect out of Warsaw, then prepare to be underwhelmed. One problem with these talks is that nations tend to be unwilling to compromise their economic growth (or the business interests of their companies) for climate mitigation, even though climate change will put an immense strain on future economic activity and cost more to mitigate down the road. In other words, nations are willing to pursue short-term gains, even if it means jeoporizing the well-being of their future economy and the future world in general.

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Yes, Sustainability is Still Possible

Worldwatch institute raises the relevant yet startling question in the subtitle of this year’s State of the World Report (2013) “Is Sustainability Still Possible?” In the first chapter of the report, Robert Engelman calls attention to the many uses and abuses of the term ‘sustainable development,’ questioning the extent to which human activities could truly be considered sustainable in terms of the commonly agreed upon definition that came out of the UN’s Brundtland Report of 1987: sustainable development “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.”

If one used this definition as the litmus test for true sustainability both in developing and developed countries, one might find that most economic activities commonly considered to be sustainable are not so green – in fact, one would probably find that the environmental footprint of even the most ecologically-minded of us in the developed world is far from sustainable as a global model.

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Meat and Development in Liberia

Originally posted on Brighter Green

Meat consumption correlates with income; poorer individuals and countries tend to consume less than their wealthier counterparts. This applies to Liberia, one of the poorest nations in the world, which has an annual per capita income of about 374 dollars and an annual per capita meat consumption of about 10.4 kilograms/kg (22.9 pounds/lbs).

Three decades ago Liberia was one of the more prosperous nations in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the violent, fourteen year civil war (1989 to 2003) devastated the country in countless ways; it claimed 250,000 lives, displaced over 600,000 people, demolished infrastructure, and ravaged the economy.

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Livestock Intensification as a Misguided Response to Liberia’s Food Woes

Originally posted on Brighter Green

Like much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Liberia struggles with malnutrition and food insecurity. While finding solutions to these problems is a major developmental goal for the country, unfortunately, the government and its international partners’ response has included a strong emphasis on livestock production. This is problematic given the negative impacts animal agriculture has in terms of sustainability, food security, climate change, and animal welfare.

The problems of malnutrition and food insecurity in Liberia are quite distinct from those of East Africa, where there have been repeated climate change-related droughts in recent years. At the height of the 2011 food crisis in the Horn of Africa, 13.5 million people were facing food shortages and 3.2 million were on the brink of starvation due to a lack of food and water. Liberia, on the other hand, gets plenty of rain – in fact, during the wet season the rain can be too abundant for certain crops to thrive (the capital, Monrovia, can get up to 5,000 millimeters of precipitation annually). In the lush tropical climate of equatorial West Africa, where banana, palm nut, and mangoes grow everywhere, Liberians may not be starving, but many are not eating as much as they would like to eat and even more are lacking in certain key nutrients such as protein, iron, and vitamin A.

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Preventing a Livestock Revolution in Liberia: The Need for a New International Vision

Originally posted on Brighter Green

In Liberia, the FAO has been involved in a number of poultry projects for both broilers and laying hens. It has constructed three factory farm style operations in the interior of the country to train locals in “modern and intensive poultry production and management practices.” It has also teamed up with the Ministries of Gender and Agriculture under the Joint Program on Food Security and Nutrition to construct ten other poultry houses throughout the country. None of these operations house much more than 1,000 birds, though they are set up like intensive factory farms and provide a model for future operations, which will surely increase in size and numbers as the country develops. So in short, the FAO — which outlined the heavy environmental impacts of the global livestock sector in the widely cited report Livestock’s Long Shadow — is now encouraging the future development of factory farming in Liberia.

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More on Livestock and Food Price Volatility

It is not difficult to understand that higher world food prices exacerbate food insecurity since it means that the world’s poor are able to buy even less food (roughly 1 billion people live on less than $1.25/day). The more complex question relates to the source of elevated food prices. Although biofuel production and agricultural speculation from the largest agricultural trading companies (ADM, Bunge, Cargill, and Louis Dreyfus) get a lot of attention, livestock production is perhaps the most significant factor, since producing animal-based foods requires that large amounts of agricultural land be used to produce feed, such as corn and soy, that is inefficiently cycled through animals to produce calories rather than being used to cultivate food for direct human consumption.

A 2011 report entitled “Price volatility and food security” by the Committe on Food Security - an intergovernmental organization within the UN system - recognizes the heavy impact of the livestock sector on food security, stating: Continue reading

How should animal welfare factor into dietary choices?

Admittedly, not much of the blog posts below have focused directly on animal welfare issues. While humans have a clear interest in mitigating many of the negative impacts associated with livestock — global warming,  pollution of air and water, massive consumption of land, grain, and fresh water, and chronic diet-related health problems — the welfare of farm animals does not directly threaten humans. Arguments against the intensive confinement of farm animals primarily center around pollution, antibiotic resistance, risk of super-viruses such as H1N1 that originate in livestock, and even the decline of the family farm in the age of vertically-integrated livestock corporations, though animal welfare is often only a secondary or non-existent consideration.

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