Agricultural Innovation to Protect the Environment

ID-10032276 (2)Food security, poverty reduction, environmental protection: increasingly the links between these three global challenges are being recognised. And a recent special feature of PNAS, Agricultural Innovation to Protect the Environment, explored this topic.

As the introductory paper by Sayer and Cassman explains, agriculture is increasingly being required to consider its environmental impact along with ways it can increase natural capital. In part this is because an unhealthy environment can limit our ability to produce food but also because the intensification of food production we require to meet future food needs could have irreversible impacts on water resources, the climate and human health.

Innovation and innovativeness are needed if we are to tackle these interacting challenges. In the past the Green Revolution allowed food production to keep pace with population growth and is estimated to have saved 17.9 and 26.7 million hectares of land but it failed to address issues of sustainability and equitability, and the problems we face now are more complex.

New concepts such as eco-efficiency and green growth, and new methods for dealing with uncertainty are being adopted. New technologies such as mobile phones, biotechnology and methane recovery can be both effective and profitable. Advanced technologies in China, for example, could cut N fertilizer-related emissions by 20–63%, amounting to a reduction in China’s total Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2–6%. The challenge is to enhance the process of innovating and ensure existing innovations are accessible to and have impact for those who need them most. [Read more…]

Is Sustainability Still Possible?

Sustainability

Every year the Worldwatch Institute releases their annual State of the World report covering such previous topics as consumerism, climate change and food security.  In 2013, State of the World turns its attention to a popular topic, the concept of sustainability.

The report looks at the definition and use of the word sustainability, whether the concept has outlasted its usefulness and, if not, how we can measure sustainability? Practical approaches and policies for achieving sustainability, including geoengineering and corporate transformation, are investigated along with ways of coping with drastic environmental change and resource depletion, should we fail.

The term “Sustainability” is used frequently in our language today and with a myriad of different meanings, something the President of the Worldwatch Institute, Robert Engelman, calls “Sustainababble”. Its definition, in its original form is “capable of being maintained in existence without interruption or dimunition,” but since the release of the Brundtland Commission’s report in 1987 it has been used to mean ‘green’, ‘environmentally friendly’ or just ‘slightly less damaging than the conventional alternative’. The fear is that overuse of this term will result in the loss of meaning and impact, as well as an acceptance that if something is said to be ‘sustainable’ then it must be implicitly good. But good for what?

As we know the human population has surpassed a size and lifestyle that fits within environmental planetary boundaries. We consume more than Earth can provide. The new State of the World report asks the questions, have we gone so far that recovery is impossible and is it too late to change our future? “Has humanity already overshot the carrying capacity of the Earth so badly that we are doomed to a horrible crash after oil, or freshwater, or topsoil, or fish, or the ozone layer, or many other things –after one or all of them run out?” [Read more…]