Environment Forum

Some good news for a thirsty world

Amid the worry about water and food scarcity, some hints of good news: a five-year, 30-nation analysis suggests there might be enough water – and therefore enough food — for Earth’s hungriest and thirstiest as the human population heads toward the 9 billion mark sometime around mid-century.

Anxiety about food and water supplies stems in part from the effects of climate change, with its projected rise in droughts, wildfires, floods and other events that cut down on food production. Another factor is the increase in population, much of it grouped around water sources in the developing world. But water experts said at a conference this week in Brazil that there could be plenty of water over the coming decades if those upstream collaborate with those downstream and use water more efficiently.

The leader of the study, Simon Cook of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, said this is actually possible. And he said it wouldn’t require the repeal of the more selfish impulses of human nature.

Citing an article in Harvard Business Review, Cook said, “It’s not necessarily human to be totally individualistic. There’s substantial evidence that people can collaborate.”

In fact, Cook said, this kind of discussion between upstreamers and downstreamers — the ones most likely to be at odds over how water should be used — is already taking place. There is evidence that China’s involved in a project to enable hydropower development along the Mekong River, one of several huge river basins examined in the water study. “They’re actually engaged in dialog with the people who will be affected by it” in Laos, Cook said, with a bit of wonder in his voice. “So there are some glimmers of hope.”

It’s not just fancy. It’s green.

When munching on a sumptuous spread of white truffles, sampling almonds tucked into syrupy preserved figs or chomping on a cigar-sized chunky chocolate bar, do you ever wonder about these luxury foods’ environmental impact?

Apparently lots of consumers do — enough that organic, sustainable and otherwise “green” foods are proliferating at this year’s Fancy Food Show.

Usually held in New York City, the trade show for artisanal, niche and rare comestibles was moved this year to Washington D.C. The U.S. capital’s convention center, which next month will host robotic weapons systems, is the current home to literally thousands of food stalls promoting their wares to the trade. Even if environmental stewardship is not paramount for some companies, many offer at least some products with green cred, since this is what wholesale buyers and their customers demand, according to Louise Kramer, communications director for the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade.

Genetically engineered fish, anyone?

Would you eat a genetically modified fish? What about pork from a pig with mouse genes? Beef from cattle with genes spliced to resist “mad cow” disease?

CHILE-SALMON/CRISISThese are questions Americans may soon have to answer for themselves if the U.S. health regulators allow the sale of a genetically engineered salmon. The company that makes it, Aqua Bounty Technologies Inc <ABTX.L>, expects an agency decision by year’s end.

The biotech says its Atlantic salmon grows nearly twice as fast as normal salmon and could help Americans get more locally farmed fish. That could cut down on U.S. imports of roughly $1.4 billion a year in Atlantic salmon from other countries such as Chile while also easing pressure on wild Atlantic salmon in the nation’s Northeast.

Grass-fed beef packs a punch to environment

USA

First it was slow. Then local, then organic. Now it is firmly grass-fed.

As a rare geophysicist studying diet’s environmental consequences, I am asked daily by my colleagues – a bit bemused by my new field yet quantitatively astute and environmentally concerned – about the latest claim made about impacts of food production on the physical environment.

In this role, I get to keep a sensitive finger on the envirofood pulse. Unambiguously, grass-fed beef is all the rage now. Even the New York Times Op-Ed page featured a recent piece extolling the virtues of grazing cattle.

Depending on your guiding environmental objectives, grass-fed beef may indeed be the greatest thing since Guns n’ Roses or the environmental equivalent of entrusting former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with military preparedness.

from India Insight:

Why let a debate determine the fate of GM foods?

Students hold a mock funeral procession against genetically modified brinjal crop in Chandigarh January 28, 2010. REUTERS/Ajay VermaThere's nothing Indians like better than a good debate.

So when Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh announced last month that he would hold public debates to decide the commercial fate of genetically modified brinjal (eggplant), there were hopes these would provide a chance for all stakeholders to be heard.

But the debates, in seven cities including Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bengaluru, were chaotic, nothing more than acrimonious shouting matches between environmental activists and scientists, who say they were not given a fair chance to voice their opinion.

One scientist said he had his hand raised for more than half an hour, but was not allowed to speak. Another said he was told he could make a presentation, but was again not allowed to. Others were not even permitted to enter the premises.

New world wines: now from the north

global_post_logo This article by Paul Ames originally appeared in GlobalPost.

The terrace of the elegant 18th-century chateau offers views over the formal French garden and fields filled with neat rows of vines.

This idyllic scene could be reminiscent of Bordeaux or the Cotes du Rhone … were it not for all the snow.

Wijnkasteel Genoels-Elderen is the biggest and best-known vineyard in Belgium. It is one of a growing number of wineries taking root in parts of northern Europe once considered too chilly to produce drinkable wine.

from The Great Debate UK:

Farming battles and the future of food

Everybody wants to end hunger, but just how to do so is a divisive question that pits environmentalists against anti-poverty campaigners, big business against consumers and rich countries against poor.

The Food Chain Campaign is not about becoming vegetarian, say the Friends of the Earth, it is about putting pressure on the government to mitigate the damaging impact of meat and dairy production on the environment.

"The meat and dairy industry produces more climate-changing emissions than all the planes, cars and lorries on the planet," argues the group. "A hidden chain links animals in British factory farms to rainforest destruction in South America."

Tasty find for Russian researchers in Alaska

You have to be creative when you’re a Russian scientist, bad weather is preventing your research ship from picking you up for your expedition and you’ve got time to kill in Nome, Alaska.

Such was the case for a group waiting to begin a joint mission with U.S. researchers in the Bering Sea in late August.

But a side trip into the rolling, lichen-covered hills around Nome, the one-time gold rush town on the Alaskan coast, proved to be more than worth their while for the prize they stumbled upon — mushrooms.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and the melting glaciers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If Pakistan is to dig itself out of its current crisis it needs two things to happen.  It needs strong economic growth to tackle poverty and undercut the appeal of hardline Islamists; and it needs peace with India if it is to permanently cut its ties with militants it has traditionally seen as a reserve force to be used against its much bigger neighbour.  Or so goes the prevailing view.

This week's United Nations report on pollution in Asia -- and the melting of glaciers which feed the rivers of India and Pakistan -- suggest there are serious risks to that scenario of an ultimately prosperous Pakistan at peace with its neighbours. In other words, can it achieve the economic growth it needs without worsening pollution further? And can it make peace with India if the two countries end up at loggerheads over dwindling supplies of water?

According to the U.N. report (see full pdf document here), thick clouds of brown soot and other pollutants are hanging over Asia, darkening cities, disrupting the monsoon and accelerating the melting of the mountain glaciers. These atmospheric brown clouds exacerbate the effect of global warming by depositing soot on the glaciers, which captures more solar heat than white snow and ice. "If the current rate of retreat continues unabated, these glaciers and snow packs are expected to shrink by as much as 75 percent before the year 2050, posing grave danger to the region's water security," it says.

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