Inconvenient food for thought

800px-Disk_harrow“How do we feed a growing world without destroying the planet?” asks Jon Foley’s new 3 minute video (see below).

It’s a great question. To get enough food for our existing billions, we already use about 40% of Earth’s ice-free land to produce crops and livestock. And we are using this land more intensively all the time, using up more water than any other use and pouring on nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers that are double the pre-human global fluxes of these elements. This is polluting ground and surface waters all over the world, and perhaps more importantly, causing emissions of carbon and nitrogen gases that are changing climate more than all of the cars and trucks in the world- or even all electricity generation. Not to mention that the land we use to produce our food isn’t exactly the best place to be a wild animal or plant.

With nearly all of Earth’s good farmland already in use, much of it very intensively, and food production just about equal to today’s global food demand- where are we going to get food for another 2 billion people in 30 years? Without damaging the climate system and losing yet more species? Giving up eating is not an option- and eating more, in the form of richer diets, is the goal of billions of people.

The video calls for an international discussion, on the level of global climate talks, to deal with these and other really inconvenient truths about our food supply.

This is a great idea. Maybe it even has what it takes to build a movement to deal with our real planetary sustainability issues using long-term strategic international planning. I vote for feast, not famine!

(written and posted in-flight to the AGU meetings in San Francisco – how much carbon is that?)