Can Environmentally Friendly Agriculture Grow As We Grow?


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By Neila Columbo
July 12, 2012

ASPEN, CO – What is more basic than food? Whether you are looking to solve the world’s environmental or economic woes, your plate is a good place to start.

At the Aspen Environmental Forum, esteemed scientists assessed where our food systems are now, and how we can grow food production sustainably. There were some shocking assessments—for one, that the seemingly eco-friendly meat option of seafood is not actually as low-impact as is commonly believed.

While discussing the state of fisheries in an afternoon session on oceans, Daniel Pauly, Professor at the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia, warned that fishing damages marine ecosystems.

“Industrial fishing has never been sustainable, it has always been using the capital rather than expanding it,” says Pauly.

Dr. Sylvia Earle, iconic oceanographer and Explorer-in-Residence at National Geographic Society, stressed the importance of expanding protected marine reserves to ensure survival of fragile fish populations and the health of oceans. Currently only a tiny fraction of one percent of the ocean is in protected reserve, with just two percent under any form of protection.

Underscoring the daunting challenges we face around agriculture, Jon Foley, who directs University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, noted how essential it is to resolve the food issue.

“If we do not get agriculture right, nothing else we talked about at this meeting will matter, at all, period, nothing. It is by far the biggest problem we face in the 21st century,” says Foley.

In exploring the daunting question of how we will feed  7 billion people living in the world with expected doubling of food demand by 2050, Foley presented a plan developed at his institute and discussed how local small-scale agricultural innovation can be brought to global scale to double food production while decreasing overall environmental impacts.

Dan Glickman, Executive Director of The Congressional Program at The Aspen Institute and Former US Secretary of Agriculture, emphasized the important factor consumers have in making judgments about food and influencing the global discussion.

“The other side of the coin is what is the government doing on taxpayer programs, as 90 percent is for wheat, corn, cotton, rice and soy beans, which in a lot of cases is going to grow meat. So one foot is on the brake and one foot is on the accelerator, and the reason for that is politics…[thus] it is up to you all to influence this debate,” says Glickman.

In case you thought Aspen Environmental Forum left any up-and-coming environmental topic unexplored, the four-day event continued with discussions on the limits of industrial expansion, how cities can cope with climate change, the work of the U.S. Military in clean energy development, and ocean preservation. Highlights from the 2012 Aspen Environment Forum are online.

For related articles, see:
Sustainable Seafood Guide: How to Save the Seas with Your Diet
World Water Day: How Much Water Is on Your Plate?
Global Warming is Now 

© 2012 SCGH, LLC.

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