Wednesday, April 7, 2010

malthusian conundrum

New Zealand Herald 07-April-2010 P.B2 (Photo / AP)

Population growth vs agricultural production. This is something that seems so complex yet so central in the search for sustainability. Here we are trying to reduce greenhouse gases and at the same time meet the worlds ever growing need for food, feed, fibre and biofuels. Getting the balance right between these different agricultural products would seem hard enough without trying to reduce or offset the carbon produced from them.
In todays New Zealand Herald Fran O'Sullivan explains that 14-15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture, yet in New Zealand our agriculture makes up 45 per cent of our emissions profile. This could be partly due to the fact that 80 percent of agricultural emissions are from live stock production. I'm no vegetarian but this may provide some extra drive for the crusading leaf eaters amoung us.
Without painting too gloomier picture of this tangled web of emissions trading and global food provision, apparently arable soils have the potential to sequester an estimated 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year! Yet O'Sullivan is quick to point out that "as with biofuels - people will be severely impacted if too much is used for carbon trading instead of feeding people." Just one example she mentions from The International Food Policy Research Institute, is that rice and wheat yields in developing nations could each decrease as much as "19 and 34 per cent respectively", because of climate change. This may also lead to starvation in some countries as global population is expected to increase to 9 Billion by 2050.
This whole debate and the outcomes from this weeks first full meeting of a global alliance in Te Papa, Wellington, are trying to find a solution to this complex problem. What a job!
Depending on which course of action they take, will surely affect me as a 'product designer', especially as I begin a search for organic materials to use in the production of products which if you look at it in this light is using food for fun/liesure activities. But I guess the positive of using organic instead of synthetic materials is that the product will always remain in the food circle, when it breaks and is of no use it will return to the evironment where something (micro-organisms, insects) will eat it, live in it, and continue the food circle. So the question is how long should that food be taken out or paused from the food circle? I'm not sure we could ever measure this, but if there isn't enough food around, should we be making products from it at all?

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