Lester Brown: How to Mobilize to Save Civilization
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Notwithstanding the Superfreaks, a lot of good books on global warming and its solutions are coming out right now. One of the best is Lester Brown's "Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization." In his book, Brown lays out the too-little-discussed but devastating impacts unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases will have on agriculture, expanding on his Scientific American piece "Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?"
He also lays out one of the most comprehensive set of solutions you can find in one place, including important subjects and strategies that don't get enough attention, with a full chapter on "Eradicating Poverty and Stabilizing Population," another one on "Restoring the Earth," which focuses on regenerating forests, soils, and fisheries, and, of course, "Feeding Eight [!] Billion People Well" -- the exclamation point is mine.
I had lunch with him recently, an eye-opener even for someone who follows these issues closely. I asked him to submit some blog posts. What follows is his first, about his new book, which was just released September 29. -- Joseph Romm
In early 2008, Saudi Arabia announced that, after being self-sufficient in wheat for over 20 years, the non-replenishable aquifer it had been pumping for irrigation was largely depleted.
In response, officials said they would reduce their wheat harvest by one eighth each year until production would cease entirely in 2016. The Saudis would then import virtually all the grain consumed by their Canada-sized population of nearly 30 million people.
The Saudis are unique in being so wholly dependent on irrigation. But other, far larger, grain producers such as India and China are facing irrigation water losses and could face grain production declines.
Water Shortages Undermining Food Security
Fifteen percent of India's grain harvest is produced by overpumping its groundwater. In human terms, 175 million Indians are being fed with grain produced from wells that will be going dry. The comparable number for China is 130 million. Among the many other countries facing harvest reductions from groundwater depletion are Pakistan, Iran, and Yemen.
The tripling of world wheat, rice, and corn prices between mid-2006 and mid-2008 signaled our growing vulnerability to food shortages. It took the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression to lower grain prices.
Past decades have witnessed world grain price surges, but they were event-drive-a drought in the former Soviet Union, a monsoon failure in India, or a crop-withering heat wave in the U.S. Corn Belt. This most recent price surge was trend-driven, the result of our failure to reverse the environmental trends that are undermining world food production.
These trends include-in addition to falling water tables-eroding soils and rising temperatures from increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Rising temperatures bring crop-shrinking heat waves, melting ice sheets, rising sea level, and shrinking mountain glaciers.
With both the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melting at an accelerating pace, sea level could rise by up to six feet during this century. Such a rise would inundate much of the Mekong Delta, which produces half of the rice in Viet Nam, the world's second-ranking rice exporter. Even a three-foot rise in sea level would cover half the riceland in Bangladesh, a country of 160 million people. And these are only two of Asia's many rice-growing river deltas.
The world's mountain glaciers have shrunk for 18 consecutive years. Many smaller glaciers have disappeared. Nowhere is the melting more alarming than in the Himalayas and on the
Tibetan plateau where the ice melt from glaciers sustains not only the dry-season flow of the Indus, Ganges, Yangtze, and Yellow rivers but also the irrigation systems that depend on them. Without these glaciers, many Asian rivers would cease to flow during the dry season.