November 27, 2012
Global Food Consumption Nearing Its Tipping Point
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
According to a new report, consumers eat a gallon of diesel fuel, 63 pounds of soil, and over two tons of water, in the form of food each day. A book entitled “The Coming Famine: the global food crisis and how we can avoid it” suggests that these numbers are what it takes to feed the typical human being.
Science writer Julian Cribb, author of the new book, told the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra that when you multiply it by 7 billion, our food system is costing a huge amount of natural resources.
Cribb said that for the average person, eating is probably their largest personal impact on the planet. In a paper to the Second Australian Earth System Outlook Conference, he warns of a series of "tipping points" that will be reached by the global food system in the coming half century.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, half the planet is already degraded, and we are losing about 75 to 100 billion tons of topsoil a year. Cribb points out that soil takes thousands of years to form, so it is not going to be replaced any time soon.
“Despite progress in places like Australia, soil degradation is getting worse, not better," he said in a statement. "Some scientists say we could run short of good farming soils within 50-70 years. This is what´s driving today´s global land-grab - which has so far swallowed an area as large as Western Europe.”
He said the picture is similar for water, with more than 950 cubic miles of groundwater being extracted each year. Places like China, the Indo-Gangetic region, the Middle East and Midwest USA are facing critical scarcity by the 2030s.
The report also points out that there is a huge worldwide stake in megacities and gas companies of farmers' water.
“Regardless of when you think peak oil is or was, world car production is growing 8-10 times faster than oil production — so a major oil shock is increasingly likely," Cribb said. "Since food accounts for 30 per cent of global energy use, there could be a very large impact on world food prices and supply.”
He said that most governments and commentators on food security have failed to recognize that scarcities of water, land, oil, nutrients, technology, fish and finance are now acting in synergy.
“Because these scarcities are operating in sync, we are likely to reach tipping points in the food system much more quickly and unpredictably than many people realize," Cribb said. “There is still time to act — but the action must be fast and it must be universal, as globalization means everybody is now affected by food prices, supply and the conflicts and migratory floods that arise when the food chain fails.”
He added that there are opportunities for major new developments in food production, including 3,000 percent growth in world aquaculture, a new industry in algae farming to produce food, feed, fuel and plastics.
“There are also 25,000 edible plants on Earth, 99% of them unfamiliar to most people — so we have not yet begin to explore the culinary potential of our home planet," Cribb said. "This is going to be a very exciting time for new, healthy, interesting and sustainable diets."
According to the Cribb's book, Australia has 6,100 edible plants, but only five or six are currently being consumed by humans.
“My message is that the risks to the global food production and a safe human future are very great — but if we recognize them and act soon enough, then the opportunities, including diversification into alternative crops, are very great," Cribb concluded.