Climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, and growing inequality will exacerbate global volatility over the coming decades, a report by top U.S. intelligence officials released Thursday warns.
The Global Trends report, released every four years by the National Intelligence Council, predicted the impacts of climate change – rising temperatures, intensifying extreme weather and droughts that increase food insecurity, health risks, and conflict – would accelerate the trend of massive migration, and with it, global instability.
COVID, the report said, exposed the fragility of the world order, worsening "more and cascading global challenges, ranging from disease to climate change to the disruptions from new technologies and financial crises," the authors wrote.
"The international system – including the organizations, alliances, rules, and norms – is poorly set up to address the compounding global challenges facing populations."
Under the best-case scenario, democracies would take advantage of the opportunity to use pandemic recovery efforts to reorient national and international priorities toward solutions that would plan and adapt for climate change and other crises.
Unfortunately, said Maria Langan-Reikhof, the director of the council's strategic futures group, "greater divisions, increasing fracturing… [are] likely to continue and probably worsen."
For a deeper dive:
- Think Today's Refugee Crisis is Bad? Climate Change Will Make it a ... ›
- Louisiana's Vanishing Island: America's First Climate Refugees ... ›
- One Billion People May Become Climate Refugees By 2050 ... ›
By Nina Sevilla
"Food desert" has become a common term to describe low-income communities — often communities of color — where access to healthy and affordable food is limited or where there are no grocery stores. Living in Tucson, Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert, taught me that despite its common usage, "food desert" is an inaccurate and misleading term that pulls focus from the underlying root causes of the lack of access to healthy food in communities. The language we use to describe the issues can inspire solutions, so we should follow the lead of food justice leaders who urge us to reconceptualize "food deserts" as "food apartheid" by focusing on creating food sovereignty through community-driven solutions and systemic change.
The term "food desert" emerged in the 1970s and 80s, but in the past decade has really caught on, and is now a common concept in economic and public health fields. The racial demographics of the areas described by this term are most often Black and Latino. When comparing communities with similar poverty rates, Black and Latino neighborhoods tend to have fewer supermarkets that offer a variety of produce and healthy foods, and have more small retail (i.e. convenience and liquor) stores that have fewer produce options than in predominantly white neighborhoods.
Despite its prevalence, the term "food desert" has come under scrutiny for two reasons:
- It obscures the vibrant life and food systems in these communities.
- It implies that these areas are naturally occurring.
Sonoran Desert. Bob Wick / Bureau of Land Management
First, the word "desert" typically conjures up dramatic images of vast arid landscapes with little to no vegetation and water. Common uses of the word describe the absence of life or activity, but most deserts are full of adapted plants and have sustained human and animal populations for centuries. I fell into the trap of this misconception when I moved to Tucson. I thought it was going to be devoid of all life, but when I got there, I realized that the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, like most deserts, can be quite abundant, especially when they have the right resources.
Using the word "desert" to imply a location's inferiority as a desolate place writes off the people who live there, as well as the flora and fauna that are actually present in deserts. The term "food desert" obscures the presence of community and backyard gardens, farmer's markets, food businesses, and other food sharing activities that exist in these areas. As farmer and activist Karen Washington points out, "food desert" is an outsider term, used by people who do not actually live in these areas. She says, "Number one, people will tell you that they do have food. Number two, people in the 'hood have never used that term... When we're talking about these places, there is so much life and vibrancy and potential. Using that word runs the risk of preventing us from seeing all of those things."
Students harvest vegetables from a school garden. State Farm via Flickr
Second, by using the term "desert" one is implying that food deserts are naturally occurring. Deserts are classified by amount of precipitation an area receives, so they are dictated by weather patterns — forces beyond human control. Though increasing desertification due to climate change is exacerbated by human activities, for the most part, deserts are naturally occurring. Food deserts, in contrast, are not naturally occurring. They are the result of systematic racism and oppression in the form of zoning codes, lending practices, and other discriminatory policies rooted in white supremacy. Using the term desert implies that the lack of healthy and affordable food is somehow naturally occurring and obscures that it is the direct result of racially discriminatory policies and systematic disinvestment in these communities.
Building more grocery stores won't necessarily make things better. Sometimes grocery stores are unaffordable to their surrounding communities. Sociologists have started using the term "food mirage" to describe the phenomenon when there are places to buy food, but they are too expensive for the neighborhood. And, as Karen Washington and research from Johns Hopkins University highlight, people who live in the places labeled "food deserts" most of the time do have food, but often the food they can afford is fast food or junk food. People who work in public health have come up with another term for areas with easier access to fast food and junk food than to healthier food: "food swamps." Rather than simply building grocery stores, some of these communities need stable jobs and a livable wage to change their access to healthier food.
A Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) redlining map from the 1930's that labeled "hazardous" majority Black areas of Nashville, Tennessee in red. HOLC
Swamp, desert, mirage... all these sound like places to stay away from. Language is important and using these terms prevents us from naming and addressing the root causes and making systemic change. Many groups are now using the term "food apartheid" to correctly highlight the how racist policies shaped these areas and led to limited access to healthy food. Apartheid is a system of institutional racial segregation and discrimination, and these areas are food apartheids because they too are created by racially discriminatory policies. Using the term "apartheid" focuses our examination on the intersectional root causes that created low-income and low food access areas, and importantly, points us towards working for structural change to address these root causes.
Corona Farmers Market, Queens, New York City. Preston Keres / USDA
Getting at the root causes is not a small task — naming them is the first step, and there are many different routes to take from there. Fortunately, there are many organizations already working on different aspects of addressing food apartheid, from building alternative food system models to providing ideas for policy reform. Organizations like The Ron Finley Project, the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, and Whitelock Community Farm are strengthening regional food systems through urban and small-scale farming. SÜPRMARKT, Mandela Grocery, and other nonprofits are creating affordable, organic grocery stores, and re-thinking the grocery store model through co-ops. HEAL Food Alliance offers a comprehensive policy platform to address food apartheid root causes and build a better food system. As an example of transformative policy change, the Navajo Nation passed a tax on unhealthy food to fund community health initiatives in 2014. Ultimately, strong policies are necessary to ensure that no neighborhood experiences food apartheid and to redistribute power to remove systems of oppression.
A major component of power is economic capital — a reparations map maintained by Soul Fire Farm offers an easy way to start supporting efforts across the U.S. to more fairly allocate land and money and work toward repairing historical inequities based on race. In addition to economic capital, power is also control over your decisions and the choices you make. To address this, movements of food sovereignty seek to bring power back to the people. The Declaration of Nyéléni asserts that food sovereignty is the right of all people to design and influence their own food systems and the right to healthy, culturally appropriate, and sustainably-produced food.
The food sovereignty movement and the phrase "food sovereignty" were created by La Via Campesina, the largest international peasant movement. The term and movement have since expanded across the globe and into urban areas. I have encountered the term used to describe urban farming in large cities, like Baltimore, and to describe indigenous peoples reclaiming their native foodways. I have also heard people question if food sovereignty is the right term to cover these vast topics. I believe the words we choose help us see the way forward and if we are serious about transformative change, we should explore food sovereignty seriously.
In a similar way that using the term "food apartheid" can help us identify and address the root causes of the geographies that lack access to healthy food, highlighting "food sovereignty" as a call to action directly addresses the power dynamics at play in the food system. This term focuses the lens on how our modern, globalized food system does not value the rights of peasant and small-scale farmers anywhere and how in most cases the major decisionmakers are multinational corporations. The organization A Growing Culture says "there is no genuine food security without food sovereignty." They continue, "We must stop seeing food security as the pathway to eradicating hunger. It reduces food to an economic commodity, when food is the basis of culture, of life itself. Food sovereignty is the pathway to imagining something fundamentally different."
As we look forward and imagine a fundamentally different system that nourishes all people and the planet, we have a wealth of knowledge and examples to draw upon, as well as rich terminology to describe the challenges communities are facing and our goals for the future. Any efforts to achieve — and ways we discuss — a better, more equitable, food system should address root causes, redistribute power, and be guided by people with lived experience in food apartheids. Food security is more than proximity to a grocery store; it should be about food sovereignty — the right of all people to have a say in how their food is grown and the right to fresh, affordable, and culturally appropriate food.
Reposted with permission from Natural Resources Defense Council.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Sam Baker
What really makes this reporter's stomach churn thinking about climate change? Thawing permafrost. A scenario where it all melts, releasing copious amounts of CO2 and methane (it holds twice as much carbon as the atmosphere holds right now), and there's no going back.
But what's at the top of the list of concerns for those who study how climate change is unfolding – on ice sheets and urban street corners, in oceans and farm fields – the climate scientists themselves?
DW asked a dozen experts spanning climatology, entomology, oceanography and yes, permafrost research, what keeps them up at night when it comes to the climate.
The Greatest Unknown – People
Nana Ama Browne Klutse studies changing weather with climate models at the University of Ghana. While she says tipping points like permafrost thaw worry her, she also worries how individuals will handle changing climates.
"What can you do as an individual to avoid the impact of climate change?" she asked. "We need government policies for resilience, building of community, city resilience. Then we need that global action."
Climate scientist Ruth Mottram studies the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and sea level rise for the Danish Meteorological Institute, but it's not the science that worries her.
"I'm less concerned that there are unknown processes going on that we don't understand, and there could potentially be some unforeseen catastrophe on the way," she said. "We know what a lot of the impacts are going to be. I think what keeps me awake at night in a metaphorical sense is really the interaction between the physical system and how human societies are going to handle it."
Giving the example of sea level, she says we will see a meter rise this century — in our lifetimes or that of our children — and will have to make tough decisions about our coastal cities. But she says it won't end there.
"I think that human societies have not really grasped what that means and that adaptation to sea level rise is going to be a long process and we are going to be doing it for hundreds of years," said Mottram, suggesting that we start thinking in terms of the lifetimes of cities (hundreds of years) rather than just human lifetimes.
Protecting the Vulnerable
Vladimir Romanovsky, a professor of geophysics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Permafrost Laboratory, said that while he thinks about how what happens in the Arctic will affect the rest of the world, his concerns are much more local.
"We should remember that there are still some people living in the Arctic," he said. Around 4 million people in fact who would have to deal with the real-life consequences of solid ground thawing beneath their feet and houses. "Changes in these local or regional kind of climates and environments, they impact these people and some of these impacts could be very severe."
Closer to the planet's other pole, Carolina Vera fears that existing inequalities will only be exacerbated by climate change.
"Climate change is already impacting the most vulnerable sectors of our planet," said Vera, who studies climate variability as a principal researcher for the National Council of Science of Argentina, a professor at the University of Buenos Aires and chief of staff for Argentina's Ministry of Science and Technology. Her work has led her to incorporate local knowledge and data collection into studies, involving communities that are balancing the problems of deforestation with their need to farm.
Heat and New Extremes
Perhaps not surprisingly, global heating is a key concern for many researchers, like Dim Coumou, who studies extreme weather at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Of most concern to him are heat and humidity extremes in the tropics – especially highly populated parts like West Africa, Pakistan and India – which will make it unbearable to be outside. When cooling down by sweating is no longer possible, people can't work outside and therefore can't grow food. The likely result being mass migration.
But it's not just the tropics.
Closely related to heat is the increase in extreme weather brought on by a warming climate. Coumou and his colleagues' research shows how changes to the jet stream will lead to more extreme weather in Europe, including floods and droughts.
This increase in extreme weather is climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker's biggest climate concern.
"A warmer atmosphere can hold more water in it and when it rains, it rains heavily leading to floods. A warmer ocean can lead to stronger tropical cyclones," said Babiker, who works for the East African Climate Center ICPAC in Nairobi. He explained that cyclones gain more energy from warmer water.
"We have seen evidence of all these events," he said. "The strongest tropical cyclones to impact the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia, and Mozambique occurred in the past 20 years!"
Science for Solutions
Pests, drought and flooding are on Esther Ngumbi's mind too.
An entomologist and professor of African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she said that what keeps her up at night is the thought: "How can my science truly help?"
Ngumbi's work on pest and drought-resistant crops is driven by her concerns for vulnerable farmers who live in countries lacking social safety nets, where one season of crop devastation due to insects can mean going hungry and being unable to pay for their children's education.
"That truly makes me wake up every day and go to the lab to understand how my research can contribute to solutions that we need," she said.
Natasha Picone – an urban climatologist at the National University of Central Buenos Aires – says it's the solutions that occupy her thoughts too.
"With the pandemic, I realized that we are not doing enough for changing our cities to be more livable," she said. Her research informs urban planners about phenomena such as the urban heat island effect, air pollution and urban run-off that can lead to flooding. "If we don't change the path now, it will be really difficult to go back."
Weighing on the mind of oceanographer Renata Hanae Nagai at the University of Parana in Brazil is her four-year-old nephew and what his life will look like in a warmer world, but he also gives her hope. During a recent trip to the beach to watch nesting turtles, he warned others to leave the turtles alone.
She sees this same care in her students – learning about problems and coming up with solutions.
"People are the solution," she said. "We try, even under the hardest conditions."
'Scientists are Humans' Too
"For me, that's like morally totally unacceptable what they do – they lie," said the climate physicist from Maynooth University in Ireland, reflecting on encountering such people at public talks. "I mean, you can't argue with climate."
But this only pushes Caesar to better communicate what the science shows.
They Worry About Us
A common thread of this (rather unscientific) survey is that while we laypeople might be worrying about what the science says, climate scientists are often worrying about us.
"Scientists always think about what are the results of their studies, how are they important for, you know, for usual people, for normal people," the permafrost scientist told me. While doing his research, Romanovsky said he's always thinking about "how this could be used to make life of people easier or more predictable."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
By Cameron Oglesby
Since 1960, about 21 percent of global agriculture production, including livestock, tree farming, and traditional crops such as corn and soybeans, has been negatively impacted by climate change, according to a new study.
In the research published Thursday in Nature Climate Change, agriculture production is defined not just as crop yields or the amount of food or livestock grown, but the overarching energy and input it takes to produce food. This includes manual labor, fertilizers, water, and land. Unsurprisingly, agriculture production worldwide has grown over the last 60 years as a result of improved technologies and greater efficiency, primarily in higher income countries.
But the new study provides the latest evidence that climate change — and the subsequent increase in droughts, flooding, and extreme heat — has held back agricultural gains and impeded global food security efforts.
"People don't yet realize that the climate has already changed," Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, a Cornell economist and lead author of the new study, told EHN. "That's not something that we often talk about, just about what the impacts will be 50 years from now."
Climate Change Wipes Out Improvements
Using models similar to those created by climatologists to predict future climate trends, Ortiz-Bobea and his team charted climate data between 1960 and 2020, and compared it to a model where human-caused climate change never occurred.
They compared the "total factor productivity" between models: how does actual agricultural productivity over time compare to what it could have been without climate change?
"Climate change has basically wiped out about seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years," Ortiz-Bobea said in a statement.
In other words, if the world were to wave a magic wand and halt the planetary changes associated with greenhouse gas emissions and a warming climate, global agricultural production would have reached the level it is today back in 2013, said Ortiz-Bobea.
Ortiz-Bobea compared the situation to someone running with a strong wind at their front: As a runner attempts to make their way to the finish line, the wind is constantly pushing them back. They're making progress but it's slow compared to a windless day. In this scenario, climate change is the strong wind and the runner's progress is farm production growth.
He noted that if climate change gets worse, a growing possibility as countries fail to set commitments that meet Paris agreement targets, it's only a matter of time until agriculture production stalls. "[Climate change has] been happening for years, and as the magnitude keeps rising and rising it's going to get harder to ignore," he said
Ortiz-Bobea wasn't expecting such a significant difference in farm production between models with and without climate change. "I didn't even think that the result would be statistically significant," he said. "I was expecting something much smaller, something almost imperceptible. But no matter how we sliced the data or looked at different variations of the econometric model, it was pretty consistent that it's a substantial negative effect."
Developing Countries Suffer
The greatest climate impacts are seen in countries that are historically warmer such as those in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. As developing regions are often without the same technological advancement or management systems for agriculture, they face the greatest losses as unpredictable weather and warming events threaten crops and livestock. Ortiz-Bobea noted that this issue is as much an equity issue as it is an economic one.
The agriculture sector faces a unique problem in the way of climate change. Historically, the industry has relied on unsustainable practices that further greenhouse gas emissions. One example is in Brazil, where massive Amazon deforestation has taken place in an attempt to grow the country's economy around cattle and soybean farming. The transformation of forests, a crucial carbon sink, into crop lands also contributes to rises in atmospheric carbon levels.
In addition, increased global meat consumption and subsequent cattle production is a common source of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas about 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
So what is the best way to produce more food without contributing to a cycle of climate change?
Ortiz-Bobea said that the solution is in a mix of mitigation and adaptation. "Despite all the new, very exciting technologies that we are coming up with like CRISPR, they will still take decades to have an impact," she said. CRISPR is an increasingly popular technology that allows geneticists to modify DNA sequences and gene functions. Often touted as the solution to harmful birth defects in human genomes, conversations have arisen around the use of gene editing to increase food production for a rapidly growing population.
Ortiz-Bobea also highlighted the potential for soil-based strategies. "There are ways to increase soil health that allow soils to improve their water holding capacity, for example," he said. "And so that improves the crop yields and allows farmers to weather the storm, no pun intended there, while at the same time it helps capture carbon from the atmosphere."
Reposted with permission from Environmental Health News.
- How Carbon-Smart Farming Can Feed Us and Fight Climate ... ›
- Pandemic May Have Left Over 250 Million People With Acute Food ... ›
- At UN Climate Conference U.S. Growers Defend Large-Scale Farming ›
In flood-prone regions of Bangladesh, farmers and their families utilize a centuries-old tradition to reduce their vulnerability to climate change.
Floating gardens — known as dhap, or locally as baira — have been used in south-central Bangladesh for 300-400 years, BBC reported. Farmers build their own floating gardens out of plants, and like rafts, the gardens fall in and out with the moving water, according to Ohio State News.
In a study published recently in the Journal of Agriculture, Food and Environment, researchers interviewed families who use this farming method to determine how the gardens could provide food and income security, despite the impacts of a changing climate, like heavier rainfall and stronger cyclones, Ohio State News reported.
"We are focused here on adaptive change for people who are victims of climate change, but who did not cause climate change," Craig Jenkins, a co-author of the study and academy professor emeritus of sociology at The Ohio State University, told Ohio State News. "There's no ambiguity about it: Bangladesh didn't cause the carbon problem, and yet it is already experiencing the effects of climate change."
Two-thirds of Bangladesh is wetland and large parts of the land can be underwater for up to eight months a year, BBC reported. The country also suffers from poverty, where 48 percent of its population is landless. As climate change grows more severe, bringing stronger tropical storms to the region, it is estimated that one in seven people will be displaced by 2050, the Environmental Justice Foundation found, BBC reported.
But despite these challenges, farmers have implemented this sustainable, low-cost option as a means to survive. In their study, researchers suggest these floating gardens can provide both food security and income for rural households, Ohio State News reported.
"It is very environmentally friendly – all the necessary inputs and resources are natural, and it does not create any waste or byproduct which can impact the environment negatively," Fahmida Akter, a senior research fellow at the James P Grant School of Public Health at Brac University in Dhaka, told BBC about the floating gardens, which rely on water hyacinth, an aquatic plant, for support. Once farmers layer these aquatic plants about three feet deep to mimic a raised-garden bed, they then plant vegetables, such as okra, some gourds, spinach and eggplant, according to Ohio State News.
The practice also contributes to local economies, giving middlemen a chance to buy and sell seedlings, villagers a chance to earn wages from building the beds and creates an income strategy for households, the researchers wrote.
"In Bangladesh, a lot of small farmers that had typically relied on rice crops are moving away from those because of the effects of climate change and better returns from alternative crops," Jenkins added. One floating garden farmer told the researchers that he now earns four times the amount he did at the rice paddies, Ohio State News reported.
Floating gardens are not exclusive to Bangladesh. In southern Mexico, for example, farmers in the city of Xochimilco are reviving a similar practice that was first built by the Aztecs to meet food demand — a struggle ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. "Now the virus is revealing the strength of this model in the midst of a crisis," Atlas Obscura reported.
While the gardens provide a reliable source of food for farmers impacted by both the climate and covid crises, the floating gardens are still in need of improvement. According to Pravash Mandal, a farmer in the Barisal district of Bangladesh, the gardens cannot withstand waves or heavy currents, BBC reported.
Researchers call on NGOs and the government to provide support to help farmers develop floating gardens efficiently, noting their ability to create a "sustainable and lucrative income strategy for rural households," in increasingly vulnerable, flood-prone communities in Bangladesh.
- Mangroves Could Help Save Us From Climate Change. Climate ... ›
- Nature Offers Solutions to Water Woes and Flood Risks - EcoWatch ›
About 6,200 years ago, 41 people were killed and buried in a mass grave in what is now modern-day Croatia. According to Live Science, DNA analysis has now revealed that members of their own community may have murdered them, and some researchers suggest that a sudden population boom or shift in climate conditions could have prompted the mass murder.
The grave was discovered in 2007 in a small village in the hills of Potočani, Croatia. Heavy rains exposed a pit containing dozens of skeletons, Live Science reported. The mass grave was small, about 6.5-feet across and three-feet deep, with at least 41 bodies dumped together.
Archeologists first thought it was a modern grave from World War I or the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990s, but no contemporary objects were found with the bones, according to Live Science. Radiocarbon dating of bones, soil and pottery fragments confirmed a burial date around 4200 B.C.E.
"This makes Potočani one of the first and earliest cases of systematic killing on a large scale in Europe proven by genetic data," said Mario Novak, the study's lead author and head of the Laboratory for Evolutionary Anthropology and Bioarchaeology at the Institute for Anthropological Research in Zagreb, Croatia.
Further inspection of the bones and DNA data revealed "random killing without any concern for age or sex," Novak told Live Science. Men, women and children were killed in relatively equal numbers. Many of the killing blows were strikes to the skull from behind, and there were no indications that the victims tried to defend themselves.
Genetic analysis also revealed that the victims were not a targeted family group, because 70 percent of the deceased were not closely related, Novak explained. But, because the victims' shared homogenic genetic ancestry that was almost identical to other contemporary populations from the region, Novak and his team were able to eliminate the hypothesis that the massacre was related to the arrival of new immigrants. Rather, they believe that the victims were a smaller part of the local, stable population.
These factors led the researchers to suspect a massacre.
"Basically, [all this] means that the perpetrators did not target a certain age or sex category within this community or even a certain family, as we could see in some similar prehistoric examples from continental Europe," Novak said. "The indiscriminate killing recorded in Potočani shows that this was a pre-planned act, most probably with a goal to completely exterminate this community without any consideration or remorse for their victims."
The Potočani mass grave is similar to others found in modern-day Germany and Austria dating to around 5000 B.C.E., Novak said. In total, scientists have found five or six similar cases from continental Europe so far.
According to Live Science, the "most likely explanation" for the Potočani killings and the older ones in Germany and Austria are prolonged climate changes in Central Europe that caused floods or droughts. These, along with unexpected population booms, possibly led to food shortages and violent competition for resources.
Novak's study called the reasons behind the upsurge of extreme mass violence and massacres during these eras "complex and multifactoral," and agreed that climate-induced drops in agricultural production most likely played a part.
"Human nature hasn't changed much (if at all) since those times," he told EcoWatch. "By studying such ancient massacres, we might try to get a glimpse into the psychology of these people, and maybe try to prevent similar events today," Novak told Live Science.
Novak also said it was obvious that the climate crisis profoundly impacted our distant ancestors as much as today's modern world. He warned, "If we cannot change ourselves and our attitude toward the environment drastically, I'm afraid soon the things will start resembling these ancient massacres, but on a more global scale."
- Scientists Develop Tool to Track Well-Being During Climate Crisis ... ›
- Tropical Storms Are Getting More Intense Due to the Climate Crisis ... ›
- Did the Climate Crisis Enable the Coronavirus Pandemic? - EcoWatch ›
By Thomas Hertel
Growing food in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way – while also producing enough of it – is among the most important challenges facing the U.S. and the world today.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that food security can't be taken for granted. Putting affordable food on the table requires both innovative producers and well-functioning markets and global supply chains. With disruptions to the system, prices rise, food is scarce – and people go hungry.
But feeding the world's 7.8 billion people sustainably – including 332 million Americans – presents significant environmental challenges. Farming uses 70% of the world's fresh water. Fertilizers pollute water with nitrates and phosphates, sparking algal blooms and creating dead zones like the one that forms every summer in the Gulf of Mexico.
Clear-cutting land for farms and ranches is the main driver of deforestation. Overall, the planet loses about 48,000 square miles (125,000 square kilometers) of forest each year. Without habitat, wildlife disappears. Farming also produces roughly one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.
All of these challenges make balancing food production with environmental security a crucial issue for the Biden administration, which is working to address both a hunger crisis and an environmental crisis in the U.S.
Two Different Pathways
As an economist studying food systems, I'm keenly aware that trying to provide affordable food and a thriving agricultural sector while also preserving the environment can result in many trade-offs. Consider the different strategies that the U.S. and Northern Europe have pursued: The U.S. prioritizes increased agricultural output, while the EU emphasizes environmental services from farming.
Over the past 70 years, the U.S. has increased crop production with ever more sophisticated seed technologies and highly mechanized farming methods that employ far fewer workers. These new technologies have contributed to farm productivity growth which has, in turn, allowed U.S. farm output to rise without significant growth in the aggregate economic index of agricultural input use.
This approach contrasts sharply with Northern Europe's strategy, which emphasizes using less land and other inputs in order to protect the environment. Nonetheless, by achieving a comparable rate of agricultural productivity growth (output growth minus the growth rate inputs), Northern Europe has been able to maintain its level of total farm output over the past three decades.
Boosting Prices Versus Benefiting Nature
The U.S. also has a long history of setting aside agricultural land that dates back nearly a century. In response to low prices in the 1920s, farmers had flooded the market with grain, pork and other products, desperately seeking to boost revenues but only pushing prices down further.
Under the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, the U.S. government paid farmers to reduce their output and limited the supply of land under cultivation to boost farm prices. This strategy is still in use today.
In 1985 the U.S. launched a new program that created real incentives to protect environmentally sensitive land. Farmers who enroll in the Conservation Reserve Program "rent" environmentally valuable tracts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 10-15 years. Withdrawing these acres from production provides food and shelter for pollinators and wildlife, reduces erosion and improves water quality.
But this is a voluntary program, so enrollment ebbs and flows in tandem with crop prices. For example, when corn, soy and wheat prices fell in the late 1980s and early 1990s, enrollment grew. Then with the commodity price boom of 2007, farmers could make more money from cultivating the land. Protected acreage dropped more than 40% through 2019, erasing many of the environmental benefits that had been achieved.
Enrollment in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program dropped by almost 13 million acres from 2007 to 2016. U.S. Department of Agriculture
Rental rates for agricultural land in the U.S. vary widely, with the most productive lands bringing the highest rent. Current rental rates under the Conservation Reserve Program 2021 range from $243 per acre in Cuming, Nebraska to just $6 in Sutton, Texas.
The EU also began setting aside farmland to curb overproduction in 1988. Now, however, their program focuses heavily on environmental quality. Policy reforms in 2013 required farmers to allocate 5% of their land to protected ecological focus areas. The goal is to generate long-term environmental benefits by prioritizing nature.
This program supports both production and conservation. Within this mix of natural and cultivated lands, wild pollinators benefit both native plants and crops. Birds, insects and small predators offer natural bio-control of pests. In this way, "rewilded" tracts foster biodiversity while also improving crop yields.
Who Will Feed the World?
What would happen if the U.S., a major exporter of agricultural products, followed the EU model and permanently withdrew land from production to improve environmental quality? Would such action make food unaffordable for the world's poorest consumers?
In a study that I conducted in 2020 with colleagues at Purdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we set up a computer model to find out. We wanted to chart what might happen to food prices across the globe through 2050 if the U.S. and other rich economies followed Northern European conservation strategies. Our analysis focused on the world's most food-insecure region, sub-Saharan Africa.
We discovered that altering food production in this way would raise food prices in that region by about 6%. However, this upward price trend could be reversed by investing in local agriculture and new technologies to increase productivity in Africa. In short, our research suggested that conserving the environment in the U.S. doesn't have to cause food insecurity in other countries.
Implications for U.S. Farm Policy
Many experts on hunger and agriculture agree that to feed a growing global population, world food output must increase substantially in the next several decades. At the same time, it's clear that agriculture's environmental impacts need to shrink in order to protect the natural environment.
In my view, meeting these twin goals will require renewed government investments in research and dissemination of new technologies. Reversing a two-decade decline in science funding will be key. Agriculture is now a knowledge-driven industry, fueled by new technologies and improved management practices. Publicly funded research laid the foundations for these advances.
To reap environmental gains, I believe the U.S. Department of Agriculture will need to revamp and stabilize the Conservation Reserve Program, so that it is economically viable and enrollment does not fluctuate with market conditions. The Trump administration reduced incentives and rental payment rates, which drove down enrollments. The Biden administration has already taken a modest step forward by extending the yearly sign-up for the program indefinitely.
As I see it, following Northern Europe's model by permanently protecting ecologically rich areas, while simultaneously investing in knowledge-driven agricultural productivity, will enable the U.S. to better preserve wildlife and its natural environment for future generations, while maintaining an affordable food supply.
Thomas Hertel is a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University.
Disclosure statement: Thomas Hertel receives funding from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- How We Grow Food Could Determine Whether 28,000 Species Can ... ›
- Nearly 90% of Land Animals Could Lose Habitat by 2050, Study ... ›
- How Proper Crop Protection Ensures Global Food Safety - EcoWatch ›
By Julian Agyeman
As an urban planning academic who teaches a course on food justice, I'm aware that this disparity is in large part through design. For over a century, urban planning has been used as a toolkit for maintaining white supremacy that has divided U.S. cities along racial lines. And this has contributed to the development of so-called "food deserts" – areas of limited access to reasonably priced, healthy, culturally relevant foods – and "food swamps" – places with a preponderance of stores selling "fast" and "junk" food.
Both terms are controversial and have been contested on the grounds that they ignore both the historical roots and deeply racialized nature of food access, whereby white communities are more likely to have sufficient availability of healthy, reasonably priced produce.
Instead, food justice scholar Ashanté M. Reese suggests the term "food apartheid." According to Reese, food apartheid is "intimately tied to policies and practices, current and historical, that come from a place of anti-Blackness."
Regardless of what they are called, these areas of inequitable food access and limited options exist. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 54.4 million Americans live in low-income areas with poor access to healthy food. For city residents, this means they are more than half a mile from the nearest supermarket.
More Expensive, Fewer Options
The development of these areas of limited healthy food options has a long history tied to urban planning and housing policies. Practices such as redlining and yellowlining – in which the private sector and government conspired to restrict mortgage lending to Black and other minority homebuyers – and racial covenants that limited rental and sale property to white people only meant that areas of poverty were concentrated along racial lines.
In addition, homeowner associations that denied access to Black people in particular and federal housing subsidies that have largely gone to white, richer Americans have made it harder for people living in lower-income areas to move out or accrue wealth. It also leads to urban blight.
This matters when looking at food access because retailers are less willing to go into poorer areas. A process of "supermarket redlining" has seen larger grocery stores either refuse to move in to lower-income areas, shut existing outlets or relocate to wealthier suburbs. The thinking behind this process is that as pockets in a city become poorer, they are less profitable and more prone to crime.
There is also, scholars suggest, a cultural bias among large retailers against putting outlets in minority-populated areas. Speaking about why supermarkets were fleeing the New York borough of Queens in the 1990s, the city's then-Consumer Affairs Commissioner Mark Green put it this way: "First they may fear that they do not understand the minority market. But second is their knee-jerk premise that Blacks are poor, and poor people are a poor market."
In the absence of larger grocery stores, less healthy food options – often at a higher price – have taken over in low-income areas. Research among food providers in New Haven, Connecticut in 2008 found "significantly worse average produce quality" in lower-income neighborhoods. Meanwhile a study of New Orleans in 2001 found fast-food density was higher in poorer areas, and that predominantly Black neighborhoods had 2.5 fast-food outlets for every square mile, compared to 1.5 in white areas.
‘Whole Foods and Whole Food Deserts’
Geographer Nathan McClintock conducted a detailed study in 2009 of the causes of Oakland's food deserts. Although restricted to one Californian city, I believe what he found holds true for most U.S. cities.
McClintock details how the development of racially segregated areas in the inter-war period and redlining policies afterward led to concentrated areas of poverty in Oakland. Meanwhile, decisions in the late 1950s by the then all-white Oakland City Council to build major freeways cutting through the city effectively isolated predominantly Black West Oakland from downtown Oakland.
The net effect was an outward flow of capital and white flight to the wealthy Oakland Hills neighborhoods. Black and Latino neighborhoods were drained of wealth.
This, together with the advent of surburban Oakland supermarkets accessible by car in the 1980s and 1990s, led to a dearth of fresh food outlets in predominantly Black districts such as West Oakland and Central East Oakland. What was left, McClintock concludes, is a "crude mosaic of parks and pollution, privilege and poverty, Whole Foods and whole food deserts."
Urban Planning as a Solution
Food disparities in U.S. cities have a cumulative effect on people's health. Research has linked them to the disproportionately poor nutrition of Black and Latino Americans, even after adjustment for socioeconomic status.
As much as urban planning has been part of the problem, it could now be part of the solution. Some cities have begun using planning tools to increase food equity.
Minneapolis, for example, has as part of its 2040 plan an aim to "establish equitable distribution of food sources and food markets to provide all Minneapolis residents with reliable access to healthy, affordable, safe and culturally appropriate food." To achieve this, the city is reviewing urban plans, including exploring and implementing regulatory changes to allow and promote mobile food markets and mobile food pantries.
My hometown of Boston is engaged in a similar process. In 2010, the city began the process of establishing an urban agriculture overlay district in the predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood of Dorchester, by changing zoning to allow commercial urban agriculture. This change has provided employment for local people and food for local cooperatives, such as the Dorchester Food Coop, as well as area restaurants.
And this could be just the start. My students and I contributed to Boston mayoral candidate Michelle Wu's Food Justice Agenda. It includes provisions such as a formal process in which private developers would have to work with the community to ensure there is space for diverse food retailers and commercial kitchens, and licensing restrictions to discourage the proliferation of fast-food outlets in poorer neighborhoods. If Wu is elected and the plan implemented, it would, I believe, provide more equitable access to nutritious and culturally appropriate foods, good jobs and economically vibrant neighborhoods.
As Wu's Food Justice Agenda notes: "Food justice means racial justice, demanding a clear-eyed understanding of how white supremacy has shaped our food systems" and that "nutritious, affordable, and culturally relevant food is a universal human right."
Julian Agyeman is a professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University.
Disclosure statement: Julian Agyeman does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
By Robin Scher
Beyond the questions surrounding the availability, effectiveness and safety of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to question where our food is coming from and whether we will have enough.
According to a United Nations World Food Program (WFP) report, COVID-19 might have left up to 265 million people with acute food shortages in 2020. The combined effect of the pandemic as well as the emerging global recession "could, without large-scale coordinated action, disrupt the functioning of food systems," which would "result in consequences for health and nutrition of a severity and scale unseen for more than half a century," states another UN report.
In the United States, "food insecurity has doubled overall, and tripled among households with children" due to the pandemic, states a June 2020 report by the Institute for Policy Research (IPR) at Northwestern University, which relied on data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey. In a recent interview with CBS News, IPR Director Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach warned that these statistics would likely "continue to hold," with the numbers indicating particularly dramatic rises in food insecurity among Black and Latinx families. Indeed, families of color are being disproportionately impacted. According to an analysis of new Census data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), 22 percent of Black and 21 percent of Latinx respondents reported not having enough to eat, compared to just 9 percent of white people.
Globally, the effects of COVID-19 on food security are equally, if not more, severe. According to a CBS News report, WFP Director David Beasley told the UN Security Council in April 2020 that the world is on "the brink of a hunger pandemic." He added, "In a worst-case scenario, we could be looking at famine in about three dozen countries, and in fact, in 10 of these countries we already have more than one million people per country who are on the verge of starvation."
"The number of chronically hungry people increased by an estimated 130 million last year, to more than 800 million — about eight times the total number of COVID-19 cases to date," wrote Mark Lowcock, the under-secretary-general and emergency relief coordinator at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and Axel van Trotsenburg, managing director of operations at the World Bank. "Countries affected by conflict and climate change are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. Empty stomachs can stunt whole generations."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) warns that climate change "is likely to diminish continued progress on global food security through production disruptions that lead to local availability limitations and price increases, interrupted transport conduits, and diminished food safety." The same might be said about the pandemic, which has made it abundantly clear: climate resilience, food security and global health are closely intertwined.
In terms of food security, another major concern is the pandemic-related school closures that have occurred across the globe, with UNICEF reporting that more than 1.6 billion children and young people have been affected. Schools provide a food lifeline for children; for so many, that is where they get their only nutritious meal of the day. In January, the UNICEF Office of Research — Innocenti, and WFP released a new report that found that more than 39 billion in-school meals have been missed worldwide since the pandemic began, with 370 million children worldwide having missed 40 percent of in-school meals.
In early 2020, when COVID-19 was still a looming specter rather than the deadly virus we're more familiar with today, the threat of food insecurity was a practical problem. Scenes of shoppers descending on aisles to stock up on supplies were a common sight. As CNN reported in March 2020, supermarkets around the world rationed food and other products such as toilet paper and cleaning supplies, in an effort to curb stockpiling.
In Vermont, for instance, a steady increase in food insecurity since the start of the pandemic has correlated to employment levels, according to a survey conducted by the University of Vermont between March and April 2020. Approximately 45 percent of respondents "had lost their jobs, been furloughed or had their hours reduced during the pandemic," and a further two-thirds of survey participants who recorded scarcity of food in their households "had experienced job losses or work disruptions since the outbreak of the pandemic," according to the survey. Vermont is just one example; the impact has been felt across the U.S. During the week before Thanksgiving in 2020, the Guardian reported that 5.6 million U.S. households "struggled to put enough food on the table," while referring to the analysis of the Census data by CBPP.
As the pandemic continues to upend lives across the world, it has impacted the entire food supply chain. With factory and supermarket workers being highly susceptible to COVID-19, there's been a concomitant decline in food production and a rise in prices. As Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), reported, farmers in the U.S. were already facing labor shortages prior to the pandemic, and with tightened immigration as well as the heightened risk and poor compensation associated with these jobs, "food processors and farm labor contractors may struggle to find other workers willing to risk their lives to work in meat plants, packing sheds or produce fields."
The pandemic has exposed the weakness of the industrialized global food system, which depends on long, complex transportation chains and cross-border travel. "[T]he monstrous and unsustainable food industry known as Big Ag... relies on the horrendous treatment of laborers, a wasteful allocation of resources, worldwide environmental devastation — and in a pinch, can quickly devolve into near-collapse of the entire system, as evidenced by the delays, shortages and pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the deepening hunger crisis in America," April M. Short, a fellow at the Independent Media Institute, recently wrote in Salon. "Among the many necessary systemic changes 2020 has illuminated is the need to majorly restructure the way we cultivate and access food in our communities."
It didn't take the pandemic to reveal the inefficiency and injustice of our food system: Globally, a third of all food is wasted, while nearly 690 million people were undernourished in 2019 — almost 60 million more people than in 2014. But the pandemic has underscored the matter: According to OCHA, "the number of acutely food insecure people could increase to 270 million due to COVID-19, representing an 82 percent increase compared to the number of acutely food insecure people pre-COVID-19."
And the disruption of transportation has shown that the long distances it normally takes for food to get from one place to another can be a serious liability during a crisis. "[F]ood banks are under tremendous pressure to meet the skyrocketing demand," said a CNN article quoting from a letter Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, Feeding America CEO, and Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, wrote to then-Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in April 2020. "At the same time, however, we are seeing literally tons of agricultural goods being discarded because of the shutdown of so much of the economy."
Consumer demand has shifted from eating out at restaurants and food services away from home, and food supply chain operations have had to be retooled. And that impact has been felt within the transportation sector. Forbes reported that Andrew Novakovic, an agricultural economist at Cornell University, "points to a number of weak spots in the food transportation system that could be aggravated by the increased demand for food." A shortage of truck drivers is one potential weak spot, says Novakovic. Although he concedes there is debate on this matter, Novakovic maintains that "[t]rucking companies are finding it much harder to recruit [those] long haul drivers." China, which was the first country to be hit by the virus, offers insight into the prolonged impact of the pandemic on transportation and food systems. The lockdown in the Hubei province of China, which is home to 66 million people, led to a shortage in delivery of animal feed as well as refrigerated containers full of imported vegetables, fruit and frozen meat in February 2020, according to an article in The Conversation.
In addition to shifting consumer demand, the pandemic has also made us take a closer look at where our food comes from and how it impacts not only the lives of food workers but also the lives of animals trapped in the food system. According to a new public opinion survey conducted by Lake Research Partners and commissioned by the animal rights group American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, "[t]he vast majority (89 percent) of Americans are concerned about industrial animal agriculture, citing animal welfare, worker safety or public health risks as a concern." The survey also found that "85 percent of farmers and their families support a complete ban on new industrial animal agriculture facilities — almost twice the level of support expressed by the general public." This finding shows key support for the Farm System Reform Act, legislation that was introduced in 2019 by Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey that, among other reforms, seeks to put a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms.
Food insecurity has long been a pressing issue, particularly for developing countries. However, as Mir Ashrafun Nahar, a research associate at the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling, explained in a Financial Express article, "the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more acute." In response, Nahar argues for a policy-based approach that includes "subsidy based transportation systems for agriculture" to support supply chains, as well as policies aimed at cutting down on agricultural production costs in order to help farmers recover from the effects of the pandemic.
With the pandemic still affecting food supply, though, there are a number of logical measures for reducing the impact of the virus and maximizing output. "First, OSHA [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration] and the USDA must be directed to issue emergency standards that require employers to provide personal protective equipment, enough space to work without spreading the virus, and housing and transportation options that will reduce the spread of the virus," wrote Faber.
Proposed in April 2020, Faber's suggestions, unfortunately, remained unaddressed under the Trump administration. Faber's relief measures further include the expansion of USDA programs to purchase surplus commodities to offset supply chain disruption; redirecting food that might be destroyed toward food banks; and increasing the standard SNAP benefit (food stamps) by 15 percent. And, echoing Nahar, Faber also proposes adopting policies that will help to alleviate financial burdens faced by farmers and food suppliers, as well as offering subsidy support.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental economic group with 37 member countries, said that the pandemic "has laid bare pre-existing gaps in social protection systems" in a report published in June 2020. "While the impacts of COVID-19 are still unfolding, experience so far shows the importance of an open and predictable international trade environment to ensure food can move to where it is needed," the OECD report states. "The biggest risk for food security is not with food availability but with consumers' access to food: safety nets are essential to avoid an increase in hunger and food insecurity."
Another problem is the lack of media coverage about the food insecurity being witnessed around the world, particularly during the COVID-19 era. As the Economist recently pointed out, journalists in 2020 "wrote more than 50,000 articles about the canceled Eurovision song contest, but only around 2,000 about drought and hunger in Zambia."
Fortunately, beyond the failings of a state-led response to the pandemic, some positives have emerged at a community level. With restaurants and supermarkets becoming less viable options, there has been a growth in demand and supply of local food. According to HuffPost, farmers have seen "a massive rise in demand for local produce." The result of this trend is that consumers who are able to access local food are changing their behavior toward procurement and consumption of food permanently.
Things are changing on a federal level, too. In a recent article about how the U.S. food system could be transformed during the Biden administration, New York Times food correspondent Kim Severson noted that "[h]unger relief is a pressing issue" for Tom Vilsack, who has been confirmed by the Senate to become the agriculture secretary in Biden's Cabinet, a job the former Iowa governor also held under the Obama administration. However, while Severson notes that Vilsack has his critics, President Biden has already made changes at the top, signing an executive order meant to deliver relief to families and businesses amid the COVID-19 crisis, including "expanding and extending federal nutrition assistance programs" to "[a]ddress the growing hunger crisis facing 29 million Americans." His proposal to Congress includes a $3 billion package to "help women, infants and children get the food they need" and "access to nutritious food for millions of children missing meals due to school closures."
For meaningful reform to the food system to occur, change is going to have to happen at every level: from federal, state and local governments, to Big Ag, small farmers and everyday consumers. With the future looking ever more uncertain due to the climate crisis — one of President Biden's top priorities — adapting to new ways of producing and transporting food will be key to our survival.
Robin Scher is a writer based in South Africa. He is a graduate of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program at New York University. Find him on Twitter @RobScherHimself.
- Can Urban Farms Prevent Hunger in 54 Million People in the U.S. ... ›
- New Report Finds Malnutrition World's Top Killer Amid Pandemic ... ›
- Oxfam Warns 12,000 Could Die Per Day From Hunger Due to ... ›
- Three Ways to Support a Healthy Food System During the COVID ... ›
- Trump USDA Resumes Effort to Cut Food Stamp Benefits - EcoWatch ›
- Pandemic Threatens Food Security for Many College Students ... ›
- How Climate Change Is Stunting Farm Production ›
The irony hit Katherine Kehrli, the associate dean of Seattle Culinary Academy, when one of the COVID-19 pandemic's successive waves of closures flattened restaurants: Many of her culinary students were themselves food insecure. She saw cooks, bakers, and chefs-in-training lose the often-multiple jobs that they needed simply to eat.
"The pandemic has leveled the most marginalized members of our society—the people working two, three jobs at minimum wage," Kehrli says. She knows the statistics by heart: FeedingAmerica.org says 50 million people may experience hunger and food insecurity this year. "Its tendrils," she adds, "are nasty."
Kehrli knew she wouldn't be able to make the entire U.S. food system more equitable and just, but she did have an idea to help her local community. Six years before, after spending time in the culinary school's bake shop, she'd gotten hooked on the alchemy of flour, water, yeast, and salt. She took workshops with master bakers and built a library of cookbooks on bread. Kehrli even started a regional network of people who shared her hobby: Northwest Bread Bakers. She loved to bake, and during the pandemic, other homebound Americans were beginning to feed sourdough starters by the millions. Kehrli wondered: Could a trending private hobby help meet wider needs?
A little policy research showed that, in Washington, bread was one of the few homemade foods the state health department allowed to be donated to food banks without needing to be made in a licensed commercial kitchen. And so in April, from Kehrli's home—where giant bags of flour eventually displaced the family car from the garage—the Community Loaves initiative was born. She called on a hive of baking friends to develop a sandwich-friendly, easy-to-execute sourdough recipe, the "honey oat pan loaf." The group found a food bank in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland called Hopelink that agreed to take the bread if they could make and package it in a standardized way. That first batch, the initiative donated 19 loaves.
Ten months later, the numbers have mushroomed. Nearly 700 volunteer bakers, drivers, and flour packers have contributed to the donation of nearly 15,000 loaves to 11 food pantries around Seattle. Two Sundays a month, the individual bakers each make four loaves (three to donate, one to keep) that get distributed among 36 neighborhood hubs. Community Loaves is on track to give away more than 30,000 loaves before the end of 2021.
The initiative has already expanded to three locations in Oregon, and Kehrli expects to inspire other cities. She's already gotten calls from bakers in Connecticut, California, and Minnesota wondering how they can replicate the idea.
The proud but visibly fatigued founder is braced for more in early January when she beams in for a virtual interview. Kehrli had been up until 3:44 a.m. the night before, she reports wearily, then up again at 7 and back in action with no shower or makeup. "I can't sleep anymore," she says."I have stuff to do."
One of her two college-age sons slips in a veggie bowl for her to snack on, because she hasn't had time for lunch. Things will only intensify from here. The Today show is scheduled to air a national segment on Community Loaves in two days, and the project's new website needs to be ready. In the middle of it all, someone shows up at the door needing labels, which had been delayed in shipping. Kehrli's supportive, operationally involved husband, Tim, makes a quick decision: "I'm going to give her bags and twist ties," he declares, "because that's all I have."
The work continues, because demand isn't letting up.
Inspiration and Limitations
During the pandemic, mutual-aid societies have cropped up around the country, reviving an old concept with roots in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The idea was that everyone had something to contribute, and everyone had something they needed. By 1920, a presidential report estimated that one in three adult men in the U.S. was a member of a fraternal society. During the 1918 flu pandemic, mutual-aid societies organized by and for women also multiplied. New Orleans, in particular, developed a strong mutual-aid tradition, with an estimated 135 organizations dedicated to supporting Black people, nearly one-third of them for women.
For today's mutual-aid societies, the catch line is often "solidarity, not charity."
Community Loaves, too, draws on the model of neighbors helping neighbors. And Kehrli took inspiration from an earlier time as well. Her grandmother, Ruth Wiesen, was known for making cookies, pies, or fudge for every bake-sale fundraiser, neighborhood social, funeral luncheon, or other community need. And she participated in the interfaith CROP Walks against hunger for as long as she physically could. When Kehrli told Wiesen about Community Loaves, her grandmother said, "I would've loved to have [baked for] that." Wiesen died in 2020, at 105—but not before helping Kehrli put labels on Community Loaves bread bags, marshaling her frail 85-pound body and still-powerful will to help even from her nursing home.
Sourdough donation isn't widespread yet, but related efforts are out there. Kehrli drew on one Midwestern model, Neighbor Loaves, that uses commercial bakeries. And celebrated artisanal baker Guy Frenkel has started a similar initiative in L.A., Cast Your Bread, that has inspired chapters in Baltimore and Israel. Kehrli gets calls from around the country—she logs them on a "New Cities Interest" spreadsheet—and she's expecting more. By April, she hopes to have expansion support in place, including a training session for others wanting to start something similar.
Still, Kehrli is dissatisfied with a food system that leaves people hungry—and is ever-conscious of her project's limitations. "It is just one piece of work on a scale that is extremely large in terms of what's needed," she says. "Yes, we're doing our part, and yes, I want us to feel good about it, and yes, it's still not enough."
Still, recipients who learn that volunteers are doing the baking appreciate the effort. Teresa, a Hopelink client in the Kirkland area who preferred that her last name not be used, says she was touched when she found out that fellow community members made the loaves. "This to me is the representation of community, people stepping in and learning and sharing love by trying to help the community," she says. "Baking is a special genre. There's no guarantees. But when the loaves are perfect, they're amazing."
Despite its limited scale, Community Loaves has a range of impacts, even beyond addressing hunger. One of them: expanding the market for locally grown, locally milled grains. The initiative uses high-extraction and whole grain flour. It's bought wholesale from two regional mills, Cairnspring Mills and Fairhaven Organic Flour Mill, and then purchased in smaller units by bakers as part of their contribution. "Flour has been relegated to the commodity market for a long time. Just like coffee and craft beer have gone through their days, flour is having its moment," Kehrli says. "We are helping to educate and share that not all flour is the same. I think we are helping support an improved foundation for choosing local ingredients that have been minimally processed."
The high-extraction flour has higher nutritional content, Kehrli asserts, including fiber and protein. People with celiac disease and gluten intolerance still can't eat bread—but anecdotally, many with gluten sensitivity have reported the Community Loaves iteration doesn't disagree with them. "We attribute that to the longer sourdough fermentation process and the quality of the flour," she says.
Then there's the effect on bakers, who not only give to others, but also benefit from connecting and contributing, safely and from home, during a pandemic. They come from a range of ages and backgrounds. Kinsley Ogunmola, for instance, a millennial software engineer, leads a hub in Seattle's Queen Anne neighborhood. Up to 20 volunteers, ranging from 20-somethings to retirement age, drop off their loaves with him biweekly (he wrote a special code to let them into the building). From there, he coordinates transportation to the food pantry. "Our lobby smells like a bakery every other Sunday," he says. "My neighbor keeps asking me about bread now whenever I see him. I hope it spreads."
Community Loaves starts volunteers off with an online introductory session, which Kehrli leads. She's done more than 50 to date. At one orientation, in September, the range of the bakers' experience was apparent. There was Diane Moore, who had celebrated her 50th birthday with a weeklong baking course in France. And there was Clare Chan, who had zero baking experience but wanted to volunteer along with her teenage sons Caelen Yoong, 16, and Lucien Yoong, 14.
By January, Moore and Chan were both still involved and loving it. Chan reported that her family hadn't missed a single bread-donation Sunday since they started. In her native Singapore, she used to volunteer in senior homes, but she loves that the whole family can be involved in this service, and she hopes they'll keep it up even after the pandemic. "It's a humbling and rewarding experience for us to put in the time to make the bread and know that it's going to families in need," she says. "When you take the loaves out of the oven, that's the best part."
Moore had thought she might get bored making a sandwich loaf over and over, but found that consistency is its own challenge. "It turns out it's hard to perfect the pan loaf. It's not as forgiving in some ways as an artisan loaf. I feel like each time I'm learning more," she says. "This project nourishes me. It's been a gift. I was just ready to hand off bread, but there's a lovely connection to a community of bakers who share resources and recipes. It's a joyful project, and rewarding."
LYNN FREEHILL-MAYE writes about sustainability and related topics from her home in New York's Hudson Valley. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times, CityLab, Civil Eats, and Sierra, among other publications.
Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine.
By Sean Fleming
What thrives in poor soil, can tolerate rising temperatures and is brimming with calories?
The cassava – sometimes referred to as "the Rambo root." This plant could potentially help alleviate world hunger, provide economically viable agriculture and even put an end to soil erosion, according to research published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice.
Also known as yuca (but distinct from the ornamental yucca plant) the root of the cassava is a staple of many Caribbean and South American meals – and it will thrive in conditions too difficult for many other plants.
A Gateway Crop
"Evidence suggests (cassava) could potentially revive degraded land and make it productive anew, generating numerous positive socioeconomic and environmental impacts with proper crop management," said Maria Eliza Villarino, the report's lead author and a researcher at the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), in the science publication, PhysOrg.
An estimated 40% of land in Colombia suffers from degradation, according to the alliance. It, therefore, "serves as a good testing ground for exploring the different possibilities that farming cassava could lead to."
The cassava could become a gateway crop, helping farmers bring once unproductive land back into use. Soil that has been revived could then be used to grow commercial crops like coffee or chocolate, corn or soy.
But Cassava Mustn't Tread the Same Path as Soy
The global market for soy is estimated at around $150 billion, and around 80% of all soy production comes from the U.S., Brazil and Argentina. Making space for soy farms has resulted in significant deforestation in parts of the Amazon rainforest, with the WWF estimating that "an area roughly the size of California" was lost to deforestation around the world between 2004 and 2017.
"We acknowledge that scaling up production of any commodity risks an increase in deforestation and biodiversity loss, and we need to do more research," Augusto Castro Nunez, a land-use and climate specialist at the alliance, said in the PhysOrg article. "But what we know is that we need something new; what has been done to prevent deforestation is not working, and this is something new."
Reposted with permission from World Economic Forum.
- What to Plant in a Warming World - EcoWatch ›
- Africa's Organic Farmers Struggle to Get Certified - EcoWatch ›
By Tara Lohan
For 10,000 years we've relied on domesticated plants for our staple foods. But it's the wild relatives of those crops that are becoming increasingly important to our future food supply.
Over hundreds of thousands of years, these wild foods have adapted to pests, diseases, extreme climates and other inhospitable conditions. That makes their genes particularly important for plant breeding, especially when we're looking for foods that can withstand a changing climate. Some varieties are still key food and cultural resources today, too.
In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have taken stock of these wild foods and the conservation threats they face. They inventoried and modeled the distribution of 600 native wild taxa in the United States, including the relatives of barley, beans, grapes, hops, plums, potatoes and other foods.
What they found was concerning: More than half of the wild relatives are endangered in their native habitats. And that poses a threat to our future.
"The contributions of crop wild relatives to food security depend on their conservation and accessibility for use," the researchers wrote. With mounting extinction threats, the researchers recommended that three quarters of the taxa be deemed an "urgent priority" for collection to boost conservation.
To do that we need a multipronged approach.
"Given the diversity of U.S. native crop wild relatives prioritized for action, ambitious collaborative conservation efforts are needed among gene banks, botanical gardens, community conservation initiatives, and organizations focused on habitat conservation," they wrote.
So far ex situ conservation — in gene banks and botanical gardens — is insufficient. The study showed 14% of the plants were entirely absent from these repositories, and another 33% were found in fewer than 10 locations. That leaves us with "relatively limited genetic variation for research and education," the researchers concluded.
Crop Wild Relatives seed bank at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. Michael Major, Crop Trust / CC BY-ND 2.0
Better collaboration with botanical gardens, hobby gardeners and citizen conservationists can help close that gap, they recommend.
Outside of seed banks and gardens, protecting the habitat where these species grow naturally is also important.
Based on the researchers' mapping of the potential distribution of the plants, some are likely to be found in areas that are already protected — such as the Patuxent Research Refuge, the Grand Canyon, Olympic National Park, the Indiana Dunes, Gulf Islands, Yellowstone and other areas.
But more habitat conservation efforts are needed, and that may include the widening of current protected areas or the establishment of new protected spaces, they write.
That can be tough to do with competing demands on land, but it will also provide additional benefits.
Conserving these natural habitats, the study finds, will help safeguard ecosystems and other species, providing both "known as well as currently unrecognized benefits to society."
Beyond the work of scientists and land managers, the fate of these wild foods may come down to better public awareness. And for that, botanical gardens could be the best champions.
"While all involved organizations will need to enhance their public outreach around native crop wild relatives," the researchers conclude, "botanical gardens, which receive more than 120 million visitors a year in the United States, could play a particularly pivotal role in introducing these species to people, communicating their value and plight, and better connecting the concepts of food security, agricultural livelihoods, and services provided by nature for the public."
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
- 26 Organizations Working to Conserve Seed Biodiversity - EcoWatch ›
- How Proper Crop Protection Ensures Global Food Safety - EcoWatch ›
- Lack of Wild Bees Causes Crop Shortage, Could Lead to Food ... ›