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By Phineas Rueckert

Last year, scientist Stephen Hawking gave humans a shelf-life of 1,000 more years on Earth.

Apparently, 2017 hasn't been to his liking—as Hawking shaved another 400 years off that prediction.

The world-renowned scientist said Tuesday that he believes humans will only last another 600 years before Earth becomes a "sizzling ball of fire" that marks the end of humanity, The Sun reported.

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Nourishing the Planet

By Graham Salinger

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reports that an estimated one-third of the food produced worldwide for human consumption is wasted annually. In the U.S., an estimated 40 percent of edible food is thrown away by retailers and households. In the United Kingdom, 8.3 million tons of food is wasted by households each year. To make the world more food secure consumers need to make better use of the food that is produced by wasting less.

Today, Nourishing the Planet presents five ways that consumers can help prevent food waste.

1. Compost—In addition to contributing to food insecurity, food waste is harmful to the environment. Rotting food that ends up in landfills releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas, that is a major contributor to global climate change and can negatively affect crop yields. Composting is a process that allows food waste to be converted into nutrient rich organic fertilizer for gardening.

Compost in Action—In Denver, the city contracts with A1 Organics, a local organic recycling business, to take people’s waste and turn it into compost for local farmers. Similarly, a new pilot program in New York City allows patrons to donate food scraps to a composting company that gives the compost to local farmers.

2. Donate to food banks—Donating food that you don’t plan to use is a great way to save food while helping to feed the needy in your community.

Food Banks in Action—In Atlanta, Ga., the Atlanta Community Food Bank relies on food donations to supply 20 million pounds of food to the poor each year. In Tennessee, the Second Harvest Food Bank works to reduce waste resulting from damaged cans by testing the cans to make sure that they don’t have holes in them that would allow food to spoil. For more on how you can donate food that would otherwise go to waste, visit Feed America, a national network of food banks.

3. Better home storage—Food is often wasted because it isn’t stored properly, which allows it to mold, rot or get freezer burn. By storing food properly, consumers can reduce the amount of food they waste.

Better storage in Action—The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource for consumers to learn a range of techniques to increase the shelf life of food. For example, they recommend blanching vegetables—briefly boiling vegetables in water—and then freezing them. They also stress canning fruits and vegetables to protect them against bacteria.

4. Buy less food—People often buy more food than they need and allow the excess food to go to waste. Reducing food waste requires that consumers take responsibility for their food consumption. Instead of buying more food, consumers should buy food more responsibly.

Buying Less Food in Action—Making a shopping list and planning meals before shopping will help you buy the amount of food that is needed so that you don’t waste food. There are a number of services that help consumers shop responsibly—Mealmixer and e-mealz help consumers make a weekly shopping list that fits the exact amount of food that they need to buy. Eating leftovers is another great way to reduce the amount of food that needs to be purchased. At leftoverchef.com, patrons can search for recipes based on leftover ingredients that they have.  Similarly, Love Food Hate Waste offers cooking enthusiasts recipes for their leftovers.

5. Responsible grocery shopping—Consumers should make sure that they shop at places that practice responsible waste management. Many grocery stores are hesitant to donate leftovers to food banks because they're worried about possible liabilities if someone gets sick. But consumers can encourage grocery chains to reduce food waste by supporting local food banks in a responsible manner.

Responsible grocery shopping in ActionSafeway and Vons grocery chains donate extra food to Feeding America. Additionally, Albertsons started a perishable food recovery program that donates meat and dairy to food banks. The Fresh Rescue program, which partners with various national supermarkets, has also helped food banks with fundraising in 37 states.

For more information, click here.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Worldwatch Institute

As we head into 2012, many of us will be resolving to lose those few extra pounds, save more money, or spend a few more hours with our families and friends. But there are also some resolutions we can make to make our lives a little greener. Each of us, especially in the U.S., can make a commitment to reducing our environmental impacts.

“The global community, and particularly people living in industrialized societies, have put unsustainable demands on our planet’s limited resources,” says Robert Engelman, president of the Worldwatch Institute, a global environmental research organization based on Washington, D.C. “If we expect to be able to feed, shelter and provide even basic living conditions to our growing population in years to come, we must act now to change.”

The United Nations has designated 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. Broadening access to sustainable energy is essential to solving many of the world’s challenges, including food production, security and poverty. “With so many hungry and poor in the world, addressing these issues is critical,” says Danielle Nierenberg, director of Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project. “Fortunately, the solutions to these problems can come from simple innovations and practices.” 

The Nourishing the Planet team recently traveled to 25 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and will be soon traveling to Latin America, to research and highlight such solutions. The project shines a spotlight on innovations in agriculture that can help alleviate hunger and poverty while also protecting the environment. These innovations are elaborated in Worldwatch’s flagship annual report, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.

Hunger, poverty and climate change are issues that we can all help address. Here are 12 simple steps to go green in 2012:

(1) Recycle

Recycling programs exist in cities and towns across the U.S., helping to save energy and protect the environment. In 2009, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require all homes and businesses to use recycling and composting collection programs. As a result, more than 75 percent of all material collected is being recycled, diverting 1.6 million tons from the landfills annually—double the weight of the Golden Gate Bridge. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for each pound of aluminum recovered, Americans save the energy resources necessary to generate roughly 7.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity—enough to power a city the size of Pittsburgh for six years.

What you can do:

  • Put a separate container next to your trash can or printer, making it easier to recycle your bottles, cans and paper.

(2) Turn off the lights

On the last Saturday in March—March 31 in 2012—hundreds of people, businesses and governments around the world turn off their lights for an hour as part of Earth Hour, a movement to address climate change.

What you can do:

  • Earth Hour happens only once a year, but you can make an impact every day by turning off lights during bright daylight, or whenever you will be away for an extended period of time.

(3) Make the switch

In 2007, Australia became the first country to “ban the bulb,” drastically reducing domestic usage of incandescent light bulbs. By late 2010, incandescent bulbs had been totally phased out, and, according to the country’s environment minister, this simple move has made a big difference, cutting an estimated 4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2012. China also recently pledged to replace the 1 billion incandescent bulbs used in its government offices with more energy efficient models within five years.

What you can do:

  • A bill in Congress to eliminate incandescent in the U.S. failed in 2011, but you can still make the switch at home. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use only 20–30 percent of the energy required by incandescents to create the same amount of light, and LEDs use only 10 percent, helping reduce both electric bills and carbon emissions.

(4) Turn on the tap

The bottled water industry sold 8.8 billion gallons of water in 2010, generating nearly $11 billion in profits. Yet plastic water bottles create huge environmental problems. The energy required to produce and transport these bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year, yet approximately 75 percent of water bottles are not recycled—they end up in landfills, litter roadsides, and pollute waterways and oceans. And while public tap water is subject to strict safety regulations, the bottled water industry is not required to report testing results for its products. According to a study, 10 of the most popular brands of bottled water contain a wide range of pollutants, including pharmaceuticals, fertilizer residue and arsenic.

What you can do:

  • Fill up your glasses and reusable water bottles with water from the sink. The U.S. has more than 160,000 public water systems, and by eliminating bottled water you can help to keep nearly 1 million tons of bottles out of the landfill, as well as save money on water costs.

(5) Turn down the heat

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that consumers can save up to 15 percent on heating and cooling bills just by adjusting their thermostats. Turning down the heat by 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours can result in savings of 5–15 percent on your home heating bill.

What you can do:

  • Turn down your thermostat when you leave for work, or use a programmable thermostat to control your heating settings.

(6) Support food recovery programs

Each year, roughly a third of all food produced for human consumption—approximately 1.3 billion tons—gets lost or wasted, including 34 million tons in the U.S. according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Grocery stores, bakeries and other food providers throw away tons of food daily that is perfectly edible but is cosmetically imperfect or has passed its expiration date. In response, food recovery programs run by homeless shelters or food banks collect this food and use it to provide meals for the hungry, helping to divert food away from landfills and into the bellies of people who need it most.

What you can do:

  • Encourage your local restaurants and grocery stores to partner with food rescue organizations, like City Harvest in New York City or Second Harvest Heartland in Minnesota.
  • Go through your cabinets and shelves and donate any non-perishable canned and dried foods that you won’t be using to your nearest food bank or shelter.

(7) Buy local

“Small Business Saturday,” falling between “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday,” was established in 2010 as a way to support small businesses during the busiest shopping time of the year. Author and consumer advocate Michael Shuman argues that local small businesses are more sustainable because they are often more accountable for their actions, have smaller environmental footprints, and innovate to meet local conditions—providing models for others to learn from.

What you can do:

  • Instead of relying exclusively on large supermarkets, consider farmers markets and local farms for your produce, eggs, dairy and meat. Food from these sources is usually fresher and more flavorful, and your money will be going directly to these food producers.

(8) Get out and ride

We all know that carpooling and using public transportation helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as our gas bills. Now, cities across the country are investing in new mobility options that provide exercise and offer an alternative to being cramped in subways or buses. Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C. have major bike sharing programs that allow people to rent bikes for short-term use. Similar programs exist in other cities, and more are planned for places from Miami, Florida, to Madison, Wisconsin.

What you can do:

  • If available, use your city’s bike share program to run short errands or commute to work. Memberships are generally inexpensive (only $75 for the year in Washington, D.C.), and by eliminating transportation costs, as well as a gym membership, you can save quite a bit of money.
  • Even if without bike share programs, many cities and towns are incorporating bike lanes and trails, making it easier and safer to use your bike for transportation and recreation.

(9) Share a car

Car sharing programs spread from Europe to the U.S. nearly 13 years ago and are increasingly popular, with U.S. membership jumping 117 percent between 2007 and 2009. According to the University of California Transportation Center, each shared car replaces 15 personally owned vehicles, and roughly 80 percent of more than 6,000 car-sharing households surveyed across North America got rid of their cars after joining a sharing service. In 2009, car-sharing was credited with reducing U.S. carbon emissions by more than 482,000 tons. Innovative programs such as Chicago’s I-GO are even introducing solar-powered cars to their fleets, making the impact of these programs even more eco-friendly.

What you can do:

  • Join a car share program. As of July 2011, there were 26 such programs in the U.S., with more than 560,000 people sharing over 10,000 vehicles. Even if you don’t want to get rid of your own car, using a shared car when traveling in a city can greatly reduce the challenges of finding parking (car share programs have their own designated spots), as well as your environmental impact as you run errands or commute to work.

(10) Plant a garden

Whether you live in a studio loft or a suburban McMansion, growing your own vegetables is a simple way to bring fresh and nutritious food literally to your doorstep. Researchers at the FAO and the United Nations Development Programme estimate that 200 million city dwellers around the world are already growing and selling their own food, feeding some 800 million of their neighbors. Growing a garden doesn’t have to take up a lot of space, and in light of high food prices and recent food safety scares, even a small plot can make a big impact on your diet and wallet.

What you can do:

  • Plant some lettuce in a window box. Lettuce seeds are cheap and easy to find, and when planted in full sun, one window box can provide enough to make several salads worth throughout a season.

(11) Compost

And what better way to fertilize your garden than using your own composted organic waste. You will not only reduce costs by buying less fertilizer, but you will also help to cut down on food and other organic waste.

What you can do:

  • If you are unsure about the right ways to compost, websites such as HowToCompost.org and organizations such as the U.S. Composting Council, provide easy steps to reuse your organic waste.

(12) Reduce your meat consumption

Livestock production accounts for about 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 23 percent of all global water used in agriculture. Yet global meat production has experienced a 20 percent growth rate since 2000 to meet the per capita increase of meat consumption of about 42 kilograms.

What you can do:

  • You don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan, but by simply cutting down on the amount of meat you consume can go a long way. Consider substituting one meal day with a vegetarian option. And if you are unable to think of how to substitute your meat-heavy diet, websites such as Meatless Monday and Eating Well offer numerous vegetarian recipes that are healthy for you and the environment.

The most successful and lasting New Year’s resolutions are those that are practiced regularly and have an important goal. Watching the ball drop in Times Square happens only once a year, but for more and more people across the world, the impacts of hunger, poverty and climate change are felt every day. Thankfully, simple practices, such as recycling or riding a bike, can have great impact. As we prepare to ring in the new year, let’s all resolve to make 2012 a healthier, happier and greener year for all.

For more information, click here.

Worldwatch Institute

The holidays are a time for putting others before ourselves. And with the recent news that the world’s population has surpassed 7 billion, there are a lot more “others” to consider this year. Nearly 1 billion people in the world are hungry, for example, while almost the same number are illiterate, making it hard for them to earn a living or move out of poverty. And 1 billion people—many of them children—have micronutrient deficiencies, decreasing their ability to learn and to live productive lives.

“As our global community continues to grow, so does the need to consider—and act on—the challenges we all face,” says Robert Engelman, president of the Worldwatch Institute. “Far too many women, children and men are living with less than they need and deserve.”

Fortunately, there are thousands of organizations working tirelessly in communities at home and abroad to fix these problems.

One Billion Hungry

“Although the number of undernourished people worldwide has decreased since 2009, nearly 1 billion people go to bed hungry each night, a number that is unacceptably high,” according to Danielle Nierenberg, director of Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project. Malnutrition contributes to the death of 500 million children under the age of five every year, and in Africa, a child dies every six seconds from hunger.

But more and more organizations, such as the United Nations’ World Food Programme, are using homegrown school feeding (HGSF) initiatives to alleviate hunger and poverty. HGSF programs in Brazil, India, Thailand, Kenya and elsewhere work to connect local producers with schools, helping to provide children with nutritious and fresh food while providing farmers with a stable source of income.

One Billion Tons of Food Wasted

Roughly 1.3 billion tons of food—a third of the total food produced for human consumption—is lost or wasted each year. Within the U.S., food retailers, food services and households waste approximately 40 million tons of food each year—about the same amount needed to feed the estimated 1 billion hungry people worldwide.

Organizations around the world are working to educate people on the importance of conserving food. In New York City, City Harvest collects surplus food from food providers and distributes it to more than 600 shelters and other agencies. And in West Africa, farmers are using the power of the sun to dehydrate fruits such as mangos and bananas. Experts estimate that, with nearly all of their moisture removed, the fruits’ nutrients are retained for up to six months, allowing farmers to save the 100,000 tons of mangos that go to waste each year.

One Billion Micronutrient Deficient

Nearly 1 billion people worldwide suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, including a lack of vitamin A, iron and iodine. Each year, between 250 million and 500 million children with vitamin A deficiencies become blind, and half of these children die within 12 months of losing their sight.

These problems could be alleviated by improving access to nutritious foods. In sub-Saharan Africa, AVRDC–The World Vegetable Center works to expand vegetable farming across the region, boosting access to nutrient-rich crops. And Uganda’s Developing Innovations in School Cultivation (Project DISC) educates youth about the importance of agriculture and nutritious diets. Students learn about vegetables and fruits indigenous to their communities, as well as how to process and prepare these foods for consumption. “If a person doesn’t know how to cook or prepare food, they don’t know how to eat,” says Project DISC co-founder Edward Mukiibi.

One Billion Overweight

Lack of access to healthy food doesn’t result only in hunger. More than 1 billion people around the world are overweight, and nearly half of this population is obese. Nearly 43 million children under the age of five were considered overweight in 2010. Surging international rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and arthritis are being attributed to unhealthy diets, and 2.8 million adults die each year as a result of overweight or obesity.

The United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, has urged countries around the world to make firm commitments to improving their food systems. In Mexico, where 19 million people are food insecure yet 70 percent of the country is overweight or obese, De Schutter has called for a “state of emergency” to tackle the problem. He attributes the hunger-obesity combination to the country’s focus on individual crops and export-led agriculture, and argues that a change to agricultural policies could tackle these two problems simultaneously.

Nearly One Billion Illiterate

More than three-quarters of a billion people worldwide—793 million adults—are illiterate. Although the number of people unable to read has decreased from 1 billion in 1990, illiteracy continues to prevent millions of people from moving out of poverty. For farmers in particular, being illiterate can limit access to information such as market prices, weather predictions and trainings to improve their production.

New communications technologies are providing part of the solution. A team of researchers known as Scientific Animations Without Borders is helping illiterate farmers around the world learn how to create natural pesticides or prevent crop damage using solar treatments, by producing short animated videos accessible on mobile phones. In India, farmers can receive daily updates via text or voicemail on weather and crop prices through subscription services set up by major telephone companies. Kheti, a system operated by the U.K.’s Sheffield Hallam University, even allows farmers to take pictures of problems they are having with their crops and to send them in for advice. With more than 4.6 billion mobile phone subscriptions globally, projects such as these have the potential to reach and improve the lives of many around the world.

As we gather together this holiday season to reflect on the things most important to us, let us also take the time to remember the billions of others who share our planet. Too many of the world’s neediest people will start the new year without sufficient food, nutrition or education. But by acknowledging and supporting those organizations around the world that are finding ways to nourish both people and the planet, we can all make a difference.

For more information, click here.

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