The Royal Society: People and planet
Yesterday, the Royal Society published a report, People and the planet which (at last) recognises
Population and consumption are both important: the combination of increasing global population and increasing overall material consumption has implications for a finite planet.
So now “increasing overall material consumption” is a problem. To put that another way “economic growth is a problem”. Growth is too crude a measure for policy making. It’s an artificial construction of little practical use.
The authors avoid straightforward examples e.g. we Eat beef and starve the poor. Beef is one of those foods that take enormous amounts of production capacity – land, energy, water – squeezing out more productive foods. Just one example would help to convince me that they not only saw a problem but had the balls to tell us the things we must do to make it better.
In the Royal Society video on YouTube, Sir John Sulston FRS, Chair of the Institute for Science, Ethics & Innovation, University of Manchester, tells us the report is by a group of 22 who are drawn from a wide variety of disciplines across the natural and social sciences. He says we have a dual problem of “the still growing population and increasing consumption”.
He also says that there had not been much consideration of population over the past twenty years but lots of talk about consumption. That’s not my experience: At almost every conference I attend, someone says there are too many people for the planet to support. What they should say of course, is “There’s too many wasteful, greedy, megaconsumers like us”.
The forsight report: The future of food and farming
Sir John missed last year’s Royal Society conference “Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture: meeting the challenges of food security and climate change”. It was introduced by Sir John Beddington who is responsible for the Foresight Reports, in particular The future of food and farming report
The foresight report’s introduction says
The global food system will experience an unprecedented confluence of pressures over the next 40 years. On the demand side, global population size will increase from nearly seven billion today to eight billion by 2030, and probably to over nine billion by 2050; many people are likely to be wealthier, creating demand for a more varied, high-quality diet requiring additional resources to produce. On the production side, competition for land, water and energy will intensify, while the effects of climate change will become increasingly apparent.
and later says
The Report carries a stark warning for both current and future decision-makers on the consequences of inaction – food production and the food system must assume a much higher priority in political agendas across the world. To address the unprecedented challenges that lie ahead the food system needs to change more radically in the coming decades than ever before, including during the Industrial and Green Revolutions.
As I remember the speakers at ‘meeting the challenge’ were pretty heavy on how science can help food production, an approach which I criticise in Food: Scientists vs amateurs.
I don’t remember anything that was said about cutting consumption – except by me – but the premise seemed to be there are so many people in the world that the can’t be fed. I discuss the problem with this approach in It’s the poor that starve. I know it’s ******* (clue: begins with ‘f’) obvious but apparently not to professors of bioscience or ethics & innovation. If it is clear to them they don’t make it clear to me.
No clues from the Royal Society
I am both slightly encouraged and dismayed by the People and Planet stuff – they at least recognise there is a problem of consumption but dismally fail to give any clues as to how we should change our consumption patterns. Sir John, on behalf of the People and Planet group of 22 experts, recognises a problem but says what we do about it isn’t very clear because it involves (international?) negotiations. Sir John also says we need a “rethinking of socio-economics”.
Well, Sir Professor FRS, after you’ve done the “rethinking of socio-economics” what’s your opening stance in these negotiations? Can you or your expert’s give us a clue? I can give you a start. Try looking up the Green Ration Book and …
Don’t use cars much
Don’t eat beef
As members of a society and a class that pollutes the world with our consumption, let’s pay our dues to the poor, who pollute the world less than us.
Then the poor won’t be so poor and won’t go hungry.
Chairman, The Pollution Tax Association.
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