Can sustainable food lead to sustainability overall?

What is the route to get people thinking about sustainability? If we could answer this question, then maybe we could direct our efforts more towards that route and we could get ourselves moving in the direction of sustainability a little bit faster.

I would like to propose that food is the route we want to take, the one that will have the greatest impact. Through this route of food, I believe the economy will begin to change with it. There are many other factors that are going to have to change to see a sustainable economy, but I would like to argue that food is the perfect place to start.

Many people point to means of transportations such driving less, flying less, using public transportation. Other people say that people need to buy less or live simpler, maybe even self-sufficient lives. While still others suggest moving to renewable energy sources is the solution to the problem. These are good, but I think they all pose strong obstacles with little incentive to motivate the majority of people to consider their ecological footprint in these ways. They only experience the inconveniences and don’t see the benefits anywhere in the near future. These will each come with time, but I think food is the way to get the wheels turning in people’s heads to think about sustainability and how their actions have a great effect on the world we live in.

With this blog I would like to show why food is the best route to sustainability over all. There are two points I am going to use to make my point. First, food is central to every person, and secondly, food plays a huge role in our economy and environment and therefore, plays a crucial role in transforming our unsustainable world into a sustainable one. The economy plays a huge role in this transformation towards sustainability and food markets can even begin to change other markets in the economy.

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The Looming Risks of Climate Change

The climate is changing and with these changes come risks.  Risks that factories and homes will be destroyed by flooding, droughts will result in lost crops, sea levels will consume the homes of many humans and species, and many other possible outcomes.  Given the potential losses due to climate change and severity of these events, something must be done to prevent further climate change.  Risk management is a tool which helps individuals, communities, corporations, and governments to understand the implications that climate change has on the future and how each person will experience the negative consequences of these changes.

One way to asses risk is to analyze the impacts of exposure and probability of an event occurring.  In the case of climate change, exposure and vulnerability greatly vary depending on the region and society involved.  Measuring exposure involves analyzing how much a community, country, or world has to lose if the climate continues to change.  Events such as droughts, rising temperatures, rising sea levels, and other climate-related disasters all impact a communities ability to produce goods and shelter for the people living in the area and those who rely on the resources provided.

After analyzing potential risks, the next step in risk management is examining how to manage these risks.  One option would be to avoid the risk altogether; however, humans have already been depleting the earth’s fossil fuels, emitting carbon, and interacting harmfully with the environment for many years.  Thus, we cannot avoid climate change because it is already happening.  Another option is to transfer or share in this risk; however, the whole world is affected by climate change, and no outside party has the ability to take on the risk of climate change.  Thirdly, one could accept the risk, but this option would allow for negative outcomes such as rising sea levels, droughts, and other disasters to continue to become bigger and more frequent due to the negative interactions between humans and the environment.  As a result, simply accepting the risk of climate change creates a bigger risk.  Through approaching the risk of climate change by working to reduce the probability and impacts of negative climate change, human beings can work to reduce the economic and ecological costs of climate related disasters.

As sea levels rise and ocean waters warm, species who depend on these ecosystems for food and shelter will suffer.  Likewise, people who depend on these ecosystems for food or income (such as fishing) will feel the negative impacts of climate change.  Additionally, the species and humans who live in coastal areas face the risk of rising sea levels overtaking their homes and habitats.  Here, we see the large exposure humans and animals have to the risk of ocean change.  Once this impact has been analyzed, we see how climate change affects the world here and now because both depend on the environment to survive.  Unless communities and humanity at large work to lessen human interaction (such as living) along delicate areas such as coast lines, then we are only increasing the probability of climate change.

Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies, uses risk management to work to prevent negative climate change, and they encourage others to do the same.  With insurance contracts all over the world, Munich Re understands how they are exposed to a large amount of the climate interruptions resulting from climate change.  Once Munich Re began to understand the magnitude of their exposure to the negative consequences of climate change, they established a program called RENT (Renewable Energy and New Technology) which works to develop – and insure- new energy technologies which do not rely on fossil fuels.  When new technologies or projects are created, those projects need insurance and warranty coverage in order for investors to manage the risk of a potential downfall; however, with limited loss data on these new technologies, insurance companies may hesitate to work with such technologies.  Nevertheless, Munich Re has taken an active role in working with energy companies to provide insurance and warranty coverage so that potential investors have a backing on their investments.  By providing such warranties and insurance options, Munich Re allows for energy companies -and investors- to create new technologies such as solar and wind energy.  In doing so, Munich Re has recognized their exposure to the negative consequences of climate change and has begun to work to lower the probability of a disaster by developing and investing in energy that would reduce carbon emissions and not deplete the earth’s finite source of fossil fuels.

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Ecotourism: Beneficial or Destructive to the Environment?

Shannon 1Ecotourism is a form of tourism that was developed to be mutually beneficial for the environment and the local people living in the area. There are many definitions of ecotourism but one of the most widely used definitions is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people”. Ecotourism destinations are built on five main principles: minimizing the environmental impact of tourism, building environmental and cultural awareness, providing direct financial benefits for conservation, providing financial benefits and empowerment for local people, and raising sensitivity to the host country’s cultural, political, social, and environmental climate. Ecotourism is a way for the local community to benefit financially for conserving their environment.

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Sustainable Branding

With natural resources running out, the environment going down the drain, and the younger generations demanding ethical, transparent, and environmentally respectable businesses, the time for businesses to start doing sustainable branding has already begun.  Not only should companies transition to a sustainable model because it is the morally and ethically right thing to do, but because there are profits to be had.[1]  While many companies have already started reimaging themselves as ethical, transparent, and environmentally conscious, there are many companies that have yet to get on the bandwagon.  Every competitive business that does not currently practice sustainable methods will have to change soon if they want to stay competitive in the quickly emerging ethics driven market.[2]  This is a hopeful sign that the future of consumerism and our capitalist society are heading in a better direction.

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The Hidden Costs of Hamburgers

America: the land of the over nourished and home of the unhealthy. Despite big box gyms in every city, numerous fad diets, and size 0 models as the epitome of beauty, all America has to show for our skinny-obsessed society is expanding waistlines and rising medical bills. What could possibly be to blame for this dichotomy of ideality versus reality? What was once reserved for special occasions and holidays, Americans are now eating meat an alarming rate. In the span of approximately 30 years, from the end of World War II to the mid 1970’s annual beef consumption per person in America doubled. To date Americans eat approximately 3 times more meat than people in other first world countries, clocking in at 200 pounds per American per year. The amount of meat consumed in the United States is extremely unsustainable in both environmental and economic terms. It is estimated that the total externalized costs of U.S. animal food production costs the nation $415 billion a year. Healthcare costs account for the majority of the externalized costs of animal food production (Figure 1). The trajectory of meat consumption is alarmingly predictable, as countries begin to become more modernized and incomes begin to grow, people begin to eat more meat. But is meat consumption really indicative of a successful life?

Figure 1

Figure 1

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Adopting Permaculture as an Alternative Lifestyle

Although 842 million people around the world are food insecure (malnourished, facing chronic hunger and starvation etc) there is not a problem with food production, rather the way we have chosen to distribute food is the main culprit.

In order to combat unequal food distribution, which exists for multiple reasons, new methods and techniques must be adopted to ensure that everyone can be fed. With 70% of the global population being fed by small-scale farmers, the majority of whom are women, it would be beneficial to ensure that these farmers have access to the resources they need so that they can not only produce a dependable crop, but do so with as little environmental impact as possible.

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The societal costs of rising sea levels

In the debate surrounding rising sea levels, few arguments stem from the ecological scientists and economists working to study it. In an effort to bring their expertise and insights into the discussion this paper compiles the support for rising sea levels, its potential costs, and how society can internalize these costs. Economics provides a good foundation from which to approach the topic of rising sea levels, but some ideas such as the concept of the “long run” maximization of profits for a firm need alteration. Since scientists can increasingly accurately measure the rate of ice melt and subsequent consequences on the global economy, an economically efficient solution could be a permit abatement system by which a firm’s carbon dioxide emissions are limited. This suggests that firms can trade their permits to maximize efficiency and limit the continued pollution, which causes sea level rise.

Chris 1Before exploring the economic impact of sea level rise, we must first consider the different costs associated with it. Biologist David Archer suggests two reasons for the rise in sea level: “First, the water in the oceans expands as it gets warmer; this is called ‘thermal expansion.’…Second, additional water enters the ocean from the melting of ice on land” (Archer 94-94). As Archer posits, the heating of the planet through emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases causes the ocean to absorb more heat, expanding and causing sea levels to rise. The below graphic displays the carbon dioxide contained in ocean water off the coast of India and Bangladesh in the Indian Ocean. The dark red color denotes heightened levels of carbon dioxide in the ocean, and as the diagram shows, carbon dioxide levels remain quite high off the coast of Bangladesh, causing higher water temperature. Similar data for many different parts of the ocean can be found here. Continue reading

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