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How on Earth Can We Feed 8 Billion People?

Lester Brown, Treehugger via Alternet
In April 2005, the World Food Programme and the Chinese government jointly announced that food aid shipments to China would stop at the end of the year. For a country where a generation ago hundreds of millions of people were chronically hungry, this was a landmark achievement. Not only has China ended its dependence on food aid, but almost overnight it has become the world’s third largest food aid donor.

The key to China’s success was the economic reforms in 1978 that dismantled its system of agricultural collectives, known as production teams, and replaced them with family farms. In each village, the land was allocated among families, giving them long-term leases on their piece of land. The move harnessed the energy and ingenuity of China’s rural population, raising the grain harvest by half from 1977 to 1986. With its fast-expanding economy raising incomes, with population growth slowing, and with the grain harvest climbing, China eradicated most of its hunger in less than a decade—in fact, it eradicated more hunger in a shorter period of time than any country in history.

As we note at Earth Policy Institute, while hunger has been disappearing in China, it has been spreading throughout much of the developing world, notably sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Indian subcontinent. As a result, the number of people in developing countries who are hungry has increased from a recent historical low of 800 million in 1996 to over 1 billion today. Part of this recent rise can be attributed to higher food prices and the global economic crisis. In the absence of strong leadership, the number of hungry people in the world will rise even further, with children suffering the most.

Dealing with this problem requires addressing the long-term trends leading to growth in demand for food outpacing growth in supply. One key to the threefold expansion in the world grain harvest since 1950 was the rapid adoption in some developing countries of high-yielding wheats and rices (originally developed in Japan) and hybrid corn (from the United States). The spread of these highly productive seeds, combined with a tripling of irrigated area and an 11-fold increase in world fertilizer use, tripled the world grain harvest. Growth in irrigation and fertilizer use essentially removed soil moisture and nutrient constraints on much of the world’s cropland…
(28 August 2009)

Solar Power from Space: Moving Beyond Science Fiction

Michael D. Lemonick, Yale Environment 360
Despite the enormous promise of solar power, the drawbacks of the technology remain significant. People need electricity every day, around the clock, but there’s no part of the United States that is cloud-free 365 days a year — and no solar radiation at night. You have to find some way to store the energy for those sunless periods, and there’s not yet a large-scale way to do that.

Moreover, the best locations for solar arrays — the deserts of the American Southwest — are far from the centers of population, so even under the best of circumstances you’d have to send electricity many hundreds of miles through transmission lines that don’t yet exist.

But there is a way to tap into the sun’s energy 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and send it anywhere on the globe: Launch solar panels into space and beam the power back to Earth.

The concept sounds far-fetched and wildly impractical, and when the Pentagon and space enthusiasts began talking about it back in the 1960s and 1970s, it was. Recently, however, the idea of space-based solar power, or SBSP, has begun to look less like science fiction and more like a technology whose time may be coming, with the Pentagon and private companies ramping up efforts to make space-based solar power a reality.
(31 Aug 2009)
Not sure how much of a practical solution or how “sustainable” this would be (my gut distrusts anything that would require this much EROEI these days), but interesting nonetheless… -KS

Johnson announces awards for ‘low carbon zones’

Press Association, The Independent
Ten London boroughs have won funding to develop “low carbon zones” with schemes ranging from “energy doctors” to solar panels for schools and electric car charging points, London Mayor Boris Johnson said.

Each borough will be awarded at least £200,000 to pioneer energy efficiency and carbon reduction measures in the capital.

Ten London boroughs have won funding to develop “low carbon zones” with schemes ranging from “energy doctors” to solar panels for schools and electric car charging points, London Mayor Boris Johnson said.

Each borough will be awarded at least £200,000 to pioneer energy efficiency and carbon reduction measures in the capital…
(3 Sept 2009)

The Cruel Cost of Clunkers

Suzie Boss, Worldchanging
Cash for Clunkers, the U.S. federal program that offered rebates to buyers of fuel-efficient cars, sputtered to a halt this week after burning through $3 billion in federal funding. The program wasn’t without controversy, but it did clear the roads of an estimated 500,000 gas guzzlers. Meanwhile, thousands of low-income consumers pay dearly to keep their clunkers running so they can get to work and stay a step ahead of the bill collector. An innovative nonprofit called Bonnie CLAC has discovered that getting these families into reliable, fuel-efficient vehicles can improve everything from their job prospects to family eating habits to children’s health.

Bonnie CLAC (which stands for Car Loans and Counseling) started in rural New Hampshire, where public transportation options are limited. Founder Robert Chambers, a former car salesman, saw how used car dealers routinely prey on the poor. Buyers who come in with spotty credit histories and little cash typically drive away in the worst cars that are almost certain to break down. That sets off a cascade of woes — being late to work, missing medical appointments, adding car repair bills to an already stretched budget.

Chambers started Bonnie CLAC to address the web of issues tied to affordable transportation for the working poor. His initiative has earned him the Purpose Prize, which recognizes social innovators who are over 60, and generated a recent invitation to the White House to meet with President Obama for a summit on community solutions…
(2 Sept 2009)

How to Grow Democracy

multiple authors, The Nation

“Food democracy” has become the rallying cry of an emerging grassroots movement. It certainly sounds good–but what exactly does it mean? “Eating local,” as more and more people strive to do, is part of it. At the most basic level, though, food democracy requires a transformation of the food industry, so that workers and consumers can exercise control over what they produce and eat. As the Small Planet Institute defines it, “Food democracy means the right of all to an essential of life–safe, nutritious food. It also suggests fair access to land to grow food and a fair return for those who labor to produce it. Food democracy concerns itself with the future as well: It implies economic rules that encourage communities to safeguard the soil, water, and wildlife on which all our lives and futures depend.” The vision is compelling, but how can it be made concrete? What are the obstacles to democratizing the food system, and how can they be overcome? For this forum, we asked five leading figures of this country’s food movement to reflect on how food democracy can be achieved, here and now. Their responses follow. –The Editors

In This Forum
Alice Waters: A Healthy Constitution
Dan Barber: Why Cooking Matters
Dave Murphy: An American Right to Food
Grace Lee Boggs: Detroit’s “Quiet Revolution”
LaDonna Redmond: Food is Freedom
(2 Sept 2009)

Bike-o-rama: A Roundup of the Best in New Bikes, Bike Infrastructure, Blogs, Books and More

Worldchanging team, Worldchanging
For decades, citizens and officials have been working together to create the infrastructure necessary to change mindsets about who gets to use the roads and why. It’s no secret that bicycling is the most eco-friendly, inexpensive and efficient means of going about daily business in your dense community. Still, particularly in North America, it’s clear that “streets are for cars” is a meme that won’t die without a fight.

But good leadership is proving that it’s possible — even in cities that developed around the automobile — to reclaim the streets. By gradually establishing separate bike amenities and protective laws, leaders in cities like Copenhagen, Portland, Ore., and Amsterdam have helped bikers and drivers learn how to share the road.

Seeing how this has worked for and benefited the people in these model cities, many leaders and activists in the Global North and South are looking to follow suit to help residents improve their health, decrease air pollution and lower their carbon emissions. Now, new bike infrastructure and bike-sharing systems seem to be appearing almost daily on city streets throughout the world — signaling to many that the bicycling-as-transportation movement might be on the brink of reaching a much anticipated critical mass.

This weekend, we are highlighting these signals in our Bike-o-rama Roundup, in the hopes of showing just how strong the movement has grown. What you’ll find in this collection is a guide to the new and time-tested tools, ideas, infrastructure and resources shaping this revolution. These are the established and emerging voices, efforts and innovations that we believe to be Worldchanging; helping us to grab ahold of our future by the handlebars, and pedal down the path toward a bright green tomorrow…
(28 Aug 2009)