There’s a lot of bad news in the UN Global Environment Outlook, but a sustainable future is still possible



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It’s not all doom and gloom – pathways to restore the health of our planet do exist.
wonderisland/Shutterstock

Pedro Fidelman, The University of Queensland

The Sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6), the most comprehensive environmental assessment produced by the UN in five years, brought us both good and bad news.

The environment has continued to deteriorate since the first GEO-6 report in 1997, with potentially irreversible impacts if not effectively addressed. But pathways to significant change do exist, and a sustainable future is still possible.

Launched in March at the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, the 700-page report involved nearly 200 global experts who collaborated over 18 months.




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It covers, in detail, a range of topics, including air, biodiversity, oceans and coasts, land and freshwater, climate change, human health and energy.

And it assessed the state of the global environment, the effectiveness of policy responses, and possible pathways to achieve the environmental goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The good news

There is a fair bit of negative information in the GEO-6, which unfortunately reflects the overall state of environmental affairs globally. But it is not all doom and gloom, the GEO-6 has many positive, solution-oriented messages too.

The GEO-6 advises that pathways and approaches to systemic change exist, which must be scaled up quickly to steer the planet towards more sustainable futures.




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The considerable connections between environmental, social and economic policies can inform multiple goals. So policies addressing entire systems – such as food, energy and waste – are more likely to have beneficial impact.

For instance, reducing our use of fossil fuels leads to health benefits by decreasing outdoor air pollution responsible for premature deaths. And efforts to eliminate hunger (such as changes in agriculture production) can help address climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation and chemical pollution.

With the window for action closing quickly, given the unprecedented rate of global environmental change, the GEO-6 is calling for more ambitious and innovative policy.

We need significant change leading us to decarbonisation, a circular economy, sustainable agriculture and food systems, and better adapting socio-economic systems to climate change.

The bad news

The GEO-6 warns the overall condition of the global environment continues to deteriorate, driven mainly by population growth, urbanisation, economic development, technological change and climate change.

Here’s what we’re dealing with:

  • air pollution currently causes an estimated 6 to 7 million premature deaths annually
  • we might be witnessing the sixth mass species extinction in the planet’s history
  • 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year as a result of mismanagement of domestic waste in coastal areas
  • warming ocean waters are leading to mass mortality of coral reefs across the world’s tropics
  • 29% of all lands are degradation hotspots
  • pathogen-polluted drinking water and inadequate sanitation cause approximately 1.4 million human deaths annually, with many millions more becoming ill.

These and other issues reported in the GEO-6 will lead to ongoing and potentially irreversible impacts if they are not addressed effectively, and immediately.

Typically, environmental policy efforts are based on individual issues, like air pollution, or industry sectors. But this approach doesn’t address the complexity of contemporary environmental problems that require system-oriented efforts at large scales.

Under current policy scenarios, the environmental dimension of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as other goals like the Paris Agreement, are unlikely to be achieved.

The GEO-6 calls for urgent, inclusive and sustained action by governments, business and society proportionate to the scale and pace of global environmental change.

What it means for Australia

In Australia, positive action is taking place at state and local levels of government, where support for more ambitious emissions targets is generally stronger than at the Australian government level.

And many sectors of society and business are shifting towards more sustainable practices. The booming uptake of rooftop solar and the development of large-scale renewable projects illustrates such a shift.

But when it comes to sustainable development policies at the national level, Australia lags behind most of the developed world, particularly in relation to energy and climate change policy.




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We don’t yet have long-term certainty for support of the uptake of electric cars, the transition to renewables, the adoption of fuel efficiency standards, and limiting emissions from the manufacturing and resources industry.

Effective strategies to curb land clearing remains to be seen, and only recently Australia has incorporated principles of circular economy into the National Waste Policy.

These do not help Australia meet its agreed commitments under the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and associated Sustainable Development Goals.

With long-term environmental, socio-economic and political stability at stake, it is time for commitment, leadership and robust policies that can last beyond the three-year electoral cycle.The Conversation

Pedro Fidelman, Senior research fellow, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Australia’s 2018 environmental scorecard: a dreadful year that demands action


Albert Van Dijk, Australian National University

Environmental news is rarely good. But even by those low standards, 2018 was especially bad. That is the main conclusion from Australia’s Environment in 2018, the latest in an annual series of environmental condition reports, released today.

Every year, we analyse vast amounts of measurements from satellites and on-ground stations using algorithms and prediction models on a supercomputer. These volumes of data are turned into regional summary accounts that can be explored on our Australian Environment Explorer website. We interpret these data, along with other information from national and international reports, to assess how our environment is tracking.

A bad year

Whereas 2017 was already quite bad, 2018 saw many indicators dip even further into the red.




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Temperatures went up again, rainfall declined further, and the destruction of vegetation and ecosystems by drought, fire and land clearing continued. Soil moisture, rivers and wetlands all declined, and vegetation growth was poor.

In short, our environment took a beating in 2018, and that was even before the oppressive heatwaves, bushfires and Darling River fish kills of January 2019.

Indicators of Australia’s environment in 2018 compared with the previous year. Similar to national economic indicators, they provide a summary but also hide regional variations, complex interactions and long-term context.
source: http://www.ausenv.online/2018

The combined pressures from habitat destruction, climate change, and invasive pests and diseases are taking their toll on our unique plants and animals. Another 54 species were added to the official list of threatened species, which now stands at 1,775. That is 47% more than 18 years ago and puts Australia among the world’s worst performers in biodiversity protection. On the upside, the number of predator-proof islands or fenced-off reserves in Australia reached 188 in 2018, covering close to 2,500 square kilometres. They offer good prospects of saving at least 13 mammal species from extinction.

Globally, the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere accelerated again after slowing down in 2017. Global air and ocean temperatures remained high, sea levels increased further, and even the ozone hole grew again, after shrinking during the previous two years.

Sea surface temperatures around Australia did not increase in 2018, but they nevertheless were well above long-term averages. Surveys of the Great Barrier Reef showed further declining health across the entire reef. An exceptional heatwave in late 2018 in Far North Queensland raised fears for yet another bout of coral bleaching, but this was averted when sudden massive downpours cooled surface waters.

The hot conditions did cause much damage to wildlife and vegetation, however, with spectacled flying foxes dropping dead from trees and fire ravaging what was once a tropical rainforest.

While previous environmental scorecards showed a mixed bag of regional impacts, 2018 was a poor year in all states and territories. Particularly badly hit was New South Wales, where after a second year of very poor rainfall, ecosystems and communities reached crisis point. Least affected was southern Western Australia, which enjoyed relatively cool and wet conditions.

Environmental Condition Score in 2018 by state and territory, based on a combination of seven indicators. The large number is the score for 2017, the smaller number the change from the previous year.
source: http://www.ausenv.online/2018

It was a poor year for nature and farmers alike, with growing conditions in grazing, irrigated agriculture and dryland cropping each declining by 17-20% at a national scale. The only upside was improved cropping conditions in WA, which mitigated the 34% decline elsewhere.

A bad start to 2019

Although it is too early for a full picture, the first months of 2019 continued as badly as 2018 ended. The 2018-19 summer broke heat records across the country by large margins, bushfires raged through Tasmania’s forests, and a sudden turn in the hot weather killed scores of fish in the Darling River. The monsoon in northern Australia did not come until late January, the latest in decades, but then dumped a huge amount of rain on northern Queensland, flooding vast swathes of land.




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It would be comforting to believe that our environment merely waxes and wanes with rainfall, and is resilient to yearly variations. To some extent, this is true. The current year may still turn wet and improve conditions, although a developing El Niño makes this less likely.

However, while we are good at acknowledging rapid changes, we are terrible at recognising slow, long-term ones. Underlying the yearly variations in weather is an unmistakable pattern of environmental decline that threatens our future.

What can we do about it?

Global warming is already with us, and strong action is required to avoid an even more dire future of rolling heatwaves and year-round bushfires. But while global climate change requires global action, there is a lot we can and have to do ourselves.




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Australia is one of the world’s most wasteful societies, and there are many opportunities to clean up our act. Achieving progress is not hard, and despite shrill protests from vested interests and the ideologically blind, taking action will not take away our prosperity. Home solar systems and more efficient transport can in fact save money. Our country has huge opportunities for renewable energy, which can potentially create thousands of jobs. Together, we can indeed reduce emissions “in a canter” – all it takes is some clear national leadership.

The ongoing destruction of natural vegetation is as damaging as it is unnecessary, and stopping it will bring a raft of benefits. Our rivers and wetlands are more than just a source of cheap irrigation for big businesses. With more effort, we can save many species from extinction. Our farmers play a vital role in caring for our country, and we need to support them better in doing so.




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Our environment is our life support. It provides us our place to live, our food, health, livelihoods, culture and identity. To protect it is to protect ourselves.


This article was coauthored by Shoshana Rapley, an ANU honours student and research assistant in the Fenner School of Environment and Society.The Conversation

Albert Van Dijk, Professor, Water and Landscape Dynamics, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Leonardo da Vinci revisited: was he an environmentalist ahead of his time?



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Leonardo da Vinci, Landscape drawing for Santa Maria della Neve on 5th August 1473.
Wikimedia commons

Susan Broomhall, University of Western Australia and Andrea Gaynor, University of Western Australia

On the 500th anniversary of his death, this series brings together scholars from different disciplines to re-examine the work, legacy and myth of Leonardo da Vinci.

Leonardo’s notebooks are filled with illustrations of nature, both plants and animals, their interactions with humans and in local ecosystems. Did his deep engagement with the natural world make him an environmentalist ahead of his time?

Leonardo was a child of the Tuscan countryside, raised in the tiny village of Anchiano, although he spent most of his adult life at the courts of dukes, kings and princes.

Some of his work for these patrons involved planning interventions into nature, most often managing waterways, but his sketches suggest his attention roamed further than the projects he was commissioned to undertake.

He spent time with friends in a villa outside of Milan observing the country nearby and sketching plans for gardens there, and ended his life on a little country estate that was then on the outskirts of Amboise in France.

One of his first biographers, Giorgio Vasari, tells us that Leonardo

delighted much in horses and also in all other animals, and often when passing by the places where they sold birds he would take them out of their cages, and paying the price that was asked for them, would let them fly away into the air, restoring to them their lost liberty.

Leonardo da Vinci, Study sheet with cats, dragon and other animals, c. 1513.
Wikiart.org

Leonardo was also reportedly a vegetarian. This supposition comes from the explorer Andrea Corsali’s description of the non-meat-eating Gujarati people (from modern India) as like “our Leonardo da Vinci”.

The many notebooks and loose sheets Leonardo filled with jottings and illustrations across his lifetime reveal his close observation of nature — from cats and crabs to flowers and copses of trees – and the spirit of enquiry from which he drew many lessons.

One jotting simply states: “Ask the wife of Biagio Crivelli how the capon nurtures and hatches the eggs of the hen”.

His understandings of the habits of animals informed a series of fables and proverbs bearing witness to various emotional traits he attributed to them: gratitude, rage, cruelty and generosity among them. He suggested, for instance, that “we see the most striking example of humility” in the lamb.

Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum
Wikiart.org

The random cruelty of nature

But Leonardo was also struck by the violence of natural processes. Nature appears to have been “rather a cruel stepmother”, he wrote. “Why did nature not ordain that one animal should not live by the death of another?”

He reflected on the random cruelty of nature in a series of riddles, created across his notebooks. For instance, in the entry on walnut trees, he writes in emotional terms of the violence wrought upon these trees as humans enjoyed their seeds: “beaten, and their offspring taken and flayed or peeled, and their bones broken or crushed.”

Leonardo da Vinci, Studies of crabs, c. late 15th century.
Wikiart.org

Still, Leonardo does not seem to have been particularly concerned about the role of humans in enacting violence against other species. His own quest for knowledge and artistic creativity demanded it.

Vasari tells a story of the young Leonardo seeking to depict a frightening creature on a shield he had “brought for this purpose to his room, which no one entered but himself, lizards, grasshoppers, serpents, butterflies, locusts, bats, and other strange animals of the kind …” “The smell in the room of these dead animals was very bad, though Leonardo did not feel it from the love he bore to art.”

Vasari talks of how Leonardo “suffered much in doing it” – but not as much as the other species whose lives were sacrificed for his art.

In other tales, Vasari tells us how Leonardo, while he was working for Giuliano de’ Medici in Rome, discovered an unusual lizard and promptly

made some wings of the scales of other lizards and fastened them on its back with a mixture of quicksilver, so that they trembled when it walked; and having made for it eyes, horns, and a beard, he tamed it and kept it in a box.

For Vasari, these stories show Leonardo’s “marvelous and divine” mind, but they could also be interpreted as showing the instrumental way in which Leonardo thought about nature, as a resource to expand human knowledge and control the environment.

Leonardo da Vinci, Birch copse, c. 1500.
Wikiart.org

Leonardo’s nature

His contemporaries clearly thought there was something different about Leonardo and his interest in nature. Does this make him a kind of pre-modern environmentalist?

Western environmentalism (and before it, preservationism) is often understood to have become possible when nature had been subdued by technology. With urbanisation and development of a middle class, more people could feel sentimental about nature.

Although he was raised in the countryside, Leonardo spent most of his everyday adult life in major European towns in the company of princes and kings. He was no longer concerned directly with the need to cut down wood for warmth or kill animals for food. We could say, then, that he could afford to be more sentimental about nature.

Leonardo da Vinci, Natural disaster, c. 1517.
Wikiart.org

Certainly his exquisite drawings suggest a particular depth of feeling, attunement and sensitivity to the natural world. And yet it seems that preservation of nature was not on Leonardo’s mind.

He had not witnessed the speed and scale of devastation of the natural world wrought by humanity with the onset of industrialisation. Instead, he understood destruction as part of the cycle of nature. If, as he wrote, nature “seeks to lose its life, desiring only continual reproduction”, there was nothing to be protected, for annihilation and creation went hand in hand.The Conversation

Susan Broomhall, Professor of History, University of Western Australia and Andrea Gaynor, Associate Professor of History, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labor pledges $14m funding boost to Environmental Defenders Offices – what do these services do?


Amelia Thorpe, UNSW

The federal Labor Party announced this week that, if elected, it will restore funding to Environmental Defenders Offices (EDOs) across Australia, in a package worth $14 million over four years.

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek explained:

These organisations ensure that ordinary Australians have proper access to the law. We know that big corporations have deep pockets and they’re able to employ expensive legal teams but ordinary Australians – farmers, indigenous communities, ordinary citizens – should have just the same access to the law as anybody with the most expensive lawyers in the country.

What are EDOs?

The first EDO was established in New South Wales in 1985, following the passage of a suite of environmental laws in the late 1970s covering heritage protection, environmental planning approvals, and establishing the Land and Environment Court.

With growing public interest in planning and development, including the celebrated Green Bans movement, those laws introduced new requirements for environmental impact assessment, heritage protection and public participation. They also gave everyone the right to take legal action by bringing environmental matters to court.

Even the best legislation is of little value, however, if people don’t have the means to make use of it. That is where the EDO comes in.

In 1981, shortly after the opening of the new Land and Environment Court, a group of lawyers began working to establish an organisation to empower the community to make use of these new laws to protect the environment. After four years of planning and fundraising, the NSW EDO opened with a staff of one: solicitor Judith Preston.

The idea spread. EDOs were set up in Victoria and Queensland in the early 1990s, and eventually established in all eight states and territories, with an additional office in North Queensland. The various EDOs have always remained separate, each managed by an independent board, although since 1996 they have shared advice and support through a national network.

Punching above their weight

Despite their shoestring budgets, EDO lawyers have proved effective, developing impressive programs of litigation and legal education. With grants from groups such as the Myer Foundation and, later, recurrent funding from state and federal governments, EDOs were a well established part of the Australian legal landscape by the early 2000s.

NSW, Queensland and Victoria were particularly effective in securing funding, each boasting dozens of staff at their peak in the mid-2000s. Thanks to large grants from the NSW Public Purpose Fund and the MacArthur Foundation, the NSW EDO’s staff included not just lawyers but also environmental scientists, an Indigenous solicitor working specifically on Indigenous matters, and a team working from a new regional office in Lismore.

Despite salaries well below market rates, EDO lawyers have consistently punched above their weight. Landmark wins have included defending the WA tourist town of Margaret River against coal mining, and helping the Goolarabooloo community challenge approvals for a liquefied natural gas hub at James Price Point, north of Broome. In 2015 the NSW EDO successfully overturned the approval of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland, although the federal government later reapproved it.




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With success, particularly against Adani, came criticism. After almost 20 years of bipartisan support, the Abbott government abruptly cut funding to EDOs in 2013 amid allegations of activist “lawfare”. Coalition governments in several states followed suit, prompting staff cuts, restructures, and an increase in fundraising efforts among the EDO network. EDO Victoria became Environmental Justice Australia, the Lismore office closed, and EDOs generally reduced the scale and scope of their work.

While EDOs are best known for their litigation – running high-profile cases on issues such as climate change, conservation and alleged water theft in the Murray-Darling Basin – their work is much broader than this. All EDOs provide free legal education and advice, both via telephone and through community workshops and seminars, many in rural and remote areas. They publish plain-language explanations of a complex range of state and federal environmental laws, a vital resource used by government departments and universities as well as members of the public. EDOs also undertake law reform work, making submissions to parliamentary inquiries and giving expert evidence.




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This work remains vital. As in the 1980s, laws are only as effective as the people who enforce them. As the Productivity Commission explained in its inquiry into access to justice (see page 711 here), “The rationales for government support for environmental matters are well recognised.”

Legal education, outreach, advice and, occasionally, public interest litigation, are essential for environmental justice and should be funded accordingly.The Conversation

Amelia Thorpe, Associate Professor, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Fashion Industry and the Environment


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the impact of the fashion industry on the environment.

For more visit:
https://inhabitat.com/the-environmental-secrets-the-fashion-industry-does-not-want-you-to-know/

How (and why) to stay optimistic when it feels like the environment is falling apart



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Providing optimism in the face of environmental reality can help people stay aware and hopeful for a positive outcome.
Photo: A. Sergeev

Dominic McAfee, University of Adelaide; Sean Connell, University of Adelaide, and Zoe Doubleday, University of South Australia

Humans love optimism. It’s a no-brainer – optimism makes us feel good and wanting more. This attraction has deep neurological roots that affect both our brain functions and how we process new information.

For this reason, optimism is powerful. Optimistic individuals or groups frequently perform better in sports, are better negotiators in business, and recover faster from illness. Feeling optimistic may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy.




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But for scientists trying to communicate dark and difficult messages about conservation, extinction risks or climate change, pessimism can also be a useful tool (and a logical outcome). Shock headlines grab attention – and may more accurately reflect reality. But too much leads to fatigue and disengagement.

Published today in BioScience, our research outlines steps to usefully combine optimism with pessimism when talking about environmental conservation. We took a deep dive into the literature from psychology, business, politics and communications disciplines, to understand how positive and negative thinking influence human performance.

Know your target audience

To make your environmental message stick, first you need to know who your target audience is. What are their daily fears and future worries? Do they care about nature for nature’s sake, or only when it impacts themselves? How do they perceive scientists? Knowing their fundamental values helps tailor your message.

Let’s say we want to restore an endangered forest, whose existence has been largely forgotten. The benefits of restoring a forgotten habitat are many: the mental health benefits of walking among wise, old trees, the busy routine of forest creatures that churn the soil, increasing forest productivity and cleaning the rivers that flow beyond, and the abundant fruit that falls from the canopy. Not to mention the beauty and wonder of nature, which inspires and enlightens.

Clearly, the benefits of conserving the forest can be framed in many ways for many audiences, whether their primary concerns are environmental, social, economic or personal. Knowing the values and fears of your target audience helps identify what information will resonate.

Build awareness of the threat

Shock grabs attention, so clearly explaining a dire environmental issue is a good strategy for generating initial awareness. An impeding or recent loss (for example, the River Franklin in Tasmania, or fish within the Murray Darling Basin) has a greater attention-grabbing property than positive news, particularly when framed to address the audience’s key concerns. This is where pessimism is necessary – and in fact may simply be realism.




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In our endangered forest, the valuable wood has been logged to near extinction. Without the tree’s shade the soil has turned toxic and hard under the baking sun, rendering the land unsafe for human use. The inaccessibility of the last remnant patches means few people can experience their wonders and they will soon be lost from common memory.

Forest accessibility is important for hikers.
Shutterstock

This is where the first step, understanding your audiences’ values, helps. For keen hikers the accessibility of forests may be most important. For those focused on the cost of living, you might highlight that without the forest filtering and cleaning drinking water they will need to pay for water treatment plants.

If the trees become extinct so will a sustainable logging industry, which reduces employment. (It also speaks to intergenerational equity, where earlier generations benefited at the expense of later generations.)

Build optimism with success stories

While negative news grabs attention, in the absence of hope it can quickly lead to despair and disengagement. By introducing optimism in the face of environmental crises, people can remain both aware and hopeful for a positive outcome.

Indeed, expectation of a positive outcome is a key motivator for people to commit to a cause. But where can optimism be found when all is seemingly lost?




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Optimism can be built on back of environmental success stories. In our example, the endangered trees produce more seeds than needed to replace old trees. Using these seeds, a local community has reforested toxic land where an old forest once stood, producing early signs of a healthy restored ecosystem. Such a success story provides optimism for other communities to envisage success in their own backyard.

Provide a path forward

Neither hope nor fear alone will change people’s behaviour. To allow change, people must believe their actions can make a difference. Therefore, our next step is to infuse optimism with efficacy, by offering the audience a pathway to engage with the issue.

The initial success of the restored forest breathed optimism into other revival efforts. But without public pressure, local governments can see investment in restoration as unnecessary (especially when the town’s water treatment facilities need updating anyway).

However when councils are convinced and communities engaged we can sow the seeds of recovery and create the community stewardship needed for long-term care.

Create community spirit

Our final step is to build a sense of community. Believing in the collective ability of a unified group gives us motivation and commitment. Belonging to a group can empower the individual, helping them confront an issue they would not tackle alone.

Positive community spirit is hard to overlook.
Mike Lemmon/flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Encouraging the target audience to form community groups can see a trickle of public pressure increase to a flood. Local administrators may overlook the demands of one or two forest-loving individuals, but it’s hard to ignore a group of voters seeking action.




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The power of positive thinking has long been recognised. But environmental optimism is no panacea. It needs to be balanced with the reality of environmental pessimism. Both have their motivating virtues and finding a balance between them attracts attention and inspires action over the long-term.

Our forest example was derived from our experience with restoring Australia’s lost oyster reefs. South Australia’s 20 hectare oyster reef restoration was enabled by the local enthusiasm of a rural community, which was empowered by the expertise of an NGO and solution-seekers within several government departments; all underpinned by the credibility of university research.The Conversation

Dominic McAfee, Postdoctoral researcher, marine ecology, University of Adelaide; Sean Connell, Professor, Ecology, University of Adelaide, and Zoe Doubleday, Research Fellow, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to feed a growing population healthy food without ruining the planet



File 20190112 43529 sfajtu.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
For many of us, a better diet means eating more fruit and vegetables.
iStock, CC BY-NC

Alessandro R Demaio, University of Copenhagen; Jessica Fanzo, Johns Hopkins University, and Mario Herrero, CSIRO

If we’re serious about feeding the world’s growing population healthy food, and not ruining the planet, we need to get used to a new style of eating. This includes cutting our Western meat and sugar intakes by around 50%, and doubling the amount of nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes we consume.

These are the findings our the EAT-Lancet Commission, released today. The Commission brought together 37 leading experts in nutrition, agriculture, ecology, political sciences and environmental sustainability, from 16 countries.

Over two years, we mapped the links between food, health and the environment and formulated global targets for healthy diets and sustainable food production. This includes five specific strategies to achieve them through global cooperation.




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How to conserve half the planet without going hungry


Right now, we produce, ship, eat and waste food in a way that is a lose-lose for both people and planet – but we can flip this trend.

What’s going wrong with our food supply?

Almost one billion people lack sufficient food, yet more than two billion suffer from obesity and food-related diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

The foods causing these health epidemics – combined with the way we produce our food – are pushing our planet to the brink.

One-third of the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change come from food production. Our global food system leads to extensive deforestation and species extinction, while depleting our oceans, and fresh water resources.

To make matters worse, we lose or throw away around one-third of all food produced. That’s enough to feed the world’s hungry four times over, every year.

At the same time, our food systems are at risk due to environmental degradation and climate change. These food systems are essential to providing the diverse, high-quality foods we all consume every day.

A radical new approach

To improve the health of people and the planet, we’ve developed a “planetary health diet” which is globally applicable – irrespective of your geographic, economic or cultural background – and locally adaptable.

The diet is a “flexitarian” approach to eating. It’s largely composed of vegetables and fruits, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and unsaturated oils. It includes high-quality meat, dairy and sugar, but in quantities far lower than are consumed in many wealthier societies.

Many of us need to eat more veggies and less red meat.
Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

The planetary health diet consists of:

  • vegetables and fruit (550g per day per day)
  • wholegrains (230 grams per day)
  • dairy products such as milk and cheese (250g per day)
  • protein sourced from plants, such as lentils, peas, nuts and soy foods (100 grams per day)
  • small quantities of fish (28 grams per day), chicken (25 grams per day) and red meat (14 grams per day)
  • eggs (1.5 per week)
  • small quantities of fats (50g per day) and sugar (30g per day).

Of course, some populations don’t get nearly enough animal-source foods necessary for growth, cognitive development and optimal nutrition. Food systems in these regions need to improve access to healthy, high-quality diets for all.

The shift is radical but achievable – and is possible without any expansion in land use for agriculture. Such a shift will also see us reduce the amount of water used during production, while reducing nitrogen and phosphorous usage and runoff. This is critical to safeguarding land and ocean resources.

By 2040, our food systems should begin soaking up greenhouse emissions – rather than being a net emitter. Carbon dioxide emissions must be down to zero, while methane and nitrous oxide emissions be kept in close check.

How to get there

The commission outlines five implementable strategies for a food transformation:

1. Make healthy diets the new normal – leaving no-one behind

Shift the world to healthy, tasty and sustainable diets by investing in better public health information and implementing supportive policies. Start with kids – much can happen by changing school meals to form healthy and sustainable habits, early on.

Unhealthy food outlets and their marketing must be restricted. Informal markets and street vendors should also be encouraged to sell healthier and more sustainable food.




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Let’s untangle the murky politics around kids and food (and ditch the guilt)


2. Grow what’s best for both people and planet

Realign food system priorities for people and planet so agriculture becomes a leading contributor to sustainable development rather than the largest driver of environmental change. Examples include:

  • incorporating organic farm waste into soils
  • drastically reducing tillage where soil is turned and churned to prepare for growing crops
  • investing more in agroforestry, where trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland to increase biodiversity and reduce erosion
  • producing a more diverse range of foods in circular farming systems that protect and enhance biodiversity, rather than farming single crops or livestock.

The measure of success in this area is that agriculture one day becomes a carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Technology can help us make better use of our farmlands.
Shutterstock

3. Produce more of the right food, from less

Move away from producing “more” food towards producing “better food”.

This means using sustainable “agroecological” practices and emerging technologies, such as applying micro doses of fertiliser via GPS-guided tractors, or improving drip irrigation and using drought-resistant food sources to get more “crop per drop” of water.

In animal production, reformulating feed to make it more nutritious would allow us to reduce the amount of grain and therefore land needed for food. Feed additives such as algae are also being developed. Tests show these can reduce methane emissions by up to 30%.

We also need to redirect subsidies and other incentives to currently under-produced crops that underpin healthy diets – notably, fruits, vegetables and nuts – rather than crops whose overconsumption drives poor health.

4. Safeguard our land and oceans

There is essentially no additional land to spare for further agricultural expansion. Degraded land must be restored or reforested. Specific strategies for curbing biodiversity loss include keeping half of the current global land area for nature, while sharing space on cultivated lands.

The same applies for our oceans. We need to protect the marine ecosystems fisheries depend on. Fish stocks must be kept at sustainable levels, while aquaculture – which currently provides more than 40% of all fish consumed – must incorporate “circular production”. This includes strategies such as sourcing protein-rich feeds from insects grown on food waste.

5. Radically reduce food losses and waste

We need to more than halve our food losses and waste.

Poor harvest scheduling, careless handling of produce and inadequate cooling and storage are some of the reasons why food is lost. Similarly, consumers must start throwing less food away. This means being more conscious about portions, better consumer understanding of “best before” and “use by” labels, and embracing the opportunities that lie in leftovers.

Circular food systems that innovate new ways to reduce or eliminate waste through reuse will also play a significant role and will additionally open new business opportunities.




Read more:
Australian communities are fighting food waste with circular economies


For significant transformation to happen, all levels of society must be engaged, from individual consumers to policymakers and everybody along the food supply chain. These changes will not happen overnight, and they are not the responsibility of a handful of stakeholders. When it comes to food and sustainability, we are all at the decision dining table.

The EAT-Lancet Commission’s Australian launch is in Melbourne on February 1. Limited free tickets are available.The Conversation

Alessandro R Demaio, Australian Medical Doctor; Fellow in Global Health & NCDs, University of Copenhagen; Jessica Fanzo, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Global Food and Agriculture Policy and Ethics, Johns Hopkins University, and Mario Herrero, Chief Research Scientist, Food Systems and the Environment, CSIRO

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.