Well, Al Gore and the IPCC won the nobel prize, something I'm more than a little ambivalent about. On the one hand, they both did an enormous amount to draw attention to climate change, and that's really important. On the other hand, in re: Al Gore, I'm reminded of what Tom Lehrer said when Henry Kissinger was given the nobel peace prize, that it made political satire obsolete. I mean the man was a participant in the Clinton policies that, among other things, allowed half a million kids in Iraq to die from sanctions. But then again, I would have thought "never was a Nazi" was a criteria for Pope, and that's clearly untrue. And obviously the "never was a mass murderer" bar for the Nobel Peace Prize, if it ever existed, is long since broken. Probably my standards are too high.
As for the IPCC, I would tend to say that were I give out Nobel Prizes (which no one has asked me to do yet, for the record, but I'm sure any day now), I would tend to focus on people who actually bring about peace and show moral courage doing it. While some IPCC scientists have shown enormous courage, the committee as a whole has not been able to withstand the pressure of governments not to water down its findings - as hundreds of its own members admit. So yes, I'm glad the IPCC is bringing attention to this issue. I'm glad Al Gore is bringing attention to this issue, and that he is in some sense redeeming his participation in other ills. Heck, if he runs for president and we have to choose between mass murderers, him, the comparatively powerless veep, the current monster or the she-president who could have at least withheld sex (ok, Al could have withheld sex too), I'll probably vote for him. And yet...in my fantasy world, the Nobel Peace Prize actually stands for telling the truth and bringing about change. Of course, in my fantasy world, all this new awareness is happening 30 years ago, when it would do a lot more good. Ah well.
But moving on to more interesting news, I was wondering how I could get from the Nobel Prize in climate change to the following. Pat Meadows sent me the report on this fascinating study at Cornell on how much land is needed to feed people. http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Oct07/diets.ag.footprint.sl.html. This is a really important study for a couple of reasons. But equally important is the study that came across my desk yesterday, documenting that shipping goods around the planet produces more carbon than flying does:
http://environment.independent.co.uk/climate_change/article3043734.ece. The reality is that relocalization of food and goods is more urgent than ever. We have to start growing and producing more goods and foods locally.
The value of the Cornell study, particularly as it intersects with the UN's work on shipping emissions, is that it brings to our attention the deeply urgent word POLYCULTURE. As we know from the work of Peter Rosset and other researchers, diversified farming is the name of the game to getting the most possible good food out of our land. The revelation that we need farmers to make use of grazing and marginal land in multiple ways shouldn't be news, but it is.
Second, it supports something I've been arguing for a long time - the future will not be vegan. I don't mean that we won't be eating vastly fewer animal products than we do now, but this study demonstrates that animal husbandry is an integral part of maximizing food production per acre. The 0.6 acres required for a largely vegetarian but some animal products diet is just about how much arable land will be available per person in the US by 2050.
Third, it highlights the absolute urgency of getting gardens going. The arable farmland calculations used in the Cornell study do not include home yards, public greenspace, etc... According to this study, the maximum number of people that New York State could feed is about 32% of its current population. Well, we don't have much choice but to raise up those numbers - transportation issues, natural disasters, rising food costs - we need more regional food self-sufficiency, even as this study also indicates our interdependence with other states.
If we put our lawns and yards under intensive cultivation, integrated small scale chicken, rabbit, pigeon and goat raising into our gardens, if we encouraged the growth of small farms of 1/2-5 acres, encouraged polyculture techniques in existing farms, and layered animal agriculture, if we transformed some of our existing marginal and forested land into nut forests providing protein, if we invested our interests into absolutely maximizing our food production, how many people could we feed?
Half, I suspect, at least - maybe many more - on a largely vegetarian diet with small amounts of meat, eggs and milk mostly as flavorings. And that brings up an important point. Half is not everyone. We're always probably going to depend on agricultural areas for some transportation, and stabilizing those relationships is going to be essential - we don't just need ways to transport food, we need ways to keep farmers in the midwest from going out of business in the long term - because the best farmers are the ones who know their land, and are invested in their land. The best farmers want to make a living working the land - they need to be able to do the kind of farming we need, and still make a living. They need not to be pressed by the money into growing biofuels, because it takes time to develop polycultures. That is, we need to expand the CSA model, so that whole regions are directly connected to the people who are growing the food they cannot grow, and are invested in their success. The Japanese term for CSA is "farming with a face" - we not only need to maximize our production, but we need to put a face on the people who we depend on, and integrate their success with ours. Because their failure is certainly ours.
And at the same time, we cannot say "well, because New York may not be able to grow all of its food" it shouldn't absolutely maximize its production. We cannot afford to warm the planet by bringing oranges from Israel to the US, or lettuce from Columbia. We need to get our food (and our goods, but I'll write more about that later) as close to home as possible - which means we need polyculture, diversified *small* farms, experimental agriculture, and every other trick in our collective book.