One of the new words coined last year to describe the number of different issues that needed to be addressed was “permacrisis.” It has a certain ring to it. Not to be outdone — or at least not to be late to another’s party — the term used at the WEF meeting in Davos this January was “polycrisis.” It also makes sense. I think the term that best captures the gestalt of the situation is “whack-a-crisis” which captures our inability to focus on more than one thing at a time or on anything for very long.
Why Insects Could Be the Ideal Animal Feed — Science
The Markets Institute was established to help reduce the time it takes us to go from awareness of issues and trends to implementing solutions at scale to address them. It generally takes from decades to more than half a century to create the changes needed. But the changes that are coming will involve building the plane while future generations continue to build and fly it.
The role of the Institute is to shine light on new and emerging issues, create awareness about them and their implications, and then build consensus about solutions that are at hand so that we can all share and learn more quickly about what works and what doesn’t. The goal is to reduce the time from awareness to change on the ground.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that very few big institutions are capable of the necessary internal changes and pivots in direction, nor do they have the resources and partnerships to work with others to realize the future that is needed. This is true of governments, companies, NGOs, producers, and consumers alike. The more successful and bigger the institution or group, the more it has to give up to pivot and change to be what is needed going forward. Maybe the word of the century should be “permanimble.” What can you do to be more nimble in your own life, in your job, and in your circle of friends? Think about it. – Jason
The world's appetite for meat is growing, and the production of animal feed is an increasing strain on land and water. Insects could provide much of the protein animals need at a much lower environmental cost; many insect species can feed on manure or other types of organic waste, such as leftover food, offal, and grains discarded by breweries.
JC: There have been a number of similar stories over the past decade. They start with an example of someone who has produced a few hundred pounds of an alternative ingredient and then discuss what the total feed market is in tons and value. Sometimes the market is for fishmeal and oil, but mostly the focus is on soy. The pieces suggest that alternative feed sources can be produced with various kinds of waste — food, by-products, and manure. Researchers are quoted saying that this will reduce the overall environmental impact of producing feed and animal proteins. The stories never say what the impacts of producing millions of tons alternative feed ingredients might be, e.g., energy use, GHG emissions, waste, etc. No one from a feed company is asked for basic information — how much product would they need minimally to consider using an alternative, what feed trials would be necessary to show that the alternative was at least as good as if not better than the current ingredient, and what the price would need to be. Feed companies will not switch to new ingredients that aren’t better than their current ones — that means readily available and with steady supplies, performing better in feeds, and costing less. Having been a judge in several competitions, I know it is rare that any of the alternative ingredients have a pathway to address any of those issues, and none can meet those conditions at this time.
Ecological and Socioeconomic Factors Associated with the Human Burden of Environmentally Mediated Pathogens — The Lancet
80% of WHO-tracked pathogen species known to infect humans are environmentally mediated, causing about 40% of contemporary infectious disease. The high and uneven burden of environmentally mediated infections highlights the need for innovative social and ecological interventions to complement biomedical advances.
JC: We have known that habitat loss leads pathogens to jump from the wild to domesticated livestock or to people directly. This study suggests that 80% of WHO-tracked pathogens known to infect humans are environmentally mediated, causing about 40% of the current infectious diseases. Most of the diseases are in the tropics, and poorer countries have the highest incidents of these diseases globally. While the study only found “weak” associations between disease burden and biodiversity or agricultural land use globally, the proportion of “people with rural poor livelihoods in a country was a strong indicator of environmentally mediated infectious disease burden.” And, “political stability and wealth were associated with improved sanitation, better health care, and lower proportions of rural poverty, indirectly resulting in fewer infections.” In rare cases, such pathogens evolve into global pandemics like HIV and COVID-19 that also affect the wealthiest communities. This seems like a key reason to bring environmental and social externalities into pricing. It would benefit people and the planet. Is there a better place to start than with global food trade?
Rock Dust Can Meet Half of the UK's Net-Zero Carbon Removal Target — New Scientist
A new analysis found that, by mid-century, sprinkling rock dust on UK fields could allow for the absorption of 6 to 30 million tonnes of CO2 a year. That is up to 45 per cent of the carbon removals needed for the country’s net-zero target. Cumulative removals would be close to the potential from planting new woods.
JC: This work seems promising. Whether it becomes an integral part of our solution to climate change remains to be seen, but it’s clear that this type of solution could be transformational in how we alter our attempts to address climate change at speed and scale. These types of ideas would benefit from a little light being shown on them to determine more quickly whether they hold real merit, if there is a fatal flaw that has not been considered, or whether the idea could be rethought to yield its potential. Critical to the effort are knowledge platforms that enable researchers and innovators around the world to share strategies and insights so that we can all learn faster. To succeed, climate change strategies have to be precompetitive.
Soil Health Laws Should Account for Global Soil Connections — Science
It is well known that land use intensification, climate change, environmental pollution, and mining activities degrade soil biodiversity. Most soil protection policies overlook how soils across national borders and continents are connected by human activities. Policy should focus on preventing negative footprints on each other’s soils.
JC: As any farmer knows, the quality, quantity, and health of soil — and all the organisms that live in it and are essential for its health — are critical to food production locally and food security globally. Since the advent of farming, most producers have not known how to manage production and maintain soil. For a long time, nature did the job through fallowing and forced migration. However, as populations increased and larger food surpluses were required to feed those who did not produce their own food, farming intensified, often taking advantage of rivers to leave layers of new soils after seasonal floods. Slash and burn agriculture moved around to allow soils to replenish and, if managed for fruits, also to attract game even when the lands were no longer being farmed. But the fallow cycles inevitably shorten with increasing populations and depletion of soils. With the advent of mechanized agriculture, producers have tended to mine the soil of properties that are essential for production. More sustainable food production needs to maintain or even increase the health of soils. This is especially true of globally traded food products — one country should not degrade the soil of another. Future generations depend on it.
Agricultural Innovation Vital for Climate-Threatened Food Security and Sustainability — European Scientist
A range of agricultural innovations — encompassing traditional, nature-based and advanced technological solutions — are emerging around the world, providing blueprints for the types of initiatives that must be widely deployed to tackle climate change and safeguard endangered food systems.
JC: Most innovation in agriculture is about the innovator and the potential to make money. It is refreshing to see innovation being seen more broadly in terms of traditional production systems, nature-based solutions, and technological solutions. It would be great, though, if innovation were focused on the key impacts to be reduced rather than the innovations with the highest ROIs. Issues that receive too little focus to date are solutions for smaller producers in developing countries that have more labor than capital. Or, converting stranded assets to be used differently to provide needed solutions. Or, how to pivot government subsidies and programs to support the ag we need rather than what we have. Finally, how do we set up transparent and traceable supply chains when we don’t even have a paper trail in many places? These are tough issues, but surely we have the technology and the ability to solve them.
Congress’ ‘Biggest Fight’ Over Climate? It’s the Farm Bill — E&E News ClimateWire
Forget electric vehicles, wind turbines or pipelines. Congress’ most consequential climate battles this year are more likely to revolve around dirt and cows. The five-year farm bill is scheduled to expire by Oct. 1, making it one of the few must-pass legislative items under this divided Congress.
JC: Agriculture is a large source of US emissions. We clearly need to reduce GHG emissions and sequester more carbon on US farms. The next Farm Bill needs to make US producers more sustainable and resilient in spite of climate change’s impacts. This is a tall order. Reasonable people will disagree. So, what are key things the USDA could do that would be helpful? Document not only climate change, but what producers are doing to address it. Anticipate the impacts of climate change. Document innovation and support strategies that disseminate the findings. Support producer knowledge-sharing platforms to help them learn more quickly about what they could do to adapt, e.g., new practices, new crops, as well as documentation and business cases of what is working and what isn’t. Create a team of 4-6 people that trains staff in local banks about USDA’s sustainability and climate programs and how producers can tap into those resources. Train banks on creating trusts or other strategies for wills and passing land on to the next generation. Expand the CRP program to take more marginal land out of production, and pay farmers more for not mowing every year so that the land can sequester more carbon, retain water, reduce erosion, and increase biodiversity, as well as productivity and net profits. Encourage all land-grant universities (LGUs) to address climate change in their ag schools as well as other relevant programs. Encourage LGUs to share their findings so that all can learn from producers and each other faster.