Desert Footprints (image courtesy of peterwmdavis via flickr)

In October, Christiana Figueres, the head of the United Nations body tasked with producing a global climate treaty gave an impassioned speech during which she stated that future generations are being condemned by the lack of a global agreement. Political action is required to rectify the existing prejudice of development in favor of current generations, with disregard for the future. Intergenerational justice may be improved and sustainable development enhanced, by investing in youth and in using financial incentives to deter unsustainable practices.

A recent study on “Intergenerational Justice in Aging Societies” by the Bertelsmann Foundation’s Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) project examines the ecological footprint of 29 OECD countries. It found that none of the surveyed countries are intergenerationally just, in that their impact on the planet exceeds the land’s capacity to sustain the activity. The ecological footprint calculates the rate of resource consumption and waste generation, and compares it to how rapidly nature can absorb waste and regenerate. Therefore, it provides a measurement of a nation’s development, and captures the pressure human societies put on their natural environment.

Due to the ease of its application and messaging, the ecological footprint statistic can grab media attention and catalyze change in policy. Ecological footprint calculations are relatively easy to undertake because the data required is largely available at different spatial scales. As its output is a single number, of global hectares per capita required by an economy to produce all the goods consumed in that economy and absorb the wastes generated in production, it can enhance efforts to assess and compare sustainability of development between countries.

Despite these advantages, ecological footprints have their limitations. Ecological footprints are an analysis of a country at a certain moment in its development. Therefore, its measurement is static in time and may not consider all of the complexities of regional trade flows, or technological change occurring rapidly within a nation. Other researchers have worked to develop tools that examine the social welfare of today’s rate of development, producing the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), among others. The ISEW distinctly incorporates environmental damage and natural resource depletion, and distinguishes between water, air, and noise pollution, the loss of wetlands and farmland, and the long-term repercussions of environmental damage.

While tools to assess the pressure of human societies on the Earth’s systems all have their limitations, they embolden nations’ understanding of the impacts of our actions, and our efforts to develop more sustainably. As the ecological tool is employed, studies indicate that we are drastically overshooting the capacity of the Earth to support our current rate of consumption and waste generation. Findings reveal that if all people were to live as Americans do, five planets of resources would be required.

Hungary, Poland, and Israel leave smallest ecological footprint for future generations

Based solely on its ecological footprint Hungary is the most intergenerationally just of all countries surveyed in the SGI study. It shows a footprint of 3.6 gha (global hectares) per capita, followed by Poland (3.9 gha) and Israel (4 gha). Estonia – which ranks top in the overall SGI assessment of intergenerational justice when we also consider social and fiscal dimensions – scores fairly well with a footprint of 4.7 gha.

Denmark, the United States, and Belgium, score the worst, with ecological footprints of 8.3 gha, 7.2 gha, and 7.1 gha, respectively. For just intergenerational action globally, the ecological footprint per capita should be below 1.8 gha. This means that even those countries which score relatively well in international comparison do not sufficiently compensate for their resource use.

Chart: Ecological Footprint:

Although, for instance, both Denmark and Estonia emphasize the long-term global consequences of their actions in their national sustainable development plans, their ecological footprints are dramatically different. Some studies attributed Denmark’s high ecological footprint to its meat consumption and production, while other studies did not indicate whether Denmark’s ecological footprint was the result of high levels of individual consumerism, or industrial activities. This lack of specificity of the ecological footprint highlights another limitation of the measurement.

Another variable that may decrease a nation’s ecological footprint is a small population. SGI found that seven OECD nations, including Canada, Australia, Finland, New Zealand, Estonia, Sweden and Norway, are environmental creditors, largely due to lower population density. Therefore, these nations produce an environmental surplus, leaving more environmental reserves for subsequent generations.

While ecological footprint is but one measurement that can contribute to our understanding of intergenerational justice, it is a valuable component that helps communicate that the impacts of today’s actions have an enduring legacy. The consequence of which must be considered and accounted for in our development plans.

As the meetings in Warsaw for the 2013 United Nations Climate Change Conference showed, the issue of fairness between countries remains a pressing one, as developing countries argue that they must exploit the resources available to them to grow their economies. As nations struggle to determine what is just, and how climate change should be addressed in an approach that is equitable and economical, the intergenerational impacts of climate change must not be overlooked due to political shortsightedness.

As Locke’s proviso states there should be “enough and as good” left in common for others. Today’s practices recklessly abandon this principle, and have sculpted a future that is characterized by inequality and ecological crisis. It is not too late to act, and augment intergenerational justice by developing resources today with the needs of future generations in mind.

Antonia Sohns is a Water and Energy Analyst at the World Bank and co-author of “Sustainable Fisheries and Seas: Preventing Ecological Collapse,” in State of the World 2013. She writes this article in her personal capacity. This article was originally printed on SGI News. (Home page image by Peter Nijenhuis via flickr)

This New Year’s reflection is reprinted from Eco-justice Ministries. It perfectly captures the challenges we face as a young species on planet Earth and is worth thinking about as we start the new year. May 2014 be filled with successes that bring us closer to a sustainable civilization–one that lasts more than just a few seconds in geological time. 

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The end of December is a perfect time to ponder humanity’s place in the whole creation.

As we live our daily lives in this human-dominated world, our experience and routine awareness let us think that “this is the way it has always been.” All of the news summaries that we’ll see in coming days focus our attention on events of the last 12 months, truncating even a minimal sense of history.

Of course, we know about the scientific cosmology that tells of a vast sweep of time. We know that modern humans occupy just a tiny sliver of that long historical record. But we hold that knowledge in our heads, not our guts. The vast 4.6 billion year history of the Earth is way too big for us to grasp in a meaningful or personal way.

And so I have often been touched by narratives that condense the history of the Earth into a more manageable time frame. There are many variations — some do it in a week, others in a single year. Some start the story with “the big bang” while others begin with the formation of the Earth as a recognizable planet.

These days leading up to New Year’s Eve are a wonderful occasion to feel the long story of the Earth, and to appreciate our part in that narrative. In the last days of a calendar year, it is easy to connect with the “one year” image. And so, as we come to the end of December, I invite you to feel a condensed time frame for the Earth’s story …

January 1st marks the origin of Earth. By the end of February, the first simple cells appear. All the way through the spring and early summer, simple plants enrich the atmosphere with oxygen.

Around mid-August, complex cells emerge, and coral appears in the ocean. Beginning in mid-November, the oceans fill with multicellular life-forms. In the last few days of November, freshwater fish appear, and the first vascular plants begin to grow on land.

About December 1st, amphibians venture onto dry land. The great swamps that formed today’s rich coal beds existed between December 5th and 7th. On December 12th the largest of the Earth’s mass extinctions wipes out 95% of all species.

The dinosaur didn't make it to celebrate the new year. (Photo courtesy of dee west via flickr)

The dinosaur didn’t make it to celebrate the new year. (Photo courtesy of Dee West via flickr)

Life bounces back, and dinosaurs evolve on December 13th. Flowering plants come on the scene on December 20th. In another great extinction, the dinosaurs disappear shortly before midnight on December 26th, opening a space for modern mammals to emerge on the 27th.

On the evening of December 31st — about when you might gather with friends for the New Year’s Eve celebration — the first hominids evolve in East Africa.

At 10 minutes to midnight on December 31st — about when all the party-goers are really starting to watch the clock — Neanderthals spread throughout Europe.

At one minute to midnight, agriculture is invented. Toward the end of that last minute, the Roman Empire fills 5 seconds. It collapses at 11:59:50 — the moment in our compressed year when New Year’s celebrants begin their 10-second countdown.

In the last 2 seconds before midnight, we enter the modern industrial era. In those last two seconds we find the explosive growth of the human population, the rise of complex technologies, and what we might call a globalized human culture.

The entire history of the United States fits into the last second of this narrative. The “petroleum era” of cheap and plentiful energy is crammed into the last half of a second, as we’re holding a deep breath, ready to shout our start-of-a-new-year greetings.

The fireworks start as our dash through Earth’s long history brings us to the current moment, and as we move into the future.

Fireworks for the New Year! (photo courtesy of Amodiovalerio Verde)

Fireworks for the New Year! (photo courtesy of Amodiovalerio Verde via flickr)

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Sierra Club founder David Brower often told such a condensed history of the Earth. He ended the account by saying, “We are surrounded with people who think that what we have been doing for [the two seconds since the Industrial Revolution began] can go on indefinitely. They are considered normal, but they are stark, raving mad.”

As our compressed race through global history moves into the future, by the time we have finished shouting “Happy New Year!” we are already 2 centuries beyond now. The available supplies of oil will have been exhausted, and the effects of global climate change will have taken dramatic hold. If our current way of life continues, a huge percentage of Earth’s species — both plant and animal — will have been driven into extinction. By the time you take your first deep breath in the next year, Earth’s climate and biology will have been forever altered by the human influences of the previous year’s last moments.

In this compressed history, the Age of the Dinosaurs lasted almost two weeks. Unless we change our ways dramatically, the Age of the Humans may only last 15 or 20 minutes, and the span of human civilization will fill not much more than a single minute.

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The biblical narrative begins with two beautiful and meaningful creation stories. In both of those accounts, people are part of the Earth’s history from the very beginning of time. If we think that people pretty much like us have been key actors in the Earth’s entire history, it is easy to think that our story is ultimately important.

This New Year’s Eve, I challenge you to pause for a moment. Remember how brief our human span on Earth really is, and reflect on the scope of our planetary impact. May that broadened perception help motivate us in our work toward a more sustainable way of life.

Shalom!

Reverend Peter Sawtell

Executive Director, Eco-Justice Ministries

By Andrew Alesbury

Inadequate management of human waste is a dire problem in much of the developing world. Swelling urban populations can make matters worse by exposing increasingly dense populations to illnesses carried by human waste. Some, however, are making good use of the surplus sewage. Rather than allow the urine and fecal matter to lie fallow, some have taken to utilizing it for agricultural purposes in lieu of synthetic or inorganic fertilizers. This practice not only makes fertilizer more readily available to farmers who might not have easy access to it in conventional forms, it is also significantly less expensive than using inorganic and synthetic fertilizers, which are often imported. Furthermore, the use of human fertilizer can sometimes be a crop-saving tactic when water is in short supply.

Leftover rice husks and straw can be used to produce green charcoal. (Photo Credit: agriculturalinvestments.net)

It is with these benefits in mind that groups like AgriDjalo, a small limited liability company focused on rice cultivation, are looking to start projects in Senegal that use urban biomass (primarily human waste) to fertilize rice fields. With over 40 percent of Senegal’s almost 13 million inhabitants living in urban areas, there is an abundant supply of human fertilizer.

AgriDjalo’s project could have the added benefit of decreasing reliance on rice imports. In 2012 alone, Senegal imported 820,000 metric tons of rice, accounting for over 6 percent of its total imports and presenting a considerable strain on the nation’s trade balance. As the second largest rice importer in Sub-Saharan Africa and one of the top ten worldwide, Senegal has much to gain, both in terms of income generation and decreased import dependency, from an increase in domestic rice production.

The project also seeks to use leftover rice husks and straw in the production of green charcoal. In this way, the unused byproducts of rice cultivation can be utilized to create an alternative to the wood charcoal, firewood, and butane gas traditionally used to generate energy. In Senegal, where deforestation for purposes of collecting fuel wood has been an issue and 70 percent of the urban population relies on imported butane, green charcoal from rice represents a sustainable and affordable fuel source.

Combating both import dependency and deforestation while utilizing readily available fertilizer, projects such as this demonstrate that sustainable agricultural practices have the potential to improve food and income security for many in less developed countries.

Has your farm used human waste as fertilizer? What are your thoughts on the practice? Let us know about it in the comments below!

Andrew Alesbury is a former administrative assistant at the Worldwatch Institute. 

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On this Christmas Eve, just a reminder of the current state of the world: it’s bad enough that even Santa and his global HQ are threatened, as this Guardian article about the speedy melting on the North Pole reveals.

With that in mind I thought I’d recruit our love of Santa to describe a revolution in the toy industry that would get us a ways closer to a sustainable future. Fewer toys, shared toys, and toys that teach ecological wisdom rather than a love of war, the joy of consumptive lifestyles, and how cool earth-ravaging construction equipment is. Even toys that we grow instead of make out of toxic fossil fuels.

Read my full wishlist of demands to Santa at The Guardian Sustainable Business blog, but you can read a few highlights below:

First, recognizing how full our planet is, why keep producing so many new toys? Instead, why not facilitate ways to better share toys amongst more families? The average toy is only played with for probably less than an hour a day, then discarded rather quickly. So perhaps it would be better to have toy libraries where families could borrow toys instead of buy them. In 2010, there were 4,500 toy libraries distributed across 31 countries. Each of these libraries results in fewer parents buying fewer toys and instead borrowing them – reducing the total number of toys produced, as well as helping children learn the valuable lesson of sharing. If you could put your support behind the global toy library movement, I’m sure it would really take off….

So please Santa, revamp your workshop. Create new product lines that celebrate living in balance with Earth, that are made completely sustainably and sold in ways that encourage borrowing instead of buying. I recognize this is no easy gift to grant, but for someone who can deliver over a billion toys in just one night, I have no doubt that if anyone can do it, you can. And hopefully, once you and Rudolph light the way, other toy companies will follow.

3124443099_368a2915fe_b-santa-wanted - Copy

Perhaps when ecocide becomes illegal this will be Santa’s fate? (Photo by kevin dooley via flickr)

By Brandon Pierce

Animal health services for livestock owners in several parts of sub-Saharan Africa are limited because of poor infrastructure and high delivery costs. To address this deficiency, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has supported the training and use of Community Animal Health Workers (CAHWs) in these regions. CAHWs are community members who have been trained in basic animal health care. The FAO is taking steps to standardize how CAHWs are trained and to connect them with reliable sources of needed drugs and materials.

Community Animal Health Workers help livestock owners provide basic healthcare for their animals. (Photo Credit: iyufera.com)

In Ethiopia, government supply systems often run out of the drugs livestock owners need for animal healthcare, which makes it difficult for CAHWs to effectively care for livestock. To meet the high demand for drugs, the FAO has worked to establish private pharmacies in Ethiopia and establish partnerships with CAHWs. So far, these efforts have been successful: over 30 pharmacies have been established, and these pharmacies have been linked to 600 CAHWs. To further improve CAHW programs, the Ethiopian government has developed minimum requirements and standards—such as the availability of training manuals for workers.

Kenya has also benefitted from the FAO’s CAHW program. During the 1990s, many Kenyan livestock owners were unable to afford the cost of treatment for their animals. Today, various CAHW programs—including the Community Livelihood Empowerment Project—have improved the availability of animal healthcare, reduced the cost of treatment, and ultimately improved livestock owners’ livelihoods.

According to the FAO, CAHW programs will continue to grow as long as governments continue to support access to the drugs livestock owners rely on to treat their animals. According to Gedlu Mekonnen, an FAO project officer, “CAHWs will continue to be frontline primary animal health providers,” and will continue to make a substantial impact on the lives of poor livestock owners.

How do government programs or policies impact livestock in your state or community? Let us know in the comments below!

Brandon Pierce is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s food and agriculture program. 

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By Carol Dreibelbis

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about one-third—or 1.3 billion metric tons—of all food produced for human consumption goes to waste each year. While it is easy to recognize the enormity of this number, it is much more difficult to make sense of it in a useful way. An October 2012 study by Jean Buzby and Jeffrey Hyman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture seeks to make food waste estimates more meaningful by attaching a dollar value.

Research from the USDA finds that Americans waste an average of US$544 worth of food per person per year. (Photo Credit: biocycle.net)

The study measures the value of food loss in the United States at the retail (“supermarkets, megastores like Walmart, and other retail outlets”) and consumer (“food consumed at home and away from home”) levels. Findings indicate that US$165.6 billion worth of food was lost at these levels in 2008. This translates to the loss of an average of US$1.49 worth of food per person per day—totaling about US$544 per person per year—at the retail and consumer levels. At the consumer level, alone, the average American wasted almost 10 percent of the amount spent on his or her food in 2008.

Food losses on this scale are concerning, especially when viewed in the context of a growing global population. As the study explains, “The United Nations predicts that the world population will reach 9.3 billion by 2050 and this growth will require at least a 70 percent increase in food production, net of crops used for biofuels.” Considering that a reduction of food loss at the consumer and retail levels by just one percent would keep US$1.66 billion worth of food in the food supply, limiting food waste could play a major role in feeding future populations.

Food waste also places an unnecessarily heavy burden on the environment. The production, processing, storage, and transportation of food that ultimately goes to waste still consumes natural resources and other inputs, while also releasing greenhouse gases and other pollutants that stem from the food system. For example, the study points out that the production of wasted food consumes over 25 percent of all freshwater used in the U.S. and around 300 million barrels of oil.

In light of the negative externalities associated with food waste, the authors of the study hope their findings will inform and initiate action to limit food waste. They write, “Understanding where and how much food is lost and the value of this loss is important information that industry and policymakers can use to raise awareness of the issue, reduce food waste, and increase the efficiency of the farm-to-fork food system.” Likewise, they note that per capita estimates may encourage consumers to be “more mindful of their daily and yearly food loss.”

The monetized food loss estimates presented in this study offer consumers, food industry representatives, and policymakers a concrete and comprehendible picture of U.S. food waste at the retail and consumer levels. By enabling individuals to understand their own contribution to the loss of 1.3 billion metric tons of food each year, the authors give a face to food waste.

What do you think it will take to reduce food waste at the local, national, or international scale? Please let us know in the comments section below. 

Carol Dreibelbis is a former research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s food and agriculture program. 

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Apples harvested in Baltimore not Eden (image by Judith A. Dolehanty)

Apples harvested in Baltimore (not Eden). Image by Judith A. Dolehanty

By Nina Beth Cardin

Since the time of Adam and Eve, biblical culture has pondered the challenge of how humans can live plentifully within nature’s bounds. After all, if two people in a world of low population, fertile soil, easy sociability, an expansive commons, and abundant goods and services couldn’t avoid transgressing nature’s limits, how then can we? Yet if we can’t live within the constraints of nature, how can we survive?

To address this conundrum, biblical culture developed cyclical, time-bound responses that could help keep us on track.

The first was Shabbat, the Sabbath, an ever-recurring seventh day. According to Genesis 1, the Sabbath, like the sun and moon and stars, is a built-in feature of the universe. It is a natural cycle of time, as constant as the seasons and the rhythms of the days. The work of the world is conducted in six sunrises and sunsets, and on the seventh day is the celebration of creation itself.

During the Sabbath, work—and all of its trappings—ceases for 24 hours. “Property” becomes “earth” again, neither sub-divided nor owned nor sold nor otherwise transacted. Goods and services are shared—distributed so that everyone has enough for their Sabbath needs. Commerce is banished. Consumption recedes to a bare minimum. Life, full of gratitude, in the presence of others, is the nature of the day. Although this utopia dissolves at sunset, its vision doesn’t. Rather, the remembrance of the Sabbath helps us reset our attitudes toward what we do the rest of the week and challenges us to remember and justify why we do what we do.

The Sabbath, in the Jewish imagination, is therefore not just a day of rest, refuge, and relaxation (as welcome as that is). Rather, it is even more an arrival, a translocation, a “taste”—as the ancient rabbis put it—of “the world to come.” Shabbat is a touch of the Eden that we once possessed but lost. It is a glancing vision of a world in which radical equity, goodness, and delight reign.

But the cycle of six days on and the seventh day off takes us only so far. Its very routine and short duration can blunt its impact. So every seven years, the Bible ups the ante. It calls for Shemittah, a year of sabbath instead of a day of sabbath. It is a year during which private lands revert to the commons, accumulated debt is forgiven, and social inequality is erased temporarily. As Leviticus 25 (New International Version) describes it:

The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai,“Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord.For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops.But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you,as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.’”

Figs from Baltimore's harvest. Image by Judith A. Dolehanty

Figs from Baltimore’s harvest. Image by Judith A. Dolehanty

Shemittah is a year of economic, environmental, and social equity. It is a time when physical and social boundaries are dissolved, reminding us that we live and thrive not within the barricades of self but in the shelter of each other and the gifts of the wilds. We all abide in one and the same world that we consume and renew in an endless cycle of co-generation. To keep the world humming, we must do this mindfully and properly.

Shemittah is a year of radical simplicity, of a reduction in production and consumption, when our energies that would otherwise go into pursuing those ends are spent doing other things. What other things? The Bible is silent on that. That is where we get to fill in the blanks.

Shemittah was not a year you could just slip into. The people had to prepare. They had to create structures and systems in the other six years that would enable the celebration and observance of the seventh year. The shemittah message of replacing the never-ending quest for more with the blessing of enoughness affected and informed the other six years. The blessings of this seventh sabbatical year had to be planned for. This did not mean accelerating and producing excess to build up warehouses and pantries in the six “on” years, further depleting our energies and resources so that we could manage to live in the seventh “off” year as expansively as we live in the other six. Rather, it means that we should produce and consume wisely, so that the earth remains healthy and robust and able to tend to our needs on its own in the seventh year.

Biblical society is long gone. Today, more than half of the world’s people live in urban environments far from the agricultural lands that were the norm in ancient times. We cannot live according to the shemittah laws as they are given to us in the Bible. But the values and challenges of shemittah still call to us. How can we all live well on this earth? How can we build equitable economic systems? How can we treat the land well, working it in health, so that it will provide sustenance and equity to all?

Harvesting fruit trees with the Baltimore Orchard Project (image by Judith A. Dolehanty)

Harvesting fruit trees with the Baltimore Orchard Project. Image by Judith A. Dolehanty

This is not an idle speculation. According to the Jewish calendar, the next shemittah year begins on Wednesday, September 24, 2014. There is a growing movement to imagine what this means for us in modernity. How shall we apply the lessons of shemittah to our lives? Should banks waive interest fees on all loans for the year? Shall we empty our 2.2 billion square feet of self-storage space and give away, recycle, reclaim, or otherwise reuse all that wealth we have shut away?

Shall we grant workers sabbaticals of days or weeks or months over the year to be used for personal refreshment and pursuits? Should university extension services give free lessons in permaculture so that urban dwellers can turn vacant lots and wasted open spaces into neighborhood food forests that could be gleaned even in the shemittah year? Should we celebrate and reclaim old public parks that have been abandoned? Should we demolish vacant buildings and retrofit tired suburban shopping centers, converting them into valuable public spaces?

The call to observe shemittah is longstanding, but the modern conversation about what the year should look like is just beginning. The Shmita Project and The Sova Project are two initiatives working to explore contemporary applications of shemittah—and hopefully, over the next 10 months, they will inspire a bounty of inventive responses that will help make shemittah a year of sharing, justice and environmental healing in 2014–15.

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Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin works at the intersection of the faith and environmental communities. She is a co-founder of The Sova Project and is founder and director of the Baltimore Orchard Project.

 

By Sophie Wenzlau

“We have lost one of the world’s passionate defenders of the right to food,” said UN Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva, upon learning of the death of Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa.

Nelson Mandela recognized hunger as a moral issue. (Photo Credit: Pulitzer Center)

“Mandela understood that a hungry man, woman or child could not be truly free,” he said. “He understood that eliminating hunger was not so much a question of producing more food as it was a matter of making the political commitment to ensure that people had access to the resources and services they needed to buy or produce enough safe and nutritious food.”

Graziano da Silva said that he and others at the FAO had been inspired over the years by Mandela’s repeated calls to address hunger, a systemic global problem.

A total of 842 million people, or around one in eight people in the world, suffered from chronic hunger in 2011-13, according to the FAO’s State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013.

This figure represents a 17 percent decline in the overall number of undernourished people since 1990-92, a marked achievement. Programs designed to increase access to education, school meals, agricultural inputs, small-scale loans, market information, fortified grain, and emergency rations have all contributed to this reduction in chronic hunger. Organizations, governments, farmers, and innovative community leaders deserve praise for this accomplishment.

Although this reduction is a significant achievement, we must resist complacency. Hunger continues to kill more people every year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.

The rate at which hunger has been reduced has varied tremendously by region. Sub-Saharan African remains the region with the highest prevalence of undernourishment; Western Asia has shown no progress; while Southern Asia and Northern Africa have shown slow progress. Significant reductions in chronic hunger have occurred in most countries of Eastern and South Eastern Asia, as well as in Latin America.

“We owe Nelson Mandela a debt of thanks for speaking out on huger,” said Graziano da Silva. “More importantly, we owe it to the 842 million people in the world who suffer from chronic hunger to redouble our efforts to eliminate hunger in our lifetimes.”

Sophie Wenzlau is a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute.

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One of the biggest challenges with using renewable energy for electricity generation—specifically wind and solar power—is intermittency. The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. Affordable, reliable, and deployable storage is seen as the holy grail of renewable energy integration, and recent advances in storage technology are getting closer to finding it.

The current electricity grid has virtually no storage—pumped hydropower is the most prevalent, but is largely location dependent. As higher levels of solar and wind energy are added to the grid, however, storage will become increasingly fundamental to ensuring that the power supply remains stable and demand is met. Utilities and businesses around the globe are starting to use large-scale batteries to complement their renewable energy generation: in Texas, for example, Duke Energy installed a 36 megawatt lead-acid storage system to balance its wind power.

Storage technologies not only provide utilities with grid reliability for renewable integration, but also offer additional benefits such as ancillary services, ramp rate control, frequency regulation, and peak shaving, which can lower costs and improve the performance of the transmission system. Power system operators have always had to match electricity demand with supply, and energy storage is an additional tool in their grid-management toolbox.

Storage technologies vary by application, but most research and development is occurring in the realm of batteries, which compete mainly on cost, battery life, and safety. Lead-acid batteries are the oldest type of rechargeable battery and have a very low cost, but they suffer from a short cycle life. Newer batteries, such as lithium-ion options, have very high energy densities and efficiencies, but are hampered by high costs. Supercapacitors, meanwhile, have very long cycle life and high efficiencies, but lower energy densities, needing more space for the same capacity.

Different battery types have distinct discharge times and power capacities that lend them to different applications. Assuring continuity of quality power requires fast response times; assuring continuity of service when switching energy generation sources requires high levels of flexibility. Decoupling generation and consumption of electric energy—that is, charging storage when the cost is low and consuming energy on demand—requires high cycle life.

Beyond batteries

In addition to batteries, energy storage technologies include flywheels, pumped hydro storage, and compressed air energy storage. Flywheels store energy in the form of motion via a rotating mass that has very low frictional losses, making them best suited for high-power, low-energy applications that require frequent cycling. Pumped hydro storage is able to store energy in the form of water at a higher elevation by pumping water up while supply is high (and electricity is cheap) and using gravity to transport water down when demand is high (and electricity is expensive). Compressed air energy storage (CAES) is similar to pumped hydro storage in application, output, and storage capacity, but instead of using water as a storage medium, it uses ambient air.

CAES technology has been growing in popularity as a competitor to pumped hydro, since it offers large-scale storage without the geographic restrictions. In CAES, ambient air is compressed and driven into storage tanks or underground caverns, or stored underwater. When electricity is needed, the compressed air is expanded, driving a motor and producing power. CAES technology is not new—it has been used since the 1970s—but improvements in efficiency, air storage methods, and type of fuel used in compression has given it renewed attractiveness.
Storage system ratings
Storage Technology Comparison
Compressed Air Energy Storage system overview

One California-based company, LightSail Energy makes CAES more efficient by storing both the mechanical energy and the thermal energy created in compressing air through the addition of water mist to the air. Water captures the generated heat and returns the thermal energy when it is re-infused into the air, heating the air and thus delivering more power.

Similarly, the New Hampshire company SustainX captures the heat from compression in water and stores it until it is needed for expansion. By carrying out isothermal–constant temperature-compression and expansion in situ, this system yields higher round-trip efficiencies and lower capital costs.

A Canadian company, Hydrostor, uses an innovative air storage method. While most new applications of CAES use above-ground metal containers, Hydrostor stores the compressed air 100-500 meters underwater in large polyester bags or cement cavities, keeping the air at the pressure to which it was compressed. When energy is needed, the flow of the system is reversed and the weight of the water forces the air to the surface, where it can be expanded to produce electricity.

Real-world relevance

Islands are the perfect candidates for CAES systems, making this technology especially relevant to the Worldwatch Institute’s efforts to expand renewable energy use in the Caribbean. The region’s high fuel import costs and rich renewable resources make renewable energy competitive in price and the logical solution when socioeconomic and environmental factors are taken into account. High levels of renewable power, however, would require either oversized systems for which there is insufficient space or funding; backup diesel generation, which is expensive and dirty; or energy storage.

As the technology matures, CAES systems are becoming low-cost energy storage solutions with high scalability and negligible environmental impacts. Underwater CAES has lower capital cost requirements than other CAES systems and smaller onshore footprints, and it requires deep waters to store air, a characteristic that is well suited to the waters surrounding islands in the Caribbean. The sun can be used as a heat source to further increase expansion efficiency.

CAES has many advantages over other forms of energy storage, and if ongoing technological innovations succeed in making it as efficient as pumped hydro storage, it may well become the cheapest type of large-scale storage. The ambient air used is free; the materials and technologies used are abundant and well understood, and there are no siting restrictions. Moreover, CAES has scalable capacity—you can just add more storage containers.

Go to Source

Jakarta-Mall-Carousel

Jakarta Mall (image from Wikimedia Commons user Jonathan McIntosh)

If all humans consumed as much food and resources as people in the United States do, the Earth could sustain only about a quarter of the current population. Humanity as a whole is becoming more wasteful as people across the globe define themselves and their successes by what they own and what they consume. In State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible?, contributing authors discuss ways that we can move away from the consumer culture that is undermining the planet we live and depend on.

Cultures are constantly evolving, and perhaps one of the biggest cultural transformations was the advent of consumerism not too many generations ago. Erik Assadourian, senior fellow at Worldwatch and co-director of State of the World 2013, highlights the changes that advertising and marketing brought to society.

“When first-generation factory workers received raises, they chose to work fewer hours, not buy more stuff,” Assadourian says. “Over time, people got used to new products, some of which did indeed improve life quality and many of which were marketed as such by clever entrepreneurs and a new advertising industry. Eventually, we could hardly imagine life without an abundance of products.”

Yet just as humans became consumers, so can we revamp our behaviors to prevent further damage to the planet. Among the ways that our cultures can be transformed to make consumption patterns more sustainable, Assadourian suggests, are policy changes, such as shifting taxes on unsustainable practices like carbon emissions, plastic bags, and junk food; as well as shifts in infrastructure, such as facilitating car-free lifestyles by building bike lanes and shared bike systems, as many U.S. and European cities have done. Members of organizations, such as churches, schools, and businesses, can promote sustainable living in their communities. And media and entertainment have the potential to change our society by subtly modeling sustainable living with films, stories, and social marketing.

Black Friday Shoppers descend on Target (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Black Friday Shoppers descend on Target (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Ultimately, we must understand that long-term changes in our communities are not going to be brought about by individual actions alone. Indeed, too much focus on changing individual behavior can inadvertently redirect energy from the cultural, business, and political changes that are necessary. Although corporations have supported some conservation efforts by individuals—sometimes in ways that strategically redirect blame from themselves—the amount of damage done by people and households is only a small fraction of the total waste produced by industries every year.

Annie Leonard, co-director of The Story of Stuff Project and contributing author of State of the World 2013, explains the problems that arise when individuals, rather than large-scale waste producers, take blame for the planet’s deterioration. “Describing today’s environmental problems and solutions as individual issues has a disempowering effect,” says Leonard. “Even if we really do decrease our driving, stop littering, and refuse plastic bags, the broader impacts are still negligible. Society-wide, we need to implement new technologies, cultural norms, infrastructure, policies, and laws.”

Leonard advocates for widespread public action to make sustainable living a way of life, rather than a trend. Millions of people are aware of the climate problems that we face, but the impetus to make the adjustment to sustainable living has yet to be made. The sooner we face the challenges involved with moving toward a sustainable society, the better chance we have to prevent further environmental decay.

“The good news is that we have everything we need to make big change in the years ahead,” explains Leonard. “We have model policies and laws. We have innovative green technologies to help with the transition. We have an informed and concerned public; millions and millions of people know there is a problem and want a better future. The only thing we are missing is widespread citizen action on the issues we already care about.”

By implementing new technologies, shifting cultural norms, building a sustainable infrastructure, and creating new policies, people will be able to make the society-wide changes that are imperative to humanity’s success. This means calling people to action within broader political campaigns that engage people to work together using the full range of tools available to them, including organizing, lobbying, legal actions, economic sanctions, and civil disobedience.

You can read Annie Leonard’s chapter here and Erik Assadourian’s chapter here.