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Zero Footprint
We absolutely can reduce the ecological footprint of humanity all the way down to zero!
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Sustaining Seven Billion People

Sustaining Seven Billion People | Zero Footprint |

"With seven billion people now living on Earth, the ever growing demand is putting unprecedented pressure on global resources—especially forests, water, and food. How can Earth’s resources be managed best to support so many people? One key is tracking the sum of what is available, and perhaps nothing is better suited to that task than satellites."


...the top image shows where crops are grown throughout the world. Green areas are cropland, while tan areas are other types of land cover. In the last 40 years, cropland has increased by 70 percent to feed a growing population. Crops now cover about 40 percent of Earth’s land.

The lower image provides a landscape scale view of farming.

Measurements from the Landsat satellite also make it possible to tell how much water the crops consume in an arid environment. Such measurements are likely to become more important as demands on limited water resources increase. Currently, agriculture accounts for 85 percent of the world’s fresh water consumption.

Via Seth Dixon
Daniel LaLiberte's insight:

Such studies of the agriculture around the world are essential. The way we are doing agriculture to support seven billion people now, peaking at 9-10 billion in another 60 years, it is clear that we are putting severe strains on the environment.  But we have grown lazy, and we are doing it all wrong.


We CAN drastically reduce the amount of meat we consume, and thus quickly reduce the amount of arable land we need.  We CAN grow plants in ways that actually sequester more carbon and improve the soil it over time rather than erode and degrade.  And we CAN in fact grow all the food we need in the space we live in, thus enabling us to recycle all the water used as well, which is mostly just lost in evaporation. 

Russell Roberts's curator insight, July 6, 2014 12:53 AM

Thanks to environmental reporter Wes Thomas and professor Seth Dixon for this incisive analysis of how to provide sustenance to a world population nearing the 7 billion mark.  Dixon says the key is tracking the "sum of what is available...and perhaps nothing is better suited to the task than satellites."  Ever since the launch of "Landsat" and resource imaging satellites, scientists have been collecting data on global resources such as water, land use, forests, and crop production.  Dixon and Thomas say it's time the data were  put into a plan to fight hunger and habitat destruction around the world.  Such a plan may work if we as humans can keep from killing ourselves over religion, politics, and territory.  A tall order , indeed.  Aloha de Russ.

Tom Cockburn's curator insight, July 13, 2014 5:52 AM

Vital debate for the future

MsPerry's curator insight, August 12, 2014 7:44 PM


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Feeding the World Sustainably: Agroecology vs. Industrial Agriculture

Feeding the World Sustainably: Agroecology vs. Industrial Agriculture | Zero Footprint |
There are currently 1 billion people in the world today who are hungry. There's also another billion people who over eat unhealthy foods.


Food production around the world today is mostly done through industrial agriculture, and by judging current issues with obesity, worldwide food shortages, and the destruction of soil, it may not be the best process. We need to be able to feed our world without destroying it, and finding a more sustainable approach to accomplishing that is becoming more important.


The current system contributes to 1/3 of global emissions, is a polluter of our world’s water resources, and is a contributor to health problems. Industrial agriculture relies on mass produced, mechanized labor-saving policies that have pushed people out of rural areas and into cities, consolidating land and resources into fewer hands.


Agroecology looks to reduces agriculture’s impact on climate by working within natural systems. This is especially beneficial in rural areas, because the local community a major part of the growing process. The approach can conserve and protect soil and water — through terracing, contour farming, intercropping, and agroforestry — especially beneficial in areas where farmers lack modern irrigation infrastructure, or have farms situated on hillsides and other difficult farming sites.

Via Lauren Moss
Daniel LaLiberte's insight:

Clearly industrial agriculture is not sustainable, and must be replaced entirely with systems that reverse the current damage and restore the balance that used to exist before we messed things up.  We can use plants and animals not only to feed ourselves, but to *improve* the environment for all life on the planet.

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Michael Pollan on Agriculture’s Role in Fighting Climate Change

Michael Pollan on Agriculture’s Role in Fighting Climate Change | Zero Footprint |

Now, instead of just exposing the faults of the industrial agricultural system, Pollan is suggesting radical new ways to make agriculture work for both people and the planet.


With the right kind of technology, Pollan believes that eating meat can actually be good for the planet. That’s right: Raising livestock, if done properly, can reduce global warming.


“Depending on how you farm, your farm is either sequestering or releasing carbon,” says Pollan. Currently, the vast majority of farms, in the United States and around the world, are releasing carbon—mainly through fertilizer and fossil fuel applications but also by plowing before planting. “As soon as you plow, you’re releasing carbon,” Pollan says, because exposing soil allows the carbon stored there to escape into the atmosphere.


... even if annual emissions of greenhouse gases drop to zero, global temperatures will keep rising and climate impacts keep intensifying for decades to come, thanks to the inertia of the climate system. The only way to possibly reduce impacts in the years ahead is to address what is fundamentally driving them: the 400 ppm of CO2 currently in the atmosphere.


“When you have a grassland, the plants living there convert the sun’s energy into leaf and root in roughly equal amounts. When the ruminant [e.g., a cow] comes along and grazes that grassland, it trims the height of the grass from, say, 3 feet tall to 3 inches tall. The plant responds to this change by seeking a new equilibrium: it kills off an amount of root mass equal to the amount of leaf and stem lost to grazing. The [discarded] root mass is then set upon by the nematodes, earthworms and other underground organisms, and they turn the carbon in the roots into soil. This is how all of the soil on earth has been created: from the bottom up, not the top down.”


The upshot, both for global climate policy and individual dietary choices, is that meat eating carries a big carbon footprint only when the meat comes from industrial agriculture. “If you’re eating grassland meat,” Pollan says, “your carbon footprint is light and possibly even negative.”


Pollan calls this approach “open source carbon sequestration.” He emphasizes that more research is needed to understand how best to apply it, but he is bullish on the prospects. Using photosynthesis and reformed grazing practices to extract atmospheric carbon and store it underground “gets us out of one of the worst aspects of environmental thinking—the zero sum idea that we can’t feed ourselves and save the planet at the same time,” says Pollan. “It also raises our spirits about the challenges ahead, which is not a small thing.”

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