Sunday, June 23, 2013

Dano on Ecology

I’d like to thank Eli for allowing me to have a bunny’s voice on his blog after I’ve been down the rabbit hole for a while. He asked me to bring an ecological voice to the discussion here, and that’s what I’ll try to do. In my posts I’m going to focus on different indicators, one at a time, and use that indicator as a jumping-off point to something that may be good or interesting or challenging to think about. I’ll then finally wrap it into climate for the bunny appeasement. (Always a good thing-ER) I welcome and appreciate your feedback, and if I’m not too swamped I’ll do my best to reply to some selected comments. I will also do my best to be semi-regular. Posting. Semi-regular posting.

I focus now on a headline that was in the news recently, received fairly wide coverage, and reveals a much wider set of issues as well: New England fishing cuts looming for 2013.

Notice the vastly different  perspectives  on this  fisheries issue. Yes, well, OK you say. So what? A few guys go out of business and we eat mullet instead. And? Fish catch is a key ecological indicator for a number of reasons: it allows us to have a proxy to track local ocean health (albeit inaccurately), it allows us to track species, protein consumption by humans, etc.

An axiom in ecology is: man is the simplifier of ecosystems. Ever since we abandoned hunter-gathering and entered the agrarian age (some say the Anthropocene Era), we have altered the landscape to secure food. With increasing technology we have more “effectively” exploited resources to secure food. What we have done up to this point to feed 7B people is remarkable, but can we continue? (Sidebar: Some may be aware of a fascinating exchange  about the issues surrounding the feeding of 9B people in 2050. Of course, as with any issue, some choose  not to grasp the difficulties we face.  I offered money  to anyone who could get a paper published stating we could feed 9B humans via Business As Usual.)

I recently attended a climate change conference where the attendees were sharing policies for societal climate solutions - and agriculture was an especially difficult problem to discuss policies for adaptation.. Our fisheries are important components of our food system and are threatened not only by overfishing but by man-made climate change as well, and need policies to maintain fish populations. Catch limits affect families’ livelihoods and regions’ economies, as does the collapse of fisheries. Can we adapt and shift our protein consumption to more terrestrial sources, or must we continue to depend on the oceans for protein? It turns out that it would be very difficult to increase protein production from terrestrial sources. As wealth increases,  protein consumption increases. Switching to terrestrial protein when rainfall becomes more episodic and groundwater depletion increases poses a daunting challenge.

So, choose your indicator for your own purposes: for planning purposes, worrying purposes, or another purpose?

9 comments: said...

Dano: Chief scientist in Brussels told me 1% of our calories from the maybe not so important any more except regionally? Majority of our fish comes from farms now I've heard.

reasonablemadness said...

@Dano Re:Sidebar

"Of course, as with any issue, some choose not to grasp the difficulties we face. I offered money to anyone who could get a paper published stating we could feed 9B humans via Business As Usual."

I don't see the problem of feeding 9 Billion people. People are hungry in the world, not because we don't have enough food. They are hungry, because they are poor. Additionally, we are using only a vary small part of our agricultural land to actually put calories in peoples mouth.

First of all we throw away almost half of the food. So just by throwing away only half of the food we are throwing away currently, there would be enough food for additional 2 billion people.

Second, a lot of our crops are used for meat production (to feed animals). But feeding crop to cattle and then eating the cattle is very inefficient. You only get back around 10-15% of the calories you have farmed in the first place. We currently use nearly 2/3 of our global agricultural land for livestock production. So just by eating 20% less meat, we could increase food production enough to feed additional 2 billion people.

In the end, it depends on what you understand as "business as usual". Both things above however don't have anything to do with our inability to produce enough food or with climate change. Those things, e.g. being more carefully with our food and not throw away so much, are social factors. Food is simply to cheap for us. We are so rich in the industrialized countries, that we don't really care about that and can allow us economically to do that.

And that brings me back to my very first point: People are hungry because they are poor. Assuming all people would have enough money (as we do) to buy food and assuming we increase world population gradually by 2 billion people, that would increase the demand for food. Food and especially meat would get more expensive and we would automatically have an incentive to reduce our food wasteage and our meat consumption up to a point, so food prices would stay affordable.

So I think there are plenty of resources for food production today. If we use them efficiently, we have no problem feeding 9 billion people. I don't think that our problem is, that we are not able (or will not be in the future) to grow as much calories to feed those people. We can easily do that IMO.

Hank Roberts said...

one percent?

I doubt that includes everything.

Animal farms and fish farms feed with fish meal from ocean fish -- menhaden is, or was, a big source. Krill harvesting directly is increasing.

Martin Vermeer said...

Hank, that's 1% of calories. The importance of fish is for proteins.

John said...

In the US, most adults are now overweight or obese. Simultaneously,
many are food-insecure: they cannot be sure of having enough to eat. The good folks in public health think (and I agree) that we get too many calories, and have too much saturated fat and trans fats, too little fruits and vegetables.
For details, see Prescription for a Healthy Society (Beacon Press, 2005) by Tom Farley, MD and Deborah Cohen, MD. The first author is now the Commissioner of Public Health of New York City, and my brother.

opit said...

Business as usual is threatened by Monsanto's patenting of seeds and changing to GM 'foods'. The nutritional comparisons suggest one would be better off eating powdered rock.
The use of Corexit 9500 to sink BP Deepwater Horizon's radioactive oil from the Macondo Prospect yielded a mobile combination that was 52x as fatal to rotifers at the base of the food chain and is pretty rough on coral polyps as well.
Nor do we often consider the fate of fisheries in Somalia, where anything from radioactive waste on down was disposed of by contractors dealing with hazardous waste in an area without governmental supervision. That's where Somali pirates came from : unemployed starving fishermen.
Draggers have raped the sea floor for decades, turning it into a desert.
Historically fish brought wealth - a source of cheap protein allowed society to diversify its concerns.
Like many resources, this one looks well on its way to being thoroughly pooched in the style of Easter Island.

Hank Roberts said...

> 1% from the ocean

just wondering is that one percent including the amount of calories produced on land using ground up wild-caught fish as fertilizer, or as food sprinkled into fish farm pools for example

In other news, those huge areas subject to occasional salt water intrusion, where rice is grown, have a tradeoff to make

Hank Roberts said...

oh, and another bow to Captcha, who gave me: omoreFED some
for the above note. for more,

Hank Roberts said...

Dano, your links are too subtle, put some text in them? Like the one to

"European Parliament study says China catches 12 times as many fish as it says"

that adds up ...

and Captcha says:

"unalow sider"

I say it's intelligent --now--.