You’ve probably heard of the Ecological Footprint – the metric that allows us to calculate human pressure on the planet and come up with facts, such as: If everyone lived the lifestyle of the average American we would need 5 planets.
Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and to absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year.
Moderate United Nations scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we only have one.
An interesting metric regarding our food supply is that globally an average of 2.9 hectares of productive land is being used to support each person, although only 2.2 hectares are available. In other words, we are eating into natural capital to support humanity.
On a global level, the biggest problem with conventional agriculture is its dependence on fossil fuels. (Cuba is one good example of what can happen when we no longer have access to fossil fuels.) This is followed very closely by agricultures’ use of chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics and post-harvest chemicals. It is worth noting that these chemical industries also rely on fossil fuels for production.
On a national level, the biggest problems are depleted soils and the long distances that food needs to travel to reach the consumer. This is fuelled to a large extent by our modern consumer economy and culture which encourages consumption for its own sake, despite all the talk about lower food miles, efficiency and productivity. In many countries (such as Southern Africa for example) agriculture has also become a political warzone which has serious repercussions for its sustainability and productivity.
On a local level, the biggest problems are freshness, low nutrient density, poisons and cancer-inducing chemical residues, and perhaps most important to a large section of our global population the affordability of food.
How do we as individuals solve these problems? By adopting conserver versus consumer values. By supporting local farmers and food markets. By growing our own food, even if it is just a few herbs and a bottle of sprouts.
1. Visit the Global Footprint Network at http://www.footprintnetwork.org/ for more information on calculating your own ecological footprint.
2. How do you think we – as individual food gardeners – can solve these problems? Share your thoughts in a Reply below.