March 28: Proceedings of the National Academy via Eurekalert: "By 2050, the boom in urban populations is likely to exacerbate water shortages and harm freshwater ecosystems in and around cities in the developing world, a climate modeling study finds."
Study: Urban growth, climate change, and freshwater availability
Abstract: "Nearly 3 billion additional urban dwellers are forecasted by 2050, an unprecedented wave of urban growth. While cities struggle to provide water to these new residents, they will also face equally unprecedented hydrologic changes due to global climate change. Here we use a detailed hydrologic model, demographic projections, and climate change scenarios to estimate per-capita water availability for major cities in the developing world, where urban growth is the fastest. We estimate the amount of water physically available near cities and do not account for problems with adequate water delivery or quality. Modeled results show that currently 150 million people live in cities with perennial water shortage, defined as having less than 100 L per person per day of sustainable surface and groundwater flow within their urban extent. By 2050, demographic growth will increase this figure to almost 1 billion people. Climate change will cause water shortage for an additional 100 million urbanites. Freshwater ecosystems in river basins with large populations of urbanites with insufficient water will likely experience flows insufficient to maintain ecological process. Freshwater fish populations will likely be impacted, an issue of special importance in regions such as India's Western Ghats, where there is both rapid urbanization and high levels of fish endemism. Cities in certain regions will struggle to find enough water for the needs of their residents and will need significant investment if they are to secure adequate water supplies and safeguard functioning freshwater ecosystems for future generations."
Harvest, 1910. France. Photo from Creative Commons from collection of postaletrice/flickr
While it is widely assumed that agriculture has been responsible for allowing large increases in human population, a new study of genetic evidence links the rise of agriculture to the timing and scale of large population increases in several regions over the past 10,000 years. The study, which was published March 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicates that the invention of agriculture allowed populations to grow five times faster than the growth rates of ancient hunter gathers. Details:
PNAS PR: via @eurekalert: "Spurts of population growth in Europe, southeastern Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa largely coincide with the dawn of agriculture in those regions, a study finds. Although researchers have long suspected that agriculture drove population growth in different parts of the world, concrete evidence linking the timing and magnitude of population growth with the origin of agricultural practices has remained elusive. Christopher R. Gignoux and colleagues combined archaeological evidence with genetic data from the mitochondrial genomes of more than 400 individuals currently living in mainland Europe to determine whether the adoption of agriculture could be tied to human population size. The mitochondrial genomes, which are inherited solely from mothers, helped distinguish between lineages of people of hunter-gatherer and agricultural origins, and reconstruct a picture of past demographic trends. The authors found that population expansion within the last 10,000 years across parts of Europe, southeastern Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa coincided with the origins of agriculture. Compared with earlier growth spurts among hunter-gatherers, the invention of agriculture seemed to have triggered a five-fold spurt in population growth in all three continents. According to the authors, the findings lend support to one of two competing theories underlying the spread of agriculture: The diffusion of agricultural practices likely happened along with, and not separately from, the migration of people."
Study: Rapid, global demographic expansions after the origins of agriculture
Abstract: "The invention of agriculture is widely assumed to have driven recent human population growth. However, direct genetic evidence for population growth after independent agricultural origins has been elusive. We estimated population sizes through time from a set of globally distributed whole mitochondrial genomes, after separating lineages associated with agricultural populations from those associated with hunter-gatherers. The coalescent-based analysis revealed strong evidence for distinct demographic expansions in Europe, southeastern Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa within the past 10,000 y. Estimates of the timing of population growth based on genetic data correspond neatly to dates for the initial origins of agriculture derived from archaeological evidence. Comparisons of rates of population growth through time reveal that the invention of agriculture facilitated a fivefold increase in population growth relative to more ancient expansions of hunter-gatherers."
New York Times, March 28, Stephanie Clifford and Catherine Rampell: "...companies in recent months have tried to camouflage price increases by selling their products in tiny and tinier packages. So far, the changes are most visible at the grocery store, where shoppers are paying the same amount, but getting less...."
Portland, Oregon: Looking both north and south on SW 6th on the MAX light rail line, Dec. 2010. Photo from Creative Commons by Drew Stefani/flickr
Join a New Trend: Crowd-Sourced Book Publishing
Help Fund Alex Steffen's new book project. I just helped Alex, and also helped Gerd Ludwig's (@gerdludwig) very timely return to Chernobyl, to photograph 25 years after the nuclear power plant disaster there.
"The climate crisis demands that we start rebuilding our cities to become carbon neutral. But what does carbon neutrality mean? What does it look like? How do we measure it? My goal here is to explain carbon neutrality in a short, amusing book that can be read in an afternoon
"It's time to demystify bold climate action, fast. By being the first to show support, you'll help make this book a reality by Earth Day this April. (You'll also get cool stuff.)..."
And if you have not seen Alex Steffen's other very cool brand new book, Worldchanging (revised 2011 edition), read here:
WorldChanging 2.0 a New Guide for Changing the World
NSIDC:"On March 7, 2011, Arctic sea ice likely reached its maximum extent for the year, at 14.64 million square kilometers (5.65 million square miles). The maximum extent was 1.2 million square kilometers (471,000 square miles) below the 1979 to 2000 average of 15.86 million square kilometers (6.12 million square miles), and equal (within 0.1%) to 2006 for the lowest maximum extent in the satellite record.
Conditions in context: "As of March 22, ice extent has declined for five straight days. However there is still a chance that the ice extent could expand again. Sea ice extent in February and March tends to be quite variable, because ice near the edge is thin and often quite dispersed. The thin ice is highly sensitive to weather, moving or melting quickly in response to changing winds and temperatures, and it often oscillates near the maximum extent for several days or weeks, as it has done this year. Since the start of the satellite record in 1979, the maximum Arctic sea ice extent has occurred as early as February 18 and as late as March 31, with an average date of March 6.
"In the beginning of April, NSIDC will issue a formal announcement with a full analysis of the 2010 to 2011 winter season, and graphics comparing this year to the long-term record..."
"...Dr Baenziger and her colleagues had been running an ambitious set of field trials designed to look at what sorts of maize (corn, to Americans) grow best in various parts of southern and eastern Africa, paying special attention to drought resistance. They were struggling, though, to find the money to pull the results from 123 separate research stations together into one big, tractable database. Dr (David) Lobell (of Stanford University) realised that if he helped them he could also use the result to correlate yields with meteorological conditions other than drought, and thus reveal any harm done by hotter-than-usual weather. His conclusions, published this week in Nature Climate Change, confirm for the tropics the findings for temperate climes of a recent American study. This is that peak, rather than average, temperatures are what matter most to maize.
"Days above 30*C are particularly damaging. In otherwise normal conditions, every day the temperature is over this threshold diminishes yields by at least 1%. Moreover, days where the temperature exceeds 32*C do twice the harm of those at 31*C. And during a drought, things are worse still. Then, yields take a hit of 1.7% per day over 30*C..."
Nature Climate Change: News and Views: Agriculture weather dilemma for African maize
"...One of the most important aspects of the work by Lobell and colleagues is that it offers a new way of obtaining this information from a widely available source of data. Data repositories hold the results of field trials for a variety of crops and locations, and should be exploited in the same fashion to establish an 'atlas of climate sensitivities' for multiple crops in different regions. ..."
Study: Nature Climate Change: Nonlinear heat effects on African maize as evidenced by historical yield trials
"An analysis of over 20,000 historical African maize trials suggests the crop will better cope with climate change under rain-fed management. For a 1 *C temperature rise, optimal rain-fed conditions would mean 65% of maize-growing areas in Africa would be likely to experience yield losses, compared with 100% under drought conditions. "
From Study: "...Overall, our results indicate two important conclusions. First, maize yields in Africa may gain from warming at relatively cool sites, but are significantly hurt in areas where temperatures commonly exceed 30*C.
"Second, sensitivity to heat is clearly exacerbated in drought conditions, with even the coolest sites hurt by warming in the absence of adequate soil moisture. These results indicate that agronomic measures to improve soil moisture and breeding efforts to produce drought-tolerant crops are not only beneficial for managing present and future risks of drought, but are also probably important strategies to deal with future warming....."
Study lead author: David Lobell, Stanford University
"Supplies of the staple grain are tight -- and may get tighter"
Scientific American: Tiffany Stecker and ClimateWire, March 24: "...Globally, no other grain has a connection to livelihood like wheat. With a consumption rate of 661 million tons per year, it easily bypasses rice and maize as the most important food crop in the world. It provides one-fifth of the world's calories, on par with rice, and has the power to instill anxiety in political leaders, market experts, farmers and -- as seen in Cairo's Tahrir Square -- working people.
"And it's just a preview of what's likely to come, according to food security experts...."
also see: "World One Poor Harvest Away from Chaos (via @earthpolicy)
PBS Newshour: "Special correspondent Steve Sapienza reports on an innovative approach for getting water to slum dwellers in Bangladesh. The report is the latest in a series on global population issues in collaboration with National Geographic magazine and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting."
The Bangladesh water story video is also available at the Pulitzer Center website where other resources are available.
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has worked with the Newseum in Washington DC to put up a short slide show of pictures about world water issues on their atrium screen, check it out through the end of the month.
Elizabeth Kolbert writes in the April 2011 National Geographic on the rising acidification of the ocean as the seas soak up more carbon dioxide. The CO2 comes from the burning of hydrocarbon fossil fuels -- coal, oil, natural gas. Ocean acidification has been called global warming's "evil twin."
A new study indicates that Mauritania (above) is the nation most at risk to water shortage. 14 other nations in politically volatile Middle East North Africa region are also at extreme risk of water shortage. Photo from Creative Commons by Christine Vaufrey/flickr
"Oil producing Middle East and North African countries dominate Maplecroft water security risk list; Lack of stable supplies may lead to future oil price hikes and regional unrest"
Maplecroft (@globalrisks): March 22, 2011: "Extreme water security risks across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) may lead to further increases in global oil prices and heightened political tensions in the future, according to a new study, which rates the region as having the least secure water supplies in the world.
"The Water Security Risk Index and map, developed by risk analysis and mapping firm Maplecroft, rates 18 countries at 'extreme risk' with 15 located in the troubled MENA region. These include: Mauritania (1), Kuwait (2), Jordan (3), Egypt (4), Israel (5), Niger (6), Iraq (7), Oman (8), United Arab Emirates (9), Syria (10), Saudi Arabia (11), Libya (14), Djibouti (16), Tunisia (17) and Algeria (18)...:
Jerusalem Post (@Jerusalem_Post): "Mideast is world's riskiest region for water security"
David Rosenberg, The Jerusalem Post: "The Middle East and North Africa have the world's least secure water supplies, a danger that heightens political risk in an already volatile region and may even lead to higher oil prices in the future, according to a study released on Tuesday.
The Water Risk Index, developed by the British risk consultants Maplecroft, found that out of 18 countries around the world at "extreme risk" to their water security, 15 are in the Middle East. The list numbers several key oil exporters, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Libya and Algeria, whose water woes could have global implications...."
Maplecroft Interactive Map: Water Security Risk Index
"...Water security has the potential to compound the already fragile state of societal affairs in some countries," says Professor Alyson Warhurst, CEO of Maplecroft. "For example, in Egypt water security may intensify the on-going civil tensions. In turn it is not unrelated to food security, which leads to cost of living protests and in turn violent oppression in less democratic societies"...."
also see: Peak water has already come and gone (via @guardianeco)
The City 600: 600 cities to account for more than 60 percent of global GDP growth
McKinsey Quarterly: : "Over the next 15 years, 600 cities will account for more than 60 percent of global GDP growth. Which of them will contribute the largest number of children or elderly to the world's population? Which will see the fastest expansion of new entrants to the consuming middle classes? How will regional patterns of growth differ?..."
"Into that conflict comes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who for two years has been promising something revolutionary: finding a way for organic farms to coexist alongside the modified plants.
"But in recent weeks, the administration has announced a trio of decisions that have clouded the future of organics and boosted the position of genetically engineered (GE) crops. (US Secretary of Agriculture Tom) Vilsack approved genetically modified alfalfa and a modified corn to be made into ethanol, and he gave limited approval to GE sugar beets.
The announcements were applauded by GE industry executives, who describe their genetically modified organisms as the farming of the future. But organics supporters were furious, saying their hopes that the Obama administration would protect their interests were dashed....
Discussion on food prices (via @FT @bigpictureag)
Vilsack also wrote this week in the Financial Times on keeping rising food prices in check. In response, Kay McDonald at Big Picture Agriculture commented on the administration's biofuels policy as a driver of rising prices, which is draining a large percentage of the corn harvest from the food/feed supply chain towards federally mandated biofuels energy production. Rising corn prices drive up prices of a range of foods: meat, dairy, wheat and soy products.
also see: March 22: Opinion, Tom Vilsack, Financial Times: How to avoid a global food price crisis
"...In the short term, nations should embrace transparency and the free movement of food supplies. They should share information on stocks and production; abstain from export bans while using export quotas and taxes sparingly; avoid panic buying and hoarding; reduce import tariffs and taxes, and put in place targeted safety nets for the most vulnerable.
"In the long term, worldwide agriculture has a steep hill to climb. The global population is on the rise and strong economic growth in developing countries is expanding middle classes and increasing demand for agricultural products..."
also see: Big Picture Agriculture, Kay McDonald, Response to Vilsack in FT: "Global Food Security Now and Later"
"Although I don't want to oversimplify the complex factors involved on the subject of global food security, there is a useful tool that is helpful in roughly assessing the food supply, and that is the stocks to use ratio...."
"...It was evident in Vilsack's Op-Ed for the Financial Times that his goal is to carry out Obama's desire to increase the U.S.'s agricultural exports while downplaying the role that the U.S. ethanol policy plays on global food security. The coarse grains shortage we are experiencing is most entirely due to corn ethanol policy in the U.S., not a production problem. Last year, 15% of global corn production went to produce ethanol in the U.S. High corn prices result in higher meat, dairy, wheat, and soy for consumers...."
Chart Above: USDA: Adoption of Genetically Engineered Crops in the U.S.
Mark Bittman: "The great American writer, thinker and farmer Wendell Berry recently said, "You can't be a critic by simply being a griper . . . One has also to . . . search out the examples of good work."
I've griped for weeks, and no doubt I'll get back to it, but there are bright spots on our food landscape, hopeful trends, even movements, of which we can be proud. Here are six examples:...." (continues)
A Conversation in Three Parts with Wendell Berry: Indiana Public Media: Earth Eats
Jad Mouawad: "Natural gas may be having its day, as its rival energy sources come under a cloud.
"The serious problems at the nuclear power plant in Japan have raised new doubts about the safety of nuclear energy. New exploration has yet to resume in the Gulf of Mexico after last year's blowout of a BP oil well. And coal plants have been under a shadow because of their contribution to global warming...
"...with the global demand for energy expected to grow by double digits in coming decades, analysts are anticipating a new boom in gas consumption. Given the growing concerns about nuclear power and the constraints on carbon emissions, one bank, Societe Generale, called natural gas the fuel of "no choice."