Saturday, February 27, 2010

Occupation 101

Just watched Occupation 101 two years late. It's a gripping documentary about the history and status quo of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. While not being about battle for resources it does mention the grabbing of fertile lands by Jewish settlers.

[In 1947] The UN - under pressure - proposed to divide the land into two states. An Arab state and a Jewish state. Arabs were to be given 43% of the land despite the fact that they made up more than two thirds of the population and owned over 92% of the land. Jews were to be given 56% although they comprised only one third of the population and owned less than 8% of the total area. [...] They were given not only most of the land, they were given the most fertile land. [21:10]

[Today Israeli] settlements are strategically built colonies of Israel [on UN designated "Arab" land] that are connected by a network of roads which separates each Palestinian community from the next and confine their ability to expand. They are often constructed around the best farmland and resources. [11:10]

You can watch the whole thing using the above embedded Google Video og you can order the DVD from the official website.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Food security: climate change and sustainable development (TH!NK2½ part I)

I and the other TH!NKers are moving from part 2 to part 3, from climate change and COP15 to sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals. Both topics are multifaceted, overlapping and quite complex.
In fact, apart from climate change essentially being a sustainability issue, sustainable development was addressed directly several times during TH!NK2. Including by the good old “skeptic” who appeared shocked COP15 had dealt with “international economic development policy”. I strongly suspect climate change will be mentioned more than once during TH!NK3 too.
Luckily, the highly esteemed scientific journal Science published a review article this month: Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People. Food security is one of those topics that is extremely important and linked to both climate change and sustainable development. As well as to security policy which is something I have been blogging about at my own Ecowar. It's a good article, summing up on the most important aspects while providing reliable figures.
To sum it up: A growing population with an increasing consumption will have to get by on an exceedingly exploited Earth. This will lead to crises, challenges and tough choices. A global political effort is needed to solve the most pressing problems and take advantage of the windows of opportunity: closing the yield gap, reducing waste, changing diets and more.

The yield gap

The first subject is enormous and actually mixed into most parts of the article. To “close the yield gap” means moving from the harvest we do achieve to what we theoretically could achieve if our current knowledge and technology was utilized. They mention a political aspect as well:
Food production in developing countries can be severely affected by market interventions in the developed world, such as subsidies or price supports.”
Just look at the subsidization of sugar beet farming in the EU, US and Australia which makes the otherwise sound sugar cane farming in the 3rd world less profitable. The chapter on the yield gap also addresses something that is central to the whole sustainability discussion:
Food production has important negative “externalities,” namely effects on the environment or economy that are not reflected in the cost of food.”
Take the difference between a liter of “normal” aka “industrial” milk on the one hand and a liter of organic milk on the other. The latter is a bit more expensive. Having been buying organic food for many years I have more than once been ridiculed by someone who just saw a TV show claiming organic food isn't more healthy that other types of food. Well, my answer usually is that “normal” food is cheap because you really don't pay for it. You don't pay for the pesticides you indirectly put in our common ground water, the global warming you cause by the energy intensive production of fertilizers, the woes of future generations who will not be able to sustain this “normal” production et cetera, et cetera.
And contrary to what is sometimes claimed, sustainability isn't synonymous with a drop in production:
One study of 286 agricultural sustainability projects in developing countries, involving 12.6 million chiefly small-holder farmers on 37 million hectares, found an average yield increase of 79% across a very wide variety of systems and crop types”

Increased food production

Part of closing the yield gap – or rather, raising the bar – is the whole genetic modification issue. So far what we have seen from that opportunity is decreased sustainability. Because the first large scale GM crops have been optimized for profits through aggressive patenting, monopolies, design for intensively industrialized farming and reliance on pesticides. What needs to be developed is crops with beneficial traits (such as drought resistance and less greenhouse gas side-effects in both cultivation and livestock digestion). Available to 3rd world farmers without a debt trap attached.
Advances in genetic technology can help us take great strides in crop cultivation in general. One of the things we need to preserve to most efficiently take advantage of such technology is our natural biodiversity. Our ecosystem is a treasure trove of biochemistry that shouldn't be squandered away. Year 2010 is the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity because MDG number 7 included “achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss” of biodiversity. As I have already complained, this goal has failed. Doubly painful since it is so integrally linked to the climate change issue.

Reducing food waste

Now there is an obvious solution, right. 30 to 40% of all food is wasted. Solve that problem and we're almost halfway!
Except in the developing world much waste is due to infrastructure limitations including lack of refrigeration. But installing refrigerators for 3 billion more people will consume enormous amounts of energy leading to increased greenhouse gas emissions and other problems.
In the 1st world we are rich enough to throw away food for cosmetic reasons. We rely on dates printed on packaging, not an actual assessment of the freshness of our foods. And due to diseases caused by industrialization (mad cows et cetera) we feel forced to destroy food waste rather than compost it or feed it to livestock.
Lastly, we waste massive amounts of food by converting grain into meat. Since the conversion efficiency is about 10% why don't we try and go without eating for nine days after one day of meat? That would be a lesson. However, vegetarian zealots: back off. There is plenty of room for livestock by feeding with human food waste and grass, meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, livestock doubles as workforce in ploughing and transport plus produces manure.
The conclusion begins: “There is no simple solution to sustainably feeding 9 billion people.” No, obviously not. And we'll experience endless discussion, crises and conflict over the arable land we have left as well as over the way we manage it and divide it's harvests.

"Harvest" by seyed mostafa zamani

This article is also posted to my column at TH!NK ABOUT IT #2: Climate Change.

The article Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People was brought to my attention by The Oil Drum. Thanks.

ResearchBlogging.orgGodfray, H., Beddington, J., Crute, I., Haddad, L., Lawrence, D., Muir, J., Pretty, J., Robinson, S., Thomas, S., & Toulmin, C. (2010). Food Security: The Challenge of Feeding 9 Billion People Science, 327 (5967), 812-818 DOI: 10.1126/science.1185383

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Minor oil conflicts saber rattling

Oil conflicts are not just about Iraq, Afghanistan and obscure former Soviet republics in between.

The Falkland Islands

As drilling equipment approaches Falkland Oil & Gas stocks are up. So is the Argentine-UK diplomatic heat.

"The Foreign Ministry reiterates its sovereign rights over the Malvinas Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the sea surrounding them, which form a part of its national territory. [...] Argentina again warns the UK about the illegality and consequences of this new unilateral action, extensive to all private actors involved, that they will be liable of future legal demands in the maximum tribunals, for the potential exploration and exploitation of Argentine resources."
- Argentine Foreign Ministry sources

"The British Government will continue to support the development of [The Falkland Islands'] hydrocarbons sector, the British Government will continue to work with you on this agenda. [There are] no doubts about United Kingdom's sovereignty over the Falkland Islands."
- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown

Sources: U.K. Says ‘No Doubt’ on Falklands After Argentina Row, Argentina warns UK about Falkland Islands oil.


In Nigeria the president leaving the country to undergo heart surgery plus some Christian vs Muslim tension is increasing existing tensions.

"All companies related to the oil industry in the Niger Delta should prepare for an all-out onslaught [...] Nothing will be spared."
- Jomo Gbomo of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND)

We want to own our land, we want control of the land and the resources, so we can determine who comes to our land, but instead we have communities that have been forcibly relocated from their land so that oil companies can start operations."
- Henry Okah, leader of MEND

Sources: Nigerian rebels threaten 'all-out oil war', Nigeria militants call off truce in oil-rich Niger Delta.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pentagon report on climate change and renewable energy

Via (which is filling up with dumb asses so I can't really recommend it) I noticed Treehugger had an article about one "Abu Muqawama" at Center for a New American Security posting the US Department of Defense's Quadrennial Defense Review 2010. Scroll to pages 107-111, chapter "DoD's Approach to Climate and Energy", in the embedded PDF. (Whew!)

"climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.


climate-related changes are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters


Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.

While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world. In addition, extreme weather events may lead to increased demands for defense support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance or disaster response both within the United States and overseas.


To support cooperative engagement in the Arctic, DoD strongly supports accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea."


Energy efficiency can serve as a force multiplier, because it increases the range and endurance of forces in the field and can reduce the number of combat forces diverted to protect energy supply lines, which are vulnerable to both to both asymmetric and conventional attacks and disruptions.

There is nothing new about military assessments of climate change risks. Click the military tag for starters. Not sure I posted Australian military warns of climate conflict yet though...

"Environmental stress, caused by both climate change and a range of other factors, will act as a threat multiplier in fragile states around the world, increasing the chances of state failure. This is likely to increase demands for the ADF to be deployed on additional stabilisation, post-conflict reconstruction and disaster relief operations in the future. [...] Climate change is unlikely to increase the risk of major conflict, although there is one exception: The Arctic is melting, potentially making the extraction of undersea energy deposits commercially viable. Conflict is a remote possibility if these disputes are not resolved peacefully. [...] From a defence planning perspective, we don't know how quickly these changes will occur, exactly what their impact will be, or how states and societies will react [...] Nevertheless, climate change may affect security by increasing stress on fragile states, state and societal competition for resources, environmental threats to ADF infrastructure and increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events."

There was actually one interesting link in one of the comments in one of the "meta" blogs delivering this: Solazyme To Develop Algae Fuels for US Navy. Very much related to my earlier The military - green or black? and to this gallery of 10 eco-friendly UAVs surveilling the heights with a clean conscience.

Quadrennial Defense Review Report

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