Archive for the 'technology' Category

Come With Me If You Want To Live & Horizon Longitude Prize A Vegan Solution

I am often in a minority with my view points on many things, for example, the world could be a better place if more people spent time watching science fiction films.

Just over two hundred years ago Malthus published a famous book expressing the concern that the world’s resources would be insufficient to sustain the growing population of the world.  At that time the population of Europe was 150,000,000 and the world population is estimated to have been less than a billion (about 910 million, 9,100,000).

Two hundred years later and here we are, over 7 billion people alive so how wrong was he?

When I say a billion I am talking about a thousand million, a number with nine zeros.  When I was much younger and started to learn the names of big numbers a billion was a million million, it had 12 zeros.  In 1974 Britain moved towards doing things the American way and knocked loads of zeros off all the big numbers, a thousand million was promoted to a billion and a trillion no longer needed eighteen noughts a mere twelve would suffice.

Trillian also became a girl’s name in 1978, invented by Douglas Adams for a character in The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Note to people interested in politics, do you see how easy it is to change the numbers and make things seem so much bigger or smaller by the use of words when people do not really know what the actual numbers mean.  The use of fractions and percentages are also very effective weapons in your arsenal for causing confusion.

In 220 years the population has grown by 769%, approximately.

There are now seven billion people on the planet now and within the next 35 years the population will grow by another third, there will be more than 9 billion on the planet in 2050 but I am getting ahead of myself.

In the 1980s an unknown writer/film maker sells the rights to his original story for the price of a pint of beer so that he can direct it as a low budget film.  It is arguably among the most successful science fiction films ever made along with its sequel, Terminator 2.  The director, James Cameron, went on to make many award winning films such as The Abyss Titanic and Avatar.

In the Terminator films the protagonists aim to prevent an imminent nuclear war because if that historical path is taken most people are destroyed and we are given a figure and a date:

“3 billion human lives ended on August 29th 1997.”

With the benefit of hindsight we now know that by then the world population was six billion so the nuclear war only killed half of us that day, many more would have died in the aftermath and I think James Cameron had in mind that our species was almost wiped out, almost extinct because of the nuclear war, the event was called Judgement Day in the Terminator films.

Why judgement day? It is not a religious reference.  A superior intelligence is given the opportunity to look after our planet it quickly calculates and concludes that humans do not generally act in the interest of the greater good, we do not have world interests at our heart – so the superior intelligence in the film comes to the logical conclusion.  This is a common theme in science fiction and perhaps justifiable when you consider our population growth, the way we treat each other, our history of wars and atrocities, our depletion of the world’s natural resources.  It stands to good reason that those of far superior intelligence, for example, would see us as we view rats, cockroaches and termites or germs and viruses.  We destroy pests.

If the security of the world is ever in the hands of artificial intelligence or superior beings in the future then our species really needs to impress them with better behaviour and rational decision making compared to our history.

For example, at the current rate of use there will not be enough fresh water for the population of the world by 2050.  As you know there is already water poverty for many people in the world but on the other hand experts have suggested we could use the water more efficiently.

Water meters, sharing baths with my neighbours and A rated dishwashers are a drop in the ocean, so to speak, because globally 70% of human water usage is on agriculture but it is livestock that is using most of that fresh water  not just because of what the animals consume directly but because of the water that goes into growing crops to feed those animals

.“meat and dairy products are among the most water-intensive consumer products”

When you recognise that crops are grown, processed and transported to feed livestock instead of feeding people directly then there is an argument to look not at amount of water per crop but at final calories produced per crop.

There are more water efficient farming practices that can be adopted but it would seem obvious that livestock farming is a very inefficient use of water.  That is not the only big negative impact it has on our environment.

A report from the United Nation Environment Programme states:

“ Today, “the livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems” (Steinfeld et al. 2006). This includes stresses such as deforestation, desertification, “excretion of polluting nutrients, overuse of freshwater, inefficient use of energy, diverting food for use as feed and emission of GHGs” (Janzen 2011). Perhaps the most worrisome impact of industrial meat production, analyzed and discussed in many scientific publications in recent years, is the role of livestock in climate change.”

Roughly it takes about ten times as much land to produce meat as compared to vegetables when compared by calories.  Livestock production, including growing the food to feed the animals is blamed for using up water but also cutting back the rain forests and creating desserts.

Since the time of Malthus atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) has risen by 40% due to human activities and we all know that greenhouse gas emissions has become a big concern.  About a quarter of greenhouse gas created annually by people is due to animal farming.

By contrast air traffic contributes less than 3% of CO2 emissions and all transport in the world, including aviation, accounts for slightly less anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions than livestock farming.

Europeans on average eat about 200 grams of meat per person per day, in the US they eat a lot lot more (more than 300 grams).  To keep greenhouse emissions within current targets and feed the growing population daily meat consumption must be below 90 grams (according to a UNEP report).

When many British people talk about a meal they define it in terms of the meat.

“We’ve got chicken or beef tonight.”

I will never forget my mum asking me what I was going to eat later and I replied that I was not sure but I have got some broccoli in the fridge.  She said she found that really odd as she would eat vegetables without naming them as central to the meal. But why not?

The Director James Cameron has been interested in environmental issues for many years and he has said that the reason he became a vegan is because

“The single biggest thing that an individual can do to combat climate change is to stop eating animals because of the huge, huge carbon footprint of animal agriculture.”

Some people are vegan because they simply think it is wrong to eat animals. Other people give health reasons, such as ex President Bill Clinton, he wants to live way into the future and so do I.

The issue of fresh water, feeding the growing population and greenhouse gas emissions are all subjects in the BBC Horizon programme air tonight which I watched AFTER writing this.  We are given the chance to vote on a priority for scientific advancement to solve a big problem.  I highly recommend you watch this on iPlayer or when aired again on BBC2 Tue at 23.50

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mgxf

Sources:

  • Stefan Schwarzera (et al) Growing greenhouse gas emissions due to meat production, United Nations Environment Programme GEAS October 2012
  • Compassion in World Farming: Water Footprint

 

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