Are we to let people starve while the powerful grow bioenergy and restore forests for their tranquility?

“To build a better world, we must have the courage to make a new start. We must clear away the obstacles with which human folly has recently encumbered our path and release the creative energy of individuals. We must create conditions favourable to progress rather than “planning progress.”… The guiding principle in any attempt to create a world of free men must be this: a policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy.”
—Friedrich A. Hayek

I looked for this graphic at the Heritage foundation Index of Economic Freedom in response to a couple of sentences from the GIGO linked below on the decline in poverty and hunger in recent decades.  Something ardently more to be desired than than any fruit of economic envy.  Garbage in – garbage out.  The original and still most useful computer acronym.  Although the bottom line here is that well meaning but daft climate policy can increase poverty and hunger.  Not entirely garbage out then.  The Hayek quote is a reminder of the foundation of human progress.

Source”  Heritage Foundation

The reality is that climate is complex and dynamic.  There is uncertainty because the modern science of complex and dynamic systems has little confidence in the 12th century philosopher William of Ockham.  Global warming of 2°C well and truly crosses the line of the all too simplistic.

“All the models apply a uniform carbon price, with the agricultural sector included
in the carbon-pricing scheme. Except for IMAGE, all the models assume land-use competition among food, bioenergy crops and afforestation.”  Fujimori et al 2019: A multi-model assessment of food security implications of climate change mitigation

The reality of the Paris climate accord is a 3 billion metric ton increase in electricity and heat emissions.  A sector responsible for just 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Energy choices for much of the world are those that provide the most productive path to development.  At this time the choice is high efficiency low emission coal technology 1000’s being built or planned across Asia and Africa.  These emit 10% less carbon dioxide and negligible amount of sulfur, nitrous oxides, mercury or black carbon particulates.  This can rapidly change with cost competitive, low carbon alternatives.


Source: ASEAN Energy Equation

The bulk of greenhouse gas emissions come from land use changes and farming or in the form of nitrous oxides from internal combustion engines, and methane from many sources.  As well there is the inexplicably neglected strong warming – more than carbon dioxide from electricity – from black carbon.  These are controlled with existing technology available to rich economies.  With immense health and environmental benefits.

Deserts can be reclaimed. Forests, grasslands, wetlands and coastlines conserved and restored.  The key is water.  The African NGO Excellent Development has a goal of a million sand dams for half a billion people by 2040.  A cost effective way to transform a continent.

Food security requires doubling of food production – and much more meat – by 2050.  It can only be done by building living, more fertile soils – returning lost carbon in the process.  This soil carbon store can be renewed by restoring land. Holding back water in sand dams, terraces and swales, replanting, changing grazing management, encouraging perennial vegetation cover, precise applications of chemicals and adoption of other management practices that create positive carbon and nutrient budgets and optimal soil temperature and moisture. Atmospheric carbon is transferred from the atmosphere to soil carbon stores through plant photosynthesis and subsequent formation of secondary carbonates.  It is based on sound soil science and modern farming practices.  

Carbon sequestration in soils has major benefits in addition to offsetting anthropogenic emissions from fossil fuel combustion, land use conversion, soil cultivation, continuous grazing and cement and steel manufacturing.    Restoring soil carbon stores increases agronomic productivity and enhances global food security.  Increasing the soil organic content enhances water holding capacity and creates a more drought tolerant agriculture – with less downstream flooding.  There is a critical level of soil carbon that is essential to maximising the effectiveness of water and nutrient inputs.  Global food security, especially for countries with fragile soils and harsh climate such as in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, cannot be achieved without improving soil quality through an increase in soil organic content.   Wildlife flourishes on restored grazing land helping to halt biodiversity loss.  Reversing soil carbon loss is a new green revolution where conventional agriculture is hitting a productivity barrier with exhausted soils and increasingly expensive inputs.

Increased agricultural productivity, increased downstream processing and access to markets build local economies and global wealth.  Economic growth provides resources for solving problems – conserving and restoring ecosystems, better sanitation and safer water, better health and education, updating the diesel fleet and other productive assets to emit less black carbon and reduce the health and environmental impacts, developing better and cheaper ways of producing electricity, replacing cooking with wood and dung with better ways of preparing food thus avoiding respiratory disease and again reducing black carbon emissions.  A global program of agricultural soils restoration is the foundation for balancing the human ecology.

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1 Response to Are we to let people starve while the powerful grow bioenergy and restore forests for their tranquility?

  1. kakatoa says:

    Euan has a post up about land use changes that you may find of interest-

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