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Sustainable Food Supply and the End of Hunger IV

How the Food System Threatens the Environment

So we have a big problem. The problem is how to grow enough food and the right kind of food for a healthy and growing population. And we’ve seen that the problem’s going to get tougher as the population grows. And as the environmental threats multiply in the coming years. But the problem’s even more complicated. And that is that agriculture itself is one of the major causes of environmental threat.

The agricultural sector is the single most important sector from the point of view of human-induced climate change, and other environmental damages to the planet. I always find this a little bit counterintuitive. I think the automobile age, that must be the big, damage to the environment the energy system and fossil fuels. Of course those are huge factors in climate change and in environmental costs. But if we look at a particular sector of the economy we come back to the original one, to food production itself. And to agriculture more generally as the key human activity that puts the most pressures on the planet. What kinds of pressures? I think it’s worth mentioning quickly, before delving more deeply into three of them, the range of pressures that the agricultural system and farm practices put on the planet. First is greenhouse gasses.

1041We’ll turn to this in some detail, but the farm sector is a major emitter of the three main greenhouse gasses; carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. And this by itself means that farm practices need to be rethought as we desperately need to move to a low carbon and a low greenhouse gas emission world.

The second major impact Is through something very rarely discussed in in in the, the public but of increasing concern among specialists and that is on the nitrogen cycle. There’s a natural nitrogen cycle our atmosphere is 79% nitrogen in the form of N2. That kind of nitrogen is inert odorless without taste and not very useful, actually, for us. But nitrogen in it’s reactive forms of nitrates and nitrites and ammonia and ammonium, ion, and, its other reactive forms is absolutely vital for us and for all the rest of, living, species. Because nitrogen’s the backbone of amino acids and of proteins, it’s absolutely core to our metabolism, and to every aspect of our lives, including the ability to grow food. It’s for that reason we put a lot of nitrogen on the soil in the form of nitrogen-based fertilizers, to help feed the nutrients to our crops so that our crops feed us. But the damage of that human intervention into a natural nitrogen cycle is enormous. We’ll look at that in just a moment.

A third major way that the farm system impacts on the planet is the destruction of habitat for other species. Not entirely surprising when we consider that 40% of the total land area of the planet is agricultural land whether the arable land or the meadows and pasturelands. Humanity’s already grabbed so much of the land area for us, but it’s grabbing more, especially in the form of deforestation, and the rain forests that are at risk right now are places of incredible and irreplaceable biodiversity. And so one of the major ways that the earth is vulnerable to the sixth rate extinction wave that we have already discussed is through the tropical rain forest deforestation, which is part of the ongoing process of clearing lands for arable and for pasture land.

There are many other ways, which I’ve mentioned, where the environment is at threat from farming activity. The pesticides, the herbicides, the other chemicals that are used in farm production are a major threat to biodiversity. And especially the massive amounts of water that are used, around 70% of the total human use of fresh water goes through agriculture with only 10% going through household use and the remaining 20% or so for industrial processes. Agriculture is a voracious user of water and that water, itself, is under threat. So, for all of these reasons, the agriculture sector Is a key driver of anthropogenic environmental loss, and we’re going to need to change technologies and processes and patterns of land use to make the food system compatible with a sustainable planet. Let’s have a look at the first of those three drivers that I discussed. Climate change, nitrogen cycle, and land use where I want to look more deeply at the role of agriculture.

This pie chart shows us the estimated total amount of greenhouse gases that are emitted, allocated across the various sectors of the economy. The power sector for example, through the burning of coal, oil and gas, is responsible for a massive amount of CO2 emissions, and for an estimated 24%, roughly a quarter of the total greenhouse gas emissions.

The transport sector, the internal combustion engine in the cars and in the trucks, is responsible for an estimated 14% of total emissions. Industrial processes, for example, steel production or petrochemical production, another one-seventh or 14% of total greenhouse gas emissions. The non-energy sphere is responsible for around one-third of the total greenhouse gas emissions. 1042That is CO2 emissions, methane, nitrous oxide, and chemical pollutants from specific chemicals like hydrofluorocarbons that are not the emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels. Within that category, agriculture plays a huge role. Of course, agriculture emits greenhouse gases in the transport sector in tractors and in transport of food. It emits greenhouse gases in the industrial sector for the production of chemical fertilizers. But there’s a massive amount of greenhouse gas emissions that is not directly from fossil fuels at all. This includes for example, the emissions that come from clearing forests. As the trees are chopped down, as they are burned, as they decay, CO2 that was sequestered in the forests are emitted into the atmosphere. And several billion tons every year of CO2 come from deforestation. Agriculture also is a major source, as I mentioned earlier, of the second and third ranking greenhouse gases. Methane, CH4, is emitted in certain crop productions such as paddy rice. And it’s also emitted through livestock, through the ruminants who through the natural processes of their digestion give rise to quite a lot of methane emissions, both from the front and the back of the animals, I should mention. And this also contributes to the increasing concentration of methane in the atmosphere, a very powerful greenhouse gas. Nitrous oxide, N2O, is also emitted from agriculture. It is one of the ways that nitrogen-based fertilizers degrade.

Instead of being taken up by the plants, they volatilize,  go into the atmosphere, they go into the the water supply. And one of these parts of the nitrogen cycle is from, the livestock and from the fertilizer use, into increased emissions of nitrous oxide. And this also adds to the total amount of greenhouse gases that agriculture contributes to the overall process. When you look at it, more than one third of total emissions are due to land use change such as deforestation, and the direct emissions of greenhouse gasses from agricultural production.

1043It’s astounding. Roughly one third of total greenhouse gases directly come from the agriculture sector, and there are bits and pieces more through the fertilizer manufacturing and through the direct expenditure of fossil fuel based energy as inputs to agriculture on top of that one third. So we see that indeed the agriculture sector is a major contributor to greenhouse gases, and to climate change. As well as the first sector to lose from this. This is a terrible two-way problem that needs to be addressed through improved agricultural processes, as I’ll be discussing shortly. Let me turn to the nitrogen cycle. The nitrogen cycle vital for life has been overtaken by humanity. Absolutely extraordinary. In nature the N2 molecules in the atmosphere are converted into reactive nitrogen through various biological processes of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, as well as through physical processes, of lightning, for example, that breaks the very strong triple bond of the N2 molecule and by disassociating the N2 molecule, leads to the formation of ammonia and other reactive nitrogen. In that normal process the cycle from N2, to reactive nitrogen compounds like nitrates, nitrites and ammonia, and then back through respiration uh,and through through biological processes to back to N2 is a natural nitrogen cycle. But humanity is now creating even more reactive nitrogen than nature itself. We’re doing it in our industrial plants at a mega scale, 100 million tons or more per year of nitrogen-based fertilizers. Back in the early years of the 20th century, two great chemical engineers, Haber and Bosch, developed a process that some consider to be the single most important innovation of the 20th century, one that almost none of us has heard of, in fact, but changed the world. The Haber-Bosch Process, so called, is a way, through application of high amounts of energy and the use of various identified catalysts, to break that N2 bond to create in a chemical process in, in a factory basis, ammonia. And that ammonia can then be used to provide the base stock for urea and other nitrogen-based fertilizers. Up until the Haber-Bosch Process, the nitrogen that was deposited on the soils either came from the manures of farm animals or it came from the mining of excrement off the coast of Peru and Chile of bats and birds, the so-called guano which was being mined as a nitrogen source for fertilizer for Europe. But it was being quickly depleted.

And there was a crisis at the end of the 19th century, what are we going to do with the encroaching nitrogen scarcity? Along came Haber and Bosch, the Haber-Bosch Process, nitrogen-based fertilizer. And what was then a world population of under two billion became during the twentieth century a population of more than three times that, and now reaching 7.2 billion people. And it was the advent of nitrogen-based fertilizer, among other things and including, of course, the high-yield seed varieties and other agronomic advances, that made it possible to produce enough food to support 7.2 billion people, even if, I must add, a large number of them, 3 billion, are not well-nourished on that food supply. But, with all that nitrogen now being converted from N2 into reactive nitrogen, we have a mega problem.

And the mega-problem is shown in this complicated flow chart of what happens to that nitrogen when it is used in the farms and then it runs off. In some ways, it enters the water supplies, nitrates, causing a danger to the water supply. Some of it runs into the rivers and the sea and we’ve already seen how that leads to algal blooms and nutrification.  some of it enters the atmosphere, no

t as N2O, but as NO2, which causes smog in our cities. And so from the fertilizer deposit come a host of problems. There’s addition to greenhouse gases. There is acidification of soils by the nitrogen that is put into the soils. There is the worsening water quality that comes from the nitrates and the nitrites running into the water supply. There is the damage to ecosystems of eutrophication of the estuaries. There’s the fall of air quality as the noxes, the NO2s, NO3s, and other, effects of the nitrogen enter the urban atmosphere to create smog, to create tropospheric ozone, and to create massive health hazards, in our cities. So here is a, a dilemma, that is a mega dilemma, and hardly discussed in our day to day life. We need the nitrogen for our food production, and yet the consequences of the nitrogen on the physical environment in multiple ways, from climate change to eutrophication to urban smog to poisoning of our water supplies, is growing. This map comes from a study showing estuaries around the world suffering from eutrophication, from nitrogen and phosphorous based fertilizers. A huge problem, these are the dead zones in our coastal areas, killing vital parts of the marine ecology. And the problem is growing and it is likely to get worse unless we address how to use nitrogen in a more responsible way.

1044Third area that I wanted to mention in-depth is the forests. And just to point out that the forest loss that is occurring in all of the great rain forest regions, in the Amazon and the Congo Basin and, and in the Indonesian Archipelago have multiple drivers that differ across regions. In the Amazon most of the loss of the rain forests has come through the clearing of the rain forest to make way for new pasture land and new farm land, or because of the building of infrastructure such as roads in the Amazon. In southeast Asia where there’s also a large loss, the drivers are somewhat different. The drivers there are logging for tropical hardwoods in huge demand for China’s booming economy, and also for clearing the rainforest to grow tree crop plantations, of which the fastest growing, taking over large areas in Indonesia and Malaysia, is palm oil. In Africa there is yet another driver and that is peasant small holder agriculture. Not clearing especially for tropical logging or for tree plantations or even for large pasture land, but just the spread of small holder farmers into the forest margin. And often a huge use of the forests, and an unsustainable use for fuel wood and for charcoal. In the wealthier regions of the Amazon in Brazil, and in in Southeast Asia, the fuel wood problem is not as severe because there are alternative energy sources. But in the Congo Basin for example, and in other forest areas of Africa where populations are very, very poor and where alternative fuel sources such as natural gas or or electricity are not available, charcoal is used in such large amounts that that is a key driver of the deforestation and a key driver of the loss of habitat. Clearly in each of these areas, in order to preserve habitat, protect biodiversity, reduce the greenhouse gas emission consequences of deforestation, actions are going to need to be introduced that are responsive to the particular challenges in those areas, and the particular needs of the local populations. This will play an enormously important roll in helping to reduce the rate of uh,climate change, but also will be absolutely vital if we are to succeed in heading off the massive loss of biodiversity

Sustainable Food Supply and the End of Hunger III

How Environmental Change Threatens the Food System

So we have a problem. Here we are in the 21st century. And still around 40% of the world’s population is malnourished. And around 30% of the worlds population is undernourished, either in open flagrant hunger, nearly billion people, or another billion in addition to those also suffering from hidden hunger of micronutrient deficiencies. Farm systems everywhere are already under stress. Unable to provide the healthy diets and nutrition in economical way, to meet the needs of the world’s population. But, there are some big challenges ahead that are going to make all of these problems even tougher than they are now. The most direct of these challenges is the fact that the world’s population continues to grow and continues to grow relatively rapidly, even if not in percentage terms, in absolute terms. Every year another 75 to 80 million people add it to the world population. By 2025 we’ll reach eight billion people. By the early 2040s, nine billion people. And on the current medium forecast of The United Nations we’ve seen, almost 11 billion people by 2100. At the same time that we’ll be grappling with the challenge of feeding more and more people.

1031The current food supply, which is already putting so much stress on the world’s environment is also going to be stressed by another couple of features. One is that for those parts of the world getting richer. The tendency and we, we hope it’s a large part of the world I, I should quickly emphasize. The tendency will be to add more meat to the diet, even too much meat. Too much meat for for human health and well-being. But as meat is added to the diet that is a kind of amplifier of the demand for grain production, because for animals like cows and pigs which give us our beef and pork. For every kilogram of beef that we consume, there have been around 10, and in some farm systems, up to 15 kilograms of feed grain consumed by the cow to produce the 1 kilogram of beef. So there’s a huge amplifier as diets shift to meat in terms of the underlying demand for feed grains on the planet, and therefore for the total demand on the agricultural system. There’s a second major reason however, in addition to that stress and that is environmental change is going to make it harder and harder to grow food in many places in the world. So much so that we can’t really know in detail but we have major cause for worry. I’d like to discuss those environmental challenges to the food supply to the prospects for the increased food production that will be needed to feed a growing world population. These environmental threats the risks come in many shapes and forms start with climate change, the biggest of all. As the climate changes under the force of human emissions of green house gases, we know that the changes in the climate. Are complex and for many parts of the world at least highly adverse for food production, of course the dominant form of climate change is warming, warming of the planet that is already nearly 1 degree centigrade above the pre-industrial average temperature. But could, on our current trajectory, reach several degrees centigrade warmer than the pre-industrial earth. Higher temperatures, in general, are going to be harmful for food production. But especially in the warmer regions of the world. And that means ironically, especially in the poorest parts of the world, crops face many kinds of temperature stresses. At high temperatures crops may not develop at all. Seeds may become infertile. At higher temperatures plant respiration means a net reduction of yields of farm crops. Higher temperatures mean faster evaporation of water in the soils and more transpiration of water through the stomata of the leaves of plants. Combining those two factors of the ecologists call that evapotranspiration, but it means that moisture and water on the earth returns to the atmosphere as water vapor at a faster rate threatening the plants with the inad, inadequate amount of water supply. So, climate change threatens the soil moistures. Threatens the productivity of crops as result. Climate change of course, means more than warming. We know, it means changes in precipitation patterns. Many parts of the world will become drier. And many dry parts of the world will find it extraordinarily difficult, perhaps impossible, to grow a crop. If the general principle that the dry places will tend to get drier and the wet places tend to get wetter is valid as a very rough summary of the effects of human induced climate change. We can see the trouble ahead because places that are in the margin of crop growing right now, may find themselves pushed right over the edge. Where the growing seasons are too short, the rainfall too small, the precipitation too erratic. To be able to support farming in places where there are large numbers of people, right now. We know the climate change also means rising sea levels. It means the places that are farmed right now in lowland areas near the coast will be threatened. Places like Bangladesh, which are built on the deltas of the the great rivers, the Brahmaputra and the Ganges it can be completely inundated. And not only will sea level rise essentially force, major loss of cropland in such areas. But it will also mean many more floods and storm surges of the kind the New York City felt when it was hit by Superstorm Sandy in the fall of, of 2012. Because the sea level had already increased by nearly a foot. Compared to the century earlier. So climate change, it’s got it all. And it’s causing tremendous dislocation already. But with a lot more to come. We’ve already talked about the rising acidity of the oceans. But have a look at what that acidification means for another part of our food supply for marine life, for the shellfish. What you see here are tests of shellfish growing at different concentrations of carbon dioxide. And the higher the concentration, the smaller are the shellfish. Because these animals with the shells or with other kinds of exoskeletons. With the even the microscopic plankton that have calcareous shells can’t build their shells when the ocean is more acidic. Which changes the chemistry for them to be able to, to have the, the normal development of their exoskeletons or their shells. And this is also already causing destruction of many highly productive estuaries but there is a lot more to come. And so we see that again even aside from the climate change the rising carbon dioxide concentrations are a profound threat for us. In addition to climate change, ocean acidity, many other environmental changes already are degrading farmland and threatening agricultural productivity. Farmers use large amounts of pesticides and herbicides to grow the crops, but the poisoning of the soils and the environment is taking its toll, on biodiversity. We’re seeing a drop of significant biodiversity of many kinds of species, including pollinators, for example, like honey bees. And other pollinators that are vital for crop productivity for growing fruits and other kind of flowering crops. And this has led to alarming and so far, to an important extent, unexplained declines of biodiversity that we’re going to discuss later on. But this is another major threat to farm productivity. Invasive species, meaning when species are relocated from one environment to another environment. Sometimes intentionally because farmers have the idea that they’ll plant crops that have been grown in other parts of the world. But when, species are moved to new environments, perhaps not having, the predators, or the rest of the ecosystem, that holds them in check, there can be wild spread of weeds, super weeds in new environments, or rodents, or other kinds of pest and pathogens, that overtake farms. We’re seeing a lot of new pathogens emerging in many places, threatening major crops and we know throughout human history that potato blight and other pathogens can devastate crops and devastate populations. Farmland depends on water, of course rain fed and irrigation. And irrigation is the farm system of choice for farmers when they can afford it, because it offers the chance of water control. And multi-cropping years. In other words, rather than just one season depending on the rains. In warm climates, there can be two or three growing seasons, doubling or even tripling the amount of production coming from hectare of arable land. But the problem is that environmental stress also threatens our irrigated lands because our current irrigation depends on rivers on glaciers and on ground water all of which are threatened now. Glaciers are retreating. As they melt under the warming climate, the short response is more riverflow. This can give the impression of a boom, even the rivers flow as the glaciers melt in the, the, the warmer winter and spring days. But, when those glaciers disappear, the flow goes from excess to zero. And it can be, a devastating and dramatic loss to populations that depend on rivers fed by glacier melt. Many rivers they have been so overused at this point. Dammed and used for irrigation that they’re also not even flowing to the sea. And under the pressures of climate change, the natural forces will mean less river flow in addition. The Nile, for example which, on which hundreds of millions of people depend. Will have a most likely significant decline of river flow as a result of climate change. The Yellow River in North China another vital waterway for China and for farmers that are in the Yellow River Basin. Are experiencing the consequences of declining river flow, in a river that no longer reaches the ocean. And ground water that is pumped for irrigation, as it is in the U.S. Midwest, as it is in the Ganges Plains, face the terrible. Reality that the pumping to grow more crops for growing population is taking place far faster than the natural recharge of those aquifers. The groundwater is falling, and when it falls far enough, it no longer can be the basis for agriculture. So the environmental threats ahead of depleted fresh water supplies, weather from the glaciers that reduce river flow, or the depletion of groundwater is another extraordinarily serious menace. That threatens farming in many parts of the world. Under the pressures of intensive agriculture, often when farms have encroached on forest lands or in topography not really suitable for farms, the result is also rapid land degradation. Soil loss. Depletion of soil nutrients. And often after new areas are cleared for farmland or pasture land, say in the amazon, they’re abandoned a few years later because they were never suitable. But the consequences are very high, there’s been deforestation, loss of habitat, emission of carbon dioxide in to the atmosphere. People have depended on a short-term burst of farm productivity. And then that farm productivity quickly diminishes and then disappears, and the farm is abandoned. All of this emphasizes the fact that farm systems more than any other human activity are dependent on the climate we know, on the hydrologic patterns we know, on the ocean chemistry we know, all of which are under enormous human change. The anthropocene is creating a new world and it will be a dangerous one. Of course, there are possibilities for adaptation. Of course there are possibilities for more efficient resource use, but the inertia of the way we do things now and the instability that results when, we have the collision of nature and our current systems. Not leading to problem solving, but leading to crises and conflict. Need to make us sit up and realize how big the challenge will be. It was hard enough feeding a planet. The challenge we haven’t even accomplished with our current population, and our current technologies and our current environment, but now when we consider the rising populations and the growing environmental stresses, we realize how big the challenges are that lie ahead.

Sustainable Food Supply and the End of Hunger II

Farm Systems, Ecology, and Food Security

One of the challenges of addressing the food security issue is how varied the farm systems are around the world. This isn’t surprising, the world itself is incredibly varied in what’s grown, where, how, climate, soils, topography biodiversity, all have an enormous effect in shaping farm systems. And because of that, there is certainly no single answer to how farms can become more productive for example. Or how local populations can become healthier in what they eat. Different places grow different foods. They eat different foods. They face different climatic and agronomic challenges. And, part of our proper, problem-solving our diagnostics and our solutions for the issues of a sustainable food supply, depend on us understanding, in detail, how these farm systems differ around the world. Well to do that, let’s take a look at the world in the big picture to get a very macro sense of how farm systems are shaped and how they differ in different places in the world. Consider the land area of Earth in its entirety.

1021There are about a 130 million square kilometers of land on Earth. And of that, a remarkably large proportion are already taken by humanity for human needs. Agriculture, meaning, both farmland, arable land, used to grow crops, and meadows and pasturelands, grasslands, used to feed animals, constitute together around 50 million square kilometers or roughly 40%, a little under 40% of the world’s total land area. This by itself is rather astounding. One species of the millions on the planet has requisitioned land for us to feed us. And when we discuss the declines of biodiversity, the first thing to keep in mind is how much of the output of food on the planet. How much of the photosynthesis on the planet is taken for human need, and how much that leaves the rest of the biosphere behind and threatened by this human grab for the planet’s primary production of, of food. So, 50 million square kilometers used for arable and pastureland, roughly of that, 14 million for arable, that’s for croplands. And roughly 34 million square kilometers for meadows and pasturelands. So, the farmland itself accounts for a little over 10% of the world’s land area. Pastures, much bigger around a quarter of the total land area on the planet in grassland regions used to graze animals. Another 39 million or so square kilometers is for forests. Many of those forests are managed forests, plantations for pulp and paper for example, for timber for logging. Some of those forests are not managed the boreal, vast boreal forests in the high latitudes as an example.

The forests in total account for another 30% or so of the Earth’s land area. The remainder is another roughly 30% it’s another 41 million square kilometers. A lot of that is desert. A lot of that is uninhabitable. A few percent of the world’s land area’s in our cities, where half the world’s population live, but we’re so densely settled in the cities, that the cities themselves, the urban extent only accounts for a few percent of the, 130 million square kilometers. Most remains either in the form of agricultural land, forest land or deserts and uninhabitable land areas. You’re looking at a map now, of where the agricultural land is. Both the crop land and the grazing land. And the colors here are showing you places where the cropland is very concentrated. Not every place where land is used to grow crops, but places where a very high proportion of the land in that area is actually arable or cropland, that’s the green shaded areas.

It’s the midwest of the United States, it’s parts of western central, and eastern Europe. It’s much of China and India. In Africa and in in South America you see land that is mixed in grazing land and in cropland. The drier areas tend to be places where food crops can’t be grown with high productivity.  If the rains fall below a certain amount during the rainy season, then crops can’t grow at all. And to the extent that people live in those environments, that they’re not desert, but rather are arid but not extreme hyper arid regions, they are places that are used for grazing animals. So livestock production tends to be in the drier areas. Nomadic populations, who are pastoralists full-time for their livelihoods, often with no crops at all, are living in places just on the margins of the desert. In Africa you see these grazing land areas just south of the Sahara Desert. In the top half of the African continent.

1022 And then around the Kalahari Desert in the southern part. The forests are shown in the next graph. And there are two major forest areas to keep in mind. First is the forest areas around the Equatorial belt. These are the rainforests. The Earth’s climate is of course providing most solar radiation at the equator. It’s the warmest at the equator. The land eh, is heated. Air masses rise and provide continuous rainfall or heavy rainfall, I should say, in the equatorial regions of the world. And that provides the climatic base for the three great rainforests of the world, the Amazon, in South America, the Congo Basin in Africa, and the great rainforests of the Indonesian Archipelago in Southeast Asia. That’s the band around the equator. Then you see the other major forest region which is in the high latitudes. The boreal forest for example in, across the vast Eurasian land mass, and across Canada. Many of these forests are being threatened especially today the rain forests. Because these are all areas where populations are encroaching for a variety of reasons. Either to clear the rainforest to make way for pastureland and for cropland. Or poor people encroaching on the forest for fuel wood and for other goods and services that they can procure from the forest. But sometimes in such great numbers that they are deforesting in an unsustainable way. This pattern of where the cropland is and where the forests are, you can see is very deeply rooted in the ecological conditions. The climate, including temperatures, rainfall, the topography. The shape of the land, whether it’s steeply sloped and not possible to farm or whether it’s flat land in plains much easier and more productive to farm. Whether irrigation is feasible, because there is ground water, or rivers nearby that can be used for irrigation. Whether the soils are adequate. And the range of soil types depending on the the underlying geologic conditions also shape the farm systems. It’s worthwhile for us to take one deeper look in one part of the world, to see the geography shaping the farm systems, shaping the societies in effect in these agricultural regions. And, and that’s in Africa, where we can see very, very clearly how the distinctive characteristics of climate cause very distinctive farm systems and very distinctive economic results as well.

1023This is a map. Quite a beautiful map, I think, of the various farm systems in Africa. 14 major agro-ecological zones. Each one a specific kind of farm system. Perhaps it’s a good idea to decipher this map in, in stages starting at the equator. In the large green area, right it, at, at the center of the African continent. That’s the Congo Basin, that’s the great Congo rainforest. And rain forests are very particular when it comes to agriculture. Very difficult to farm, often. soil, nutrients are bombarded by heavy rainfall. If trees are cleared as is sometimes done to try to make farms, it often is the case that the soil nutrients which were up in the trees themselves rather than in the soil are quickly depleted and it turns out that the land is not suitable for intensive farming. And not even suitable for pastoralism or for livestock management. If you, we move from the equator we come to different farm systems graded, to a very important extent, according to how much water is actually available through rainfall and other other resources. Take a look at West Africa, for example, just above the Atlantic Ocean. And right along the coast, the entire coast, of West Africa is a still wet, though not rain forest region which is ideal for tree crops. For the cocoa plantations of Ghana, the rubber plantations of Ghana, Benin, Togo and Liberia. So this is a climate not of annual grain crops but of tree crops because of its humidity and its ideal circumstances for tree crops. Move north of that, away from the equator. You move into an environment where there is a rainy season. But, the farther north you go into the northern hemisphere. The drier is, are the conditions and the shorter is the rainy season. So, just north of the rubber and cocoa plantations, one finds what is called the root crop systems. For example, where cassava is grown and other tubers and root crops are grown in this relatively wet environment. But not wet enough to support cocoa trees or rubber trees. Move just north of that and then you’re into a grain belt. For example where maize or in the United States we call it corn is growing. This is now a, a part of Africa where instead of the year-round rainfall of the equator, you have one rainy season which may give a growing season of 150 days for one crop of maize per year. it can be rather productive if the topography and the soils are right, and if the rains are good. It can be a disaster if it’s a year of bad rainfall. And there is relatively high variability in these places. And in the African context, at least, relatively low use of irrigation. So a dependency on the variation of the rains. Now as you continue the march north from the equator, towards the north pole, the rainy season gets shorter and shorter. So after the band of grain growing region is another farm system and this is a farm system that mixes crops with livestock. The livestock to graze on the grasses, the crops to capture a short growing season. But now it has to be crops that are pretty resilient to short rains and even to drought. Those are sorghum and millet for example. So, we have passed through the maize region into the sorghum and millet region combined with more livestock. And this is the so-called agro-pastoralist zone. Because it’s both agriculture and pastoralism. Move a bit north of that and you move into a range that is an all pastoralist region. And these are places often of nomadic populations such as the Tuareg in Northern Mali. The population densities are very low. The populations are nomadic, because they have to follow the rains. And as the rains move throughout the season the grasses spring up for short periods of time in these dry environments. And the animals better be where the grasses are so the animals move around. Also the  nomads move across national boundaries. No one told the animals and no one told the rain this is Mali, this is Chad, this is Niger, stay in your place. And these artificial boundaries that have been put first by the imperial powers. And now as part of our political world. Have wreaked havoc on the pastoralist traditions that find themselves cut off from their family, neighbors, and their grasslands across a political boundary that has no ecological sense. Now, consider one step north of the pastoralist lands and in you’re in the Saharan Desert. We have, er, I should say Sahara because it’s the desert. because, so, in, in, in fact, you’ve entered the desert. And we have seen the graded transition by latitude band from a rain forest to a tree crop region, to a root and tuber crop region, to a grain region to a agro-pastoralist region to a pastoralist region and then to the desert. It’s not surprising this is complicated. It’s complicated for countries to manage this diversity it’s complicated when populations like pastoralists need to move across boundaries. It’s complicated to get international agreements on what to do about issues of climate, or energy, or food production, when we see these strong variations of farm systems across the regions. It’s very hard, often, for people to speak with each other and to understand the problems and the stresses that are unfolding. This is one of the reasons why the world has failed to comprehend challenges like the crises of the Horn of Africa and the ongoing crises of the Sahel. These are agro-pastoralist regions, or in some cases, pastoralist regions only. Very poor. Very much dependent on rainfall. Suffering the burdens of climate change, instability of rainfall, rising populations, falling trend in total precipitation, increasing hunger. And, as a result, increasing instability and violence We need to understand these farm systems, where they are, how they vary around the world, if we are to achieve sustainable agricultural yields that can feed and keep populations healthy in the future.

Sustainable Food Supply and the End of Hunger I


We need to consider one of the most complicated and unsolved problems of sustainable development. How are we going to feed ourselves? It’s an age-old problem, it’s been with humanity for a long time before, but for quite a few decades. This is problem that many people thought was already solved with the great breakthroughs in food productivity. In increasing farmland, increasing yields, it seems that food production would inevitably stay ahead of The growing world population. Now we have some serious doubts. Not only are we coming to realize how badly fed the world population is in certain ways, but how many real threats there are ahead. That is our challenge. 1011We can’t say we haven’t been warned. The warnings have been with us for more than two centuries. They started, as I mentioned, with Thomas Robert Malthus, who in 1798 in his Principles of Population posed the basic question of how food production can stay ahead of a growing population. When Malthus wrote, there were around 900 million people on the planet. Now with 7.2 billion people, an eight-fold increase, the challenge is with us again. In fact perhaps in an even more complicated way than Malthus imagined. Because now, we come to understand that not only is the world not feeding itself but in a healthy and fair manner. But there are many, many obstacles that lie ahead. Let’s start with the question of, what does it mean to feed ourselves in a healthy way? And we can ask that by looking at the question of malnutrition. Malnutrition is a pervasive problem on the planet. One can argue, I think convincingly that perhaps 40% of the world’s population, 40% is malnourished. In one way or another. But to understand that, we have to understand what we mean by malnutrition. Now, one thing that jumps to mind, of course, is hunger and undernourishment. Undernourishment in it’s most direct sense is, simply not taking in The calories that are needed for daily activity and daily survival. Hungry people feeling the pangs of hunger and not having enough energy for more than mere survival and in some desperate cases, not even that, remains a problem afflicting hundreds of millions of people.

In the world. There’s another kind of under nourishment. That is a bit less visible. And that is a category sometimes called hidden hunger. The calories may be there. But the micro-nutrients nutrients such as vitamins and. Particular fatty acids and other components of food are not present in adequate supply so that people are unhealthy and perhaps chronically disabled as a result of bouts of micro-nutrient deficiency. There’s a third kind of malnutrition, which has become An epidemic in many parts of the world, especially the richest countries. But also many middle income countries. And that is malnourishment in excessive consumption of calories. We have an obesity epidemic underway in the world. And it’s estimated that roughly one third of all adults in the world are overweight. And perhaps around 10 to 15% are obese.1012

When you add it up, the numbers are staggering. Roughly speaking, we can say that Between 800 million and a billion people are on the planet are chronically undernourished in the sense that they do not get the daily energy intake in their diets to be healthy and to be satisfied with the, what they’re eating. But another billion people, who are not counted in the hunger category, are in the hidden Hunger category. So, roughly, 1.8 to two billion people are undernourished either in the direct sense of not enough energy intake. Or, in the sense of micro-nutrient deficiencies. And then, the estimates vary on obesity. But it is certainly well over a billion people who are overweight, and several hundred million, perhaps 700 or 800 million adults who are obese. You add it up and it’s plausible to think around 2.8 billion people on a planet of 7.2 billion people. Are malnourished, about 40% of the population.

1013We have a food crisis. It varies in different parts of the world, sometimes it’s hidden, sometimes it’s the wrong kinds of foods, sometimes it’s simply not enough food. But any Serious, Focus on the sustainable and secure food supply for the world, has to view the crisis in all it’s dimensions. From those who lack the basic caloric intake to those who, in grade of happiness, often are suffering. From obesity, and from all of the massive ill effects that come from that. Let’s have a look at where these problems are distributed. Under nourishment, is concentrated in tropical Africa, and in South Asia. So we see in Tropical Africa, especially in Central and Southern Africa, that more than a third of the population is undernourished.

1014This means simply not enough calories, or by some measurements, not enough calories and proteins needed for basic sustenance. And in south Asia we see that the proportions of chronically under-nourished are between a fifth, 20% and a third, around 33%. Serious levels of under nutrition and fortunately in the rest of the world, lower levels than that. In the high-income countries, very little under nutrition in that sense, though massive problems of malnourishment when one considers the problems at the other end of the spectrum. When children are undernourished Of course they suffer a massive disability in their growth that lasts a lifetime. If the undernourishment effects them in the critical growing stage in the early years of life, and we measure that under nutrition with several different concepts. But two are especially important. One is stunting. Stunting means that a child is undernourished to the extent that the child is very short low height.

1015That is for age and the standard is measured against a Regular distribution for normal population of height by age. And then children who are far to the low end of that scale, more than two standard deviations below the norm, are considered stunted. And stunting, of course, reflects the Inadequacy of dietary intake, but it often also reflects chronic infection. Worm infections for example that where the worms take the nutrients that should be going to the young child, or other kinds of infections That mean that the child is shedding nutrients, maybe through bouts of diarrhea or that make the nutrients not bioavailable to the child, they can’t be metabolized while the child was sick. So, when we see stunting, we usually are. Looking at, circumstances of chronic, dietary undernourishment, combined very often, with repeated bouts of illness. And the stunting, we see is most severe, where we, normally find it tropical Africa. And the highest stunting rates in the world in South Asia. Especially in India which overwhelmingly has the largest numbers of young children who are stunted. The second concept for children is even more urgent and that is wasting. Wasting is low weight for height. So stunting is a chronic condition that means that the child doesn’t grow.

1016Wasting is when the weight is even less than it would be for that low stature.  It’s often a sign of acute Undernutrition. Life-threatening undernutrition. The kind of undernourishment that one sees in a famine, in a megadrought. And then one sees children wasting and there needs to be an urgent rescue through therapeutic foods and and often em, emergency procedures to help keep the children alive in those circumstances. When we talk about undernourishment in general, we tend to separate it, and need to separate analytically, the chronic undernutrition, which is the day in, day out hunger.

1015That does lead to the stunting from the acute episodes of undernutrition that come from disasters, from displacement of populations, from droughts. And when those acute episodes occur, not only is there massive suffering, there can be massive death. From the undernutrition. In the worst cases from starvation itself. In other cases from diseases which take advantage of the undernutrition and the immunosuppression that comes along with the undernourishment. There’s also another massive reason for suffering that comes with acute episodes of of hunger that follow droughts, and other disasters. And that is the conflict often follows on.

1018Have a look at a map for the Spring of 2012. When they were two regions of Africa. Both battling drought. Looking at the map which is a map that is Used to measure emergency situations we see. The acute food insecurity both in west Africa and in east Africa. There were indeed large population movements, resurgent violence. A civil war broke out in Mali, not only for the reasons of hunger, but hunger stokes these conflicts. And so this is another scourge that accompanies food crises. When we turn to hidden hunger, it of course also, is lurking in populations where the visible hunger is also seen. Now you’re looking at a map of, an estimate of the hidden hunger of micro nutrient deficiency. Which kind of nutrients are we talking about? Vitamins such as vitamin A or vitamin B in several of its forms. Iron, iodine, zinc, folates. All crucial micronutrients that when not adequate in the diet can lead to Terrible health disabilities, death in extreme cases, and also, very great dangers for child birth. Mothers who don’t have enough folates during pregnancy often give birth to children with devastating defects. And this is a Pervasive condition that afflicts the poorest countries.

1019We see again, India and South Asia, much of tropical Africa the Andean Region. Some of the other countries of Western Asia and of Southeast Asia where there is considerable micro-nutrient deficiency. Unfortunately, the knowledge and the data of the hidden hunger are themselves hidden. There are not precise estimates known for many of these  micro-nutrients. In terms of where they really are seriously lacking in diets. The next map shows you an estimate for vitamin A deficiency. Again regions of the world that you would expect. But a larger area of the world. Even including many middle income countries in Latin America, and also China. Now let’s look at the other end of the malnourishment spectrum. One that also is causing a tremendous amount of morbidity. In other words disease. And premature mortality. And that is the obesity epidemic, that is sweeping much of the world There have been enormous increases of obesity in the last 30 years. What is obesity? Obesity is a specific measure the typical definition is to use the so-called Body Mass Index, a person’s weight in kilograms is divided by the square of the person’s height measured in meters. And that BMI, the body mass index, if it’s over 30, is considered obese, if it’s over 25 it’s considered overweight. And by that measurement we have a massive epidemic of adult obesity. In many of the high income countries, 30% or more, in the United States and in some other high income countries. Why?

Partly it is the total amount of caloric intake, partly it’s the type of calories being consumed often. Carbohydrates trans fats and other foods that are known as having high glycemic indexes that they’re easily, the sugars are easily metabolized. Part of it is the relative inactivity. In our new urbanized environment, where people sit, maybe watching television for hours at a time. A combination of too many calories, the wrong kinds of calories and physical inactivity. What to do. A starting point is to combine The food growing challenges with the nutritional science. What should be grown? What should people eat? And here breakthroughs in nutrition science are giving us better indicators. One of the leaders of modern nutrition, and rethinking what is wrong With our diet is Professor Walter Willette.

1019aA chairman of nutrition at Harvard University. And he has proposed the right kind of food pyramid as it’s called shown here which depicts the kinds of foods and the relative Frequency and amounts of those foods that should be eaten. And just to indicate very briefly what the findings of modern nutrition are because they’re important. It tells us that our diets as they evolved with the fast foods of The high income countries have become very imbalanced the source of, this, pandemic of obesity and, overeating. And what is needed is diets that are rich in vegetables, in fruits, in vegetable oils so called unsaturated fats which are healthy. As opposed to the animal fats and the industrial fats, the so called trans fats which can be very dangerous for health. And when grains are eaten, they should be eaten as whole grains. And so the dietary mix is. Quite different from the diet. Of the high income world,which is heavily concentrated in the wrong kinds of fats in in refined grains rather than in whole grains and in a very heavy meat-based diet which has its own Great difficulties for health especially. A large amount of beef eating. I mention this because it’s going to have a, big consequence when we discuss what kind of agriculture system, should be consistent with the kind of diet. That is healthy for people. Of course this kind of food pyramid viewed from the perspective of the poorest countries is a dream. How can we get from where we are, not even enough calories in the day, to this kind of balanced diet that can be healthy, and provide not only the macro caloric intake and proteins, but also the micro nutrients And the balance of different food components conducive to health. The world is in increasing stress when it comes to the food system. More mouths to feed, a rising demand for meat products which amplifies the demand for the grains to feed. The animals that are being consumed in larger number. All combined with environmental threats that are undermining the stability of the food production itself in many parts of the world. We’ve already gotten, a taste of it if I could put it that way in Rising food prices that are a major challenge for poor people in the world. If you look at this graph of food prices since the late 1970s, you see that for all of the major grains, the staple grains maize Rice, wheat and soy beans prices were falling from the 70s until the end of the 20th century. But since the beginning of the 21st century, the price of food has been rising and rising sharply. For wealthy people, this is a, an inconvenience, a discomfort. For poor people, whose diets consume a much larger part of the family income, this is more than just an annoyance or a hindrance. It is a profound threat. To their well being. We see Engel’s Law in operation here. The idea that, for poor people, the food consumption occupies a much larger share of the total household income, and therefore rises in food prices Can be very devastating for households that buy their food from the marketplace. So here we have it, 40% of the world still not properly nourished. And a food supply under threat, yet facing rising demands. From growing populations and from parts of the world with higher incomes, putting even more intensive demands on the food supply. Huge puzzles, what can we do about it. We have to look closely now at how food is grown. Where it’s growing, what the threats are, what can be done about it.

Education and Susteinable Development III

The Rising Returns to Education and the Supply Response

We’re taking a life cycle approach to human development and the accumulation of human capital. Human capital measuring the investments in health nutrition and education, which enables us to be productive citizens and productive members of the economy.

We’ve seen that it’s crucial to make investments in all stages of the life cycle, especially not missing the early years. We’ve seen, as well, that primary education has gotten a big boost. Especially during the millennium development goal period. While there are still tens of millions of children, especially in conflict areas, not in school, though of primary school age. Enrollment rates have increased markedly and enabled a closing effectively of the gender gap as well so that young girls, like young boys, are in primary school. But we know that the investments in education have to continue, that there remains a significant gap into secondary education, which should, like primary education, be targeted for universality. Of coverage access and results during the next phase of the global development goals as part of presumably the sustainable development goals of 2015 to 2030.

831There’s plenty of evidence that the benefits to society of helping the young people not only complete secondary school, but go on to higher education, are very, very high. We’ve already looked at this graph that you are now looking at again. The wage premium for college graduates compared to high school diploma holders. We can see, remembering the forces of globalization and technological change, how since 1979 onward that wage premium for getting a university degree has soared. And this is a market signal not only in the United States, but around the world that to the extent feasible children should aspire to complete primary, secondary education, and then go on for some kind of higher level education. Whether vocational training, specialized skills, craftsman, skills, artisanal skills or to go on to a higher degree in a tertiary university. Now when the market sends the signal that something, some activity or some kind of project has a high rate of return, you would naturally expect a, an increased supply of that activity in other words, more investments in that high return activity. You would expect, therefore, for example, in the United States where the returns to higher education have soared, that more kids would be completing a bachelors degree.

To some extent, that’s happening, but something odd is also happening, and for the United States a very notable phenomenon. Have a look at these, this graph showing the percentage of 25 to 29 year olds. That is completing a college degree. For high school level, the top curve, you see nearly 100% high school completion. Unfortunately, not at 100%, because there are still too many kids not even getting a high school diploma. Which, in the context of the U.S. society, and U.S. labor market, is almost a, a guarantee of poverty and trouble. Look at the lower curve, which is the curve showing the proportion of kids getting a four year bachelor’s degree. Now what this is measuring is a specific age cohort, 25 to 29 year olds. And asking of, in any year of the 25 to 29 year olds, what fraction of that age group has a four year bachelor’s degree. What you can see is that from 1940 to around 1975 that proportion increased a lot, from around 5% of that age cohort to around 20% of the age cohort. The line went up gradually but persistently so that more and more young people were going to a four year university getting a degree, and we know enjoying the higher earnings that came along with that. But then that upper sloping curve has a kink starting around 1975. It’s still rises but very, very slightly. There’s almost a stability in the share of the 25 to 29 year olds with that four year degree. Something doesn’t make sense. Just when the returns are going up, the proportions of young people actually completing the four year degree stop rising, or at least stop rising at the pace that they had been rising. And so, while at a bit over 20% in 1975 have a four year degree, by the time you reach 2009, 2010, maybe it’s 30%, but it’s not much above that. And so the proportions have really stopped increasing at anything like what we would expect from the signal that the benefits of going to university are so high. What’s going on?

Well, there’s clearly some kind of bottleneck on the supply side. And the next graph gives us some suggestion of the nature of that bottleneck. Tuition costs are large and also rising and so, just when society ought to be helping young people to make that investment in higher education. Tuition costs and bottlenecks in the university system are holding back the supply response. We see here the sharp increase of net tuition costs in this case for public institutions of higher learning and in general by almost any category again in the US context especially there have been soaring tuition costs. What’s the implication of this? The implications are two and they really are quite troubling. 832One implication is that a very large part of our, our young people even in a very rich country like the United States, are not able to enjoy the benefits for themselves and for society of a complete higher education. Still, two thirds or higher proportion of young people don’t make it through a four-year degree, even though the markets are screaming out, if you want to be part of the middle-class, you want a stable job, go to university.

But, the tuition costs are so difficult. That, that proportion has leveled off. The second very troubling aspect of this is that those who make it, of course, are those who are coming from wealthy families. And so there is an exacerbation of income inequality in the United States, and a reduction of social mobility as a result of this bottleneck. If one looks at the proportions of kids according to ethnicity that achieve a four year university degree in the United States of white non-Hispanic kids, it’s something around 35%, with the tendency we’ve seen for that number to rise. For African-American kids young people age 25 to 29, only about 16% have a completed four year degree. For Hispanic young people age 25 to 29 it’s only around 11%.833

This means that this bottleneck in society is not only holding back the benefits that technology and globalization have given to more training, more specialized knowledge in an information society, but are creating a kind of filter making it even harder for poor, young kids to make it. And thereby reducing social mobility as well as increasing inequality in society because those who do make it coming from more prosperous families are getting the added boost of earnings and job security. And it’s the poor kids from the poor families who aren’t making it. There’s another irony to all of this. And that is that the mechanism that the United States at least has used, to this point, to address this crisis, has really proven to be inadequate. The US by virtue of its libertarian traditions always looking for the market solution, even when the market solution isn’t necessarily very wise. Essentially said to the generation of young people, go to university, and take debt, borrow, in order to do it. And the government helped to create a rapidly rising level of student loans. The double irony of this is, of course, it’s the poor kids who take the loans because the kids from wealthier families are able to afford the tuition straight out usually from the household, the parents providing the tuition. And the added burden, which has created a real mess for millions of young people, is that poor kids are taking student loans and then also not completing the four year degree. Maybe taking enough loans for one year or two years, but not able to make it all the way through university. Then the calamity is obviously multiplied because the benefits of those added years of schooling from the point of view of earnings are quite small, but the burden of the debt is enormous. And this graph that you’re looking at shows how rapidly the debt has been growing in recent years, from an estimated $250 billion total of student debt in 2003, to 10 years later a fourfold increase to the point where there is $1 trillion of student debt outstanding.834

Much of this debt owed by young people who did not complete a four year degree and will not complete it and will not have the means; therefore, out of that expanded income to repay what they borrowed. It’s a calamity. It’s a rather serious miscategorization of public policy, looking for a market solution where a market solution is not all that adequate and there’s going to have to be innovation in approach. One important aspect of innovation, I think can be obvious even in the way that we right now are interacting. You’re watching me online, and what that means is something I think with potentially great significance more generally. Online information technologies which continue to fall in price, and with new innovations of best ways to combine online and in the class, and in person education. Give the chance to end that bottleneck through dramatic reductions of the cost of tuition. Making it possible to reach many, many more young people, I hope all over the world. We can envision within reach, I think big breakthroughs in all of our acts as to new information, new ways to learn and new kinds of university settings. That gives us the hope that, just as society and the markets are sending signals. Gain skills, get an education, go for more advanced training. Those same technologies that are giving the added returns to education, are going to give us the ways to also give the added supply to make it possible for education to reach everybody using the wonders of information technology. Hope it’s working for you because I hope that it can work generally for young people around the world


Education and Susteinable Development I

Life-Cycle Approach to Human Development

Economic development, we know, depends on investment. Countries achieve economic growth when they have the roads, the ports, the rail. The fiber optics, the power grids that give them the basis for, developing industry and expanding the economy. We know that investments in infrastructure are crucial. Investments in factory and machinery.

In transport equipment. Crucial. But the most important kind of investment that an economy makes is in its own people. And especially the investment in its children. Economists have come to use the language of investment when talking about education, healthcare, nutrition And the other inputs to a healthy, productive life. It’s a bit of a strange language. The idea of human capitol. Because we talk about accumulating the capitol of a person in the same way that we. Talk about a society accumulating more paved roads or more kilometers of fiber for its communication system. But the idea of human capital has turned out to be a, a very, very useful and productive idea. It conveys one thing very important. And that is that the abilities of an individual and the health of an individual depend on a cumulative process. A cumulative process of good health and access to healthcare. Cumulatively living in a safe environment. The accumulation of education step by step and the building of skills. The accumulation of on the job experience and so the evidence is quite strong that as individuals accumulate. More education, more on the job, training, more work experience. Their productivity in the labor force, as indicated for example most directly by earning, also rise. And similarly investments in health, cumulate. Investments in a child’s health help to provide the basis for health as an adult. And indeed, in this process of accumulating human capital, certain periods of life are most crucial. Of course, staying alive. A safe child birth. Neonatal survival within the first few weeks of life are crucial. But many parts of our lifetime that have absolutely determinative effects on all of our lives and our Capacities, the early childhood extraordinarily important because that’s the time, not only when we learn many of the social and human skills that will be needed through life, but the time of the formation of the brain itself, and, the health that we can enjoy. Physical health and In mental health throughout a lifetime. So the concept of human development includes two related ideas. One is the cumulative investments in human capital in the health, the nutrition, and the skills of an individual through education, training, and experience. And the second is the idea of the life cycle, the idea of thinking for each of us of a whole life span, and of how our capacities, our health, our productivity in terms of the economy, depend on the choices that are made at earlier stages of. That life cycle, and how each stage sets up the conditions for the stage that follows. The more we learn, the more the scientists delve into these matters, the more that the very early stages of life matter. Indeed, even the health of our parents before conception, before we even exist as an embryo, as a fetus much less as a newborn are very important. Bad health, poor nutrition can actually transmit across generations even aside from. Genetics. This is a, a finding that has surprised many, many scientists, but is now becoming part of the scientific research findings. Of course, the safety of a mother in, in pregnancy the Intrauterine development as I mentioned earlier of a fetus. The healthy childbirth and a very good start in life with nutrition and freedom from multiple infections say from worm infections or infections from malaria or other. Childhood diseases is extraordinarily important for survival and also for subsequent development. From those early ages, a more formal kind of investment in human capital takes hold, and that is the education system. We know tend to think of that as starting even before the formal primary education, because more and more children around the world, fortunately, are gaining access to a formal pre-k, as we would say in the United States, pre-kindergarten education. A pre-school even before primary education. But then, of course, there is primary education. A core target of the millennium development goals which calls for universal primary completion. That is followed, presumably and desirably, by secondary education. From there, there are many tracks of course, many Children in the world still don’t finish secondary education. Those that do may go on to a kind of vocational training to learn particular skills craftsman type skills. Others may go on to a two year degree, which in the United States we call an associates degree. Or may go on to a four year university degree which we call a Bachelor’s degree in the United States. In other countries it may be a three year degree and then from there to further professional training or a PhD degree or other kinds of higher education. From there it doesn’t stop because there is, of course a training for specific jobs, on the job training. And I hope for, most of us, adult learning because we have a lot of learning to all through our lives. This is the entire life cycle. That we need to keep in mind in thinking about the role of our public institutions in health, and especially in education, in training and job skills that are so essential for individual human development and for the success of an economy. In achieving, inclusive, and, sustained economic growth. We have seen, some progress. And the big progress has come at least, in raising to. At near universality, the access to the primary education system. The data show that as of 2010, the enrollment rates at the primary level, that is taking the number of children in primary education divided by the primary school age population Has reached close to 100%. It doesn’t mean by any stretch that all children are in school still, or that they’re completing primary education, but you’ll see from this graph that there has been a very, very notable improvement of the situation. Back in 1970, you see that the low-income countries were. Still at about 50% gross enrollment rate. And by, 2000, that had increased to around 80%. With the extra push of the millennium development goals, that has increased to more than 100% What does it mean to have an enrollment rate of greater than 100%? That’s a special feature of this kind of measure. We’re measuring the number of children of any age attending primary education decided by the population size of the primary school age – Group. 811And since some older kids are in primary school, maybe they started late or were held back, that can give a ratio of more than 100%. In any event, what this graph shows is that at least at the primary level education has become Nearly universal. And another aspect of this that’s extremely important, from millennium development goal two on education to millennium development goal three on gender equality, it’s also the case that at the primary level, at least, not at the higher levels of education. That 100% signifies a essential closing of the gap of enrollment rates of boys and girls. Girls throughout the world at the primary school age are now by and large going to school. Of course, with important exceptions, still millions, tens of millions of kids, not in school, often in conflict zones. Preventing them from access to education. But have a look at how big the improvement has been in the in the, in the gender equality. recently as the 1990, while probably around 90% plus of boys were enrolled at the primary level. For girls it was just 60%. As we can see as of 2010 the gender gap has essentially closed. When we look across the life cycle however Maybe it’s at the primary level, where the most important progress has been made and in a life cycle perspective, where we would like to see all societies investing at all ages in the human capital of their citizens.

812We see that we now have to branch out from the primary level Earlier, into the preschool ages and, safe childbirth and safe pregnancy and even before. And then move forward to a more satisfactory situation at secondary school level tertiary education and beyond. Have a look at the map, for example, of secondary education. You can see that much of the world now has relatively high secondary school enrollments. But in tropical Africa and in parts of Asia, places where we know extreme poverty persists, we see that the secondary education levels remain Absolutely insufficient. While the millennium development goals focused on universal primary education, my hope is that the sustainable development goals for the period 2015 to 2030 Will focus on achieving universal, secondary eduction so when we look at a world map like this one, we’ll see a near-uniformity of success in a near-universal enrollment rate around the world. When we look at higher levels of education, the situation, of course, is even more disparate. The poorest countries in the world still have very, very low tertiary education levels, and this is becoming a major impediment To their economic progress. It used to be thought by some, erroneously that a poor country should universalize its primary education and not too worry much about higher education. Then move on to secondary education. Then move on to tertiary education. We now know how limited and naive that perspective is. Every economy at any level of development needs a significant presence of secondary and higher-level institutions. 813The higher-level institutions, if nothing else, are necessary to ensure that their teachers that are qualified in the country. But of course, it’s more than that, as I will emphasize. Tertiary institutions  have an enormous role to play in many different aspects of sustainable development. And of course, secondary institutions high schools and the equivalent, are extraordinarily important, not only for producing high school graduates, but also for producing that throughput of young people and talented youngsters who will go on to higher education. So the millennium development goals has focused on one part of the life cycle, but now we have to branch out to the earlier years, with the focus on early childhood development, and then absolutely with a, a tremendous focus, branch out into The later years, secondary education, tertiary education, the extraordinarily challenging and crucial transition from schools to employment, an unsolved problem in many parts of the world.


Education and Sustainable Developement IV

Social Mobility

Education is a pathway for all of us to productive lives as citizens and as members of the economy. And it’s a life cycle challenge for all of us to develop our capacities, our skills, our potentials from the earliest days possible where our parents and society crucially can help give that safe environment and the health and the nutrition needed for a good start in life, to the choices that each of us make throughout our lives to continue to accumulate knowledge to gain skills to go through programs of formal education. On the job training. And continuous lifetime learning.

We’ve seen that while education is a pathway, it can also be a filter, and a rather painful one. If higher education is expensive, meaning that only children from affluent families are able to pursue higher degrees and if the returns to higher degrees are themselves quite high, then that filter, the costs of higher education can mean that education becomes a bottleneck for the poor, an amplifier of incomes for the wealthy and yet, another source for widening inequalities. This unfortunately is the situation in the United States today, which once was seen and, and felt by itself to be the great land of opportunity. The land of the highest possible social mobility.

The place where Americans compared themselves with what was taken to be the stogy class based hierarchical, aristocratic societies of Europe. The U.S in its mythos views itself as the land of opportunity but because of the great inequalities now of returns to education, the widening inequalities that our political system has produced, the high costs of education, the mountains of student debt for young people especially from working class and poor families. We now face a low level of social mobility in the United States compared to many, many other high income countries. In general, there is a relationship, that is a rather stunning one and a rather sobering one for countries of high inequality, like the United States. 841Have a look at this very, very important graph. And let’s consider it in a little bit of detail to understand what it’s showing us. On the horizontal axis, no mystery, that’s the Gini coefficient for this group of high-income countries. And we know that the higher the Gini coefficient, a number between zero and one. The higher is the inequality in the society. The low inequality countries in this graph are Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark. At the high end of the genie coefficient our The United States with the greatest inequality among this sample of countries followed by the United Kingdom. So far so clear.Now on the vertical axis, what are we looking at?

Each country is rated by a statistic which measures the relationship of a child’s income to the parent’s income. So this is looking at how closely a parental income translates into the income of the child. So it’s a measure of inter-generational income mobility. If the correlation is quite high at the high end of the vertical axis, that means that parental income and children’s income are highly related. Have a poor parent, you end up poor. Have a wealthy parent you end up having a high income. If the correlation is low on the low side of this vertical axis that means that no matter what the parental income.

The children’s income is fairly much independent of what kind of household background they come from, and, low and behold, looking at the vertical axis, those countries that have a low correlation of child and parental income are the Nordic countries, Finland, Norway, Denmark. And which countries have the highest correlation of parental and children’s income. Well, the same ones we just looked at.

The United States, the United Kingdom, add Italy to this mix. What you see is an upward sloping line, while it doesn’t prove causation, it has a rather sensible narrative, one that’s easy to understand, it says that unequal countries with a wide dispersion of household incomes, in other words, a high Gini coefficient are also countries of relatively low social mobility. If there’re big gaps between rich and poor then the process of education, the levels of educational attainment, the ability to get to good jobs is also highly filtered. It is a track for wealthier and richer kids it’s not a pathway that is, holds much promise for the poorer kids. The United States and the UK are examples of two rather unequal societies, with rather low social mobility. And the three Nordic countries in the lower left hand side of this chart, Finland, Norway, Denmark. And one would add in Sweden close by as a fourth part of the Nordic representation on this chart.

Are cases where the income inequality is quite small and in addition, the correlation of parental and children’s income is also characteristically small. In those rather equal societies where government spends massively to provide for pre-school. To provide for early childhood development. To provide for university education. On the public tab. The social mobility is quite high, the child’s background just doesn’t count for all that much, because there is such a high degree of mobility and such support from government.

842A similar kind of relationship is found in the upward sloping graph that you’re looking at. This also puts the Gini coefficient on the horizontal axis just the same way. The vertical axis is a different kind of wage persistence. It’s looking at the gap of earnings of young people depending on the education level of parents. High up on the axis are places of big inequality of income depending on the fathers education level. Places that are lower down are places where there is a small gap. Of children’s income depending on the father’s education level. The message is just the same as in the preceding chart. Places with high income inequality are places where there’s a high correlation across generations which we can interpret as places of low social mobility. And the lesson here is rather striking and rather important. We’re finding essentially that unequal societies are societies that replicate that inequality across generations.

They are societies that become societies of low social mobility and by many ethical systems, societies that are rather unfair because the future prospects of a child are not that child’s own determination. They depend more on to whom the child is born, than on what the child is able to accomplish on their own. And for myself as, as a U.S. citizen, a country that has prided itself on high social mobility, these kinds of findings are quite stunning. One more look at this evidence to finalize the point. 843In this kind of bar chart, we see a comparison of the United States and Canada. And what we see is a division of these households by decile and looking at the probability of a son falling into a low decile or a high decile depending on their fathers income status. So have a look at children born to poor fathers for example. Which is the graph that you’re looking at right now. And then you see which of these 10% categories, the son falls into, so of the sons in the United States whose father is in the poorest 10% of the population, you can see in the bar all the way to the left, that around 23% of those kids themselves end up in the bottom 10% of the income distribution. Another 18% or so end up in the second lowest decile of the population. And around 7% or so of those kids end up in the top decile.

For Canada, you can see that it’s a little bit more equal. Because Canadian children that are born to poor fathers don’t have the same very high proportion ending up in the poorest part of the income distribution. And they have a much higher chance of ending up in the high income part of the income distribution. 844This is consistent with the preceding two graphs that we looked at. It’s basically saying that since Canada is a more equal society, children are less likely to follow exactly the track of their parents. Now let’s look at the other end of the income distribution. Consider it, the kids born to high income fathers, what happens to them? Again we can compare the unequal U.S. with the relatively more equal Canadian situation. In the United States if a son was born to a top docile father, rich father, then you can see in about all the way to the right of the graph that around 27% or so of such kids end up. Also in the top decile the probability that a rich father will end up with a rich son is quite high. You see that in the case of Canada the bar just next to it, it’s a much lower rate of intergenerational transmission. A top decile father, one in the top 10% of the income distribution has, gives the son a, around of 20% a probability of ending up in the top as well. Look at the other side of the income distribution. What’s the chance that a son born to a top decile father ends up in the bottom 10% of the income distribution. Naturally, not all that large. But in the United States, around 3%. In Canada, around 8%. This is the flip side  of the same point. That in the U.S. under our current conditions where households track, successful households, largely through educational success, university attainment and are having kids who make it to good jobs and good earnings and poor kids not making it.

You see that there is the inter-generational replication of the income distribution, the more equalist the society, generally depending on a strong role of government in ensuring early childhood development in ensuring axis to quality education at all levels. Than that inter-generational mobility is enhanced, the inter-generational correlation within the household is greatly diminished. And for most of us, the meaning of that is that, poor kids have a chance in places where inequality is reduced. And where the government is playing that role of ensuring that every child has the chance of meeting his or her potential.

That after all, is the whole challenge and goal of an inclusive society. It’s one where individuals have responsibilities, but they need the help, especially the kids in poor households. That the help of government can make it possible to achieve that goal.

Education and Sustainable Developement V

The Role of Higher Education in Sustainable Development

We’re thinking about education. It’s role for an individual, it’s role for society. I’ve been emphasizing that  education is absolutely critical for economic development, education is a pathway for a high productivity workforce. Education is the ticket to individual job security and higher incomes for individuals, especially in an age of knowledge at the center of so many parts of the economy.

I want to talk about higher education even beyond those individual human capital, issues and reflect on the importance of higher education. For overall economic development through other pathways as well. Not only the training of individuals, but the problem solving of society. Now let me say straight out, I’m utterly biased. I love universities and I have been in, universities now.

I’m, probably shouldn’t tell you, but it’s, more than  40 years, since entering, college, life, in, 1972. And since then, I’ve had the great joy and pleasure to be part of 2 great Universities, Harvard and Columbia University, throughout my life and throughout my career, places of great learning, wonderful students, wonderful opportunities to expand ones knowledge. I admire Universities for what they can do and should do for society. And I wanted to reflect a little bit on how important higher education is. Not only in preparing you or me for a job in the labor market. But for enabling us to participate more broadly as citizens and especially to participate in each generation’s challenge of problem solving. What we know about higher education is that, not only does it boost the human capital of the individual, but it goes right to the core that I’ve been stressing of the key to long-term economic development of technology and of know-how.

Higher education has shown itself repeatedly to be crucial for the 2 kinds of growth that we observed.

One is the endogenous innovation based growth, where new science and new technology are developed, giving birth to new industries, whether it was James Watt working in the workshop at Glasgow University in 1776 when he said, I got it. The new steam engine, or whether it’s the advances that have been pouring out since over the following two centuries, including the great breakthroughs in computer science, in material science, in Moore’s Law which has underpinned the transistor and integrated circuit revolution of the last 50 years of genomics, of agronomics. Universities and higher education have been absolutely central, because technology and scientific advance has been central.

The second kind of growth, is the adaptation of technologies from abroad. It’s true that not every technology requires a high skilled user to use it. How many of us really understand the quantum physics of how our mobile phones work, because quantum physics is crucial for understanding solid state electronics which is at the core of of the integrated circuitry, which makes it possible for the digital revolution to work. Well, not, not too many of us could recite all of the details of the digital age, but we can still use the phones. Some technology just is marvelously packaged, so that it can be used essentially by anybody. and, this is a wondrous thing when the breakthroughs of science are in a pill that can be taken to save a life, no matter what the education level of the pill taker. When the brilliant rapid diagnostic test that we have mentioned enable a village health worker to save a child from malaria. That’s a kind of technology that is packaged in such a way that it is very, very broadly accessible.

But a lot of catching up growth, which depends on bringing technologies from abroad and using them effectively, depends on skilled workers. Not necessarily the same kinds of scientists that invented the technology in the first place, but scientists and especially engineers who can adapt those technologies to local conditions. Seeds that are taken from one place very often have to be adapted to local growing conditions, or certainly to local farm systems. Even though Norman Borlaug’s seeds from Sonora, Mexico worked in India, thank goodness for India’s green revolution, how to plant them in the Punjab of India depended on skilled agronomists being able to make that translation of the technology from one place to the next.

So technology transfer is essential. Highly skilled workers are vital for that, universities of course are vital for providing that knowledge. Universities are vital for providing the research and development that our, at the core of science based innovation. Universities are vital, of course, for providing not only a highly skilled, highly trained labor force, but for training the trainers. Especially the teachers, who are going to be working throughout society. Helping to prepare youngsters at preschool all the way through primary and secondary education, so that they are developing their human capital to full capacity. And universities are critical for one more major activity that I want to underscore.

And that is problem solving, policies and strategies to make the differential diagnosis that we’ve been speaking of, identifying the specific challenges that countries face, whether in public health, or in transport and infrastructure systems, or in facing the problems of climate change, or in adapting cities to be more resilient to natural hazards. There’s a tremendous amount of innovation that will be required of new systems thinking, new ways to govern, new principles for our behavior and our organization of our social lives and our political systems, and universities are needed to play a key role in that kind of problem solving. Now this, of course, poses a major challenge.851

We’ve already looked at this map which shows the difference of enrollment rates in higher education in different parts of the world. Not surprisingly, we know that countries like the United States, the Scandinavian countries, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, are countries with a very high rate of university going, though, probably not high enough given the, information age that we are in right now. But compared to poor countries, throughout Asia, and especially throughout Africa we see that the reach of universities in many of today’s poor countries are not adequate to the needs for these societies to be able to generate the technology transfer and the homegrown innovation that’s so essential for their development, and to have the highly skilled well-educated leadership, crucial for the national problem solving. If you look at this picture, which is a map of the share of national income devoted to research and development, it looks a lot like, the tertiary education enrollment rates. R and D is heavily concentrated in the high income world.

This has been true, essentially for two centuries now, since the start of the Industrial Revolution. A tremendously high share of the new innovations have come from a small subset of countries. The United States, Western Europe, Japan, now Korea, Singapore, Israel. Just a few countries in the world accounting for the lion’s share of the scientific breakthroughs and the patented intellectual property, that underpins a lot of the technology advances.

And to a very important extent that technology, even when it’s being developed by businesses, depends on the university sector. Indeed it is itself a fascinating and complicated and complex challenge to understand how a society becomes an innovative society. As usual for the kinds of problems that we’re looking at there’s no simple linear path, nor a single answer. You might say well high income country has businesses that do R and D and it’s from that research and development that new innovation emerges. But inevitably, those companies first need, highly skilled scientists and engineers to be doing, that kind of research. But even more important than that, the research that is the basis for new technologies, is often not being done in the companies at all. It’s being done in national laboratories, or research centers, or to a very significant extent, in the universities themselves.

There is a very complex and subtle network that links businesses universities, national laboratories. And other cutting edge knowledge institutions together in a flow of information sometimes commercial, sometimes open scientific research or open source knowledge. There’s alongside that flow of information and research findings, more pathways of money flowing. Maybe the universities are supported by business to do some targeted research. Maybe it’s the government that’s funding the universities doing research that then gets incorporated into new start up companies. Started in clusters around the universities, like Silicon Valley. 852

Next door to Stanford University. So, we say that this is a national innovation system. That integrated mix of public and private, and philanthropic foundations of universities, of businesses, of government national laboratories. Of financial flows, and, All directions that is putting together a very rich flow of innovation and ability to make cutting edge steps forward in science and technology. It is part of the challenge of every country’s development to create a national innovation system, consistent with its capacities, with its needs, and with its opportunities. And within that, higher education plays an enormous role.

I want to turn to the fourth Aspect of Universities, that I very much admire and believe need an even larger place in our societies as we grapple with the challenges of sustainable development.

And that’s Universities as major engines of problem solving, looking at the complex problems that we’re discussing with sustainable development. How to move to a new energy system. How to have sustainable agriculture. How our cities can be re-engineered, re-purposed, redesigned for healthier more resilient settings with high economic productivity and less impact on the physical environment. And what has been known now for centuries, but really, demonstrated time and again, during the period of modern economic growth, is the role that institutions of higher learning can play and helping societies to grapple with their very complicated problems.

Now I’m very much attracted to one of America’s great breakthroughs in this regard, called the moral act. A piece of legislation passed in the US Congress in 1862 and signed by none other than President Abraham Lincoln. The moral act created what are called Land Grant Universities in the United States. They are Land Grant because the Federal Government granted land to the states, to establish new centers of higher education. And there is one for every state in the United States, in this system of land grant universities. But what makes the Moral Act and this initiative so novel and so important for America’s history, is that these institutions were set up not only to train, but to help the local communities and the states in which they are located to solve problems, to develop the skills the techniques, the knowledge base to solve problems, especially from 1862 for a long period of time, to solve agricultural problems through agricultural field stations and outreach of university based scientists into the community to help farmers grapple with problems of pests and productivity and soil nutrients and climate and the other variables and inputs into high productivity agriculture. So, the Moral Act in 1862, said that this endowment would support the maintenance of at least one college per state, where the leading object shall be, and I’m quoting from this Act. Without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the states may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education, of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life. These were practical undertakings. What a great advance 150 years ago to think about the federal government, no less in the middle of America’s Civil War, saying we need to invest in higher education to solve the practical problems one per state in the United States. Other countries of course in similar ways have championed their institutions of higher education to play this kind of role.

But, many, many countries have so far not really taken up this idea. I meet with government officials in many places in the world where I find the reaction cringe worthy I might say. Where they view universities mainly as places to teach, perhaps as hotbeds of political controversy. But not as partners in development. And I always try to explain that government should view universities as engines of problem solving and of national development, and not only, though it is part of their role as places of education, and certainly not as hostile territory, where governments are worried about the political implications.

Thinking, yes, can lead to new innovation, new approaches, new calls for new kinds of governance, and it should. But universities must be seen by governments in this complicated age of sustainable development. As partners in problem solving. It’s for that reason that I’m also especially honored that UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, asked me to help him in his global leadership challenge of promoting solutions to sustainable development. To help put together a knowledge network based on the universities around the world, precisely so that these universities can be more effective partners in their own cities, in their own nations, in their own regions, in problem solving for sustainable development. You’re looking at the cover of a report that this new, United Nations sponsored sustainable development solutions network, or SDSN, as we finally call it. Issued to the Secretary General, in, identifying the main challenges for sustainable development for the period of 2015 to 2030.

SPSN is an outreach organization aiming for very broad membership of institutions of higher education from around the world. To join together to exchange knowledge, ideas, to debate and discuss alternative technological approaches, for example, the clean energy. To help keep universities around the world at the very cutting edge of sustainable development, thinking, ideas, technological know-how. Also so that students can be trained to be at the cutting edge. And countries around the world are forming their own chapters of DSDSN, the Nigeria chapter, the Ethiopia chapter, the Indonesia chapter, the Malaysia chapter, the Korea chapter, as well as regional groupings, for example, around the Mediterranean Basin region, headquartered, at the University of Sienna, or around the Si Hill countries of West Africa, centered, in, Dakar, Senegal. Or around the, universities of the horn of Africa with a base, in Nairobi, Kenya. or, the Osian universities for the southeast Asian countries with a, a headquarters in Bali.

In all of these cases, these networks are strengthening themselves through partnership. Through online materials, through joint activities, through, common teaching programs, through common problem solving efforts. To be available to society in the same way that the moral act created the land grant institutions to be available for practical problem solving. On the complex challenges of sustainable development.

I believe that by forming this kind of network, by energizing the extentand intensity of problem solving, and I’m counting on all of you to be part of that as well, we can indeed succeed in this great challenge of achieving the multiple objectives of economic development, social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and good governance that all of our societies need and yearn for.

Growth within Planetary Boundaries I

The nine planetary boundaries


Stratospheric ozone depletion

The stratospheric ozone layer in the atmosphere filters out ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. If this layer decreases, increasing amounts of UV radiation will reach ground level. This can cause a higher incidence of skin cancer in humans as well as damage to terrestrial and marine biological systems. The appearance of the Antarctic ozone hole was proof that increased concentrations of anthropogenic ozone-depleting chemical substances, interacting with polar stratospheric clouds, had passed a threshold and moved the Antarctic stratosphere into a new regime. Fortunately, because of the actions taken as a result of the Montreal Protocol, we appear to be on the path that will allow us to stay within this boundary.

Loss of biosphere integrity (biodiversity loss and extinctions)

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005 concluded that changes to ecosystems due to human activities were more rapid in the past 50 years than at any time in human history, increasing the risks of abrupt and irreversible changes. The main drivers of change are the demand for food, water, and natural resources, causing severe biodiversity loss and leading to changes in ecosystem services. These drivers are either steady, showing no evidence of declining over time, or are increasing in intensity. The current high rates of ecosystem damage and extinction can be slowed by efforts to protect the integrity of living systems (the biosphere), enhancing habitat, and improving connectivity between ecosystems while maintaining the high agricultural productivity that humanity needs. Further research is underway to improve the availability of reliable data for use as the ‘control variables’ for this boundary.

Chemical pollution and the release of novel entities

Emissions of toxic and long-lived substances such as synthetic organic pollutants, heavy metal compounds and radioactive materials represent some of the key human-driven changes to the planetary environment. These compounds can have potentially irreversible effects on living organisms and on the physical environment (by affecting atmospheric processes and climate). Even when the uptake and bioaccumulation of chemical pollution is at sub-lethal levels for organisms, the effects of reduced fertility and the potential of permanent genetic damage can have severe effects on ecosystems far removed from the source of the pollution. For example, persistent organic compounds have caused dramatic reductions in bird populations and impaired reproduction and development in marine mammals. There are many examples of additive and synergic effects from these compounds, but these are still poorly understood scientifically.  At present, we are unable to quantify a single chemical pollution boundary, although the risk of crossing Earth system thresholds is considered sufficiently well-defined for it to be included in the list as a priority for precautionary action and for further research.

Climate Change

Recent evidence suggests that the Earth, now passing 390 ppmv CO2 in the atmosphere, has already transgressed the planetary boundary and is approaching several Earth system thresholds. We have reached a point at which the loss of summer polar sea-ice is almost certainly irreversible. This is one example of a well-defined threshold above which rapid physical feedback mechanisms can drive the Earth system into a much warmer state with sea levels metres higher than present. The weakening or reversal of terrestrial carbon sinks, for example through the on-going destruction of the world’s rainforests, is another potential tipping point, where climate-carbon cycle feedbacks accelerate Earth’s warming and intensify the climate impacts. A major question is how long we can remain over this boundary before large, irreversible changes become unavoidable.

Ocean acidification

Around a quarter of the CO2 that humanity emits into the atmosphere is ultimately dissolved in the oceans. Here it forms carbonic acid, altering ocean chemistry and decreasing the pH of the surface water. This increased acidity reduces the amount of available carbonate ions, an essential ‘building block’ used by many marine species for shell and skeleton formation. Beyond a threshold concentration, this rising acidity makes it hard for organisms such as corals and some shellfish and plankton species to grow and survive. Losses of these species would change the structure and dynamics of ocean ecosystems and could potentially lead to drastic reductions in fish stocks. Compared to pre-industrial times, surface ocean acidity has already increased by 30 percent.  Unlike most other human impacts on the marine environment, which are often local in scale, the ocean acidification boundary has ramifications for the whole planet. It is also an example of how tightly interconnected the boundaries are, since atmospheric CO2 concentration is the underlying controlling variable for both the climate and the ocean acidification boundaries, although they are defined in terms of different Earth system thresholds.

Freshwater consumption and the global hydrological cycle

The freshwater cycle is strongly affected by climate change and its boundary is closely linked to the climate boundary, yet human pressure is now the dominant driving force determining the functioning and distribution of global freshwater systems. The consequences of human modification of water bodies include both global-scale river flow changes and shifts in vapour flows arising from land use change. These shifts in the hydrological system can be abrupt and irreversible. Water is becoming increasingly scarce – by 2050 about half a billion people are likely to be subject to water-stress, increasing the pressure to intervene in water systems.  A water boundary related to consumptive freshwater use and environmental flow requirements has been proposed to maintain the overall resilience of the Earth system and to avoid the risk of ‘cascading’ local and regional thresholds.

Land system change

Land is converted to human use all over the planet. Forests, grasslands, wetlands and other vegetation types have primarily been converted to agricultural land. This land-use change is one driving force behind the serious reductions in biodiversity, and it has impacts on water flows and on the biogeochemical cycling of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus and other important elements. While each incident of land cover change occurs on a local scale, the aggregated impacts can have consequences for Earth system processes on a global scale. A boundary for human changes to land systems needs to reflect not just the absolute quantity of land, but also its function, quality and spatial distribution. Forests play a particularly important role in controlling the linked dynamics of land use and climate, and is the focus of the boundary for land system change.

Nitrogen and phosphorus flows to the biosphere and oceans

The biogeochemical cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus have been radically changed by humans as a result of many industrial and agricultural processes. Nitrogen and phosphorus are both essential elements for plant growth, so fertilizer production and application is the main concern. Human activities now convert more atmospheric nitrogen into reactive forms than all of the Earth’s terrestrial processes combined. Much of this new reactive nitrogen is emitted to the atmosphere in various forms rather than taken up by crops. When it is rained out, it pollutes waterways and coastal zones or accumulates in the terrestrial biosphere. Similarly, a relatively small proportion of phosphorus fertilizers applied to food production systems is taken up by plants; much of the phosphorus mobilized by humans also ends up in aquatic systems. These can become oxygen-starved as bacteria consume the blooms of algae that grow in response to the high nutrient supply. A significant fraction of the applied nitrogen and phosphorus makes its way to the sea, and can push marine and aquatic systems across ecological thresholds of their own. One regional-scale example of this effect is the decline in the shrimp catch in the Gulf of Mexico’s ‘dead zone’ caused by fertilizer transported in rivers from the US Midwest.

Atmospheric aerosol loading

An atmospheric aerosol planetary boundary was proposed primarily because of the influence of aerosols on Earth’s climate system. Through their interaction with water vapour, aerosols play a critically important role in the hydrological cycle affecting cloud formation and global-scale and regional patterns of atmospheric circulation, such as the monsoon systems in tropical regions. They also have a direct effect on climate, by changing how much solar radiation is reflected or absorbed in the atmosphere. Humans change the aerosol loading by emitting atmospheric pollution (many pollutant gases condense into droplets and particles), and also through land-use change that increases the release of dust and smoke into the air. Shifts in climate regimes and monsoon systems have already been seen in highly polluted environments, giving a quantifiable regional measure for an aerosol boundary. A further reason for an aerosol boundary is that aerosols have adverse effects on many living organisms. Inhaling highly polluted air causes roughly 800,000 people to die prematurely each year. The toxicological and ecological effects of aerosols may thus relate to other Earth system thresholds. However, the behaviour of aerosols in the atmosphere is extremely complex, depending on their chemical composition and their geographical location and height in the atmosphere. While many relationships between aerosols, climate and ecosystems are well established, many causal links are yet to be determined.


Growth within Planetary Boundaries V

The Case of Population

We’re in search of a sustainable development trajectory for the planet. We want to help countries grow, especially the poorest countries, to break free of the poverty trap. We need to respect planetary boundaries, and we want growth to be fair, widely shared with a broad inclusive prosperity. We’ve seen how hard this is going to be, whether it’s the energy system, or the food production technologies that are going to have to change markedly. But a big part of the challenge, the extent of the challenge, the ability to meet sustainable development will depend on the future of population dynamics.

The more people there are on the planet, the more mouths to feed, the more challenges there will be to reconcile the economic objectives of rising living standards per person, multiplied by a larger number of people, and respecting the planetary boundaries. And so, facing the question of population is key. We also know it’s key for inclusiveness and breaking free of poverty. Because when poor families have large numbers of children, they are not able to provide the kind of investment in the human capital, as we call it. Meaning the health, the nutrition, the education, the skills of their own children. In order to ensure that they are productive and meet their their potential is, as adults. And so, reducing the fertility rates, voluntarily, respecting human rights and family desires to levels that are low enough to foresee a stabilization, even a gradual decline of today’s large population, or the one that we will have on the planet in the future, will make it easier to achieve the other aspects of sustainable development as well. Social inclusion, ending extreme poverty. And of course as I’m emphasizing, respecting the planetary boundaries. So where do we stand?

Well, if we go back to Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798, a world of 8 to 900 million people. And he warned us, be careful, populations will grow. They have grown maybe by a factor of nine or ten, since Malthus gave us that famous warning, to 7.2 billion today. And that 7.2 billion today is up from around 2.5 billion people in the middle of the 20th century. You’re looking at a very pertinent set of scenarios, four of them shown here, produced by the United Nations Population Division. Notice that the solid line shows the actual change in population from 2.5 billion to 7.2 billion between 1950 and 2010. And then the four lines diverge, depending essentially on alternative assumptions about fertility rates, out to the end of the 21st century, to the year 2100. What are these four scenarios? The medium scenario shown here, it’s the one that is third from the top on the right hand side, reaching about 10.8 billion people in the year 2100. It’s called the medium fertility scenario of the UN Population Division. It’s the one we tend to look to as something like a continuation of current trends. That scenario shows us having an increase of another 3.6 billion people between now and the end of the century. What an enormous increase. That’s the middle scenario. Now at the top is something unthinkable, unimaginable, but very interesting for us. Suppose fertility rates do not come down at all, and for each age and each country in the world, the age specific child bearing tendencies continue into the future without reduction. Well, simply running the clock forward, based on the current fertility rates, the world population would soar well past 20 billion, 25 billion. In fact, by 2100, it would be 28.6 billion, four times higher than now. Impossible.


The Earth couldn’t manage it, but it does tell us something. It tells us that the medium scenario of the United Nations isn’t exactly business as usual in a mere continuation of current trends. It builds in the assumption already of a significant decline of fertility rates in future years. Take that into account. Because if those fertility rates do not come down, then 10.8 billion is going to look awfully optimistic in terms of where the population would settle, where I’m using the term optimism to mean keeping it on the lower side, so that we can envision realistically sustainable development. A constant fertility rate continuing exactly what’s happening right now, 28 billion people.

The next line down is what’s called the high fertility rate. It’s a little bit more plausible, pretty frightening. It says, if, instead of that medium scenario, women were to have just, on average, one half child more. So that each woman, instead of having two children, would have two and a half children or, or to put it another way, every ten women would be having 25 children rather than 20 children. Would mean billions and billions of people more on the planet. That’s how sensitive the population forecasts are to the future dynamics of fertility. We could reach 16.6 billion that is more than 5 billion in addition to the forecast of 10.8 billion, obviously. Now if rather than the medium fertility forecast, which has a built in estimated decline of fertility gradually over time, the decline of fertility were a bit faster. So that women were having on average a half child fewer than in the medium forecast, or every ten women having five children fewer than in the medium forecast. Then the world population would actually peak around mid century, and gradually decline to about 6.8 billion at the end of the century. From my point of view, that’s most attractive if we aim for sustainable development, which we presumably are aiming for. Because if we can have a peak of the world population, then a gradual decline, it’s going to be much easier to meet the inclusiveness goals, the fairness. It’s going to be much easier to meet the environmental objectives and needs as well. What this shows is that small changes of fertility rates will have big changes of outcomes. And it suggests that if steps are taken to help facilitate a faster reduction of fertility by, for example, keeping young girls in school rather than having them married, as in traditional societies at the age of 14 or sometimes even younger. This could make a very big difference.


Now, the next graph shows the annual rate of change of population in the medium scenario, but for different groups of countries. This is also important. The solid line third from the top, is the world average. What you see is that the population growth of the world peaked at about 2%, around 1970. At that time, the world population was on the order of about 4 billion people, which means that at a 2% growth rate, the world was adding about 80 million people per year.

Now if you fast forward to the year 2010, the growth rate is a little over 1% per year, 1.1 to 1.2% per year. But now, the base on which that percentage growth is occurring is twice as large as back in 1970. It’s now 7.2 billion people, multiply 1.1% by 7.2 billion people, or 1.2% by 7.2 billion people. Lo and behold, you’re getting about the same 80 million increase as of 40 years ago. This says that the proportionate growth rate of population has slowed. But the absolute numbers, the arithmetic increase year by year remains around 75 to 80 million people added to the world’s population each year. In the medium scenario, that growth rate tends to decline. It declines to almost zero by the end of the century, because fertility rates basically come down to replacement. Replacement fertility rate means that each mother has two children, one is a daughter, one is a son. Each mother is replacing herself with a daughter who will become the mother of the next generation. And keeping the numbers, therefore, in the long-term stable.

So since the fertility rate is assumed by the United Nations to trend towards the replacement rate of around two, the population growth rate also tends to converge to around zero. But what you see on this graph is that the least developed countries ironically, but not unexpectedly, have the highest population growth rate. Those are the places where family planning is not used. Those are the places where girls drop out of school early. Those are the places where women face massive discrimination. They’re not in the labor market, and so the opportunity cost of their time is low. They’re supposed to be home having children, according to the prevailing social norms, or maybe the desires of their husbands. Maybe not their own desires in many places, but traditional societies impose, through cultural and other means, that kind of pressure for large numbers of children.

Well, to see where fertility rates are right now, we can look at the next graph, which measures the actual fertility rates up to the year 2010.


And then shows the projections of the United Nations in this medium fertility projection for different groups of countries out to the year 2100. What you see is that, as of 2010, the countries at the bottom of this curve, which are the more developed, or the developed regions of the world, are already below replacement rate. If they continue with that fertility rate for another couple of generations, the population size will begin to decline in the high income world. The highest fertility rates in the curve at the very top of this picture are the least developed countries. Whereas, in 2010, still the total fertility rate is above four. Each mother, on average, is having two daughters. That means the population is tending to double, generation by generation. because each mother is replacing herself statistically with two daughters, who will grow up to be two mothers of the next generation. That’s why the population growth remains so high. And one can see in this graph, is that for the less developed regions as a whole and for the world on average, the fertility rates are a bit above replacement, but not as high as in the least developed countries. And therefore, on average, the population growth rate is less than it is in the poorest countries, but higher than it is in the high income countries.

Well, what could lead to a faster transition to a stable population, and to a replacement fertility rate? We know through observation and careful study that there are many key determinants of the fertility rate, of the fertility choice. Let me mention some of them.

First, age of marriage. In traditional societies, girls are often not schooled at all, or pushed out of school early. And married very early, maybe by the command of their father, who marries the girl for economic reasons within the community, or traditional reasons at the age of 12 or 14. And then childbearing starts very soon thereafter. And these young girls, who remain illiterate throughout their lives without economic, political, or social empowerment, often end up with seven or eight or nine children. So that is one determinant.

A second, obviously, is access to contraceptions and family planning. Places where contraceptives are widely available, where clinical services work, where there is good culturally sensitive advising where women can discreetly gain access to their contraceptive desires, tend to have lower fertility rates. And family planning programs that are, again, culturally sensitive and aware, and operating effectively in low income countries, can dramatically lower, on a voluntary basis, the total fertility rates in those countries.

A third determinant is the woman’s role in the labor force. In some countries, women aren’t allowed to work, or they’re not allowed to work outside the home, or they’re not allowed to work in many occupations. They face massive legal and social discrimination, or cultural practices that basically keep them at home. Now, raising children takes a lot of time. And therefore, if a woman is earning a living in the labor market, the cost of raising children, in terms of the lost wage income, can be very, very high. That means women that are in the labor force and are working and have that opportunity tend to want to have fewer children, because the opportunity cost of raising children is really quite high in terms of lost income. Women who face massive discrimination and aren’t allowed in the labor force may end up with more children, in part because of the market value of their time is so low. Not because it couldn’t command a higher income, but it’s not allowed to because of gender discrimination.

Another major factor is the urban versus rural location of families. Children are often farm assets. They do work, they do chores, they milk the cows, they carry fuel wood, they carry water. They therefore are not seen as a high cost, but actually as part of the farm labor for a family farm. In the urban areas, the child, much more likely, is going to school, but not working in a formal way. Typically, not always. There are painful exceptions. But this means that, on average, families in rural areas see the cost of raising children to be lower, because they see even young children being economic inputs to the household production. Whereas that’s not the case in urban areas. When families move to urban areas, their fertility rates come down.

Child survival is another key determinant. If it’s with the good reliability that the children will survive, families choose to have fewer children. If there’s worry about whether children are going to survive, many risk-averse households will have many, many children to compensate for the expectation that some of the children will die. So one of the keys to a quick voluntary reduction of fertility is to help keep children alive. Good public health, good health facilities in the local community.

The legality of abortion also plays an evident, a quite significant role statistically, different societies have different views. But those that have legalized abortion tend to have lower observed fertility rates than those where abortion is illegal. Still often undertaken, sometimes in very, very dangerous conditions. But where abortion is legalized, fertility rates tend to be lower.

The public leadership plays a big difference, because these are culturally determined phenomenon. Some places in traditional societies when families were on the farm, when children were dying in large numbers, the cultural norms were, have as many children as possible. But when conditions change, children are surviving, families are in urban areas, children need to be educated. Farm sizes have already shrunk, ecological burdens are high.  And you want a lower fertility rate as a result by giving the options and awareness to households. Then the political leadership’s saying, you know, for your good, your farm size has shrunk. You’re trying to help raise children with good education, have fewer children. The political leadership and the public awareness can play a huge role. As, of course, do the role models that people see. One of the things sociologists have found is that when television sets come into a poor rural area, fertility dmnaterates tend to come down. The hypothesis, at least, is that people are observing on their television shows, in their sitcoms and and in, in their soap operas, families with fewer children. And in the rural areas, that’s giving the idea that there’s only one son or daughter, maybe two children, not six or eight. And that changes the social norms as well. This is a big deal for us.

The dynamics of the world will look very different if the world population reaches 11 billion at the end of the century versus stabilizing, and even falling gradually below 7 billion. The latter would be much easier from the point of view of quality of life, income per capita, and environmental sustainability. And there’s good reason to believe it would be the preferred choice of households if they have access to family planning, education for their girls, child survival, jobs, and an absence of discrimination for women. Provide those conditions, most likely households will absolutely take the opportunity on a voluntary basis for a sharp reduction of fertility rates, helping to move the world more quickly to a peaking and stabilization, and then gradual decline of the world population thereafter.

Growth within Planetary Boundaries IV

The Case of Food

You would think, I think intuitively that energy would be the dominant way that humanity is impacting the planet. We’ve just seen how massive energy use translates into rising carbon dioxide and climate change. And energy, of course, is everywhere in our transport systems, our power supplies, our industrial processes, our home use. But it’s quite arguable I would say it is right to say, that the agriculture sector has an even larger impact on the physical planet and the various earth systems than energy. Energy is causing climate change. Agricultural use and agricultural patterns not only have a huge impact on climate but have a huge impact on every aspect of the Earth’s systems and the planetary boundaries.

We’ll see soon that the food production contributes massively to greenhouse gas emissions, therefore to climate change. But we’ll see also that the energy system as we go around the the circle is in a way dwarfed by the food production system in its impacts on each of the other areas of the, the planetary boundaries. The nitrogen and phosphorous cycles, where we get the pollution from the runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus-based fertilizers. The fresh water use, which is about 70% used in the agricultural sector. The change of land use overwhelmingly a reflection of agriculture. The loss of biodiversity  coming from the way that farmlands and  pasture lands and and tree crop plantations absolutely threaten habitats of other species unless uh,agriculture is done in an agro-ecologically friendly manner. Chemical pollution with the heavy application of chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides used in agriculture. There’s a tremendous amount of chemical impact from the farm system. So it is quite arguable that farming dominates the all of the human activities in terms of the anthropogenic effects. Anthropo, human. Genic, caused by. That is the various human-caused impacts on the planet.

Now this is in a way ironic because it takes us right back to the beginning of the modern economic era and to the very beginning of economic studies just like Adam Smith does and just like Adam Smith’s wisdom is still useful today, so too is that of another great thinker Thomas Robert Malthus who wrote famous text in 1798 called Principles of Population. Malthus was afraid. He was also afraid of planetary boundaries, but for a slightly different reason. Malthus said that the human population has a tendency to rise at a geometric rate. And so if left on its own with the basic needs met the human population would continue to expand rapidly. He was right in that when he wrote the Principles of Population in 1798. The total population may have been 800 million, maybe 900 million. Roughly one tenth of the level that it is today. So Malthus was right that human population tends to increase markedly, at a geometric rate he said. Now, he feared that the ability to grow food would only increase at an arithmetic rate. That is adding a certain number of tons of feed grain or food grain per year to the world’s capacity to grow food. And Malthus said, look, any geometric growth will always overtake any arithmetic growth. So the growth of the human population is always going to overtake the ability to grow food, he said. And at some point there will be so many people that hunger will ensue. And when hunger ensues there will be various kinds of devastating feedbacks whether it’s war, whether it’s famine, whether it’s disease or other scourges that will push population back down. But will mean that humanity won’t break free of the physical constraint on the ability to grow food.

Now Malthus did not anticipate the scientific advances of the Green Revolution, for example. He didn’t anticipate modern seed breeding of course even Mendel who invented the modern science of genetics would come basically about three quarters of a century after Malthus. Malthus also didn’t anticipate the breakthroughs in the science of soil nutrients and the use of chemical fertilizers to replenish soil nutrients and to boost food yields. Nor did he anticipate at least the potential for the human potential to stabilize by means of modern contraception, family planning, and choices that households make. So Malthus, couldn’t see the full dynamic ahead, but he worried that the human population would outstrip the carrying capacity of the planet itself. For a long time, economists and others laughed at Malthus. They said, you’ve got it all wrong. You see modern science allows us to grow enough food for a geometric rise of the population. We know how to add fertilizer, we know how to have high yield seed varieties. But, you know, Malthus’ a pretty clever guy and he had a real insight and we’re not done with his story yet because his warning rings true today.While it is the case that increases of food production technology in agronomy and food processing, storage, transport and the ike has made it possible to feed 7.2 billion people though not all of them by any means fed well or nutritiously. It is also the case that the food production system is so destructive of the environment that Malthus is still there, waving his finger saying not so fast. You haven’t proven that you can grow this amount of food sustainably.

What’s going to happen when the water runs out? What’s going to happen when the nitrogen and phosphorus loadings become so large and so forth. So I would say we’re not at the end of the Malthusian story yet. Sustainable development calls for a renovation, a reform, an upgrading of the technological systems to grow food. It calls for us to eat more wisely as well. Eating the kinds of food products that don’t threaten the natural environment. For example, not eating endangered fish species or endangered species of land mammals. Unfortunately some of which are in huge supply as delicacies, even to the point of illegal hunting and poaching and threatening the very survival of these species. So, changing farm systems and changing human behavior, in terms of our diet and use of agricultural products, is possible. But in order to meet Malthus’s challenge, we still have to prove that it’s possible to grow food in a sustainable manner

For all of the people properly nourished on the planet, and with the food system recognizing and respecting the planetary boundaries. Boy, are we far from this today. Let’s think about some of the ways that the food system is impinging on the planetary boundaries.

First, the food system is an enormous source of greenhouse gases. Of course agriculture uses a lot of energy. For planting, for harvesting, for storing, transforming and transporting food and other agricultural commodities. There’s a lot of energy stored in chemical fertilizers, because to make urea, or other nitrogen based fertilizers, one requires a lot of energy to create the chemical compounds in those fertilizers. But what’s interesting and important for us to note, is that agriculture emits greenhouse gases in other ways as well. Remember, the two other major greenhouse gases, anthropogenically caused, that is, caused by human beings in addition to CO2 are methane and nitrous oxide. Now methane or CH4 is emitted in a variety of ways. It’s emitted by anaerobic processes in flooded or paddy field rice for example. Where the metabolic processes of the bacteria release methane into the atmosphere. It’s also released from the gut of ruminant livestock. When cows chew their cud, and digest their food they are also emitters of methane on, on a large scale. Nitrous oxide is emitted partly through industrial processes and electricity production at coal fired power plants. But it’s also emitted by the chemical decomposition of nitrogen based fertilizers. So fertilizers are a source of nitrous oxide in the air.

But they’re also a source of water pollution in the sea. In both cases, the nitrogen is supplied on the farms, but it’s not taken up by the plants themselves. It either volatilizes into the atmosphere or it runs off into the water and then, on the way through the rivers and ground water to the ocean. So greenhouse gases is one major way that that the agriculture system impinges causing climate change. Land use change and habitat loss is another obvious way. Humans use land primarily, not for our cities, not for our highways, but for our farms and our pasture land and our timber land. And we have already taken hold of so much land, so much photosynthetic potential, to feed us, that we’re depriving other species, not only of their natural habitats, but of the food that they need to stay alive. And that’s why we’re driving numbers of other species down sharply. Agriculture, as I mentioned earlier, is a major source of chemical pollutants often very long lasting and very toxic chemicals that are used as pesticides and as herbicides and as other parts of the food production chain.

Agriculture has another perverse threat which is called invasive species. Invasive species means that humanity advertently, or inadvertently, but generally unwisely takes a species from one part of the world, puts it into another environment, perhaps where there’s no competition with that species. If it’s an animal, it can run wild. If it’s a plant or a weed, it can take over a a land area, or a lake for example, dominating the local biodiversity. Invasive species means that we are rearranging the biogeography. The places on the planet where various species exist. And we’re putting lots of species at risk by invading ecosystems where they don’t belong, where they are not native. Perhaps where they have no predators, or where they can invade and take over a lot of the resources of that ecosystem.

Nitrogen and phosphorus runoff, I’ve already mentioned. And look at this picture. The shocking picture off the coast of China there is so much fertilizer being used by Chinese farmers because it’s heavily subsidized, and because of bad farm practices that that fertilizer runs off the farms into the rivers and ground water. It accumulates in the estuaries and off the coast, and it creates this kind of algal bloom. And algal bloom means that there’s such a sudden massive loading of nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus in particular that the algae which either naturally grows in a particular place or has been introduced say by fisheries practices, suddenly has this massive feast of nitrogen and phosphorous. And there’s an explosion of the amount of algae. This algae will die. Then it will be decomposed by bacteria. As those bacteria feast on the algae, the dead algae, they will be respirating, and they’ll be using a lot of the oxygen in the water. They will deplete the oxygen as part of the respiration process and by depleting the oxygen they will create an oxygen depleted zone of coastal waters. That’s called a hypoxic zone, low oxygen hypo oxia. And low oxygen kills the fish, kills the other species. Suddenly you have what ecologists and marine biologists call a dead zone. There are dead zones all over the coastal world now, especially in the estuaries.

Estuaries where the freshwater of rivers meets the saltwater of the oceans are wondrous ecosystems. Our shellfish and many other species are often indigenous to those locations, and they’re being threatened by this nutrient loading. By the utrification and then by the hypoxia that results. Creating dead zones and hypoxic regions in more than 130 estuaries around the world. The food system also gives rise to new pathogens. When we have the industrial breeding of poultry, for example, all crowded together, we have learned that there is recombination of genes of bacteria and viruses. When livestock and poultry out in the open mixed with the wild with the wild species of geese and other species, you get further recombinations. And this has given rise to many  emerging infectious diseases, some of which are very, very  frightening, like SARS. Was and remains very, very frightening. And so we have new and emerging diseases coming from industrial agricultural practices. Of course we have massive overharvesting, overhunting, overgrazing,over abstraction and cutting down logging of trees and forests. Most of the world’s major fisheries have been massively over fished.

In the Northeast of the United States where I live there was a collapse of the cod fisheries because of the massive amount of fish that was being hauled up using modern technologies trawlers and other high tech ways to fish a massive amounts of fish under the ocean.

And of course with all this food production we are using up water supplies through ground water depletion, through the diversion of rivers which no longer make it all the way to the sea. And the growing water crisis is extraordinarily frightening.

We see water scarcity as a major threat to well being, to human health, to economic development in many, many parts of the world adding climate change on one side, overuse of water coming from agriculture it’s quite a dangerous brew. So just as we are going to need to find a new pathway for energy basedon energy efficiency and low carbon energy supplies. We are going to need to find a new farm system, or I should say farm systems. Because there are farm systems distinctive all over the world depending on the local climates, local cultures, local soils, local ecological conditions. But what is nearly common to all of the major regions is that our farm systems are not yet sustainable.

We still have to prove Malthus wrong, we still have to take a tip from Malthus that the challenges of food supply are a major and continuing challenge facing humanity, and a core part of any agenda of achieving sustainable development.

Growth within Planetary Boundaries III

The Case of Energy

Of all of the problems of reconciling growth with planetary boundaries probably none is more urgent and none is more complicated than the challenge of energy. Remember that the whole world economy grew up, starting with the steam engine, then the internal combustion engine, the gas turbine as a fossil fuel built world economy. Fossil fuels, coal, oil, gas, have been our friend. They have been the basis on which the modern world has been built. And indeed until James Watt in 1776 came along with his steam engine, there was no way to even think about sustained economic progress. Where would the energy for industry come from? Every time industry would start to develop in the pre-steam engine age, so many trees would be chopped down to feed the boilers that the limits of industrialization were very quickly reached. It was fossil fuels that allowed the breakthrough to the era of modern economic growth. I emphasize this because that history reminds us of how deep the challenge is. Right now fossil fuels are not our friend because when coal, oil, or gas is burned the carbon that is the basis of those fossil fuels combines with oxygen and produces CO2, carbon dioxide, which is emitted into the air, which is the main greenhouse gas warming the planet, changing the climate, and endangering humanity and other species. And so what has been the key at the very core of the world economic growth is now at the core of our major problem. Well, you might say use less energy, but it’s not so simple.

Because as a physicist will remind us, what is energy? Quality energy is the ability to, to work. Any useful work in, in economy depends on energy. Sure, we waste a lot of energy in the form of release of heat or friction or driving cars much larger than they need to be or poorly insulated buildings. So energy efficiency is clearly part of any solution for sustainable development. But the world needs energy resources, will use energy resources, and the use of energy, even with a substantial gain of efficiency, is likely to increase in the aggregate as the world economy expands by factor three or by factor four as we have just seen. And so we have a problem. More energy is needed. The traditional forms of energy, the fossil fuels of coal, oil, and gas, can’t do it for us because that would create a massive intensification of the climate change problem. How big of an intensification?


That’s what I’d like to discuss, so that we get some parameters of where we are and where we’re going. This graph shows again on a logarithmic scale on the horizontal axis and on the vertical axis the income of different countries and the primary energy use of those countries, the energy consumption. Total energy use by country would include the fossil fuels, it might include wood burning, hydroelectric power, geothermal energy, wind and solar power, nuclear power or some other forms for instance biofuels. And what is done in this graph is for every country in the world to measure first the total output measured as the gross domestic product, and then to compare that with the total primary energy use. Which can be expressed in a number of ways, in units of kilowatts, or kilowatt hours, it can be expressed in tons of oil equivalent energy where, you take the amount of energy in one ton of oil, and then for all the other kinds of energy, whether it’s coal or gas or hydro and so forth, you look at the amounts of, of energy available from that resource and convert it as if it were tons of oil that had that much energy potential. And then express all the different energy sources with these conversion factors as a tons of energy equivalent amount of primary energy use. What you see when you graph the total output of an economy versus its energy consumption is essentially a straight line, though of course the countries don’t fall exactly on this upward sloping line. What this line signifies is that a doubling of the size of an economy tends to be associated with a doubling of primary energy use. Energy use scales alongside in proportion and in relatively constant ratio with total size of the economy. So, as the economy grows the energy use will tend to grow along side it. Save for break those in technology that allow for greater energy efficiency.

Lets look quantitatively at how much energy we use and what that implies for how much carbon dioxide we therefore emit into the atmosphere and what that implies for how much climate change we’re causing.

If you look at the amount of energy use by country you find that, roughly speaking, this is on average because countries differ, but they don’t differ all that widely. For every $1,000 of total production in the economy, the total energy use expressed in tons of oil equivalent tends to rise by about 0.19 tons of oil. What is 0.19 tons of oil? These are metric tons. So, a metric ton is 1,000 kilograms. So, 0.19 of a metric ton is 190 kilograms. So let me put it again this way. $1,000 of production, on average, expressed in, $2,005, let me add one more, parentheses, is associated with about 190 kilograms of oil use, or an equivalent amount of energy contained in coal or natural gas or one of the other non fossil fuel forms of energy. That gives us the scale of how much energy we use for each $1,000 of production. Now, if you look at the mix of, the energy sources in the world, mostly fossil fuels, but also some nuclear power, some wind, some solar, some some charcoal from trees some biofuel say from sugar cane converted to ethanol for automobile use as in Brazil. On average, every ton of oil equivalent energy is equivalent to about 2.4 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. In other words burn a ton equivalent of energy, and you put up more than two tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.

How much CO2? That depends on exactly which energy source you’re using. If it’s nuclear power, zero, because nuclear power is not a fossil fuel, and therefore nuclear power does not by itself create carbon dioxide emissions. If it’s coal, it’s higher than that average because coal, being almost all carbon with some impurities, when it burns, creates CO2 with little other energy created by the coal. And so coal creates the most carbon dioxide emissions per unit of energy of any fuel. Gas, and natural gas and oil emit less. So coal for a ton of coal burned, you get about four tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the air. For a ton of I should say not for a ton coal but for a, an amount of coal equal in energy to one ton of oil. That’s the right way to say it. You get about four tons of CO2 emission. For one ton of oil, you get about 3.1 tons of CO2 emission. For the amount of natural gas equivalent to a ton of oil in it’s energy content, you get about 2.4 tons of CO2. And for hydroelectric power, for solar power, for wind, zero.

632So, you can see why those energy sources are highly desirable from the point of heading off climate change. Let’s summarize again.Each $1000 of production requires a 190 kilograms, or 0.19 tons of oil equivalent of energy. And each one ton of oil equivalent on average is associated with 2.4 tons of CO2 emissions. So let’s do the arithmetic. Expressed in $2,005 used for this illustration, the world economy at 2010 was at about $68 trillion. $68 times 0.19 tons of oil equivalent per $1,000 times 2.4 tons of carbon dioxide per ton of oil equivalent energy turns out to be 31 billion tons of CO2 emission, and viola, that’s what the world released into the atmosphere in 2010 by virtue of its fossil fuel use.

So you see we can measure the size of the economy times the energy use per unit of economy, per $1,000, times the amount of CO2 released per unit of energy. And the result is a very big number, 31 billion tons of carbon dioxide released. We also put CO2 into the atmosphere as humans in other ways. We chop down trees. And when we chop down trees, the carbon that was stored in those trees is released into the atmosphere if the trees are burned or, or decay. And so carbon that was sequestered biologically is released into the atmosphere as well. That adds a few billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions in addition to those caused by fossils fuel use. Little more arithmetic. For every ton of CO2 put into the air, just a bit less than half of that stays in the air, because some of the CO2 dissolves in the ocean, some of it gets sequestered in plants and trees back on Earth. And so, of the one ton that’s put into the air, approximately 0.46 of that or 46% of what’s admitted into the air, stays in the air. And the other 54% typically is stored in what are called natural sinks, the oceans or the land.

Now, that means that if we put 31 billion tons into the air, a little over 14 billion of those tons stayed in the air. Is that a lot, 14 billion tons, for our big atmosphere? Well we can make that calculation.

We can look at the total volume of the atmosphere, how many molecules are there. How many molecules of CO2 have been put up in those tons? You have to get out your chemistry text to do that. And what you find when you do that is that for every 7.8 billion tons of carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rises by one part per million. So that’s the translation factor. To raise the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, which is filled with nitrogen and oxygen, and many other mole-, types of molecules. To raise the CO2 by one molecule per each million molecules of all kinds in the atmosphere, you have to put into the atmosphere 7.8 billion tons.

So this gives us now a quantitative sense of what we’re doing. If we have put 14.2 billion tons staying in the air, and 7.8 billion tons raises the carbon dioxide concentration by one part per million. Then the amount that we emitted into the atmosphere in 2010 from fossil fuel use, raised the, carbon dioxide concentration by about 1.8 parts per million or, nearly two molecules for every million in the atmosphere were now CO2 it raised in CO2 concentrations.

Is that a lot? Yes.

Is it frightening? Yes.

Let me show you why. We look again, at a graph of the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere on the planet Earth, over hundreds of thousands of years. And the concentration of CO2 fluctuates for normal process, even putting humanity out of the story, over geologic time these levels of CO2 rise and then fall and then rise and fall as part of the long run carbon dioxide cycle. And that cycle is driven in important part by systematic changes of the earth’s orbit. And if you look at this reconstruction of the carbon dioxide concentration of the atmosphere over the last 800,000 years starting all the way to the left-hand side of the graph, the first peak you see is the carbon dioxide rose to a little bit over 250 parts per million. Then it fell to under 200 parts per million. Then around 700,000 years ago it rose again to nearly 250 parts per million and then it fell again, then it had another peak at 600,000 years ago, and so forth. So you go up and down, up and down, driven by natural changes of the Earth’s orbital cycle, but then as you move to the right that means coming closer and closer to the present on this graph. Suddenly, something really weird happens. Instead of going up down up down up down, it suddenly goes up, up, up, up, up, up, up. Shoot straight up. Just in the last 100 years of this 800,000 year graph. That’s humanity burning fossil fuel. Thank you, James Watt. Great invention. Great idea.

You made possible the world economy, but now look at the situation. CO2 soaring. How high does it go? Far higher than anything we’ve seen on this planet for 800,000 years, indeed for 3 million years. In 2013 it reached 400 parts per million. A CO2 concentration the likes of which we have not seen on the planet Earth for millions and millions of years. What the climate scientists tell us is, that this kind of change is consistent with a significant rise of temperatures on the planet. Indeed if we reach, say 450 parts per million of CO2, we are very likely to be living on a planet that on average is two degrees centigrade warmer than before the industrial revolution. Now two degrees centigrade might not sound like much, but it implies even larger increases of temperature in the higher latitudes and it implies massive changes of the Earth’s climate, of rainfall, of droughts, of floods, of sea level increase. So we’re talking about changes in CO2 concentrations that when translated into global warming, and into climate change more generally, are extremely large and extremely dangerous and happening now.

How fast are they happening? If we’re at 400 parts per million today, and that’s rising by about two parts per million each year, you can see that to reach 450 is just 25 years from now. My word. We can’t even change it at world energy system at, at that rate. So we’re on a trajectory that is very fast, and very troubling. And, add in to the fact that that’s assuming we stay where we are. Now think about tripling the world economy and tripling the amount of energy used, and if we do it using the same energy mix that we have right now, we’d be increasing CO2 not two parts per million, but five or six parts per million within a few decades. In other words, if we don’t change course we are on a path of extraordinary peril.

Where because of our fossil fuel reliance, we would be seeing mega-droughts, we would be seeing mega-floods, more extreme storms, more species extinction, more crop failures. A massive sea level rise over time, and a massive acidification of the ocean as that CO2 dissolves into the ocean, produces carbonic acid, and reduces the pH of the ocean. We have to change course, and we have to change course quickly. More quickly than the politicians are telling us, by far.

But there’s good news, let me not leave us in despair. We have powerful technologies at sharply falling prices for solar power, for wind power, for energy efficiency, for smarter systems that can economize tremendously on energy and shift us to low carbon means. We’re going to revisit some of those methods very shortly.

Growth within Planetary Boundaries II

Growth Dynamics

Now that we’ve emphasized the planetary boundaries, let’s see how hard the challenge is from the point of view of the economic growth.

We have a world now of 80 to 90 trillion dollars a year, 7.2 billion people. Approximately $12,000 per person per year on average around the planet. But the rich countries are roughly three times that average level, say $36,000 per person per year. Suppose that the poor countries, the developing world, successfully caught up with the rich world, closed the gap. That by itself would imply a three time increase of the world output, just the catching up process. Even putting aside the fact that the rich countries are still hoping to achieve some more economic growth of their own. Taking into account that in addition to the increase of total output that would come from catching up, the world population itself is also rising, from 7.2 billion people now to more than 9 billion by mid-century. To almost 11 billion at the end of the century according to the medium fertility forecast of the United Nations.


Well that means that the three time increase at our given population might amount to a four time increase taking into account the population increase as well. So imagine our situation. Our situation is one in which humanity is already causing big dislocations on the planet. But here’s a world where six-sevenths of humanity lives in developing countries. They’re looking at the high income world, they’re saying we want to live like that. In fact, they’ve deciphered a lot of the key to that, how to mobilize technology, markets, education in order to be able to have that catching up growth. And that would imply a four time increase of world output. How could it be? Could we withstand four times the human impact on the planet? Of course not. We can not even withstand what we’re doing right now. So the key, the central point of sustainable development is, that in order to reconcile economic growth and planetary boundaries we have to grow in a different way. We have to have different approaches to using energy, different approaches to transportation, different approaches to growing food in a safer and ecologically more sustainable manner.

Right now I want to look at that total increase though a little bit more carefully. A little bit more analytically. To ask, what could we expect? If we are able to solve the problem of the environmental crisis, what could catching up growth deliver in terms of aggregate output in the world in the coming decades? To do that we start with the concept of convergence.

Remember that economic convergence means that poor countries have a tendency to grow faster in output per capita, or gross domestic product per capita than do the rich countries. The reason poor countries have that chance to grow faster is not that they’re better, but because we all share similar technologies, access, knowledge and so forth. The reason they’re able to grow faster is that they have a gap to catch up. They are not yet fully using the technologies and the know-how that are already more deployed in the high income world. So a poor country has a kind of backlog that it can quickly take on of more advanced technologies to narrow the gap with the countries in the lead that we say are at the technology frontier. To understand this is, sometimes economists draw a downward sloping curve of the kind shown in this picture. You see that on the horizontal axis is a country’s level of development as a fraction of the US, the frontier country, the country at the high end of the income curve. And on the vertical axis is the growth rate of the country.


Now what’s graphed here in the solid line is the theoretical curve that says that for countries that start poor at the left hand side of the graph, their potential growth is high. And countries all the way on the right-hand side, where their income is close to the U.S. level per person, are at a lower point on that downward-sloping curve, meaning that their potential growth is lower because they have less catching-up space. And then what’s shown on this graph is the actual growth rates of a number of selected countries between the years 1990 and 2005. Lo and behold, the actual experience of countries, for instance the rapid growth of China which started quite poor, and the slow growth of Finland which started quite rich, basically fits this downward sloping line. So convergence is not only an idea, it is a practical implication of growth that we observe in, in recent years. Now, based on the experience and based on statistical analyses that have been done of this tendency towards convergence, again meaning faster growth in the poorer countries, there’s a kind of rule of thumb. The rule of thumb goes something like this. A country that is at half the income level of the country in the lead can grow about 1.4 percentage points per year faster than the leading country.

Let me give me an example. Say the United States is at $50,000 per person per year. A country at $25,000 dollars per person per year having some head room for fast growth would grow about 1.4 percentage points per year faster in GNP per capita, GDP per capita than the United States. So if the US has a growth rate per person of 1%, then the country at $25,000 would have a growth rate of 2.4% per year. Now consider a country half of that level. $12,500, so that’s one fourth of the US. Add another 1.4% per year, so that makes 2.8 percentage points per year faster than the US. So if the US is growing at 1% per annum in per person terms, a country that starts out at $12,500 per capita would be growing at 3.8% per year, 2.8 percentage points faster than the US growth rate. Well each time you cut by half the starting point of income. You raise the expected growth rate, or the average convergent growth rate by another 1.4 percentage points per year. So that a country that is 132nd say, of the United States that would be a country at about $1,562 per year just dividing 50,000 by 32. Country at 1,500, pretty poor country, maybe a country in Sub-Saharan Africa would have so much headroom that it could grow seven percentage points faster than the United States. So if the US is growing 1% per year per capita, that very poor country could be growing at 8% per capita. You get the idea. The idea is the poorer the starting point, assuming no poverty trap or other fundamental barriers to the growth of that country The headroom for rapid catching up is bigger, and one can calculate based on the statistical evidence the extent to which the growth rate will tend to be faster than the high-income country.

Now what happens over time? The poor country narrows the gap with the richer country by growing faster if it started 132nd of the income of the US, maybe some decades later it would be at a quarter of the income of the US. Then, later still, half of the income of the US. As the gap narrows, so too does the growth of that lagging country slow down. So there’s a convergence of living standards gradually over several decades, and also a convergence of growth rates. The poor country starts out very fast growing and then as it becomes richer and richer and richer, and closer and closer to the technological leader, its growth rate too therefore slows down and eventually, gradually converges with that of the technological leader. And I keep using the United States as the example of that. Let’s take a practical example of this quantitative rule. In the year 2000 the high income world had an estimated GDP per person, or gross world product per person, I can say averaging over the whole world, of about $35,000. And the developing countries had a GDP per capita on average of about 6,900 ,or let’s say $7,000 per capita. In this example if the high income countries grow at 1% per year in per capita terms, then we can calculate that given that initial gap from 35,000 down to 7,000, rounding these numbers, the poorer region should be able to grow about 3.2 percentage points per year faster than the richer region. So the convergence ideas predict that developing countries on a whole would grow at about 4.2% per year, developed countries would grow at about 1% per year. Add in a population growth rate of say, 1% for each, just being very rough. That says that the developing countries would be growing at a little over 5% per year, the developed countries at around 2% per year, because population growth is even faster in the developing countries. Maybe that would push the growth rate up closer to 6% per year compared to 2% per year for the high income countries. That’s more or less what we have been observing in recent years.

The convergence theory helps us to understand why the developing countries are achieving, enjoying faster economic growth than the high income countries. Now, if we trace this out for the next 40 years after 2010 to mid-century, and assume, that’s just an assumption, that the high income world averages 1% per year. And that the poorer regions catch up gradually with the high income region along the lines of that convergence formula that I just described. You get a kind of a graph shown here, and it’s shown with a logarithmic scale for the vertical axis. The countries start out quite far apart basically a 5-time advantage of the high income countries. But they narrow to the point where the high income countries are only 2-times, not 5-times, larger than the developing world by the middle of the century. Well what does this imply for total world production? Because remember we want to understand this to see what kind of pressures are being implied by this kind of total world growth.


To do that we now have to add back in population dynamics. And for that, we can use the United Nations forecasts of the world population. And the UN taking note of our starting point and fertility patterns, estimates that from 7.2 billion today we will reach 8 billion people sometime early in the 2020s. And we’ll reach 9 billion people somewhere around 2040. And we will exceed 10 billion people in the second half of the 21st century, and by the end of the 21st century in the medium fertility scenario of the United Nations the world will reach about 10.8, almost 11 billion people. That’s shown in this graph here. Again, it’s shown with a logarithmic scale for the vertical axis. Why? Because with that scale the slope of this curve tells us the proportionate rate of growth of the population, so that when we see the curve leveling off by the end of the century it also means that the growth rate of the world population is slowing to a low number. Today the world is growing at about 1.1%. For 7.2 billion people, 1.1% means an additional 75 million people or so added to the world population each year. By the end of the century the growth is much closer to zero to stabilizing the world population, and that’s what’s signified by this flattening of this curve in this logarithmic scale for the vertical axis.

Well we can use the population forecast combined with the convergence idea to give us a sense of what the size of the world economy might be by mid-century. If things go smoothly without disasters, and heaven knows how many disasters are possible and how many we need to fight to avoid. But assuming we don’t have the disasters and assuming that the scale of the planetary boundary challenge can be met so that this kind of convergent growth can continue, then the world economy would rise from around 82 trillion dollars in 2010, rounding a bit because these are all approximations, to around 272 trillion dollars by the middle of the century. In other words, more than a three time increase by the middle of the century. Now that’s a reasonable measure of the huge magnitude of our challenge.

We start with the world already bursting at the seams, with humanity pushing against planetary boundaries. Then we take into account the powers of economic convergence and the desires of poor countries to narrow and eventually close the income gap with the rich world. And that implies a more than threefold increase of world output by the middle of the century.

That’s why we have to think very, very hard about how our economies function because we know there is no way that on a business as usual path we could achieve sustainable development. Business as usual will burst through the planetary boundaries, will create havoc with the climate system, havoc with the water supplies, havoc with the ocean acidity, havoc with the survival of other species. In order to reconcile the growth that we want with the ecological realities, we are going to need our economies to take a fundamentally different course. That’s what we’re going to look at next.

Growth within Planetary Boundaries I

The Planetary Boundaries 

We’ve been talking about economic growth, how it started, how it diffuses, what the big problems are, how countries still trapped in poverty can spring free of the poverty trap. But the problem, we know, is more complicated than that. What if the world achieves economic growth? What if the poor countries, as they hope and rightly deserve, catch up with the high income countries? What then for the planetary boundaries? What then for an environment already under tremendous stress? Remember that sustainable development makes a key point, that economic, social and environmental systems are interlinked.

So, I want to focus now more deeply on how we might even conceive of bridging this terrible problem of global economic growth, the good that we want, the progress for poor countries, with a worsening environmental crisis. We have to understand the environmental systems and how humanity is effecting them. Then we have to look for practical approaches. How we can reduce the pressures that humanity is placing on the climate, on the oceans, on the land, or other species. So that we can reconcile these two objectives and indeed, make it possible to achieve all three of the basic goals of sustainable development. Economic growth, fairness and social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

Remember the concept of planetary boundaries or the fact that we’re living in as new geologic era, the anthropocene. Both these concepts, planetary boundaries and anthropocene, signify that humanity has become so numerous, our 7.2 billion people and rising, and so effective one could say, so productive in the capacity to mine and extract resources. To transform resources for production in industry, to consume, that we have suddenly, unprecedentedly as a species, hit these planetary risks and even dead ends if we’re not careful. The concept of planetary boundaries, I think it’s an extremely useful one, because when world leading ecologist Johan Rockström and many, many other leading ecologists got together, they asked the question in specificity. What are the major challenges coming from humanity’s impact on the physical environment? Can we identify those challenges? Can we quantify them? Can we identify what would be safe limits for human activity so that we can begin rather urgently because we’re late to this.

611To redesign our technologies and our economic growth dynamics so that we can have economic improvement while staying within the planetary boundaries. You’ll recall the picture that we looked at of the planetary boundaries around this circle. And I want to say a few words about each of these so that we can begin to look deeply at the question of how to reconcile growth and these various environmental threats. The first of the challenges and the biggest is climate change.


This is being caused by humanity’s use of particular technologies. Especially fossil fuels and the way we use land and grow animals and food that produces atmospheric change in the form of rising concentrations of a few particular gasses. Carbon dioxide is the most important of these. Nitrous oxide, methane and a few more industrial chemicals are the greenhouse gasses that have the property that they allow the sunlight in as ultraviolet radiation. But then, when the earth would re-radiate its heat to space, they trap energy in the form of the outgoing infrared radiation and thereby warm the planet. So these greenhouse gases are very particular molecules that have the property that they absorb infrared radiation.


And so when their concentration in the atmosphere increases, that warms the planet. It’s because of these greenhouse gases that life is possible in the way we know it, because that envelope of the atmosphere has made the earth warmer than say, the moon, which lacks an atmosphere. And is very, very cold as a result. But at the same time, if we perturb the greenhouse gas concentrations, raise them by raising the CO2 or the methane or the nitrous oxide in the atmosphere, then we endanger ourselves and other species. The second of the planetary boundaries is related, ocean acidification. This also comes from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere which is increasing because of human use of coal, oil, and gas. The oceans are being acidified, made more acid, by the fact that the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere dissolves in the ocean producing carbonic acid. And because of this acidity, various kinds of animal life, corals and shellfish and lobsters and very small plankton that also have these external shells made of calcium are threatened by the increasing acidity which makes it hard for the species to make their protective shells. Now, the pH of the ocean has already decreased by 0.1 unit on the pH scale from zero all the way to 14, the least acidic or basic end of the pH spectrum. A change of 0.1 in the pH oceans doesn’t seem like all that much. But this is a logarithmic scale. So, what a decline of 0.1 signifies is an increase of protons in the ocean of 10 to the 0.1. Or about 0.3, 30% increase of acidity in the ocean already with a lot more to come. If you look at this map of the ocean, you can see the changes that are already being noticed on average in different parts of the world.The oceans are not uniformly becoming more acidic. That depends on ocean dynamics. But the shading of this colored map shows that we’re already in an environment on a trajectory of dangerously rising ocean acidity. The third of these planetary boundaries is ozone depletion.

We learned a while ago accidentally, but thank God, we learned it, that certain industrial chemicals, those that were used at the time for refrigeration, mainly. Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, when put into the air, would rise into the upper atmosphere, dissociate, and the chlorine in those CFCs would then cause the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere to dissociate. And a famous, horrifying finding was that there developed a big hole in the ozone over Antarctica. And when that was discovered by satellite of course people were rightly terrified. Because the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere protects us from too much ultraviolet radiation, saves us from skin cancer and many other harms. And humanity realized that this planetary boundary was already being crossed, the ozone was already being depleted unwittingly by us. This is what’s so frightening, we didn’t even know it until some brilliant atmospheric chemists unveiled the mechanisms by which these chlorofluorocarbons deranged and destroyed the ozone level.

614The next of the planetary boundaries is the heavy human caused loading of nitrogen and phosphorus. When farmers grow more food, you’ll recall that they put soil nutrients into the soil as organic fertilizers and as chemical fertilizers. Either way, incidentally, the nitrogen goes into the soil, some of it gets taken up by the crops. But a lot of it runs off the farm into the water, into the groundwater, and it collects in the rivers, and especially collects in the estuaries, the point where rivers meet the ocean. And that heavy pollution of nitrogen and phosphorus coming mainly from fertilizer use is creating a tremendous amount of ecological destruction.

We’ll have a look at that shortly. The next big challenge of planetary boundaries comes from our overuse of fresh water resources. We need fresh water every day to stay alive. Our crops need fresh water.


Of the total amount of fresh water that humanity uses, about 70% is used for agriculture, to grow our food. About 20% is for industry. And about 10% only, interesting enough, is for our household use, for hygiene and sewerage and, and and the rest. We use so much water, especially for our food production, that we are depleting very, very important sources of fresh water. For example, in the United States, in India, in China and in other parts of the world, we’re drilling for water in, in ground water aquifers, we are taking the water out, using it for irrigation. But taking the water out at a much faster rate than the water is being replenished by rainfall, and then by the water percolating back into the groundwater.

We’re depleting the groundwater. When it runs out, disaster. And that’s happening in many places in the world and will happen in many other places in the coming decades unless we are much more efficient in our water use. To grow food to feed our animals of course, humanity uses a massive amount of land. We also use land for our cities, for our parking lots, for our streets. But actually the urban areas, even though they seem to dominate, are only a few percent of the total land area on the planet. The farmland and the pastureland and the timberland that we use for forest products is a much, much larger proportion of the total land area. And humanity has been grasping over history for more and more land, more and more pasture land, more and more crop land. After all, the human population as we know has increased roughly ten times since the Industrial Revolution. That requires a lot more farmland to feed the 7.2 billion of us. The problem with that is that we share this planet with other species and as we grasp this land for our farmland, for our pasture land, for our timber land for our palm oil plantations and many many other uses.


We are literally chasing the other species away and off the planet into extinction in many cases. Our land use is having devastating consequences on biodiversity. The next category identified is aerosol loading. Small particles put up into the air because of industrial processes, or households that are burning coal into keep warm. And creating tremendous amount of air pollution, very damaging for the lungs. Claiming many, many lives per year. And with a heavy impact also on changing climate dynamics. Then there’s a very broad category of chemical pollution. Our petrol chemical industries, our steel industries, mining industries, not only demand a tremendous amount of land and water for their processing, but they add a tremendous amount of pollutants back into the environment. Many of these pollutants are persistent, they, they last in the environment, they accumulate, they can be very deadly for humans, for other species. And the range of chemical pollutants is so vast and the human and animal and plant health consequence is so large that it’s absolutely impossible to summarize, except to say that the problems are horrific in many places. China, the world champion of economic growth over the past 30 years, has also become the champion of polluted waterways of major cities, because of the extent of the heavy industrial processing.

And this all sums up to a final category of biodiversity loss. The death, the extinction of other species. We’re killing more animals and plants than we even know, than we’ve even met and catalogued scientifically, because we’re chopping down rain forest, poisoning environments, acidifying the oceans. Creating so much pollution and poisoning. That species are disappearing even before we’re able to identify and catalogue the millions of other species that share the planet with us and that we share with them. We are not stewards of global biodiversity right now. We are posing absolutely profound challenges. And when it comes to biodiversity loss, one could say that all of these planetary boundary threats, the acidification, the climate change, the land use patterns, the pollution, they’re all contributing to the loss of species, probably by the millions. It’s actually hypothesized, shocking as it may seem, that humanity is now causing the sixth great extinction wave of the planet earth. The other five, the first, for example, 440 million years ago. The next one, the second, 365 million years ago and so forth, weren’t caused by any species, weren’t caused by human beings, since we weren’t there. These were natural dynamics, whether it was, asteroid hits or whether it was the internal dynamics of the earth itself. These were natural processes. This sixth mega-extinction is not natural. It is the result of one species, that would be us, causing so much damage on the planet that we are putting millions and millions of other species at risk. And, since we depend on those other species, of course we are putting ourselves at profound risk. We are also creating a hugely unstable environment.


My colleague, professor James Hanson, recorded the extreme heat events on the planet from the 1950s till now shown in this series of maps. If you look at the map for 1955 and look at the dark red areas, you see a few places on the planet where there were heat waves in the June, July, August months of the year. And when you see those, you see that they were very particular places such as in, in Canada. Because of climate change, the number of those red splotches on the map which signify extreme heat, in that location, unusual to a massive extent for that locale, has been increasing in frequency very dramatically. You look at the map of 1955, just a couple of red regions. Have a look at the map of 1975, 20 years later, now there are a few more dark red regions of the map signifying places where extreme heat waves gripped those places. But, now jump ahead another 30 years or so to 2006 or 2007, suddenly the map is all red, it seems. The planet has been in engulfed by what was an extraordinary shock 30 years ago becoming common place now. We all know it, we’re feeling our own heat waves wherever we are. And being amazed year after year as new and very uncomfortable and often very dangerous records are set in very high temperatures gripping different parts of the planet each year. But what these maps are showing is that the frequency of these extreme events is absolutely shocking. Well, these are the planetary boundaries that have been identified. We know that we are already pushing against the limits. A

nd our question, in the coming analysis, is how can we think that that growth that we’ve been trying to decipher and promote can be reconciled with environmental sustainability and staying within these planetary boundaries when we already have so much challenge. That is our question, as we now delve more deeply into the intersection of economic growth and planetary boundaries.

A Short History of Economic Development II

The Industrial Revolution Starts in England

Modern economic growth began in England. It’s strange. We know it. We can watch it. This unique phenomenon in human history after millennia where living standards did not change very much. When suddenly population and output per person began to soar. Started in a particular place on the planet. It didn’t start in five places, it didn’t start in eight places. It wasn’t separate discoveries. It started in England. We can watch it. And therefore we can understand how this came about. I sometimes feel it’s a little bit like a biologist being able to watch the start of life. The first bit of life that emerges that gives rise to all the rest. What’s so interesting about life and one of the reasons why I view it as an analogy for an economy is that we know that every kind of life on this planet shares some basic metabolism and DNA structure. And so the biologists have said life appeared once and from there it has evolved and it has created a biosphere, a world of millions and millions of species. It all started, presumably, from a cell. Modern economic growth also has a kind of DNA. It also came together from a number of different materials and viola, something took off. Also, in a way, a living property because a growing economy gave rise to forces that continued the economic growth once it took off. If it were so easy to create economic life, it would’ve happened many places. We would have records of long economic growth in China, long economic growth in different parts of the world. But as John Maynard Keynes rightly pointed out, we did not see that in human history. So what happened in the Industrial Revolution as we call it, in the middle of the 18th century in England, in my view was a unique coming together of various forces, that allowed life in the economic sense to take off. That first cell of a modern economy that became replicating and that eventually spread to the entire world economy took off. Well what is it about the Industrial Revolution? I think let’s take a hint from the word, industry itself. For the first time a society moved beyond agriculture as the base, to one in which industry was the base. This required a fundamental change of know-how, of technology, of technical advance. But just like life itself requires a lot of interaction of the components of the cell, so too the life of an economy requires many things to come together. Technology is certainly a core part but connecting the different parts of the economy, the rural area where people are growing food, the factory towns where workers are working in factories producing textile goods, steel new output, those interconnections are needed as well. The food has to get to the city. The manufactured goods, the shirts and clothing are sold back to the farmers. That requires transport, that requires a market, that requires exchange. And so for the Industrial Revolution to come together in England in the 18th century many things had to be present. First agricultural productivity starts to rise. I wouldn’t call it yet scientific farming, but I would call it very systematic and evidence-based farming. Farmers learning, better rotations for crops, how to replenish the soil nutrients. There was more urbanization, more trade, a market economy taking hold, property rights, rule of law beginning to take hold. Of course, there was the wonder of the scientific revolution. Isaac Newton had shown that our world in physical terms is governed by natural laws. This opened up a completely new way of understanding things and it opened up new avenues of practical exploration as well. One of the great breakthroughs came from 1712, even before the Industrial Revolution but maybe you can say it was the start of it. The invention of a steam engine by Thomas Newcomen. The first steam engine, burning coal to create motive force, was used to pump water out of the shafts of mines. It was the beginning of the revolution of steam engines and of, of technology. And then came a, wonderfully creative targeted genius who working in a university lab in Glasgow in, in Scotland realized that Newcomen had made a couple of design mistakes even though it was a great breakthrough. James Watt looking for profit as well as for glory, said, I can improve on that steam engine and the Watt steam engine in 1776 came to life. I think it’s fair to say this was the breakthrough from a technological point of view of the industrial era. And in a way, it was the technological trigger of all that followed. Because now it was possible to harness massive amounts of energy efficiently, economically, effectively, to make profits. These are the components that come together in England uniquely. But of course, we have to understand always that without nature playing its helpful role, it would have been impossible for all of the genius of Newcomen and, and Watt if there were no coal in England. And there never would have been a steam engine or Industrial Revolution. Coal, iron ore deposits that could be turned into a modern iron and steel industry. Wonderful transport conditions on rivers on flat land the proximity of the coal fields to London. The ability to build canals to connect the coal fields with the, the new factory towns and allow for low-cost barge traffic. All of this is an example of the very special conditions in which nature and nurture, you could say, the human ingenuity, the spur of profits, the patent law, the rule of law, the market economy came together to make possible this industrial revolution. Have a look at the first individual who gave a modern description of this even though he did not mention industry itself all that much especially not the steam engine because it was occurring exactly the same year he published his wonderful work. You’re looking at Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations. I think rightly called the father of modern economics. Think James Watt produces the modern steam engine in 1776. Adam Smith publishes The Wealth of Nations in 1776. The American colonies declare their independence and the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in 1776. Quite a year for a takeoff. Putting together the concepts of a modern economy governed by market institutions, technological advance, the availability of crucial natural resources, making possible the birth of a new kind of economic life. Adam Smith explained the workings of a modern economy. He gave us the idea of the invisible hand of market forces helping to spur inventors, manufacturers, farmers so that working together, not through literal cooperation but by trading in the market place, could bring about a modern market economy. And one of Adam Smith’s wonderful lines from The Wealth of Nations explains, and I quote, it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity, but to their self-love. And never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages. In other words we buy from the baker, the brewer, the butcher. It is through market transactions that have them producing their products, buying from the farmers. It is from the manufacturers selling their goods,earning and looking for profits that make the modern world economy work. And we know the images of that early modern era. James Watts, steam engine. The new factory towns with the coal burning and, and the smoke coming out of the high chimneys. The new modern form of transport in the early 19th century, the steam engine pulling railroads and transforming transportation around the world. The steam ship and the new factories that are now powered by not human or animal traction as was before people pulling and pushing machines or animals pulling plows, but now steam providing a massive, unprecedented amount of energy. To drive the new industry to make possible an unprecedented rise of a modern world economy combining the natural resource base, the technological knowhow and a spreading market economy. Now one of the stunned observers of this, one of the critics of of some of the harshness of early industrialization of course was none other than Karl Marx. And Marx and his co-author Friedrich Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto in 1848 a kind of ironic tribute to the power of this new, modern economy driven by these breakthroughs in technology, changing the world in a unique way. They caught that mood, even if they didn’t like it or fully understand of course what would evolve. And even if they rightly pointed out some of the harsh downsides, especially in that era, it’s worth listening to Marx and Engels, how they describe this new world in 1848. And I quote. Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has in its turn reacted on the extension of industry and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended in the same proportion, the bourgeoisie, the new capitalist class developed, increased its capital and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages. A new world indeed had arrived. The Industrial Revolution had brought form, forth a new kind of economic life indeed. A unique form that created the modern era of economic growth.