Friday, April 16, 2004

New Book Says Farming is Biggest Global Environmental Threat

Inefficient farming practices result in deforestation, pollution, ocean degradation and species loss, and are the most serious environmental threat in the world today, according to a new global survey by Dr. Jason Clay, head of the Center for Conservation Innovation at World Wildlife Fund.

Agriculture wastes 60 per cent, or 1,500 trillion liters, of the 2.5 trillion liters of water that it uses each year. Water resources are already being used close to or beyond their limit, particularly in the Americas, North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, China, and India. The impacts of global warming are likely to further disrupt water supplies.

"Agriculture has had a larger environmental impact than any other human activity and today it threatens the very systems we need to meet our food and fiber needs," said Clay. "New kinds of agriculture can produce the food needed to feed an increasing population and still accommodate all other life forms on the planet."

One area where this is most glaringly obvious is in the northern plains of China where overfarming and overgrazing have created the largest dustbowl in history.

Trying to fight the advancing deserts, China has resorted to a policy of planting billions of trees around the desert in an effort to contain it. Since 1982, 42 billion trees have been planted. Last year the effort involved more than 560 million people.

But success has proved elusive.

By one measure, the huge program appears to have achieved little. It is sandstorm season in China, a sky-darkening, lung-choking phenomenon involving wind-borne dust from the Taklimakan and Gobi deserts that plays havoc with aviation in northern China for weeks, cripples high-tech manufacturing and worsens respiratory problems as far downstream as Japan, the Korean peninsula and even the western United States.

According to a recent report by the United Nations Environmental Program, the average number of sandstorms in China has grown from 5 in the 1960's to 24 in the 1990's. The Chinese Government itself reports that the country's deserts are expanding at a rate of 3,800 square miles a year. Indeed, some of the country's largest deserts appear to be merging.

Ultimately there is no bandaid that can patch up an unsustainable economy and population. Only a radical changeover to a sustainable culture can end the problems that plague us.


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