Dodd Center: Working towards sustainable food
Published: Friday, October 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 25, 2013 00:10
“There are ecological limits that we are not meant to exceed,” speaker Olivier De Schutter warned at the Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series this Thursday at 4 p.m. at Conover Auditorium in the Dodd Center. “We have exceeded three of these ecological limits since as far back as 2009…These impacts show our systems are not sustainable.”
Schutter’s lecture entitled “Towards Sustainable Food Systems: A Tale of Three Transitions” presented a focus on today’s food systems and their social, health and ecological impacts on our world.
Schutter urged for a change in the world’s current practices dealing with food production and practices because, as of now, the outlook does not look pretty.
The three ecological limits that Schutter referred to were climate change, biodiversity loss and the nitrogen cycle.
From his presentation Schutter relayed that the increase in temperature on the Earth’s surface is likely to increase from anywhere between 1.5 to as high as 4.8 degrees Celsius. This, accompanied with the unprecedented loss of species and the 130 million tons of nitrogen removed from the Earth per year – only 10-15 percent of which is replenished – all work together to create an environmental scenario where our current food systems and processes will not be able to prosper or even sustain.
Not only is there ecological worry, but there is a social element as well. Schutter showed statistics of those in society who suffer from the most hunger were the smallholder farmers. The people that should be supported to help promote our sustainable agriculture are in turn the people who are suffering the most. According to Schutter, health risks are also on the rise, with problems reaching as far as desperate hunger to morbid obesity and micronutrient deficiency within the same country, which he referred to as “The Double Burden.”
Schutter showed how the low cost food economy that has been created over the years has caused a viscous cycle in which competition between small scale and large scale farmers, who are usually backed by government, cause the small farmers to fold, thus moving into the cities where social services become overburdened, creating a dependence in low price imports which then leads to more small scale farmers not being able to compete.
“But these issues,” Schutter said, “can be seen as an opportunity.”
Schutter uses this moment to call for a “bottom up” approach to change where those that once had different interests can now be fighting for a common cause: the bettering of society, people’s health and the environment. Schutter called for more social interaction. He believes it all starts with the people – citizens becoming involved, working with politicians to invoke change and moving up the chain to scientific researchers who are battling greenhouse gases and attempting to create cleaner energy sources.
Schutter realizes that a “dominant regime,” as he called the system in place today, is difficult to change.
As the system evolved to its current status many different aspects of the system evolved together such as technology and growth in population.
This makes it difficult to change only one aspect of the system because all of these factors are connected to and rely on one another.
But Schutter does not seem to fear this. He believes that starting with the citizens is where the best change can begin.
He called for the idea of “triple loop learning” as a starting point. Where citizens question their role in the system and find ways that they can change to have a positive effect towards more sustainable food systems.
Schutter believes this focus on social practices is where the strongest foundation for change and better alternatives will thrive. When we learn our role within this system, understand that we can change it and continue to call more groups to work together for a common cause – true change can happen.