16 February 2009

Farming at the core of environmental problems (APR)


Conversion from hunting and gathering to farming, a transition that allowed human population numbers to explode, lies at the heart of all our environmental problems, according to Duncan Brown.

Brown, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Wollongong, is the author of the recently published book: “Feed or Feedback”. He will address a public meeting in Canberra on Saturday afternoon (1 May).

“In farming, we have succeeded in producing a system that has worked very well for a limited period but cannot be sustained,” says Brown. “It involves two processes that are ultimately self-destructive: a positive feedback interaction between population and food supply, and the irreversible use of some essential elements.”

“If these two processes are allowed to continue, they will certainly lead to widespread destruction of our habitat, the collapse of civilisation and perhaps even the extinction of our species,” he believes.

Brown says that the first of the two processes, the one that leads to excessive population growth (more food means more people who can use their skills to improve agriculture and produce even more food which means more people, and so on), increases the extent and rates of soil degradation, of deforestation and of depletion and pollution of water resources.

He believes the writing is on the wall. “Past civilisations have collapsed because of soil degradation and it is only a matter of time before they do so again“.

The second of the processes, the depletion of nutrient elements (primarily phosphorus), also threatens the long-term viability of agriculture and in turn the ability to feed a still growing global population.

Only radical solutions will stop the collapse of agriculture, according to Brown. “We must either directly limit and then reduce the size of the global population and/or limit food production. We must also ensure that the flow of nutrient elements between the soil and human population is wholly reversible, and manage global ecosystems so there are no further losses in genetic complexity.

“We must also withdraw from commercial production all land where the growth of crops depends absolutely on irrigation, and grazing land in regions of less than 300mm rainfall.”

Duncan Brown will discuss these ideas further on Saturday 1 May at 2.30pm at Havelock House, 85 Northbourne Avenue, Turner (Canberra, ACT). Copies of his book will be on sale at a discounted rate of $35. Members of the public and press are warmly invited.

Further information:

Duncan Brown 02 4473 8501

Giff Jones (President SPA Canberra branch), Ph: 02 6286 1752 E: act@population.org.au

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