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Book Launch for Hot, Hungry Planet at The Wilson Center

The Wilson Center recently published a story in the New Security Beat about my book launch event last month. “There is a real need for breakthroughs about how these complex social and environmental problems can be tackled, and I believe they can be tackled together,” I said at the Wilson Center on May 3. “Part of the challenge of this book is to challenge people across the world to start thinking outside of the box.” It’s a time for businesses, academia, governments, NGOs and ordinary people to work toward solutions to a more sustainable food system.

At the book launch, Nabeeha Kazi of Humanitas Global Development said, “We are in an unprecedented time, and I mean that in a very positive way…At all levels, we have tremendous knowledge that we need to reconstruct our food system, that it needs to adapt to climate change, and it also needs to reduce the harm that it’s already caused through our existing practices.”

Channing Arndt, a senior fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), provided further context. He said, “The good news is that there is quite a lot of scope to sustainably increase food production,” especially in developing countries. But solutions will not be easy – or fast. Smarter agriculture that is both higher in productivity and more environmentally sound requires higher levels of education, he said, and efforts to improve these systems take time to implement and see the results of.

I recently learned that several university professors plan to use my book in their classes. Please let me know if you are planning to do the same.

To read about the book launch and find a link to the video archive of the event, please continue reading on the New Security Beat.

Behavior Frontiers: Can Social Science Combat Climate Change?

Roughly 44 percent of Californians smoked tobacco in 1965. By 2010, 9.3 percent did—a shift that might have seemed impossible before it happened. Understanding exactly how such a social transformation occurred in the past may prove key to understanding how individuals might alter their behavior to help combat climate change in the future.
By studying past instances of social transformation, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) hope to predict future change in response to global warming as part of California’s Carbon Challenge—a study commissioned by the California Energy Commission to help the state cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels. LBNL energy technology scientist Jeffery Greenblatt and his colleagues are analyzing  technology options as well as data records from 10 historical behavior changes—smoking cessation, seat belt use, vegetarianism, drunk driving, recycling and yoga, among others.
For starters, Greenblatt is examining the full mix of technical advances in both the supply and demand of energy that could possibly help meet the target, including more efficient electric motors, better insulation, intelligent controls for energy, as well as fluorescent and LED lighting. But even all of these technological advances may not get California to its mid-century mandate alone.
Individual choices could close the gap, according to historical data. Because smoking cessation data and seat belt—use statistics have around for decades, scientists have a good grasp on so-called adoption rates, or how much behavior change is ultimately possible. Historical data also explains how long it takes for change to stick. For example, tobacco smoking has been in a steady decline since the 1960s with all sorts of factors driving this trend—improved science and epidemiology, education through labeling and advertising campaigns, and greater public awareness of risks—all of which could be applied to behaviors that contribute to climate change. “Watershed events and labeling can play important roles in transforming change. The 1964 Surgeon General report is an example [of a watershed event] and subsequent labeling for cigarettes was a big factor,” says energy researcher Max Wei of LBNL, adding that he imagines far more carbon or environmental labeling to inform the public.
By identifying the hurdles, policies and incentives used to, say, dissuade smokers from lighting up, the LBNL team says they can better pinpoint corresponding elements related to persuading individuals to alter their energy use. “We’re eliminating the squish from what has often been known as the squishy science,” Greenblatt says. In total, the team is looking at 23 different energy behavior areas—from telecommuting and public transit to wasting less food—and projecting these well into the future. 
Consider, for example, some of the obstacles in switching to a vegetarian diet, which can save more than three metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. Changing one’s diet can be difficult because it requires new food habits and learning about alternative sources of protein and iron. Cultural barriers  such as gender, race, ethnicity, education and where you live are also involved: white men in the Midwest eat considerably more beef than their compatriots on the coasts, and education is inversely proportional to beef and meat consumption. There’s also a perceived lack of pleasure associated with going meatless because many carnivores perceive vegetarian diets as boring. In addition, historical data on rates of people adopting a vegetarian diet have risen from 0.9 percent in 1991 to about 3 percent in the U.S. now, suggesting that actions perceived as involving sacrifices of comfort or pleasure are not adopted widely. The LBNL scientists have identified several energy-saving behaviors that share the obstacles of forgoing comfort and pleasure. Line-drying clothing, for instance, results in stiff fabric that can be scratchy on the skin; shorter showers can feel cold and rushed; and setting the thermostat higher in summer can make a person feel too warm.

Parallels exist, too, between what drove the increase in seat belt use to what might encourage people to turn off lights and computers. In the 1980s, seat belts were not widely used, just as turning off lights and computers when not in use are behaviors that few Americans commit to now. But a public information campaign for seat belt laws ultimately convinced motorists to use seat belts; so too turning off lights and computers could benefit from similar campaigns. “Not wearing seat belts can [also] carry the threat of fines,” notes Wei, a tactic that could be considered to encourage energy efficiency.

Realistic expectations
Unlike private organizations that target short-term consumer electricity savings, such as OPOWER, Greenblatt and Wei are using their behavior analogs to determine the full potential rates of adoption for energy saving measures. “We are assuming that if a campaign is designed as well as possible based on past experience, we would achieve a certain percent of participation,” Greenblatt says.

Such “realistic adoption rates” grounded in past data can help quantify household actions. “We expect the behavior change savings to be higher than the two percent OPOWER observes, and probably higher than some other previous studies,” Greenblatt says, adding that it’s too early to tell how  significant the household savings could be.

Such savings are key as U.S. households are responsible for 626 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, nearly 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and 8 percent of global emissions. That amount is larger than the emissions of any other country except China and larger than the emissions of any U.S. industry.

Still, ecologist and sociologist Thomas Dietz of Michigan State University remains optimistic. “I often hear energy experts who have never studied behavior say that behavior doesn’t change,” says Dietz, who is not involved in the LBNL project. “But if we learn anything from the last 50 years, it’s that behavior changes in huge ways.” Dietz led a study of household energy consumption, published online August 31, 2010, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, that looked at the effects of programs trying to influence energy use, many of which were very effective. “We also looked to programs that have tried to change other kinds of behavior for analogies. I’m glad to hear that others are following this line of work,” he says. “It’s one of the best tools we have for getting a realistic estimate of what behavioral change can accomplish.”

Dietz explains that even very conservative estimates suggest a change in energy use behavior by households could lead to over a 7 percent reduction in total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, or more than 1.5 percent of global emissions. To put this into perspective, that reduction is 44 percent of the goal that President Obama set for the nation, roughly equal to the total emissions of France.

This story originally appeared in Scientific American

Green Appetit-How one food-service company is trying to transform America’s food system, one sustainable purchase at a time.

In the processing department of a fish supplier in Alaska, the director of purchasing strategy for Bon Appétit Management Company, a California-based food-service company, noticed chunks of salmon left on the skin after workers boned and filleted the fish for market. “What are you planning to do with these?” she asked the fish processor, who told her the remnants would be crushed and thrown into Prince William Sound. Seeing opportunity where others saw waste, she offered to buy the small pieces, called trim, if the supplier shipped them to San Francisco.

Once there, the trim was delivered to chefs employed by BAMCO, who were challenged to do something innovative with it. They created salmon burgers, salmon pad thai, salmon tacos and a wide variety of other meals.

The 26-year-old company, which serves 150 million meals per year to corporate employees, university students and museum goers in 32 states, has a long history of leadership in sustainable practices. Eliminating food waste like trim is just one example. Each of its 500 locations is under the direction of a chef who is required to buy at least 20 percent of produce from suppliers within 150 miles, a mandate that began back in 1999 when Maisie Greenawalt, vice president of strategy, established BAMCO’s Farm to Fork program. Another program, the company’s Low Carbon Diet, asks chefs to cut use of beef companywide by 33 percent, cut the use of cheese by 10 percent and eliminate airfreighted produce. And BAMCO was among the first food service companies to address the issues of antibiotic overuse, sustainable seafood, humanely raised meat and eggs, and farmworker welfare.

By empowering chefs to independently support sustainability, BAMCO is attempting to create the kind of food system it wants to see in America, rather than proceed with the industrial food system’s status quo. “How can we use every single part of our business to create that food system?” asks Greenawalt.

“There is no food service company that is close to Bon Appétit’s leadership on animal welfare issues.” – Josh Balk, director of corporate policy for the Humane Society’s farm animal protection campaign

The food service industry as a whole is increasingly moving toward sustainability. Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, a restaurant franchise and food product company, offers organic selections, serves vegetarian meals, and buys only sustainable seafood, cage-free eggs, crate-free veal and pork raised without gestation crates. Similarly, among other initiatives, the fast-food restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill buys 100 percent of its pork from suppliers that don’t use gestation crates or antibiotics. Meanwhile, the large supermarket chain Whole Foods buys local produce, procures large quantities of meat from producers that treat animals humanely, and has collaborated with the Marine Stewardship Council, Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium to make its seafood selection as sustainable as possible. Even Burger King has gotten on the bandwagon, offering veggie burgers and promoting meatless Monday.

But BAMCO’s long history has made it a leader in such efforts. “There is no food service company that is close to Bon Appétit’s leadership on animal welfare issues,” says Josh Balk, director of corporate policy for the Humane Society’s farm animal protection campaign. “Specifically, their commitments of switching 100 percent of their eggs to cage free, eliminating gestation crates in their supply chain and sourcing … animal products from farms that pass third-party certification programs from credible animal-welfare organizations.” By 2015 at least 25 percent of the company’s meat and eggs will be from sources whose humane practices have been verified by four such organizations.

“We put a stake in the ground, and we want to make it a reality of what we promised,” says Greenawalt, adding that the company still has a lot of work to do to meet its 2015 goal of procuring pork raised without gestation crates. “The problem is, we don’t have enough suppliers lined up,” she says. “We are making promises faster than producers are making changes — and we are even willing to write the bigger check!”

While most of the company’s efforts have been in support of local producers, BAMCO’s focus is also international. When company chefs requested tilapia, it enlisted the help of Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch to find the only tilapia producer in China producing the fish sustainably (less than 5 percent of tilapia is produced in the U.S.). Despite its red list of all tilapia from China at that time, the Seafood Watch program gave BAMCO the green light as a commercial buyer. Why? “Because it would send a signal to everyone else in China that if you change your practices, you can get more sales,” says Greenawalt. “So we buy from one particular producer in China as a way to create a carrot incentive for the other producers to change their practices to be more environmentally preferable.” As a whole, China’s tilapia production has improved since the time BAMCO first started buying from its sustainable producer. Now tilapia from China is no longer red-listed but labeled a “good alternative” by Seafood Watch.

Large-scale factory farms are the company’s next target. “We’ve always supported small, local growers, but how can we change the big growers?” asks Greenawalt. “They’ve gotten away with a lot by being nameless and faceless to most consumers.”

Though not the biggest food-service company, BAMCO looks to punch above its weight, so to speak, and create change. “We are always pushing and striving to think of ways to leverage our brand and purchases to exert more pressure than our size commands, in order to make changes in the supply chain,” Greenawalt says. Still, Greenawalt understands that success in any area of food will only come if the product is something consumers will want to eat. “Don’t think we are so focused on sustainability that we forget that,” she says.

This story originally appeared in Ensia

Artificial Islands Mimic Nature’s Way of Cleansing Water

Keeping lakes and rivers healthy is a challenge for cities around the world as runoff adds nutrients, development eats up habitat, landfills pollute and wastewater stagnates. Wetlands and marshlands along waterways cleanse water, protect biodiversity and reduce erosion. But wetlands and marshes take a long time to develop naturally. So, how can humans help? Inventors are finding solutions by looking to the natural world.

Anne and Bruce Kania of Montana-based Floating Island International are working to bring a concentrated wetland effect to any body of water through biomimicry. Their water management work is inspired by the kind of floating peat bogs found in waters across northern latitudes.

Municipalities, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, private organizations and many others from California to New Zealand have commissioned the floating islands for lakes and waterways because the islands clean polluted water, provide nutrients for fish, contribute to species habitat and sequester carbon. More than 5,000 islands have been built from a nonwoven matt of filter material made of recycled plastic (think loofah sponge made from recycled soda bottles) that is seeded with native plants. In the company’s early days, it created mostly small, backyard-pond-sized swaths. More recently, though, FII has focused on larger islands, like the one in Lake Rotorua, New Zealand, which spans roughly 55,000 square feet.

This story originally appeared in Ensia

The power of procurement: can sustainable purchasing save the world?

October 24, 2013 — By Lisa Palmer

In 2008, students at the University of Texas at Austin left an average of just under six ounces of edible food on their lunch plates, which food service workers measured during a five-day waste audit. A year later, after identifying reasons for the waste and implementing programs to reduce it, such as better quality food, sample tasting and getting rid of trays, students reduced food waste by 48%.

According to Jason Pearson, of the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council, reducing food waste in higher education is one of the major ways sustainable purchasing can help improve the planet.

Waste seems the unlikely focus of a purchasing group, but as Pearson sees it, the goal of his organization is to “buy less and buy better.” The Council officially opened for business this summer. It has been five years in the making and is closely modeled on the United States Green Building Council’s LEED certification program. By developing a system of guidance for best practices, measurement and recognition that can be applied to a wide array of organizations, buyers can be much more strategic in their sustainable purchases, Pearson says.

Take the example of higher education. Of all the goods and services they purchase, 65% falls into five categories: electricity, food, fuel, agriculture and food products, and waste services. Roughly 85% of the environmental impacts in their supply chain can be attributed to those five categories, Pearson explains. Reducing food waste also reduces the social and environmental impact of those purchases in at least three categories: food, agriculture and food products, and waste services.

Outside of higher education, hotels chains, public institutions, and corporations face similar challenges. These challenges reflect those the green building market encountered in the 1990s before the LEED program offered sweeping guidance to builders and developers. With a flood of new products and services making green claims, and both buyers and marketers are increasingly frustrated by the bounty of options. People need clarity around what claims are legitimate.

Universities and colleges have been at the forefront of sustainable purchasing, along with federal, state, and local governments and Fortune 500 companies, because their sustainability goals tend to track carbon emissions of their supply chains. By zeroing in on each of the purchasing categories that contribute most to greenhouse gas emissions, purchasers can become more strategic in how their purchases affect the environment.

Yalmaz Siddiqui, senior director of environmental strategy at Office Depot, is a founding member of the Council. As a supplier, he says the Council provides a clearing-house that examines the environmental impacts of purchases. He says that clear guidance will help Office Depot, and other suppliers, provide the best prices for sustainable goods and services that impact the environment the least. In his words:

“The main thing that the SLPC can offer is a macro level view of what methods exist to reduce social and environmental impacts through purchases with a combination of life-cycle analysis and eco-label standards, and to help people focus on what matters most.”

“At the moment we’re sort of accidentally buying greener products without necessarily stepping back and saying, ‘What are we trying to do?’ And what we are trying to do is reduce the environmental impact of organizations through the way people buy. There’s a lot of interest in this area with a plethora of approaches, and none of which necessarily addresses ‘Where can we reduce the impacts the most?'”

Siddiqui says that by identifying the hurdles to making sustainable purchases, suppliers can have a clearer market signal on which products have the least impact on the environment and provide better pricing.

“We’re now in the zone of independent creation where the City of Portland has one approach, one position and one methodology of green procurement, the federal government has another, Target has another, JP Morgan has another, and and so on, so it’s not efficient both with the intellectual power going to independent efforts and by connecting the value chain.”

Over the past five years the Council has been developing a system of best practices that can be applied to a purchasing program and result in a certification. Like the LEED certification program, the program is trying to make buying green an easier task for procurement professionals in governments and large institutions, as well as service providers such as hospitals, hotels, banks, airlines and schools, which together account for about 75% of all consumer spending.

Between 6,000 and 7,000 procurement professionals control the vast majority of institutional buying. Their purchasing power, if well coordinated, has the potential to drive sweeping change in greening supply chains – a far more feasible task than trying to change the mindset of six billion people.

This story originally appeared in The Guardian

Vineyards take action as climate change threatens wines and livelihoods

October 3, 2013 — by Lisa Palmer

The French know a thing or two about wine. But in the not too distant future, some French wines might not come from their namesake regions.

That’s because climate change is altering growing conditions in wine-producing regions, and grape production long associated with regions further south is beginning to shift to new areas.

“Climate change will produce winners and losers among wine-growing regions, and for every region it will result in changes to the alcohol, acid, sugar, tannins and colour in wine,” says climate scientist and wine expert Antonio Busalacchi of the University of Maryland.

Vineyards are now taking action. The wine sector of France is buying up land in places like southern England as it confronts the need simultaneously to reduce risks of yield losses and continue to produce the world’s leading wines.

“Given that most grapevines produce fruit for 25 to 50 years, grape-growers and wine-makers must consider the long term when determining what to plant, where to plant, and how to manage their vineyards,” says Busalacchi, who directs Maryland’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center.

While the effects of climate change are being felt, Busalacchi says it is misleading to take a snapshot of any one year or season. “One needs to take a long-term time horizon view of this,” he adds.

Over the past four years, England has experienced a boom in the number of hectares that are producing the main grapes that are grown in the Champagne region of France – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. These three varieties now account for more than 50% of England’s total varietal plantings.

“Several Champagne houses already are looking at land in Sussex and Kent in southern England as potential sites for new vineyards because as climate warms the region is becoming more hospitable to quality grape growing,” says Busalacchi. The soil in the white cliffs of Dover is similar to the chalky substrate of Champagne, and the cost of land is 30 times less than in France.

“Climate is undoubtedly playing a part as, coupled with the international competition successes, it has led to the general growth in confidence in what we are capable of producing over here,” says Julia Trustram Eve, spokeswoman for the English Wine Producers. Acreage under vine has nearly doubled in England in the past nine years, and much of that is for the production of sparkling wine.

Warming temperatures have been noticed, she adds. “Those that planted vineyards some 25 to 30 years ago have seen a change, such as picking dates by and large starting earlier, for example,” says Eve.

The grape vine is particularly sensitive to climate variability and change, like many agricultural crops. But wine producers place much more importance on quality since temperature and precipitation affects alcohol, acidity and colour. Bordeaux and other regions in France will have a compressed growing season, and extreme events such as heat waves, which shut down photosynthesis, and hail storms, which can ruin production in a matter of minutes, will be more common, says Busalacchi. South Africa and southern Australia will see declines in wine production due to severe droughts. While South African wine producers can’t move poleward, Australian growers are looking to favourable growing conditions expected in Tasmania in the coming decades.

Some vineyards will be less affected by climate change. For instance, vineyards at higher altitudes and near the ocean will benefit from more consistent growing seasons and growing days. These include Oregon and Washington State in the US, the Mendoza Province of Argentina, and the Rhine in Germany.

So what are the options for the future? Where possible vineyards can change their orientation to a more northern-facing direction. As well, canopy management can further shade the bunches and trellis modifications can cool the canopy. Some growers can use screening to shade the vines, as some areas do, to protect grapes from birds, but this is expensive. Grapes that are genetically modified can withstand temperature and drought stress expected as the climate warms. Local appellation laws can also be changed to permit irrigation as well as warmer climate varietals, says Busalacchi.

In much of Europe, grape-growing is on small farms. The wine-growers are farmers who are at the mercy of climate and market forces. “They will always be likely to be able to grow grapes,” says Busalacchi. “The question is of what quality and what varietal.” In southwest France, overproduction is a bigger issue. Busalacchi says that in regions like Minervois and Corbières, the government is encouraging quality over quantity, “grubbing up” vines by pulling them up by the roots and replacing them with other agricultural crops, and limiting new acreage.

Are most wine producers consulting climate services for their planning? Not exactly. Despite 30 years of research on climate science, businesses are just now beginning to apply climate research to their investment decisions.

By engaging climate research to inform long-term planning, industries and communities are starting to put a value on climate services to reduce business risk.

This story originally appeared in The Guardian

What can Madagascar teach us about rice and water?

July 30, 2013 — by Lisa Palmer

The idea that a simple grain like rice could change the world may seem far-fetched. But as a growing population and climate change put pressure on a hot, hungry planet, rice is playing an increasingly important role.

Rice is a major source of calories for half of the world’s population, and how rice is grown affects yields and affects the environment. Irrigated rice is normally covered with water. Flooding rice paddies suppresses weed growth, but it also uses enormous quantities of water and increases methane emissions when plant matter decomposes in flooded fields.

Twenty-five years ago small holder farms in Madagascar began growing rice using a methodology that doesn’t flood rice paddies continuously. With aerated soil, rather than flooded fields, farmers plant single, young seedlings directly into rows along with nutrients. The rice produces deeper roots and since the field isn’t flooded, the roots of the plants don’t suffocate. The result is stronger root and larger plants that produce heavier grain. And, in addition to using less water, the method requires less land preparation and fertiliser, although more weeding is required.

Growers produce more grain per hectare, conserve water resources, and create fewer environmental impacts. The system has spread from farmer to farmer, and 2.5 million of them in 50 countries have adopted these methods.

Now, a California-based company, Lotus Foods, is promoting this agriculture method, called the system of rice intensification (SRI) by providing farmers access to a global marketplace. Branded under the More Crop Per Drop label, the company sells six varieties of SRI-grown rice, including Madagascar Pink Rice. “Flooding rice paddies uses a third of our planet’s freshwater resources,” says Caryl Levine, co-owner of Lotus Foods, adding that the agriculture business doesn’t like this method because “there is nothing to buy and it is so farmer friendly.”

According to Olivia Vent, SRI liaison at Lotus Foods, the rice is better for the planet because it uses 50% less water and 90% less seed, yet results in up to three times conventional yields. The SRI method improves root growth and enriches soil, she says.

Lotus foods began by importing 20 tonnes of SRI-grown rice from Cambodia in 2008. Now the company imports 200 tonnes in the Cambodian supply chain and nearly the same amount of SRI-rice from Indonesia. Imports from Madagascar are fragile, Vent says, due to political instability and imports of pink rice are substantially lower.

So, is that the end of flooded paddy fields?

Lewis Ziska doesn’t think so. Ziska is a plant physiologist at the US department of agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service in Maryland. He says that scientists have not been able to replicate the yields claimed by those who developed the SRI methods. Still, conserving water resources and reducing methane emissions is critical for a changing climate, he says.

According to the International Water Management Institute, one-quarter of the world’s irrigated rice lowlands, which supply three-fourths of the world’s irrigated rice, will experience water scarcity under climate change.

Vent of Lotus Foods says the environment is protected through the SRI-growing methods because the rice fields require no synthetic chemicals, which often makes its way into water systems. “So often, the water flooding the fields is connected to natural habitats. The water wasn’t getting into those places and was hurting plants and animals of the forests.

Vent adds that in Vietnam, fish life has come back in areas surround rice fields, and fishing has since become an important cash crop and nutrition source.

This story originally appeared in The Guardian