Monday, April 7, 2008

The food crisis, climate change and the role of technology to solve it

A woman walks through a paddy field in southern India (photo credit: Meena Kadri)

Sorry to digress a bit here. There is just SO much going on, and everything is related - poverty, food, energy, water, and climate change, and the growth of technology that could change things for the better. I will have my regular post about water in addition to this.

Today there were two well-written posts, that were separately contiguous.

The first was from the people. Today is World Health Day (who knew!) and the WHO has released evidence stating that Climate Change has a significant impact on food and health. They even have a map showing areas with high death rates as a result of climate change. Not surprisingly, Africa is the worst hit, with a significant region attributing 80-100 million deaths to climate change. Read the whole post here. This was something covered by Al Gore as well in his blockbuster movie An Inconvenient Truth.

The second is from Paul Krugman of the New York Times, who wrote a brilliant summary of the causes of the impending food crisis, titled Grains Gone Wild. The World Food Program (WFP), Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) all UN agencies have stated that 854 million people are starving. Again, this starvation is primarily centered in Africa and parts of Asia, and slated to get worse with population growth. And its related to climate change.

So, the general consensus is that food and health are gravely affected by climate change. But can anything be done?? Well, obviously we (particularly those in the industrialized countries) need to be more aware of these issues and stop our own wasting. We need to stop hogging everyone else's food and messing with the rest of the world's agricultural policies. But that's an aside to my point (which has to do with this blog) about technology.

I think technology can offer a solution in the larger picture. (Please note that I believe in technology being used as an accelerator in solving a crisis; it is not the whole solution and can never be!)

Technology saved the day during the last major food crisis. Post World War II, countries all over the world were struggling with food rationing. There simply wasn't enough food produced (quite different from now, where famine is more a result of a combination of issues). Then advances in technology like pest-resistant cropping started a green revolution in many countries...the most famous of these scientists won a Nobel Prize for his work. Because climate change is such a large problem, advances in technology in every field (energy, food, road/transportation design, etc) are required to quell it. Suddenly the boundaries are blurred, and as a whole professionals and inventors in every field need to work together to solve this problem.

Technology is out there to provide a solution, but we all need to work together to make it happen. This isn't a single technological advancement needed...its a multiple technological advancement that's needed. The food crisis is just one example, one symptom in the larger issue of Climate Change.

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