Sydney: Everyday an
average person gobbles up 4.1 litres of diesel fuel, 29 kg of soil
and 2.2 tonnes of fresh water, according to an Australian study,
which describes 'eating' as taking a big toll on the Earth's
"That's what it takes to feed the typical human being - and when
you multiply it by seven billion people, our food system is
devouring a huge amount of resources that are increasingly hard to
replace," science-writer Julian Cribb told the Australian Academy
of Science in Canberra.
Cribb, who has authored "The Coming Famine: the global food crisis
and how we can avoid it," says that an average person's "eating"
probably leaves their largest personal impact on the planet - but
most people are unaware how great it is.
In his paper to the Second Australian Earth System Outlook
Conference, Cribb warns of a series of 'tipping points' - points
of no-return - that will be reached by the global food system in
the coming half century, unless there is radical change to farming
systems, cities and the world diet.
"Take soil. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation,
half the planet is already degraded, and we're losing around
75-100 billion tonnes of topsoil a year, mostly into the oceans.
Soil takes thousands of years to form, so it is not going to be
replaced any time soon," according to Sciencealert.
"Despite progress in places like Australia, soil degradation is
getting worse, not better. Some scientists say we could run short
of good farming soils within 50-70 years. This is what's driving
today's global land-grab - which has so far swallowed an area as
large as western Europe," it said.
Cribb says the picture is similar for water, with more than 4,000
cubic kilometres of groundwater being extracted - most of it
unsustainably - every year. Places such as north China, the Indo-Gangetic
region, the Middle East and midwest US face critical scarcity by
At the same time, there is a huge worldwide grab by megacities and
gas companies of farmers' water - making the task of feeding the
world much harder.
"Regardless of when you think peak oil is or was, world car
production is growing 8-10 times faster than oil production - so a
major oil shock is increasingly likely. Since food accounts for 30
percent of global energy use, there could be a very large impact
on world food prices and supply," Cribb says.
However, Cribb says, what most governments and commentators on
food security have failed to recognise is that scarcities of
water, land, oil, nutrients, technology, fish and finance are now
acting in synergy - and being amplified by climate shocks.
"Because these scarcities are operating in sync, we are likely to
reach tipping points in the food system much more quickly and
unpredictably than many people realise," he said.
"There is still time to act - but the action must be fast and it
must be universal, as globalisation means everybody is now
affected by food prices, supply and the conflicts and migratory
floods that arise when the food chain fails," Cribb added.
Cribb also says there are opportunities for major new developments
in food production, including a 300 percent growth in world
aquaculture, a massive new industry in algae farming to produce
food, feed, fuel and plastics, a spectacular rise of urban
agriculture and totally new ways to produce low-cost food
sustainably with bio-cultures.