Energy's Role in Growing a Sustainable World Food Supply
Shell president, Marvin Odum offered ideas and solutions for meeting the world's mounting energy needs in Friday's panel discussion, "The Earth in 2050: What is the Stress Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water?"
When asked to name the most important thing we can do to combat hunger at the Aspen Ideas Festival's "How Can We Feed 9 Billion of Us?" panel, Dr. Helen Gayle, president and CEO of CARE USA, gave a quick answer: prioritizing agriculture in the developing world.
Development food aid has plummeted in recent years, she said, and it accounts for less than one percent of the federal budget--well below the ten percent that, according to polls, American's estimate when asked how much of the budget they think goes to food aid.
Hunger around the planet fell consistently for most of the second half of the 20th century, but in the mid-1990s it began rising dramatically. Today, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates nearly a billion people are undernourished. This steep incline is due to three factors: the global economic crisis, neglect of agricultural aid for the very poor by governments and NGOs, and rising food prices worldwide.
Spending more, and more wisely, on food aid, Gayle said, will contribute to a healthier and more peaceful planet. One change in the right direction, Gayle noted, is a change proposed in the 2012 Farm Bill, which would allow up to $40 million in food aid to be spent on purchasing from local and regional farms in areas affected by poverty--ameliorating the immediate problem of starvation while helping shore up agricultural operations.
Hunger isn't unique to developing countries--19 million of the world's hungry live in developed countries."There is food insecurity here in our backyards--hunger is hunger and malnutrition is malnutrition. It just takes on a different form in more developed countries," said Lauren Bush, the founder of FEED, a project of the World Food Programme to sell hand bags and provide food for undernourished children.
One of the causes associated with the last decade's spike in food prices is the increasing price of oil--an input central to each part of the food production chain--from fertilizer for seeds to fuel for distribution trucks.
Marvin Odum, the president of Shell Oil Company, is moving his company, and hopefully someday the world, away from its reliance on oil, he said in the panel "The Earth in 2050: What is the Stress Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water?" In 2012, for the first time ever, Shell Oil Company will produce more energy in the form of natural gas than oil. Shell forecasts that by the year 2050, as much as 30 percent of the world's energy supply could come from renewable sources, Odum said. He is particularly focused on solar power and hydrogen fuel.
Still, the challenges are substantial. "If we're going to feed everybody in the world in this next 40 years, we are going to have to produce more food than we have in the last 8,000 years," said former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
Absent an astounding technological breakthrough, accomplishing that task will require an extraordinary amount of energy. Demand worldwide is expected to double by the end of the next century, Odum said.
Meeting future energy needs while mitigating stresses on the environment will be difficult, Odum said, but also an opportunity. Starting this year, Shell will begin installing liquefied natural gas pumps at gas stations to encourage a switch to natural gas for automobile fuel.
Strongly and equitably enforced environmental regulations can move the whole industry forward together, and cap and trade programs will, if implemented, persuade companies to think seriously about CO2 emissions, both at existing facilities and future ones. "Not only do we have a responsibility," Odum said, "but also an opportunity to lead."
More from Solutions for Seven Billion
The way our world uses energy, food and water is, in effect, one massive bet against the clock. At the Aspen Ideas Festival, leading thinkers and innovators proposed solutions to our global population issues.
Just as it has been the solution to our resource challenges of the past, only innovation will allow us to meet the sustainability challenges of the future.