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Nurture the oceans: Save the Earth

The Role of the Ocean in Climate and Food Security for Asia
Ian S F Jones and Toru Sato
Columbia University and Tokyo University

Publisher; ??????, NY, 2006

ISBN X XXXX XXXX

Contents

Preface

Prologue

1. Today's challenges 10

2. The Club of Rome revisited 27

3. The nitrogen cycle and the production of food from the land 36

4. The carbon cycle in the ocean 53

5. The production and sequestration of greenhouse gas 69

6. Consequences of climate change 79

7. Achieving climate security by utilising the ocean 92

8. Ocean nourishment for food security 107

9. The future course 119

Acronyms and Units

Countries of Asia

References 122

Acknowledgements

Index

 

Preface

The population of our planet is clearly facing a major crisis in the struggle to provide adequate food for its burgeoning numbers. This crisis is exacerbated by the threat of anthropogenic climate change - the danger of reduced agricultural efficiency as the earth's rainfall patterns change.

 

While the food crisis is not restricted to the continent of Asia, it is however in that area that the reason for concern is most pressing. Asia contains the three most populous developing countries and already there are at least 500 million people who are malnourished and fear starvation.

 

At a symposium held at Tokyo University in November 2001, an international group of experts including engineers, oceanographers, meteorologists, marine biologists, agricultural economists, and fishery managers discussed the ocean's role for food and climate security in Asia. They examined how to sequester carbon and how the ocean food web might be strengthened.

 

From their ideas we have constructed a simple hypothesis: that salvation from a Malthusian crisis can come through enhancing the productivity of the ocean. We should consider it an exciting opportunity to eliminate starvation amongst the poor and at the same time to mitigate the effects of climate change. Our aim is to encourage people to adopt a new way of thinking about the ocean; to consider the opportunities thereby to supply more food for mankind in a sustainable and economical manner; to use this new resource to combat poverty and, as a consequence of an improved standard of living, to increase education, the key to population control.

 

The role that the ocean could play in improving mankind's lot has long been neglected. We hope this book may inform people of the opportunities to bring about change before we over reach the ecological limit of the planet.


Ian S F Jones

T Sato

Sydney, 2006

 

Prologue

The difficult question facing mankind today is how to feed the rising population of the world now that agriculture has exploited most of the suitable land. There are hundreds of millions of people who are struggling to obtain food and shelter for themselves and their children.

 

The problem is particularly severe in Asia. Asia, containing the three most populous developing countries - China, Indonesia and India - will experience a population growth of 1.6 billion within the next 50 years, raising questions about the ability of the available land to support the population. Past agricultural practices have already degraded large areas of productive land, dissipating the improvements from the Green Revolution. As well, thousands of years of intensive agriculture have left little unexploited land. And if that which is forested were cleared for agriculture, the carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere would accelerate the current climate change. There are presently five hundred million people suffering from malnutrition in the Asian region.

 

One approach is just to accept that widespread hunger and malnutrition is inevitable and will continue. Another is to talk of more intensive agriculture on the land with greater reliance on monoculture and industrial fertiliser.

 

The first approach is morally indefensible. It is also against the self-interest of the prosperous, well-fed western nations, who since the increased awareness of the effectiveness of terrorism must realise the danger there lies in gross inequality in the distribution of resources. While dramatic inequality exists, terrorism will remain a popular weapon of the underprivileged and disadvantaged. While the abjectly poor cannot mount an effective terrorism event themselves, their plight fuels resentment that gains the support of those with resources to take up the cause of their brethren.

 

The second approach - to rely on more intensive agricultural methods rather than subsistence farming - is already being pushed to the limit of sustainability. It was the invention of synthetic nitrogen in the 1920s which allowed the higher yields of the so-called Green Revolution. Productivity has risen in Asia and the area under cultivation has increased. The cost has been environmental problems on the land.

 

With increasing knowledge, people have changed from energy supplied by humans and animals to energy supplied by fossil fuels. In this last change lay the seeds of trouble. A by-product of burning fossil fuel is carbon dioxide - a heat trapping gas that stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. With this property, carbon dioxide has the capacity to change the climate and change it rapidly. While the climate has been changing for the last thousand years, going through the cold period in the fourteen hundreds and warming in recent times, the burning of fossil fuels accelerate these changes. The future rate of change may be too fast for the earth's eco-systems to adapt, as they have to the slower changes of the past. Agricultural productivity in many parts of the world may decline rather than increase. We have climate insecurity to compound the problem of increased numbers of mouths to feed.

 

We will be considering the potential of the oceans to reduce these threats. Hunting and gathering of fish has continued from early times without a worry about the productivity of the sea. We have now come to the limit of this exploitive use of the ocean. Fish catches are constant. Is this a wise way to use the sea? If, instead of opportunistic exploitation, we nourished the ocean as we do the land its productivity would rise. Efforts to date to take up farming of the sea have been to provide enclosures for aquaculture. It is not aquaculture that will feed the poor. Enclosure fish farming is labour and capital intensive and produces high cost food for the luxury market. What is needed is the relative efficiency of expanded wild fisheries to provide economical protein and allow the escape from poverty of millions.

 

How can we manage the sea to produce more fish? We nourish the ocean as we do the land! Unlike the land, the sea is not in private hands. Away from the shoreline it has survived as a "common", available to all. While the process of nourishing the ocean may require advanced technology, the process of catching wild fish is a traditional skill of the artisan fishermen. By enhancing the ocean's capacity to produce food by the addition of nutrients, new opportunities in fish management in the ocean commons will arise.

 

As well as increasing fish production, Ocean Nourishment will increase the sequestering of carbon from the atmosphere into the ocean. This mitigates the greenhouse gas effect that is exacerbating climate change. Nourishing the unproductive parts of the ocean to increase its productivity is an attractive strategy for managing the climate. Moreover, selling carbon credits can bring hard currency for Low Income Food Deficient countries such as India, while overcoming food shortages.

 

Production of more protein is not enough. If it only leads to fewer deaths from malnutrition, the population could be expected rise even more quickly until it had used up this new resource. But life should be more than mere survival. Hunger limits the cognitive capacity of the poor to obtain education. Without adequate protein the cognitive skills of humans are reduced. Education allows people to benefit from the wisdom of the past and the technology of the present. Education is what is needed to reduce malnutrition by allowing the poorest to increase their output. With increased education and prosperity comes the reduced birth rates needed to tame the population explosion. Many of the fanatical that threaten peace and stability, have been denied liberal education. Modern education and adequate nutrition are required by all.

 

We have the knowledge but won't apply it. Why do so few in the developed world care? Is the problem too large? Are there ecological risks that exceed the potential benefits? To attempt to answer these questions we need to discuss the workings of the ocean and its role on climate. We also examine the prospects for land based agriculture to provide the food at a price that can be afforded by the poor. This does not seem likely. Thus we need to see if it is practical to increase the bounty of the sea. Since management of the land has been less than perfect, are humans qualified to now undertake the manipulation of the ocean?

 

These are the topics we intend to address. Lastly we need to see how additional cheap food can reduce the rate of growth of the population, how a better standard of living and literacy might allow a choice about size of families. In the end we will conclude that we should nourish the ocean to save the earth.

 

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