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Back in the 1960s, widespread famine was averted by the Green Revolution, a transfer of agricultural technology to developing countries that massively increased farming yields and lifted hundreds of millions out of hunger and poverty. At the time, the global population was just 3 billion.
Today we’re at 8 billion people, and still the food system has managed to keep up. In 2019, the production of primary crops — things like cereals, fruits and vegetables — reached 9.4 billion tons globally, 50% more than in the year 2000. But all that food production comes at an enormous cost. Agriculture is a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions and almost 40% of the Earth's surface is used for farming.
On the latest episode of Zero, environmental journalist and campaigner George Monbiot argues that status quo is a disaster for our planet. Agriculture is “one of the greatest causes of water pollution, of air pollution, and of climate breakdown, as well,” he says. “And the sort of lion's share, or cow's share, of that is caused by livestock farming.”
Monbiot’s proposed solution is not a return to the organic, small-scale farming of picture books — pasture-fed animals are a “wasteful, profligate, destructive way of producing our food,” he says — but once again rising to demand by embracing new technologies. He also predicts “a great flowering of new diets, of things we can't even conceive of, any more than the first Neolithic farmers to capture a wild cow were thinking about camembert.” No matter what, Monbiot argues, the food system of the future will require a radical rethink.
Listen to the full conversation below, read a transcript here, and learn more about Zero here.
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