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Climate change debates are everywhere right now. Two days of extra sun in Britain (in the middle of summer) and the world is ending.
This post is an attempt at a rationally optimistic perspective, focusing on food and the future investment that will be directed towards sustainable agriculture.
Someone has to balance out the bandwagon of doom.
Full disclosure, this is being written by a climate-change sceptic (but not a climate-change denier). The author is not sceptical about climate change itself, but is sceptical about the human capacity to interpret a complex and chaotic system accurately.
Once you spend enough time around economists, quants and markets, you become very cynical about models.
Especially models aimed at interpreting a chaotic world (emphasis added). 👇
Small differences in initial conditions, such as those due to errors in measurements or due to rounding errors in numerical computation, can yield widely diverging outcomes for such dynamical systems, rendering long-term prediction of their behaviour impossible in general.
This can happen even though these systems are deterministic, meaning that their future behaviour follows a unique evolution and is fully determined by their initial conditions, with no random elements involved.
In other words, the deterministic nature of these systems does not make them predictable. This behaviour is known as deterministic chaos, or simply chaos.
The theory was summarized by Edward Lorenz as:
Chaos: When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.
Chaotic behaviour exists in many natural systems, including fluid flow, heartbeat irregularities, weather, and climate
And our ability to understand how things work is always in doubt.
If you doubt that statement, take a look at this chart. 👇
That's the annual number of global flights each year. The Wright Brothers first flight was in 1903. There were nearly 600 million flights across the last 18 years alone. We've even had supersonic Concorde! Yet engineers still can't explain what keeps planes in the sky...
So, perhaps we need to be humble about our abilities to fully understand something as complex and chaotic as the climate, and cautious about extrapolating current trends too far into the future.
However, there's plenty we can do. Loads of initiatives are already under-way to improve our enormous food & agriculture system, which is paradoxically essential to our survival while also being one of the biggest sources of emissions and pollution...
Citi released a detailed report yesterday that's packed full of facts, figures, charts and information, albeit with the usual garnish of corporate jargon.
As is common, the data suggests that our efforts will be futile. But we won't give up. Nature has always tried to take us out. We adapt, survive and thrive. It's the eternal dance.
Reaching net zero emissions and limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C or even 2°C is not possible without tackling emissions from the global food system.
In fact Clark et al. (2020) state that even if all non-food system GHG emissions were immediately stopped and reach net zero, emissions from the global food system alone, under a business as usual scenario, would likely exceed the 1.5°C temperature limit.
Therefore, it is clear that limiting global temperature increase to 1.5°C requires the world to reduce emissions from both the use of fossil fuels for energy purposes and emissions related to the global food system.
Put on your marketing cap, and this is probably why the public doesn't seem to care ("it's futile"), while activists believe we're practically extinct already and think immediate, radical action is the only solution.
The Challenges 👇
Tackling emissions from the global food system is challenging for a number of reasons:
1. The system is extremely complex with millions of farms, thousands of companies, and billions of consumers. Governments, international organizations, financial institutions, and scientific institutions also play an important role in this sector.
2. Food security issues are always at the forefront of government’s minds. This leads many governments to enact policies and legislation that are inadequate due to short-term thinking, which affect global food trade and the environment.
3. Reducing emissions from this sector is not easy and there is no silver bullet. It requires the adoption of multiple solutions throughout the whole system — from farm to fork.
4. Collaboration of key stakeholders is required, including farmers, processors, retailers, consumers, governments, and financial institutions, among others.
5. Investment is required, which in some cases is deemed to be too risky due to the nature of the sector.
Innovation and disruption is the name of the game 👇
And when it's broken down like that, each component seems achievable. It's the scale that looks most likely to be the constraint.
Vertical farms are already getting bigger and better 👇
And last year we wrote about RNA innovations that are set to increase crop yields, and even make them more drought-resistant 👇
As long as everyone believes that the threat is existential, capital is set to flow into these efforts and more.
The first agricultural revolution came after the end of the ice age. Are we on the brink of a new agricultural revolution?
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