The exhibit, which will look at food production throughout history and address the challenge we currently face of feeding an ever-growing population without destroying the planet as we do so, comes just days before Thanksgiving, the nation's holiday most focused on food as celebratory act. Obviously, as this is an annual holiday, the exhibition planners no doubt planned the opening with Thanksgiving in mind. The second reason the timing is interesting, though, is due to an event that no one could have anticipated well in advance. The AMNH is located in New York City, which, along with other areas of the East Coast, is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. In recognition of these dichotomous events, Ellen V. Futter, president of the AMNH, said in a press release, "As the Museum prepares to open this comprehensive exhibition on the subject of food, we find ourselves disquietingly poised between the extremes of Hurricane Sandy--with its extensive devastation, including disruption to the food supply--and...Thanksgiving. In such a timely and vivid context, the Museum presents Our Global Kitchen, which addresses the vital and complex topic of food from the perspectives of the environment, food supply, and human culture."
The irony was not lost on the 300 or so environmental scientists, policy makers, activists and citizens who gathered earlier this week at the Aspen Institute for three days of solution-seeking around the theme, "Living in the New Normal." Even as participants in Aspen Environment Forum 2012 shared information, ideas and opinions, haze from the forest fires currently ravaging Colorado hung over the nearby mountains. This, more than one participant commented, is the new normal: uncertainty, extremes, unpredictability, unexpected turns of events - all brought on by humans' fiddling with the dials of nature on a grandiose scale.
Of course it's relatively easy to talk about troubles. But that's not what AEF2012 was about. The forum focused not only on defining the new normal, but also on exploring what we ought to do about it. Should we let us take it where it will? Or should we engage? Will we be tossed about like ships at sea? Or will we work to understand the changes taking shape, and shape our own activities to make both most compatible with the preservation of life on Earth?
Perhaps the best way to get a sampling of the conversations is to pull some participant quotes and paraphrases from the Twitter stream (#AEF2012):
If we continue at the present rate of eliminating species, half of them will be gone by the end of the century. - E.O. Wilson
The bulk of the credit for maintaining a planet that works goes to a living ocean. - Sylvia Earle
60,000-90,000 years ago, there may have only been 600-2,000 human beings. We were an endangered species at one time. - Richard Potts
We *have* to figure out how to close the gap - to bring environmental externalities into pricing. - Jason Clay
The past is no longer any guide for the future. This planet (w/new
climate, biosphere, land use, ocean acidification) is new. - Jon Foley
Abruptness in climate change creates largely unpredictable side-effects. - William Calvin
Eating tuna is like eating something that feeds on dragons. Very high on the food chain. - Daniel Pauly
What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic. - Neal Conan
If you're pro-free market and ignore biggest market failure on planet (CO2), you have a problem. - Gernot Wagner
We have the tools at our disposal to end overfishing. We should start tackling the problem now. - Miguel Jorge
Comparing block to block, house to house, there is 7% greater property value to tree lined streets. - Rohit Aggarwala
In public's eye, pollution is top ocean problem. In reality, it's #3, behind overfishing & climate change. - Ayana Johnson
When you say "climate" it turns people off because they fear they'll have to reduce their quality of life. - Heidi Cullen
Not climate change or global warming, but planetary destabilization. - David Orr
The future of America is networked resilient communities. - John Robb
Never eat shrimp: either caught with 90% bycatch net, or in mangrove-destroying aquaculture. - Ayana Johnson
We have to be careful about what we can measure and what matters - Daniel Pauly
We need to make climate an economic issue, because it is. - Mindy Lubber
The notion that our emergence occurred during the most violent period of climate fluctuation means that we're able to adapt. - Richard Potts
We need to preserve ecosystems as working systems, for us to learn from
and emulate in the Anthropocene. Not keep as museum pieces. - Jon Foley
Don't fish, you have zero fish. Fish too much, you have zero fish. Sustainable fishing is in between. - Daniel Pauly
Smart growth is the greatest technology we have to fight climate change, and its not in any of the books. - Peter Calthorpe
Trawling is like using a bulldozer to catch songbirds. - Sylvia Earle
For a health project she was working on, University of Minnesota sociologist Anne Meier needed to know the
average elevation, temperature and rainfall by district in Ghana,
Tanzania and Malawi. Tracy Kugler, a research associate at the Minnesota Population Center, was happy to
oblige. After about 20 hours of gathering, organizing, integrating, and
processing data from a half-dozen separate databases, she was
able to hand over Meier the information she needed.
And that, Kugler says, is why she's spending much of the rest of her
time helping to get a massive new population and environment database known as Terra Populus - TerraPop for short - up and
running. If TerraPop had been in place, Meier not only could have gathered her own data, she could have done it in well under an
TerraPop is a massive initiative of the Minnesota Population Center, the Institute on the Environment, University of Minnesota Libraries, and faculty from the College of Liberal Arts and College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, along with collaborators from Columbia University and the University of Michigan. Funded by an $8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the project is gathering land cover, land use, climate and census data from around the world and across two centuries into a common database that researchers anywhere can use to answer questions about complex relationships between people and their environment.
Perhaps the biggest challenge TerraPop faces is figuring out how to get data from many different places, gathered at many different scales, at many different times, for many different parameters, and in many different formats, together in a way that provides meaningful information.
Initially, the database will bring together individual- and household-level from selected countries, aggregated population data, and climate, and land use and land cover data. At later stages, the TerraPop team plans to expand the database to include census data from additional countries, additional environmental data, and additional dimensions of human data, such as economic and health data. A prototype system is scheduled to be available for beta-testing in spring 2013, and should be available to the public around the end of 2013.
"We expect that the system will be valuable to researchers in multiple disciplines, including sociology, demography, climatology, geography, environmental sciences, epidemiology, as well as cross-disciplinary research communities concerned with human-environment interactions, such as environmental justice, landscape ecology, hazards, sustainability, and health, and natural resources management," Kugler says. "Our overall goal is to lower the data acquisition and processing barriers involved in studying questions of how people interact with the environment."
Like to learn more about TerraPop, join the development community or be part of the beta test group? Check out TerraPop's website at www.terrapop.org.
Listen to a description of the TerraPop project here:
The issue of food production is complicated by the fact that we already use about 40 percent of Earth's land surface for agriculture, and there simply isn't much available arable land left. Increasing global cropland area would require clearing natural ecosystems and destroying the valuable services they provide.
Formatted for spherical displays (such as the Science on a Sphere and Magic Planet systems), the new film, "2 Billion More Coming to Dinner," features data sets developed by IonE's Global Landscapes Initiative, and presents challenges and potential solutions for our hungry planet.
How is global cropland distributed, and exactly how much does each area produce? With ideal fertilization and irrigation, how much could each area produce? Which regions show the greatest gap between current and potential production, and what would it take to close that gap, maximizing food production? Spherical visualizations and a conversational narrative style address each of these questions in the film.
" 2 Billion More Coming to Dinner" also considers what kinds of food we eat. To support the animals that feed us, a significant amount of cropland is devoted to producing animal feed instead of human food. A "food vs. feed" GLI data set is visualized as a global map of who produces crops mostly for direct consumption by people, and whose cropland is largely used for growing animal feed. Without offering a direct course of action, the film allows viewers to consider the data and how it might apply to their behavior.
How can you become one of these viewers? You'll soon be able to find "2 Billion More Coming to Dinner" at one of the world's 80 Science on a Sphere installations. Also, the film and its associated data sets will soon be available for free download from the Science Museum of Minnesota at sciencebuzz.org/earth. It's a fun showcase of a small part of IonE and GLI's work, and we hope people enjoy it!
Before I get to the actual conference, I just have to say, "Wow, the city was amazing!" Between the views of the ocean, vast forests and snowcapped mountains, the conference location was a smashing success (despite a few raindrops).
Within the rooms of the conference center, IonE researchers were front and center during a number of fascinating sessions.
During two separate symposia, IonE director Jon Foley pitched a plan for increasing food production while decreasing agriculture's environmental impacts. One of his more memorable quotes: "Two billion more people are coming to dinner ¬- but even so, changing diets is, and will be, a bigger driver of food demand globally."
IonE resident fellow and College of Science and Engineering professor Julian Marshall gave a talk titled, "Verifying Health and Emission Improvements from Stove Change-Outs." One of the main takeaways from Julian's presentation was that the team's research is primarily "market-driven" rather than "research-driven" - which means much of the work is being done on the ground in the community of Karnataka, India. Julian also spoke about the success of the Acara program in a separate symposium focused on addressing grand sustainability challenges through global cooperation.
Dominic Travis in the U's College of Veterinary Medicine presented an overview of the One Health Central and East Africa Network (OHCEA). Global Health and the Environment in Africa - part of OHCEA - was one of the earliest Discovery Grants funded by IonE (along with others, including USAID). The project researchers work at the intersections of animal health, human health and environment
One of the greatest things about the AAAS meeting is the diversity of topics on display. It's a science geek-fest in the best possible way! Some of my favorite sessions covered geo-engineering, marine biological diversity, the atlas of Islamic world science, planetary boundaries, indigenous perspectives on climate change and more.
The most fun I had, though, was during a session titled Bad Presenter Bingo: The Science Communication Game You Don't Want to Win. My favorite comment by presenter Monica Metzler: "You're not dumbing down science [by simplifying your slides]. You're making it accessible to your audience." Great advice, indeed.
The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.