November 15, 2017
Sometimes life makes us wonder about the things outside of our control. When it comes to the environment, some people, like us, realize how that the wonder is time-restricted with drastic consequences. As a technology company that cares for the planet, we know that things aren’t so out-of-our-control as they seem. They certainly aren’t far from a needed change, either.
Considering how much human activity and actions are at fault when it comes to the welfare of the environment, we observe the critical need to pay attention to the numbers - we mean the data provided to us from populous and waste.
When the numbers come into play, we notice that everything happening to us is in effect caused by us. And it’s happening in the masses!
Earth is home to millions of species, but just one governs above all - us. We humans emerged as a species about 200,000 years ago. In geological time, that is exceptionally recent.
Just 10,000 years ago, there were one million of us.
By 1800 (just over 200 years ago), there were 1 billion of us.
By 1960 (50 years ago), there were 3 billion of us.
By 2015 (2 years ago), we reached over 7 billion!
By 2050, your children, or your grandchildren, will be living on a planet with at least 9.5 billion other people.
Towards the end of this century—give or take—there will be at least 11 billion of us.
More than that is very possible considering the rate we’re going.
Think about it.
With 11 billion people, the damage can be fierce.
Today, it seems as if we have far reached the point of no return.
For the sake of inventiveness, modernization, pleasure, and comfortability, we consume more, we produce more, and we do it all without limit—and worse—hesitation.
In this blog, we’ll share our perspective on over population and waste minimization, both of which are incredibly important to our environment.
Over-Populated, us? Yes! And it affects it all.
There are now more than 7 billion of us on Earth according to the data. As our numbers continue to grow, we continue to increase our need for more water, more food, more land, more transportation and much, MUCH more energy. Consequently, we are accelerating the rate at which we are changing our climate. In fact, our activities are not only completely interrelated with but now also cooperate with, the complex system we live on: Earth. It is important to understand how all this is connected.
Our CO2 emissions modify our atmosphere and it is affecting our water supply no matter where we live.
The accelerated use of water had started to modify our hydro-sphere. With atmospheric and sea-surface temperature rising, the cryosphere has modified and the unexpected shrinking of the Arctic and Greenland ice sheets is now, as we know, a “thing.”
Increasing use of land for agriculture, cities, roads, mining – as well as all the pollution we were creating – had started to modify our biosphere. Put another way: we had started to change our climate.
A Finite Earth with Resources to Match
Despite immense landscapes and endless blues, our planet is limited in its resources and capabilities to support its inhabitants.
We know the numbers.
The data doesn’t lie.
Planet Earth’s mass is 5.9722 x 1024 kg
Its volume is 1,083,206,916,846 km3
Its mean circumference is 40,030.2 km
Its surface area is 510,064,472 km2
Its density is 5.513 g/cm3
Its mean radius is 6,371.00 km
What it isn’t is infinite.
Our research found an invaluable statement made by Global Footprint Network.
“Humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 planets to provide the resources we use and absorb our waste. This means it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what we use in a year. Moderate UN scenarios suggest that if current population and consumption trends continue, by the 2030s, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us. And of course, we only have one. Turning resources into waste faster than waste can be turned back into resources puts us in global ecological overshoot, depleting the very resources on which human life and biodiversity depend.”
One fighter for the environment and a longtime leader in grassroots waste and recycling, Annie Leonard, puts it, “It seems impossible that we are consuming an amount equivalent to more than the total resources produced by the planet each year. In fact, it’s only possible because the planet’s been around much longer than we have and has had time to accumulate extra.”
We are witnessing the effects of using more resources than the Earth can provide in the form of diminishing forest cover, vanishing coral reefs, failing fisheries, biodiversity decline, rising greenhouse gases, diminishing fresh water systems, acidifying oceans, disease, famine, mass migrations, reducing arable land, resource conflicts and wars, just to name some of the more noticeable effects.
Conventionally, when confronted with the challenge of resource exhaustion, countries and industries would focus their needs elsewhere, but those who can no longer afford to discover such routes (such as the fishing and oil industry) are left to cope with limited resources or pursue unconventional methods, which can create a disproportionate impact on the poor.
And the ones that can are finding even the furthest corners of the Earth being exploited, leaving less resources for future generations.
The only true, long-term solution to resource depletion is pursuing and measuring sustainability and minimizing waste.
Let us take one important, yet little regarded, aspect of increasing water use, or, “hidden water.”
Hidden water is water used to produce things we consume. These things include chicken, beef, cotton, cars, chocolate and cell phones—all of which take a whole lot of water.
Did you know that it takes around 3,000 liters of water to produce a burger?
A national yearly statistic in the US puts as at 50 billion burgers a year. **FIFTY BILLION. **
That’s 150 trillion liters of water – on burgers! Just in the US.
It takes around 9,000 liters of water to produce a chicken.
In the US alone, we slaughter around 50 billion chickens year.
It takes around 27,000 liters of water to produce one kilogram of chocolate.
That’s roughly 2,700 liters of water per bar of chocolate.
This should surely be something to think about.
Are we a pillar of our own fate?
The need for land for food is going to double – at least – by 2050 and triple – at least – by the end of this century. This means that pressure to clear many of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests for human use is going to intensify every decade, because this is predominantly the only available land left for expanding agriculture at scale.
Unless Siberia thaws out before we finish deforestation. By 2050, 1 billion acres of land is likely to be cleared to meet rising food demands from a growing population.
This is an area greater than the US.
Accompanying this will be three gigatons per year of extra CO2 emissions. We can make the assumption that, if Siberia did thaw out before we finish our deforestation, it would result in a vast amount of new land being available for agriculture and would provide us with a very rich source of minerals, metals, oil and gas.
This would almost certainly completely change global geopolitics in doing so.
What else would happen if Siberia thawed out? We happen to think it would turn Russia into an extraordinary economic and political force because of its newly uncovered mineral, agricultural and energy resources.
It would also inevitably be accompanied by vast stores of methane – currently sealed under the Siberian perma-frost tundra – being released, greatly accelerating our climate problem even further.
So, is that a viable solution? Does it outweigh the consequences?
Let’s consider an alternative – food waste.
**If we only knew… **
Reduction in food waste around the world would help limit emissions of global-warming gases, reducing the impacts of climate change (i.e., extreme weather and rising seas).
Up to 14 percent of emissions from agriculture in 2050 could be avoided by better managing food use and distribution, says a study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).
A major driver of climate change accounts for more than 20% of overall global greenhouse gas emissions.
“Avoiding food loss and waste would therefore avoid unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions and help mitigate climate change.”
Food around the world is constantly wasted. Somewhere around 30 and 40 percent of food produced around the world will never be eaten. Usually, this food is spoiled after it’s harvested and possibly spoiled during its transport. We all know shops and consumers are also culprits of throwing food away.
Food waste is expected to increase. If emerging economies like China and India adopt western food habits and shift to eating more meat, this assumption becomes more probable.
More capable countries tend to consume more food than is healthy, or, revert to simply wasting it.
A growing world population guarantees that emissions associated with food waste could soar from 0.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide. This is equivalent to between 1.9 and 2.5 gigatons annually, showed by a study published in the Environmental Science and Technology Journal.
Cutting food waste and distributing the world’s surplus food to where it is needed could help tackle hunger in places where they do not have enough, especially when land to expand farming is limited.
Thus, the opportunity for reducing food waste to decrease emissions should be given more attention.
Researchers continue to learn about food requirements for different future scenarios.
This is what they found:
- The global average food demand per person remains almost constant;
- In the last five decades, food availability has rapidly increased; and,
- Hiking the emissions related to growing surplus food by more than 300%.
The aims are in line with the new global development goals that took effect this year.
According to a well-regarded analyst, if food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. He added, “Food loss and waste hurts people, costs money and harms the planet. Cutting it is a no-brainer.”
Tech can help, as usual.
Technology can help us. And, as usual, it offers a valid solution to the problem.
More than a third of food produced on our planet never reaches a table. It is either spoiled in transit or thrown out by consumers in wealthier countries, who typically buy too much and toss the excess. This works out to roughly 1.3 billion tons of food, worth nearly $1 trillion at retail prices.
Aside from the social, economic, and moral implications of that waste, the environmental cost of producing all that food, for nothing, is confounding.
In a world where an estimated 805 million people go to bed hungry each night, that is an overwhelming thought.
Water wastage alone would be the equivalent of the entire annual flow of Europe’s largest river.
The energy that goes into the production, harvesting, transporting, and packaging of that wasted food, meanwhile, generates more than 3.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.
Are there clever new technologies that could help improve that chain?
There are effective and affordable technologies to track and monitor food in transit to ensure it is being maintained within the proper temperature parameters.
It is a proactive way to prevent spoilage at the distribution level.
New entry-tier technologies are also being deployed to provide affordable truck refrigeration units for emerging markets like India.
On top of that, environmental technologies like the use of natural refrigerants and energy-efficient technologies are lowering the environmental footprint of the cold chain.
How does one make these cold-chain technologies affordable in the poorest countries, where often the need is greatest?
We have to think differently. We cannot take today’s sophisticated refrigerated truck-trailer systems available in the U.S. and Europe and expect they can be immediately adopted in emerging countries.
In many cases, the roads in these countries cannot accommodate large truck systems, the technical skill is not yet present to support the systems, and the economy isn’t readily able to yet afford the systems.
So we have to scale the technology to the local needs—smaller systems, fewer features, increased affordability. And, we need to consider all reasons to put effort into a global technology that can help the the ever increasing world population.