how much is enough

Image: Plato Terentev


The contrast between eco-efficiency and sobriety is well expressed in the link between production standards and diets

Google “eco-efficiency” and you'll find over 1,9 million references. The term without which eco-efficiency becomes a real hole in the water, eco-sufficiency, receives just over seven thousand mentions. It is an emblematic expression of the state of the global effort so that the economic system does not exceed the ecosystem boundaries beyond which life itself on Earth is under threat.

In fact, the world is becoming more and more efficient in the use of resources necessary for the supply of goods and services. Producing more with less is a unanimous slogan. Eco-sufficiency (which, in Latin languages, can be translated as sobriety), is relegated to a kind of footnote in the almanac of socio-environmental guidelines. The evidence that there are goods and services of which it is important to stabilize and even reduce supply is obfuscated in favor of the candid optimism that makes science and technology almost exclusive ways to face the climate crisis, the erosion of biodiversity and pollution.

There is no better example of this contrast between eco-efficiency and sobriety than that offered by the global agri-food system. The documents coming from some of the most important consultancies and global organizations postulate that, in order to cope with the increase in income and population growth in a world that should reach ten billion inhabitants by 2100, it will be necessary to drastically increase agricultural production and, especially , the offering of meats. But this forecast is usually immediately accompanied by the caveat that such an expansion is incompatible with the goal of containing the rise in average global temperature below 1,5º and with the objective of reducing the destruction of life in the soil, forests and forests. waters.

Between 2020 and 2100, the supply of food, energy and fiber based on current production standards will cause emissions of 1.365 gigatons of greenhouse gases. Now, the carbon budget for the world to have a 67% chance of containing the rise in average global temperature by 1,5% is 500 gigatons. If the target is an increase of no more than 2º, the margin is greater, but it reaches only 1.405 gigatonnes. This means that even if the global economy were fully decarbonized, agriculture alone would push the limits beyond which the climate system would collapse, as shown by an important article by Michael Clark, University of Oxford and collaborators, in Science.

The contrast between eco-efficiency and sobriety is well expressed in the link between production standards and diets. If the world were to adopt the typical American diet, it would require six times as much farmland as adherence to India's diet, according to a study by Peter Alexander and collaborators. This diet is at the root of the obesity pandemic that affects no less than 40% of Americans, with disastrous consequences for human health.

It is not, of course, a question of finding universal standards that do not take into account the conditions and food and culinary cultures of each region. Rather, it is about contesting that the path to healthy eating and a sustainable agricultural system is ever-increasing production.

The struggle for a healthy and sustainable agro-food regime is organically linked to the aspiration to reduce inequalities. Conditioning the use of ecosystem resources aimed at food to the real needs of individuals is the basic premise so that contemporary agriculture does not go beyond the planetary boundaries that it has hitherto attacked. WWF international document sets out five goals towards a planetary diet for people and ecosystem regeneration.

The first is that contemporary food has to reset and reverse the loss of biodiversity to which, until now, it has been associated. The second is the drastic reduction of emissions from the agri-food system. Today these emissions reach 16,5 gigatons of greenhouse gases and the goal should be that the agri-food system in a few years does not emit more than five gigatons. As meat is at the epicenter of the world's agrifood system, achieving this goal requires a shift to diets that are much more plant-based than meat-based. Less carnivorous diets tend to require smaller cultivation surfaces than current standards. The third guideline, therefore, is that the food demand be satisfied on the same surface already used today or even reducing this occupation.

The fourth guideline is the search for negative emissions by agriculture. Zeroing deforestation is, in Latin America, the main path in this direction. But reducing methane emissions from livestock and finding production techniques that favor animal welfare is a fertile way to adapt the agricultural supply to people's real needs for healthy food. Finally, the fifth guideline refers to the efficiency in the use of all inputs necessary for agricultural production.

The business world has expanded the parameters that measure the efficiency of its activities, far beyond what the price system is capable of revealing. Taking this transformation seriously requires more than assessing the impacts of the supply of goods and services on ecosystems. Not only in the agri-food system, but in the economy as a whole, without Gandhi's question about “how much is enough”, the fight against poverty and inequalities becomes a mad race towards an infinite destructiveness that can never be Reached.

*Ricardo Abramovay is senior professor at the Institute of Energy and Environment at USP. Author, among other books, of Amazon: towards an economy based on the knowledge of nature (Elephant/Third Way).


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