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Is planet earth facing a food crisis? Are there too many people here? Can humanity afford to tackle desertification in the Sahel? Filmmaker Mike Freedman, food activist Tristram Stuart, author Ronald Wright and finally permaculturist and aid worker Tony Rinaudo all contribute their voices to this week's challenge to simplistic and reductionist thinking on such matters.
Thanks to Alex Smith for the Radio Ecoshock interview of Mike Freedman
We start the show with a Radio Ecoshock interview of film maker Mike Freedman who made a film on the question of population, the narrative structure of which was provided by the influential experiments of John Calhoun on how the behavior of rats changes as their population density increases. Freedman notes that while he believes that Calhoun only ever intended his studies to serve as a metaphor, they have been used as an animal model of societal collapse.
"The environmental movement has traditionally emphasized kind of the accounting tools of sustainability, how much water use, how much pollution, how much food do we need. But... we need to put the 'mental' back in environmental. Humans have deeper needs and a more meaningful purpose in life than merely finding enough rice to eat for the day and having enough water. And so we shouldn't simply think about the bare bones of supply and survival. We need to think about what it will mean to ensure that every person born on this beautiful planet of our has a full meaningful life. That's the real challenge - whether population is going up, whether it's stabilizing or whether its declining - is being willing to reassess and reorganize all of our assumptions, all of our algorithms and spreadsheets, all of our models for planning and molding society, based purely on the quality of life experience for every person alive." — Mike Freedman, 2012
Next we hear from Tristram Stuart about how he got interested in the topic of food waste, and his efforts to raise awareness of the problem, and to tackle hunger and waste directly by matching up surplus food with hungry people using a time honoured gift economy model (the 'Feeding the 5000' events).
Then it's the turn of Ronald Wright, interviewed from the Extra Environmentalist podcast, on the topic of societal collapse. He draws parallels with former societies which collapsed and warns us away from an excess of technology.
We conclude with the remarkable testimony of Tony Rinaudo about how a simple technique with a $2 pocket knife has allowed millions of trees to regrow and the desert to be rolled back in the inhospitable terrain of Niger. As he explains, some of the stiffest opposition he faced as aid agencies and others keen on 'development' who were looking for a more complex solution than the one he came up with.
"All life and sustenance come from the soil. If we treat the soil with respect, we go a long way towards creating food security."— Tony Rinaudo