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Books

Bioproductivity, bioresources, agriculture : a tentative short selection of dedicated books, reports, research programs is presented.
These examples point to the central role bioproductivity / biomass / yield are playing in our societies and the need for a global integrated view on agriculture and ecology.

Books


Jean Dorst, La force du vivant
(1979) [1].
Jean Dorst was a member of the French Académie des Sciences, one of the founders and second president of the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos, president of the 16th International Ornithological Congress (IOC), and vice president of the Commission of Protection of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
He was one of the first to propose a global view of the biosphere and to elaborate on the role of science and scientists in the ecological crisis. He argues why there should be a drastic change of paradigm when mankind switches from a world of apparently infinite richness to one with limited resources.
Among the chapter titles, we can cite : the life machine ; why there are so many levels/layers in life systems ; the philosophical bases of industrial civilization ; man, nature and the industrial civilisation ; unlimited trust in technology ; ecological errors and decline of civilizations ; where ecology should play a role ; on the best use of natural ecosystems ; the best ways of cropping ; on the attitudes of scientists ; keys for a future world : on polities ; dialogue between knowledge and might ; towards a revision of the law.

Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute

Consistent themes in Brown’s thoughtful and well documented work over the years are world population and resources, global warming, protection of the world’s croplands, soil erosion, deforestation, water resource depletion, energy, and many others. At http://www.earth-policy.org, there is access to systematic updates of his highly documented Plan B series or to eco-economy indicators [2].
In World on the Edge : How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse (2011, W. W. Norton & Company) Brown emphasizes the geopolitical effects of fast-rising grain prices, in what he calls the « new geopolitics of food » [3].
He writes :
Our early 21st century civilization is in trouble. We need not go beyond the world food economy to see this. Over the last few decades we have created a food production bubble - one based on environmental trends that cannot be sustained, including overpumping aquifers, overplowing land, and overloading the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. If we cannot reverse these trends, economic decline is inevitable. No civilization has survived the ongoing destruction of its natural support systems. Nor will ours. The archeological records of earlier civilizations indicate that more often than not it was food shortages that led to their downfall. Food appears to be the weak link for our global civilization as well. And unlike the recent U.S. housing bubble, the food bubble is global. How much time do we have before the food bubble bursts ? No one knows. If we stay with business as usual, the time is more likely measured in years than in decades. (...) If the 2010 heat wave centered in Moscow had instead been centered in Chicago, it could easily have reduced the U.S. grain harvest of 400 million tons by 40 percent, or 160 million tons. World carryover stocks of grain for 2011—the amount remaining in the bin when the new harvest begins—would have dropped to an all-time low of 52 days of consumption, well below the 62-day carryover that set the stage for the tripling of world grain prices in 2007–08.

Michel Griffon, Nourrir la planète [4]
This broad-minded analysis describes the structural crisis in world’s agricultures and advocates the emergence of a world agricultural politics. His credo : an ecologically intensive agriculture (eco-agriculture), in which the ecosystemic functions are boosted to the expense of the present-day excessive fertilizer and other agro-chemical product use.
Among the chapters of the book, we have selected :
A human history marked by famine, colonization and the emergence of productive technologies.
The Green Revolution, a strongly productive move and its drawbacks.
At present, one person out of seven is malnourished and is poor ;
What production increase is needed to conveniently nourish the world in the future ?
Should agriculture produce large quantities of biofuels ?
Modern agriculture raises great global environmental questions.
Urbanization, the enemy of food security ?
Numerous but insufficient solutions (Restrict demography ? Restrict yield losses. Is it possible to increase cropland in rain-fed agriculture ?).
No alternative but strongly enhance agricultural productivity.
What productive efforts should be achieved in the main geographic areas ?
Double Green Revolution : a scenario based on ecology and equity.
The theoretical bases : the concept of viability as the capacity of self-regeneration.
The management of ecosystem regeneration and resilience.
Ecosystem services, soil fertility and water cycle.
Is it possible to intensify the ecosystem services ?
Ecologically viable and highly productive ecosystems exist already in various parts of the world.
Could the Double Green Revolution feed the world ?
What are the conditions enabling a global food security scenario ? Access to resources and the law, joint technological and political changes, ending the anti-smallholder economic bias in agriculture price formation, better management of common goods.


Jonathan Gressel, Genetic Glass Ceilings, Transgenics for Crop Biodiversity
[5]
Jonathan Gressel insists that today we rely on just four crops for 80 percent of all consumed calories : wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans (the Big Four). Indeed, reliance on these four crops may also mean we are one global plant disease outbreak away from major famine (*).
While strongly arguing for the need of crop biodiversity, he stresses that alternative plant crops lack the genetic diversity necessary for wider domestication and that even the Big Four have reached a « genetic glass ceiling » : no matter how much they are bred, there is simply not enough genetic diversity available to significantly improve their agricultural value. Gressel points the way through the glass ceiling by advocating transgenics in both alternative crops—including palm oil, papaya, buckwheat, tef, or sorghum - and the Big Four.
Note (*) – see the story of corn blight in the USA in 1970 [6]

Limits to Growth : The 30-Year Update
by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Randers
Limits to growth 30 years update, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004
http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/limitspaper

« Reading the 30th-year update reminds me of why the systems approach to thinking about our future is not only valuable, but indispensable. Thirty years ago, it was easy for the critics to dismiss the limits to growth. But in today’s world, with its collapsing fisheries, shrinking forests, falling water tables, dying coral reefs, expanding deserts, eroding soils, rising temperatures, and disappearing species, it is not so easy to do so. We are all indebted to the »Limits« team for reminding us again that time is running out. » Lester Brown, Earth Policy Institute.

In 1972, three scientists from MIT created a computer model that analyzed global resource consumption and production. Their results shocked the world and created stirring conversation about global ’overshoot,’ or resource use beyond the carrying capacity of the planet. Now, preeminent environmental scientists Donnella Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and Dennis Meadows have teamed up again to update and expand their original findings in The Limits to Growth : The 30 Year Update.
Meadows, Randers, and Meadows are international environmental leaders recognized for their groundbreaking research into early signs of wear on the planet. Citing climate change as the most tangible example of our current overshoot, the scientists now provide us with an updated scenario and a plan to reduce our needs to meet the carrying capacity of the planet.
Over the past three decades, population growth and global warming have forged on with a striking semblance to the scenarios laid out by the World3 computer model in the original Limits to Growth. While Meadows, Randers, and Meadows do not make a practice of predicting future environmental degradation, they offer an analysis of present and future trends in resource use, and assess a variety of possible outcomes.
In many ways, the message contained in Limits to Growth : The 30-Year Update is a warning. Overshoot cannot be sustained without collapse. But, as the authors are careful to point out, there is reason to believe that humanity can still reverse some of its damage to Earth if it takes appropriate measures to reduce inefficiency and waste.

Publié ou mis à jour le 24 mai 2012